It’s not easy being popular!
This week we caught up the Eliette Roslin from Eliette’s Music Academy in Auckland to chat about growing from a single teacher studio to an academy supporting hundreds of students and employing music teachers.
You studied at The Australian Institute of Music (AIM), was that majoring in voice and piano?
It was a Bachelor of Contemporary Performance Music and I majored in Voice. The degree was really full on if I’m honest, totally mental. Lots of performance aspects in there, bands, performance workshops, stagecraft, stage presence.
For example there was a 2 hour performance lecture every week, you got put into a group, given a lead sheet and in a short space of time had to perform a song you had never heard! It was full on , but it was about performing on your feet, taking the info off the lead sheet and putting it into action.
We had history, songwriting courses, aural training etc. Different to an American style jazz degree system or classical bachelor of music course as there was a big contemporary focus with a mixture of instrumental musicianship development, music industry skills with electives from event management to artist management – more of the business side of the industry.
Nowadays, there are lot more self managed artists in the industry. You are sometimes solely behind your artistic endeavours. You get to do what you want to do rather than being told by a label (if you’re lucky and independent), so those courses were really handy as they gave you an insight into how the industry works, the traps you can fall into, how to navigate the industry, promote yourself, put on events etc which was really helpful.
I was like..
“I love teaching, but I want to do more than just teach out of my home. I want a community, a family, a bunch of teachers so we can have fun together, supporting and learning from one another.”
Teaching alone in your home can get very lonely and very isolating very quickly.
So I was like…
“I miss Auckland, let’s move back and give it a go. Big dreams here but let’s start a music school!”
I was lucky to have the support of my parents. We got this big premises and I was like “this is way too big!” I was freaking out but my Mum was like no it’s fine – you’ll grow.
It was just me – a sole teacher! What have I got myself into! And it just exploded in the first year.
It grew to 100 people, just on my own, I needed some help! There were times when I was getting sick and no-one to cover. It was hard to reschedule students and it was getting to the point of capacity.
Initially the academy was 175sqm so it was a big space just for myself and we had divided it into 2 big rooms and then we had cut up one of the big rooms and put in 2 small rooms. I hired a couple of teachers and then things just fell into place.
I had this drumming friend that really wanted a job but I was like “I’m not [currently] advertising drums, but ok let’s give it a go” and then drums just blew up on our end. Things just kinda grew and we went with the wave.
By the middle of the second year there was a lot of growth, we had to take on a second shop a couple of doors down. We made five little studio rooms in there, made sure it was all sound proofed – double jib, double glazing – and now we are at 10 teachers and 400 students – crazy!
I dreamed of it but not this quickly to be fair, that was the dream.
A lot of the music education in NZ is still very old school or old fashioned, very classical based still. But at our school we are very contemporary, very colourful and very modern in our teaching, with modern music.
We really want to support the students, their interests, goals and dreams. Keeping it performance based with a lot of bands. A lot of parents are looking for that and not many schools are catering for that, so it was just part of the market where we knew there was a gap. If a student wants to sing Katy Perry or Adele – I don’t see the issue with it. Who am I to tell them what they should be listening too or performing.
I grew up with very traditional methods, which was fine. I didn’t mind it too much, but there were definitely times when I wanted to sing modern music that my teacher wasn’t too supportive . I’d often get stuck singing a show tune, which I didn’t mind because I loved a range of music but I can see how someone who’s just wanting to sing a pop song would be turned off immediately. I was lucky to find two supportive teachers later in high school (around 16yrs) who really supported my contemporary interests.
So we work together with the kids, obviously guiding them where necessary. Sometimes some of the contemporary songs are not always appropriate [laughs], but we make sure we are on top of that.
Ultimately whatever they want to learn we support them, and that goes for all instruments. At the end of the day everyone has different tastes and different styles. They see things and hear things differently and it is about guiding and nurturing them through that. There is no right or wrong.
I’ve been really lucky with the teachers that have come on board. It is one thing to have a dream and philosophies put in place but the other thing it to execute it. Luckily we have got teachers that understand what we are trying to do and believe in our philosophy.
It’s not about playing in your room by yourself or coming to a class once a week and making some music.
It’s about the opportunities that surround a private music lesson. Our band programmes, masterclass workshops. For example our performance workshop allows students to come and perform once a month, get feedback and learn about microphone technique.
Come learn about what makes a good performance. Come learn about songwriting and be brave enough to share your song and put them out into the world because that is really hard. It’s an extremely vulnerable thing and I want to try to make that as natural and as safe as possible. Everything is supported.
A parent the other day was saying “the teachers have such a massive impact on the students’ lives.” We are more than a singing coach or guitar coach, we are kinda like life coaches in a way. An ear and a shoulder to lean on! I know I opened up to my teachers about all sorts of things because it is a creative and vulnerable space. It just happens naturally.
We just want to support our students as much as possible. Inspire and challenge them and have fun – we just have a good time. No one is ever dragging their heals to the academy!
If we can ask you about the business side of things, how you transitioned from a sole teacher studio to having 10 teachers. What were some of the struggles as you grew?
You mentioned capacity was an issue but you managed to find a group of likeminded teachers that shared a philosophy or were you able to cultivate a shared philosophy as you went.
Yeah, I’ve been really lucky with teachers to be honest – I’ve been really lucky in that area.
At times it has been tricky to find the right teacher but it seems to always work itself out and that has been awesome.
It has been a learning curve for sure, I’ve always been relatively on top of the growth. We found a second premises before we were too far along at capacity so we were always one step ahead of the game.
I think setting yourself a good strong business plan at the beginning of the year as well is really important.
Every year I sit down in January and I’m like “what do I want to achieve this year? What growth do I want to see? Where do I want to develop? How can we improve?”
This year I want to grow to 500 students, and I want the Girls choir up to 80 kids. Having those figures in mind and then making sure we can accomplish that with the team we have. Do we have enough rooms? Do we have enough space in the timetable to achieve that? Teacher-wise over the next year, do we need 2 new piano teachers to come on board? What do we need to achieve these goals?
I always make sure that is set in stone, and I know as well what I need to do over the year.
Are you finding the new teachers are recent graduates that are fitting into the academy philosophy or performers looking to bring their skills into a teaching situation?
It’s a bit of a mix. Mostly young teachers in their late 20’s early 30’s, who are patient, passionate, very driven. It’s a bit tricky as I am so young as well to be able to direct someone that is a lot older than me. If anything over the last couple of years, that ,has been the biggest challenge trying to mentor a teacher my age or older. Its something I’ve needed to become more comfortable with.
But the teachers and I, it’s more of a partnership. I don’t see myself as a boss, it’s not really like that, I don’t really want that to be the relationship.
Each of us has our different styles and I want that to be nurtured – I want them to be doing what they are best at doing while fitting in within the philosophy – a bit of both.
Especially with Simply Music, because I have been teaching that for ten years, they kind of have naturally come to me with questions like “What do you do here? What do you do in this situation?” Which is really nice and I just try to make sure I have a really open door policy where I’m there as much as they need me to be. I want to be as present as possible. So sometimes I like to sit in classes and see how teachers are going because we all teach very differently and overall I just want to support them. We are all learning together.
The group classes actually see much better results than the private lessons, because in the groups they have this friendly competition amongst the kids which actually encourages regular practise.
Much like a sports team as soon as you start doing something as a group there is kind of like a natural inertia. The groups moves together as one as they develop personally at the same time.
Yeah, in an individual lesson, if the student doesn’t do any practise then that is fine – we can do the homework then and there. But in a group situation if you don’t do the homework or don’t put in the work it starts to become very obvious and not fun for anyone, so I actually really enjoy the group classes.
It was scary to do them when we started offering them 3 years ago as I had never taught group piano lessons but Simply Music offers such a great training programme that covers it in detail. We divide the classroom up as they advise, follow their resources and you can’t really go wrong. We make sure the parents are really involved too which makes a world of difference.
We have also made it a requirement that students have an instrument available to them at home.
Transitioning into running an academy I feel like it’s really important to have balance. I really love my teaching and I love that creative outlet, so I feel like if I was only doing the admin side of the business I would go a little stir crazy cause thats not my main passion.
I have to really make sure I have a nice balance between the office, the business and making sure I am in the classroom as well.
At times that has been challenging as I haven’t always had help with the business side of things.
It was a lot to manage advertising, following up on leads, scheduling, creating lesson plans, etc and it got very full on very quickly.
It is hard to find an office person as we operate after school hours, so finding someone happy to work those hours is really hard so I ended up hiring my Mum!
It actually works really well with Dad retired. It is hard to work those hours if you are young or have a young family or are in a relationship etc so it works well with Dad retired and Mum looking to cut down on her hours from a job in a totally different field. It’s kinda turned into a family business which I had not anticipated it to do.
She works for me in the afternoon. There were times I was in the classroom teaching and people were arriving for lessons or needed to be signed up and it was getting a bit chaotic so it is really nice to have an office person and know that is being looked after. I can be in the classroom whenever I need to be – that was an important transition.
So you are still actively teaching in the Academy, you’ve taken on an admin person (Mum) so you can be involved as much as possible in the classroom.
Yeah, though since I have had twin baby boys this year it’s definitely going to be a bit of a change for me. At the moment I teach one class a week and I’m in the Green Room which is our charity programme on a Tuesday. Then the rest of my time is spent helping training the new teachers, managing the groups and speaking with parents, that’s kinda where I am at because I need that flexibility with the boys. So not being tied down to the classroom is really helpful at the moment.
I want to be able to focus on growing the girls choir, growing our charity. So it is going to be a bit of an adjustment for me this year, but I hope to be back in the classroom hopefully by mid year.
It’s important for me, just to keep the connection, I miss my kids terribly, I miss my classes so yeah I look forward to being back but in saying that I do want to see the girls choir grow a lot more and that requires time and attention. Unfortunately I can’t be everywhere and do everything all at once [laughs]. The problem is I have so many projects that I am passionate about, I haven’t had the time to focus on them and give them my 100%. So that is the goal this year.
The academy is really well established now, and that is going to just keep growing, it is going to be a great year.