TPM 58 | My Music Staff

 

Are you a teacher, student, or business aspirant in the music industry looking for ways to manage your time and money most easily and effectively? This episode is just the right one for you. Our guest, Erin Ross, is a communication specialist at My Music Staff. My Music Staff is a studio management software that manages your students, schedule, attendance, invoicing, and billing matters. In addition, their team consistently enhances and develops the software for a much better user experience. So stay tuned and learn more about the application. It might be the tool you are looking for!

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My Music Staff: How Music Teachers Can Save Time And Money With Erin Ross

I am happy to be here with Erin Ross from My Music Staff. I love bringing you tools and things that can help you run your business better. We have a lot of music teachers who read the show, whether you are doing a few students, private students, group students, or you have a whole school that you run. This is going to be something that will be interesting to you.

One of my academy members is the one who told me about My Music Staff because she uses it to manage her own private students. I reached out to them. I’m excited to be talking with Erin about what they have that can help you guys. Before we get into that, Erin, I would love to hear a little bit about you, how long you have been with the company, and then the origins of the company up to where you guys are at now.

A big thank you for having me on the show. I’m excited to share more about My Music Staff and what it can do for private music teachers and music studio owners. I’m the Communication Specialist at My Music Staff. I have been working with them for a few years, but My Music Staff itself launched in 2013. It started as a love story between our founder, who was a software developer, and his wife, who was a music teacher. She was looking for something that could help her manage her students, finances, and schedule. She was looking out there and couldn’t find anything that fit what she wanted. She asked our founder if he could build something for her, which he did, and it has grown to be the My Music Staff that we have.

My role as the communication specialist is anything in writing and anything talking. I’m there whether it is connecting with our members online and our private Facebook community or it is going up to trade shows and talking to music teachers, getting a sense of what features they are hoping to see, what they love about our product, what else we could do to help support them, and then being able to take that back, help connect the dots, and make our products even better. That is where my role fits in.

For anyone who is not familiar with what My Music Staff is, it is studio management software. The core four features are we manage your students, schedule, attendance, and all of your invoicing and billing. There is a lot more beyond that. We have got a student portal where your students and their parents can access information as well. There is an online resources section, even a website builder that is included in the subscription, and a lot that it can do for music teachers.

It sounds like a whole solution for teachers all boxed into one. The fact that you have a website builder as well is pretty impressive. I’m assuming it is a pretty simple website to attract people to start working with you as a teacher.

It is a fairly basic builder. We know that a lot of music teachers and studio owners come from a music background, maybe not so much a business background. You are probably not a website developer as well. It is a very simple builder, but it allows you to have that place where you can market your studio. You can have a signup form on there for new students. It can have a place for students to log into the student portal.

If you are a bit more advanced than that and you already have a website built somewhere else, whether it is Squarespace or WordPress, we have widgets that you can add to it as well. We pride ourselves on the flexibility that the platform has to offer, whether you are starting out or you are a private music teacher with a few students hoping to grow. You can use a few of the features for now. As you grow, you can use a few features down the line. If you are jumping in and you are a multi-teacher music studio, you have got 20 plus teachers and 200 students with you. There is still something that works for you.

That is amazing that it is so versatile. You guys are based in Canada but you have people using this all over the world, right?

Yes. We are located a little bit outside of Toronto, about 40 minutes away, but we have members everywhere. We have a number of Australian members. We have a lot of members in New Zealand, North America, South Africa, and the UK. They are spread out all over the world, which is another reason why we keep the product so flexible.

We know that teaching music and studio policies, in general, vary from region to region. Rather than setting up a program that only works for North American teachers in the way they do things, we have got it built out, so settings can be adapted to fit a studio’s existing policies and the way they already do things instead of trying to make them fit into this one specific way of doing things.

What about languages? Is it English-based or are there other language options?

It is in English. It is a web-based application which means any device that has the internet can log into it. A lot of people, if English is not their first language, can use the Chrome translation that is built into the browser to translate. It is something that we are hoping to implement in the future. There are some updates we are working on that could help. Down the line, for a future update, we will be able to offer a full translation of the product. It is coming, but so far, it is in English.

What about on the financial side? Is it all in US dollars and Canadian dollars? Can you do British pounds?

Both for our own pricing for the membership and for what you are able to invoice and bill in for students. It is based on region. We have a number of members all over the place. We integrate with PayPal and Stripe to collect online payments. Credit card payments can be made online. If you are based in the US, the Stripe integration also works with ACH bank transfer payments. The payment itself is handled through PayPal or Stripe, which are both global and accept payments and currencies all over the world. It is great. If you are a teacher in Europe, you can charge in euros rather than again, being fit into this box of a North American product.

Pretty much PayPal and Stripe are universally integrated.

Pretty much everywhere these days.

TPM 58 | My Music Staff

My Music Staff: Whether you are just starting out or you’re a private music teacher with a few students hoping to grow, you can use a few of the features of the app for now, and as you grow, you can use a few of the features down the line.

 

Let’s talk about the pain points of the founders. Why was she looking for software to help her with her teaching? What did you guys roll out to help people?

Finances are a big one for a lot of teachers, especially. There are so many different ways of collecting payments, whether it is cash, check, handed in-person at a lesson, or getting something sent online. Payments are always changing as well, different billing models, where you have teachers who charge per lesson, a flat monthly rate, and it can get complex.

Being able to manage that in a simple way is one of the key driving factors to where we need to focus the features and how to support music teachers. Billing and invoicing are some of our most used features. A fan-favorite feature, I would say, is our autopay. The way My Music Staff works is called calendar-based billing. We have made it easy to handle the billing and invoice things by focusing more on the scheduling side.

With calendar-based billing, you set up your pricing for your students, and when you schedule them on the calendar, the system knows, “You are going to charge them $50 per lesson. You have got four lessons on the calendar. It is automatically calculating that amount behind the scenes for you.” When you look at the family account, you have a running list of the charges based on what you have put in the calendar.

You can do per lesson rates and an hourly rate. You can do a flat monthly rate if you are charging, for example, $100 for the month, regardless of if they have 1 or 5 lessons. We find with a lot of music teachers that we were talking to, the billing and invoicing at the end of the month through the beginning of the month was taking up so much time that if we could streamline that portion of it, it gives so much more time to focus on teaching.

I do agree with that. It is not necessarily what they love to do or that is in their wheelhouse. Having most of this automated saves so much time. They can focus on what they love doing, which is working with the students. Let’s say you charge a three-month package. At that point, you are going to book out, “I have a lesson every Thursday for three months.” Does it charge every week or does it charge the whole package at once?

It is up to you. Going back to the flexibility, there are so many different settings built into the invoicing and billing features as well, especially in the UK and Australia. They tend to charge by the term a lot more. Whereas in North America, a trend we have noticed is often the monthly billing. It varies from studio to studio, but we have got it in place. You can choose whether it is weekly, monthly, prepaid or postpaid lessons, and you are billing at the end of the month after they have been in place.

If you have, say, a 10-week term or package, you could put all of the lessons on the calendar and then run an invoice for that 10-week date range. It is flexible. You can also have all of these different settings each family. If you have one family who comes and charges $100 a month every month, you can set that up. Separately, a different family who is on a 10-week lesson package, for example, would have their own billing set up. It allows you to offer different things at different price points to students.

As far as the scheduling, are you able to set different lengths of lessons depending on the student and let them book into that? Can you block out times when you don’t want people to book in? I’m assuming they are able to book in their own times.

Yes. There is an option to allow students to book in their own time. You don’t have to enable that, but if you do, they would be able to log into the student portal and register for any open slots or cancel within the cancellation deadline. When it comes to scheduling, there are a lot of different options. We have a default lesson option, which is a quick shortcut to the type of lesson in the main type of lesson, lesson length, and price for that student.

You can add any different events on top of that. You can do group lessons. You can set it. Say you want a maximum of 10, it will allow up to 10 students to register themselves or you can add them in yourself. You can set up recurring lessons, whether it is weekly, biweekly, monthly. A lot of our members use it to organize their recitals as well, especially if they offer maybe a couple of different recital times on one day and, say, pick which time slot you want to sign up through the student portal. You can also create your own custom categories and locations, which is helpful.

By default, it is got a regular lesson in there. We have members who add categories based on instruments. If they are a larger studio that teaches a number of different instruments, we have members who put categories. Sometimes they offer a one-off workshop or monthly makeup lessons, for example, and they want to put that in a separate category.

For the location, we have options for the student’s home where it would automatically pull in their address and set up a studio location. We do integrate with Zoom, FaceTime and Skype. You can set it up as an online location. When that lesson comes around, it will have the Zoom meeting link right there, the Skype, or FaceTime user ID.

Did you have that in place before the pandemic happened?

We did not. It was on our radar. It was on our list of ideas as something we were hoping to do at some point because we know that online lessons were becoming more prevalent in the industry. When the pandemic hit and everyone had to quickly adapt to online within a couple of weeks, we were like, “Let’s get this going.”

The Zoom integration works well. It will pull the teacher’s Zoom meeting ID that you can be included in the automatic lesson reminder to the student so they can get the link right there. They would also see it in the student portal. From the teacher’s side, it would be on the homepage daily agenda or from the calendar itself.

With Skype and FaceTime, if you save the student’s FaceTime ID or the Skype user in their profile, there will be a little button to call them directly at that time as well, which is so helpful for so many people trying to not only figure out how to adapt their lesson plans to be online, having to learn new technology if they were not familiar with Zoom, and then figure out how to manage that in the schedule. We were able to implement that pretty quickly. A lot of our members appreciated being able to have that seamless integration.

Finances can take so much time for teachers. My Music Staff helps them manage payments in a really simple way with calendar-based billing. Click To Tweet

Do they have to have their own Zoom account or is this your Zoom account they are using?

It is based on the teacher’s Zoom account. Many of them still use a free account. If you have a paid account, it works the same. We have done it based on the personal meeting IDs. You can use the same link every time. If someone sets up recurring events, each student has a different Zoom link based on what they have set up in Zoom. There is also a place to include that in the notes when they schedule the lesson. It would be there as well.

I’m assuming if they want to record the lesson, they need to have Zoom that records.

Once they click that link, everything would open up Zoom in a new tab and then everything from the video lesson would be handled within Zoom while My Music Staff is open in another tab.

Do you guys have the ability inside the portal for teachers to put videos in there? Say they want to prerecord them doing something or take a recording that they did through Zoom and make it available to this student. Are they able to do that inside the portal?

We do have that. We have a feature called Online Resources. We had this one before the pandemic but we saw a big jump in the usage of it during the pandemic. You can upload any files you want to share with students, whether an audio file, video, PDF of a worksheet, or a word document. That can go directly in there.

You can assign it to specific students. If there is something that you only want your piano students to see, let’s say you have other instruments that you teach as well, you can specifically assign it to them so that you are not getting students stumbling across files that are not meant for them when they are looking in the student portal. You can also connect them to the lesson notes.

This is another feature that our members love to use. When you are taking attendance, we have got a whole section built in where you can write lesson notes. Instead of pen and paper where you are scribbling down notes during a lesson, you can type everything directly in there. You can copy the notes from the previous lesson. You are always building on top of that. You can email those notes to the student and parent at the end of the lesson or they can access that through the portal itself.

You can also link to these online resources from there. It has been great, especially during the pandemic where during the lesson, you have got Zoom open in one tab, your attendance, and notes section on My Music Staff. In another tab, you can then write the notes as the lesson’s going, and then be able to say, “See the linked file for more information.”

Does each student have their own account inside there to find their own sources or is it only if they assign it to particular people?

The student portal is what you make of it. You have to send the login information as the teacher to the family for them to set up their portal. It’s also great because it means that only some families you want to have access to it. You can send it to them. If there are some families you don’t want to have access to a portal, you don’t have to send them the login information.

If it is not an adult student, there would be a student login and a parent login. The difference is, in the parent login, they would have access to everything in the portal, including the finances. They are able to view their invoices, view the charges accruing, and make a payment if you’re integrated with Stripe and PayPal. Whereas in a student account, unless you’ve set them as an adult student, they would not have access to the finances part of it, but they could see everything else.

If you are leaving lesson notes, they would be able to go in and review those. If you are assigning them online resources, they would be able to go in, view, and download those. If you are in a multi-teacher studio, every teacher has their own space within the online resources. If you are a student taking violin with one teacher and piano lessons with another teacher, each teacher could be uploading files into their own space that the student or parent can access through the portal. Being able to register for open lessons slots and cancel existing lessons would be done through the portal.

We have got a practice log in there, which is a great opportunity as well for students to track their progress throughout the week until their next lesson and make some notes about maybe, “This section specifically was giving me a tough time. Can we focus on this in the next lesson?” As much as the teacher side of My Music Staff is a one-stop-shop for teachers to manage all of the admin that comes with running a studio, we wanted to make the student portal a one-stop-shop for parents and students to access what they need outside of that lesson time.

You have thought of a lot of needs and I love the separate parent and student portal options. I’m curious. How many teachers are using My Music Staff? Do you have a sense of that?

I don’t have an exact number off the top of my head because we have so many multi-teacher studios. There are a number of studios, but then there is also the number of teachers within that. We have a number of private music teachers where it is just them. We have smaller studios with maybe 2 to 5 or 2 to 6 teachers.

We have some large studios using My Music Staff where there are 20 plus or 30 plus teachers. That can constantly change if they are upgrading or downgrading their plan. There are a lot of teachers using it. We do have a great community. We have a private Facebook community for our subscribed members. We have about 3,000 in that community specifically, but we know there are more teachers beyond the Facebook group.

TPM 58 | My Music Staff

My Music Staff: It was really impressive to see just how quickly everyone was able to adapt and just go on the fly and really fall into the online lessons.

 

What was your experience with them during the pandemic? Were they able to flip pretty quickly to doing online? Were there any special things beyond the Zoom stuff or any other special things you added to help teachers during that time?

I’m sure I can speak on behalf of everyone else here at My Music Staff, but me personally being quite active in some of the Facebook groups and keeping an eye on it, I was incredibly impressed by how quickly everyone adapted. There were the rumblings as COVID was starting to ramp up about, “What are we going to do? How will this impact us?”

It seemed overnight. It was like, “We are all in this together. Let’s do it.” I saw so many resources being shared, a lot of people putting stuff together, and being like, “If anyone’s unfamiliar with Zoom, download this free resource. This will help you out. If anyone needs help with equipment and how to get things set up, we are going to run a webinar. We will get you all the stuff you need.”

It was impressive to see how quickly everyone was able to adapt, go on the fly, and fall into the online lessons. It was a shift for anyone who wasn’t super familiar with it from the student side, but it was incredible to see, honestly. For us, feature-wise, the main ones were the online lessons. We put together a resource that we shared with our members, shared far and wide as we could, highlighting some of the other features we already have in place and how they would help specifically with online teaching.

For example, the online resources were a feature we already had in place, but even within members who had already been using it for a few years, we saw a big increase in the usage of that because suddenly they didn’t have another option. The practice log was like, “We are going to highlight this and say, you may not see them next week, but this is a place that throughout the week, the students can log their practice and leave notes for you. You may not have used it before, but this is a good time to start using it. If you don’t already have the student portal in place, here are some great resources.

We did put together some student portal cheat sheets as well that could be shared with families. They are simple infographics breaking down a lot of the common features that are used in the student portal, like how to add a credit card or how to register for a lesson. We are like, “If you are suddenly inviting a bunch of families to the student portal because you are online and you want them to use these features, we have put in some work here so that you can share this with them and you are learning how to do with online lessons. You don’t have to teach your families how to use the portal.

That is smart. I’m sure they appreciated that. I bet if they were not as much using the finance side of it, they started using it a lot more because they were used to kids handing them a check time they came to a lesson. That is not happening.

One thing we saw a lot in comments in our Facebook group and heard on support calls and tickets was, “I have been putting off integrating with the online payments for so long. I wish I had done it sooner.” The pandemic forced them into doing it because that was the only option. Seeing it in action was like, “This would have saved me so much time. I wish I had done this a year ago. I’m happy I have done it.”

Sometimes, necessity is the mother of invention. It is good to shake things up every once in a while to make you realize, “I have been doing this in an antiquated way for so long and wasting time.” Is there anything else coming up for My Music Staff that you want to highlight that you are maybe looking at on the horizon of the next year or two?

We have been working on a huge project for the better part of the last couple of years. My Music Staff launched in 2013. The needs of music teachers have changed a lot in different features they had to see. Technology has changed a lot. We have been working on overhauling the entire platform. Our development team has been very busy and hard at work rebuilding every feature on newer technology.

That is going to help with load times. It makes things load even faster, except we are a web-based application. The faster things load on the internet, the better it is, the easier it is to access your information. We are updating the interface a bit to modernize it a bit more. We will also make sure we have an extra focus on the mobile experience.

Many teachers use My Music Staff on-the-go, even when they are teaching in person. Maybe they don’t have a full monitor set up, but they have their phone nearby. They are taking attendance on their phones. They are writing lessons on their phones. We are making sure that we have an even better mobile experience. It has been a huge project. We are excited to get it out there. We are in the initial phases of our beta testing.

That is something that our members will see some time. Everything depends on how long the different phases of the testing go. We are excited to get that out there. Another benefit of rebuilding it on this newer technology is the way we’re rebuilding things allows us to then make it even easier to add some of these other bigger features that we’ve been hoping to add.

We take the feedback from our members to heart. We get so much feedback, so many great ideas about things they would like to see. As we expand globally more and more, we hear about features or ways that music teachers are running their studio, maybe that we didn’t think of because we are not used to seeing it in this area, but it is a little more prevalent in another region.

Being able to implement a lot more changes and add some more features will be a lot easier. We have a very long list. Building out a more natively built lesson packages feature is on the list. I mentioned earlier the way our invoicing works. We do have a lot of members who offer packages and there are ways of setting up the invoicing, so it invoices and bills them correctly. Making that whole process even easier with a few clicks of adding a package specifically and charging it is one thing on the horizon.

That is what we have been spending a lot of time doing. That is more of the technical side, more on the connection side of things. We used to go to a lot of trade shows, which was so great because we could go connect in-person with our members. We have a great support team. They are available by phone and email. We hear from a lot of members. We are able to help them, but sometimes there are members we don’t get to hear from because they don’t have a question. They haven’t run into an issue they need assistance with.

It is great to get out to those shows, have a conversation with them, and meet new teachers who get to see My Music Staff in action and meet teachers who have been using us for seven years who get to tell us what they love about it and what they would hope to see. The pandemic put a halt to that. We were able to attend a number of virtual trade shows, which was great to get out there still and have that connection. We are excited and hoping to get back to some in-person shows.

Taking the feedback from members to heart is an effective way to understand what needs to be developed in your business more. Click To Tweet

It would be nice to have conferences and things like that back. What are your different tiers of pricing and the different things you get with each level?

We have kept our pricing simple. We find it is the best way to do it and keep it straightforward. We are not trying to hide any fees or make it too expensive and inaccessible to everyone, especially for smaller teachers starting out. We wanted to keep the pricing nice and simple. For a single teacher account going in for North America or Canadian and US dollars, it is $14.95/month.

If you are a multi-teacher studio, it is $14.95/month plus $4.95/month for any additional teacher. We do also have a few different options for regional pricing. We offer UK pricing, Australia, New Zealand, and the Euro. The best thing to do if you are not in Canada or the US is to check out MyMusicStaff.com and go to our pricing page. That will show you in your currency.

That is a pretty incredibly low price, in my opinion.

It is pretty affordable. That is what we feel. Every feature is included in that. There is nothing that is something you have to pay extra for. The only other fees you would have to think about are, if you do integrate with Stripe and PayPal, there are processing fees associated with that. That is not something that we collect or anything that we take a cut of. That is the transaction fees.

You don’t have to use Stripe or PayPal integration. You can record payments manually if you do accept them another way. However, any of our members set up with online payments will tell you it is worth it. Those transaction fees may be something that you are not used to paying but the time that you save not having to then chase down payments or go to a bank to deposit a check makes it so worth it.

It usually comes out to about 3%, which is worth it. That is incredible what you offer for teachers and the price you offer it at. I’m very impressed. Is there anything else that we have not covered yet? This has been a great, very informative review of what you offer for teachers.

The only other thing I would say is we have a support team. They are fabulous. We all work in-house, so I know them all very well. We have phone and email support available. If anyone is reading this and thinking, “I’m not sure. I might want to check it out,” or maybe you are already a member, you read about a feature that you have not used yet, and want a bit more information, please call and email.

If you visit MyMusicStaff.com and go to our Contact page, you will see the contact information. We have got a UK phone number and an international phone number as well as a toll-free number. If you are getting started out, we offer a free one-to-one onboarding session. You will get the link to that if you sign up for a trial.

That gives you an opportunity to sit down with one of our team members and go through it in a bit more detail. You can share about your specific policies, setup, the types of lessons you offer, and get some great advice about how to set it up. Whether you have been a member for years or are thinking of signing up, please know our support team is here. It is free support and included in the membership cost even if you have not signed up yet. Everyone is available to help.

How else can they connect with you? Do you have social accounts?

We do. We have a Facebook page. We are on Twitter. We have an Instagram, @MyMusicStaffApp where we share some great updates.

I sent you a DM over there. I remember it.

That is how we connected. If you want to send an email to our support team, it is Support@MyMusicStaff.com. If you are a subscribed member already, we have that private Facebook community, which is great. It has become an amazing community. As I have seen it grow over the years, it has been something I had a hand in helping to grow. We are in there. The marketing team helps to manage that and respond where we can.

It is a great place to connect with other My Music Staff members. You will see someone post a question, wondering how to do something. You will get a bunch of responses from people who have a very similar setup and can give great business advice. You will get people in a similar area being like, “We are nearby. Have you considered this?” It is a great place to see that community of music teachers being built even more. They are able to give some great advice about policies, running the studio, and as well as how they set things up in My Music Staff.

I am a huge promoter of the community. I love the idea of people who are doing similar things and connecting like that. You can learn so much from other people. There is no reason to have to figure it all out yourself. Some people have been using this for many years. There are people who have been teaching for many years as well. You can learn so much from those people. You don’t have to make all your own mistakes.

We found the community, in general, even outside of our subscribers and our members is a tight-knit community. That is one of the reasons why the adaptation to teaching online was a big success for so many studios. There were so many people in the industry to lean on. Many people rose up and we were like, “I’m here to help. Let’s figure this out together. Let’s run a webinar. Here are some free resources. We are all in this together.”

That sense of community and passion across everyone is inspiring. It is great. It is why we do what we do. We are here to help you get through the admin work and the tedious stuff so that you are able to then focus on that. You can share your love of music with your students. You can connect with other teachers. You can all grow as a community because you are not spending hours every month calculating how much someone owes you. It is great for us to be a small part of that community.

TPM 58 | My Music Staff

My Music Staff: We found the community just in general, even like outside of our subscribers and our members, it’s such a tight knit community. That is why the adaptation to teaching online was a big success for so many studios.

 

Thank you so much, Erin. This has been informative. I appreciate you giving your time and the passion with which your company serves teachers and tries to give them the features that they need.

Thank you so much for having me. I don’t have the link handy. We did create a 60-day Free Trial for readers of your show. Normally, we offer a 30-day free trial, but we did want to put something out there. If you are reading this and you are interested in signing up, we would love to give you a 60-day free trial. You have a bit more time to explore all of the features.

That is awesome. You can reach out to My Music Staff or me and say that you read this on the show. Use that info if you don’t have the link, and I’m sure they will get you hooked up. Thank you so much, Erin. We appreciate it.

Thank you.

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About Erin Ross

Erin is the Communications Specialist at My Music Staff, overseeing all things social media, customer education, and… well, basically anything with words! She loves to connect with music teachers online and at trade shows to learn more about their needs and how they use My Music Staff to help streamline their business. Check out mymusicstaff.com to learn more!