Studio Management Tools for Independent Music Instructors

Yes, now I am going to talk about and compare Music Teacher’s Helper   and My Music Staff

If you’re a MTH or MMS fan, I’m sorry.  I think these programs both try to be a “Jack of All Trades”—but the rest of the saying also applies: they are “Master of None”.  They do a lot of things, but not as well as other programs.  But since so many independent music teachers use them, I wanted to give them a fair shake.  So I signed up for 30-day free trials of Music Teachers Helper and My Music Staff, and started testing.   I had my eyes on the following:

  • Keeps prospective student data (aka leads)
  • Keeps current, and former student data
  • Keep track of notes for lessons
  • Track families with multiple children
  • Website included (if this is important to you)
  • Scheduling functions with minimal teacher work

Features I wouldn’t use:

  • If you offer make up credits, these systems will help you track them (with some admin legwork from you).
  • If you charge by the lesson, these software systems will help you streamline the administration of it.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you already know my opinion about rescheduling lessons and make-ups:  They drain your valuable time and resources.   Made up and rescheduled lessons are an opportunity cost  (whoa, economics jargon!) and a burnout risk.

You could fill that make up slot with another paying student, or taking some much needed down time! I believe that when a student pays you for a weekly lesson, they pay for your time on a specific day at a specific time.

If a student misses a lesson where you were prepared to teach, you should get paid for that time.  If you got sick and missed a music theory lecture your freshman year in college, would you expect a $75 credit from the university or an extra lecture from the professor?  Of course not!

For more on why make up lessons aren’t helping anyone, read this article:

An Economist’s Take on Make Up Lessons 

And, billing by the lesson? I recommend that you require monthly or quarterly payment in advance.  If you do, you will never need to charge by the lesson. This is the safest way to ensure that you get paid for your time, not for your students’ reliability.

What if you have a large studio with multiple teachers?

MTH and MMS are both aimed at the self employed music teacher working alone.  MMS can handle multiple teachers, but if you have a larger studio with multiple teachers, you should at least check out the other options.  There are plenty of programs out there, but they tend to be aimed at Dance Studios, Karate Studios, Yoga studios, and waaaay down the list, Music Studios.   Studio Helper is one example that does try to market to music studios, and I’ve heard good things about it. However, my best advice is still to look for a studio management program for Dance Studios.  There are lots of options, and competition is generally good for function!

 

Anyway, Here goes:

Music Teacher’s Helper $14-$49/month and My Music Staff $12.95/month

Music Teacher’s Helper is considered by some to be the gold standard in studio management software for single teacher studios. They also have an generous affiliate program that encourages referrals, which may account for some of the popularity. (By the way, I am using some affiliate links in these posts, but I will always give you my 100% honest assessment of the product.)

My Music Staff, a Canadian company, is a relative newcomer to the scene—and is trying very hard to muscle in on MTH’s market share. In reality, both programs do most things similarly, and the differences are relatively minor.

It seems that both systems were designed for music teachers who spend a lot of admin time cancelling lessons, rescheduling lessons and tracking make- up credits.

That said,most of the things they do can be done better by acounting and scheduling programs that will cost you less money.

Here’s how they are the same:

  • Includes a website: If you want to make your website exactly what you want it to be, get ready for frustration. If you’re not tech savvy and you just want a website, it could be a good option.
  • Tracks current/former student data – any accounting software will do this.
  • Tracks families with multiple children and allows you to add more children later- also easy to track in most accounting programs.
  • Lets you keep track of notes for student lessons.  If you have a lot of students, this function could make it worth paying for.  (I use a paper notebook, so I wouldn’t use it)
  • Schedule recurring lessons, events, groups, etc. A free or low cost scheduling program (which I’ll talk about in the next post) can do this just as effectively and can allow students to sign up for themselves (instead of you doing it for them!).
  • Allows students to cancel – If you let students reschedule on their own there is some set up work on the back end.
  • You’re also responsible for issuing the make up credit if you offer make up credits. If you don’t reschedule or offer make up credits, you probably don’t need such a complex calendar function.
  • Bill by the lesson based on when a student is scheduled on your calendar. Since I recommend charging in advance on a monthly or quarterly basis, I would not use this feature, but if you are committed to running your studio this way, it would help.
  • Some rudimentary accounting and billing functions, but don’t depend on them. The accounting functions lack my big 3 criteria (read about the big 3 criteria here). It would require a LOT of data entry (to enter your expenses).  Taxes (especially sales tax) are not adequately tracked.  Audit trail is poor because of the data entry issues.

Here’s how they differ:

Music Teacher’s Helper:

  • No Student Lead Tracker – Some accounting programs have this and some don’t.
  • Can Schedule invoices to go every month, and accept payments either automatically or by a customer clicking a link in the email. But, it would be easier with any decent accounting program for a similar or lower cost.
  • Can’t track Sales Tax at all.

My Music Staff

  • DOES have a lead tracker so you can track prospective students – Some accounting programs have this and some don’t.
  • MMS accomodates multiple teachers.
  • Tracks mileage, but you have to enter the mileage rate yourself. Be sure you look it up on the IRS website first! I track my mileage in Excel and on a paper log—a google doc would work as well.
  • I could not figure out how to create a recurring invoice, even though it allows you to bill students the same amount every month. I believe monthly billing without corresponding invoice creation is an audit trail problem.
  • As a Canadian company, MMS seems to not be very familiar with U.S. tax laws, sales tax, or mileage reimbursement rates. To their credit, as of August 2014, they were in beta testing to roll out a sales tax function—probably as a result of my email to them.

Final Thoughts on Music Teachers Helper and My Music Staff

  1. If you love the scheduling and note keeping parts of either program,  by all means keep using them!
  2. If you DO want to keep using them, My Music Staff is probably a better value for your money if you have more than a few students.
  3. That said, free or low cost programs can do a lot of this stuff, and do a lot of it better.
  4. If the included pre-designed website, or the lesson notes function are a big deal for you, it might be worth $12.95/month.  However, if the website is the only reason you’re paying for it, think about building one on your own–I promise, it’s not that hard!

Next time: Scheduling tools

15 thoughts on “Studio Management Tools for Independent Music Instructors”

  1. Hello Shanti, thanks for the great site! Wondering what you thought of the Acuity Scheduling app, it looks good to me for cost value and the objectives of scheduling and payments.

    Also, you recommended Dance Studio scheduling apps as there was more competition therefore more options, better pricing etc but all I have found are over priced sites with way too many features, wondering if you could recommend a particular one, thanks Shanti for your great work!

    Chris

    1. Hi Chris-
      I haven’t looked closely into that one, and I didn’t explore the dance studio apps thoroughly. I would say test drive it, and if you think it meets all your needs without causing legal or tax exposure, go for it!
      Best,
      shanta

  2. Music Teacher’s Helper STOLE $290 of my hard earned money. I was relocating and closing my studio, and forgot that my yearly subscription was renewing. The didn’t send me any notice until AFTER they charged my credit card. I cancelled my account within days and still had to pay for a year of service because of their NO REFUND policy. Their customer service people in the billing area are never available when you call. They are the worst.

  3. I’m looking for a program that can do recurrent billing for instrument rental and to schedule group lessons. MMS has been the closest I’ve found. Do you have any other suggestions along the lines of the Dance Studio software?

    1. Hi Mallory- I haven’t looked deeply into Dance Studio Software. However, I’d hesitate to use anything other than my accounting software for billing of any kind. Good luck!

  4. Ok, but does Quick Books really make it possible to accept PayPal and credit card payments online from your students? How would that even work? I really need that feature. The only other option would be to change my godaddy site (my professional site as a performer, researcher, and lecturer) to a secure site that can accept payments and sell merchandise. Except that costs $30/month (as opposed to the $4/month I’ve been paying). $13/month is less than half of that, and MMS and MTH both offer the feature to accept credit cards and PayPal on your site. Incidentally, I know this post was written quite a while ago, but I found another management site that does NOT offer website hosting. It’s called My Studio Manager, and it does everything MMS and MTH do, but without the site (you and your students access you account pages on their site). As you might imagine, it’s a bit less, $9/month (like the $13/month of the other two, minus the $4 month that hosting would cost with a web host like GoDaddy, so that makes sense). It might be a good option for teachers who are not necessarily interested in web hosting.

    1. Hi Jessica –
      It’s fairly easy to log paypal payments in Quickbooks – it takes one extra step in the deposit process. There are a number of videos on Youtube that show you what to do. Quickbooks’ credit card processing system is very slick ( I have heard) and integrates extremely well, but it does cost something extra. If you don’t want the bells and whistles, but you need the credit card processing, another option might be waveapps.com (see this post http://myobmusicteacher.com/2014/10/27/accounting-software-survey-for-music-studios/). They do credit card processing through Stripe.
      I had not heard of My Studio Manager – thanks for posting it!

  5. hi Shanta. Do you still prefer Quickbooks, cost-wise, compared to one of the studio services? I took your advice, which made sense to me, and use Quickbooks Online to handle the financial end of the studio. The thing is, it costs about twice what My Music Studio does. $28/mo for QB Online vs. $13/mo for MMS.

    thanks! I love your blog.

    1. also – I’m with you in that I’m not interested in all the bells and whistles . I just need a robust financial program mainly. The other features I handle on my own just fine. I looked at Xero too, but it’s about the same cost.

    2. Hi Emily –
      I do still love quickbooks, even though it costs more. Granted, I’m using the desktop version, which is probably a little less $$ when you figure that I only buy a new version every three years. For finances, you want a really robust program. You wouldn’t ask a master carpenter to do orthopedic surgery, right? They’re both good at their craft, but they shouldn’t do each other’s jobs. I feel the same way about financial management software.

  6. I used to juggle Google Docs, Calendar and Quickbooks. Always, an hour here and an hour there. I finally found out that I was probably losing a day a week, or more, to ‘paper work’.

    MMS has afforded me more personal time/teachable hours. So in essence, it kind of paid for itself. In my first month of teaching, it helped me spot a billing problem that would have otherwise gone unnoticed and would’ve shortchanged my pocket! Billing is more or less automated at this point. I also have a few families using autopay.

    Another big benefit was the student portal. After I familiarized myself with the application for a couple months, I sent out login details to parents and students. This really cut down on the amount of phone calls and emails I was getting for lesson swaps, cancellations and billing issues. It was all there to discover for themselves.

    Overall, I’m very happy with its use so far. Anything that I have been less than thrilled about, I write to them. Feedback is always heard and sometimes my suggestion becomes a new feature!

    Les
    (Music teacher for 7 years, MMS user for 8 months)

  7. I set up a simple spreadsheet system for my wife’s studio and there is no $/mo charge! I clip receipts together since those are needed for documentation. My spreadsheets do the calculations each month to monitor profitability and forecast tax results for estimated tax payments. She does scheduling with students; their schedules are too flakey to mention, and they can’t be allowed to reschedule on their own. Tracking past and student leads isn’t useful; she has them or doesn’t. I wouldn’t recommend she buy either system. BTW, there is no sales tax except on music unless you’re in a bad State for it.

    1. That’s great that you’re good enough with Excel to do all that in a spreadsheet! For a very small studio, that kind of system can definitely work if you don’t mind the data entry. Personally, I found that once my studio grew beyond about eight students I got so sick of the data entry that it was worth it to me to pay for accounting software.

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