Transcript: Episode 037 – David Barnard on Music Co-Operatives in the UK
Transcript for Episode 037 – David Barnard on Music Co-Operatives in the UK
Andrea: Today’s guest comes to us from the UK to talk about another business model that is helping teachers make a sustainable living: the music co-operative.
Just a heads up, business culture and regulations are different around the world. The way the UK music co-ops handle lesson fees might not work where you live. Here in the US, the Federal Trade Commission would consider this price fixing and a violation of antitrust laws.
With that disclaimer, you’re still going to get a ton of great takeaways about co-ops that you could apply in an American context.
Now onto the conversation:[00:01:08]
Andrea: Hi David. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here today. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about what you do?
David: So my name is David Barnard and I have been working in the music industry since I was 16 and in that time I’ve had a variety of different jobs. I started off as a professional trombonist and I’m still playing, but during that journey, I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been a conductor, I’ve been an examiner, producer, publisher, university lecturer. I’ve managed three music services then I went to spend some time about—when was that—10 years working for Roland as Head of Education. And now, I work part-time for the Musicians’ Union and I’m also Director of Resonance, a Music University and I’m chair of the music industry’s association. I look after their Education Committee. So it’s a kind of real broad mix of things.
Music has always been core to what I do and I still teach and it’s like so many musicians, you have a portfolio and career and I’ve picked in and out. There were times at the moment I feel more like a corporate lawyer, an employment lawyer, and especially with the current situation that’s going on with a lot of teachers being laid off because their schools are closed. That’s me.[00:02:31]
Andrea: All right, so you’ve worn almost every hat there is I imagine for a musician.
Andrea: For someone not in the UK, can you tell us what music services are? Can you translate?
David: Okay, that’s a good question because I think the context is really important. So in the UK, instrumental music teaching happens in two places. One, in the private sector, so teachers may teach from home or they might visit students at their home. That’s a thriving industry. It’s completely unregulated so anybody can actually set themselves up as a music teacher if they wish. And then there is the state-funded sector and since the Second World War, local authorities– so in the UK we have what we call local authorities or district councils and those councils, since the Second World War started to develop their own music teaching which was funded from public taxation, and so the teachers often refer to as peripatetic would travel from school to school giving instrumental lessons. And that is developed for the last 60 years and in many cases, that tuition was provided for free, so the council would pay for the teaching.
But in the last 20-30 years, more and more music services have had to charge schools and schools in turn have charged parents. And in some cases, music services charge parents directly. And we then have been through, certainly in the last 10 years if not longer, a series of big cuts in public spending. So a lot of those music services had become some have disbanded, some have become private charities, some have become music co-operatives, and others have become a kind of freelance teaching agency.
So what we have here is a real mix of different providers and the government have tried to respond or has responded to those cuts by creating what we now call a National Plan for Music Education and out of that came the creation of what is called music hubs, so they are regionally, so we got 122 music hubs across the country. They are responsible for delivering what’s in the national music plan, which essentially are whole class teaching, instrumental teaching and all ensembles. We’re at an interesting time and when I went to teach a training college, every Friday you would get the times educational supplement and there would be 20 or so full-time teaching salaried jobs.
David: Now you’ll be very lucky to see anything and what we have is a mixture of some employed work, a significant amount of self-employed work, and we have a thing called zero hours. Do you have zero hours contracts?
Andrea: I don’t know what that is.
David: That’s a kind of contract where you are employed but only for a fixed number of hours. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get any work but it’s because there’s an element of control in there, you do get certain employment rights, but I’ve asked a number of teachers are self-employed.[00:05:54]
Andrea: Okay. Wow! So it sounds like there is a huge national emphasis on music education and the government is getting out of that business and all of a sudden teachers are really having to adjust to the jobs that aren’t there anymore.
David: Yeah, I think the challenge we have is that the government makes—and this is my own view; I’m sure there will be people who would have a contrary view to this—but the government says a lot of things in support of music education but the actual consequence of funding and cuts is that more and more teachers have to think as independent businesses in their own right. And I don’t think that the government’s rhetoric has kept in line with what is actually happening on the shop floor in terms of employment and security for instrumental teaching.
There was a time when it was considered a viable career option and now, I think, if you’ll look at the number of people who are coming into music education from an instrumental point of view, the number of teachers are certainly going down. So it’s no longer a viable career option that it used to be. However, what we are seeing is a new young new teachers coming in with more entrepreneurial outlook on things, much more tech-savvy, using online teaching, but also just teaching a broader range of instruments as well. So I think wherever there are always difficulties there are always opportunities.
Andrea: For sure, yeah. I think we are seeing that right now with the COVID outbreak and things like that, people looking at the silver lining and seeing what is possible now that we’re in the situation we’re in.
Andrea: So this is going to be airing in a series of interviews about sustainable business practices and what have you noticed, have teachers responded to this shift to a more entrepreneurial thinking in managing their businesses?
David: It’s very interesting because I think that where the real entrepreneurial element of teaching has come about is I think those people who are teaching in rock and pop and production. They’ve really embraced technology and the traditional music provision was much more geared towards more casual instruments and classical music, and the rock and pop teachers operated outside of that. So they’ve been developing their own business practices for quite some time and others are now catching up. But because everything in terms of government funding is lower than it used to be, we’re seeing new services popping up all the time.
So in the UK we have an organization called Rock Steady. They’re teaching about 24,000 children across the country and they’re teaching popular music and teaching children aged between 8 and 12 how to perform in rock bands, and that’s very popular and the schools are buying in that service. So I think those traditional music services I described earlier they are having to adapt and become aware of what customers, i.e. parents and children want.[00:09:11]
Andrea: It sounds like it’s a much more inclusive view of what is included in music education so not just the classical training or not just violin, piano, flute, but also the production side and yeah, getting into just all facets of music.
David: Yes, I think so, and I think that’s a positive thing with concerns that I think a lot of the guys who run orchestras and bands is where they’re going to find those bassoonists, double bassists and French horn players and tuba players because in the past when we’re running music service using public funding, you could be a bit more strategic in developing a broader profile. So if you were short of double bassists, you could buy the instruments and go and find the kids who are tall enough and big enough to play them.
And so when we’re in a situation where we are very much customer-led, everybody wants to be a guitarist or a rock musician or a drummer and so we are seeing some challenges where youth orchestras we’re seeing those gaps develop. That is, in some ways, the downside of being completely unregulated and being completely responsive to where the market is. So those teachers of those minority instruments have got to look at other ways in which they can make their particular instruments look more appealing. So when you look at being a trombone player, you know I’m very keen on what’s happening here and the rise in plastic instruments. We’ve got a company here called Warwick Music who makes plastic trumpets and clarinets and trombones and they can be a variety of colors—purple, orange, yellow, et cetera. And if you drop them it doesn’t matter because they’re made of plastic. Now that’s getting a really good, positive reaction from children because it’s different. And there’s a new generation of teachers coming through with new ways of teaching and a bit more responsive to the kids.[00:11:10]
Andrea: That’s a really interesting angle thinking of marketing not just from, you know, the way you talk about yourself as a teacher but the whole product line, the instruments that you’re marketing and things like that that can be 3D printed electric violins.
David: Well, that is the future, absolutely. Why shouldn’t we have that?
David: And I think that’s a bit of a culture shock for some people but I think at the end of the day, what we’ve got to remember is that I think a lot of children want to engage in music and our job as teachers is to facilitate that opportunity to learn a musical instrument. And so I remember saying to one of my pupils many years ago somewhat disappointed that he wasn’t enjoying his trombone lessons and I asked him why, you know, what’s going on here and he said, “Well, I just don’t like the music.” And so I said, “What kind of music do you enjoy?” And he said, “I like listening to heavy rock.”
So the challenge for me then as a trombone teacher is how do I bring trombone playing into his world of music? And once we’ve found a way to do that, which is there are some fantastic bass lines which we transferred to playing on the trombone and their realty was there, completely focused.[00:12:23]
Andrea: That’s awesome. So how have you seen this self-employed music teachers respond to this change?
David: The foundation of the co-operatives was in most cases born out of crisis. Because a lot of the cuts that were going on in local government meant that a lot of teachers were being made redundant and so they had a choice of either going independent as individual teachers trying to deliver their teaching or to come together as groups of teachers. And I think that for quite a few teachers who were used to being in an employment situation to being in a self-employed situation, it was quite a culture shock, quite a transition. There was a lot of worry, a lot of anxiety. How am I going to pay the bills? And because in the good old days it was a case of you always got paid whether you would go to what you did or not. A lot of teachers found themselves in a situation which is there’s no guarantee that I’m going to get paid for the work that I did, so there was a huge culture shock there. And in many ways, that kind of galvanized teachers to be thinking about, “How do I diversify what we do and how do we provide a service that people want to buy?”
So I’ll give you an example. The traditional contract that a teacher would have would– the summer holidays, you’d have something like six weeks holiday—paid holiday. That’s a concept that I think a lot of Americans may struggle with. And when these folks then went from a salary position to being self-employed, a lot of them quite rightly said, “How am I going to survive over that six-week period?” Well the answer was let’s talk to the students and see if there’s anything they would like to do over this six-week period, and also talk to parents because six weeks is a long time to be thinking about what we’re going to do with the kids.
So the idea created was why don’t we start our own summer school, so if you wanted to learn the flute and you’ve always wanted to learn the flute or you want to learn to play the drums or you’d like to be able to learn how to use Cubase or something like that to create music for computer games. So a lot of teachers had to be almost given permission to think outside the box, to think about, well, what are the skills do you have as a musician that you can bring to the table and we can then develop a business?
And I remember that conversation with teachers very clearly which was you know, where one teacher, he say, “Well, I’m not teaching them [00:15:05] keyboard player.” He said, “Well, I’m not doing that. I love computer games, so would it be okay if I run a course on writing music for computer games?” And the answer is, “Yes, of course.” And so I think that the challenge for instrumental teachers was appreciating that they have to work as independent people but also collectively, and it was okay to be thinking differently in using their musical skills to engage with young people in a different way from what they were used to doing before.[00:15:38]
Andrea: And a really neat structure came out of this challenge that they’re trying to overcome and you briefly mentioned it–the co-operative. Can you describe what those co-operatives are?
David: Okay, so we have in the UK 10 co-operatives at the moment and they’re all just slightly different but they are very much they’re based on what we call the consortium model which is very popular with a lot of organizations throughout Europe. And the consortia co-operative is where people are independent self-employed people who choose to work together collaboratively. There’s another idea or another version of the co-operative called the worker co-operative where everybody is an employee of the co-operative. And in base scenarios whether it’s a consortia or worker co-operative, the organization is owned and run and managed by the members of the co-operative. The only difference really is that a consortia co-operative is made up of self-employed people as opposed to being employees, so it has a different act relationship.
So when I formed the co-operative in Swindon we had our budget cut and we were looking at making everybody redundant and closing the music service down. However, the demand for the instrumental tuition was still there, so we decided with the help from the Musician’s Union to form consortia co-operative. It started with 24 teachers who are all self-employed and it’s now 64 and the essential purpose of the co-operative is to provide services to its members. So in the case of Swindon and other co-operatives, each co-operative employs a small team of administrators who provide a range of services to the members so that those services could be invoicing, training, debt collecting, marketing, liaison with customers, providing a mental program, dealing with any complaints and just general support, and that’s a service that the members pay for.[00:17:49]
Andrea: Okay, so the teachers teach and it’s the collective of teachers employ the staff that serves all of them. Is that a good summary?
David: Exactly and that’s paid for. So what happens is that the teachers decide collectively how much they’re going to charge per hour, so their tuition, and what that tuition’s service is going to look like. Are they going to deliver tuition every week for the entire year or they’re going to do some 36 weeks, whatever, and they collectively vote for that and the charge for that central service is top sliced from that fee. So for example, you might say—just a pluck of figure for the moment—let’s say that the hourly cost is £50. It might be that £5 of that then comes back to the same to pay for those support services. Now in our tax system, that £5 that you’ve deducted is also tax-deductible because it is a legitimate business expense. It works beautifully.[00:18:55]
Andrea: Yeah, so the teachers get the tax benefit of paying for those expenses and then the organization itself is that taxed at all or is it just the self-employed teachers have their own taxes?
David: Yeah, the organization it is leveled for the corporate tax but only on the money made by the co-operative and not on the teachers’ income. So the teachers may pay tax separately but if the co-operative does additional activities, so let’s say that the co-operative decides to put on a concert and the teachers donate their services to this concert and the concert makes £10,000, that would be taxable but not the teachers’ income because the co-operative is essentially acting as a holding bank for the teachers. So they are going to parents collecting the fee. The fee sits within an account for the teacher within the co-operative but that is essentially the teacher’s money and they would then claim on that every month until the next batch of invoices go out.[00:20:02]
Andrea: Okay, yeah. That’s really interesting. I don’t think there’s a legal structure for a co-operative in the same way in the US so I’m not sure how the tax situation works.
David: Yeah, I mean, I think there are co-operatives in the US.
David: And I wouldn’t be surprised that there’s a consortium model there. A lot of taxi drivers might be part of a consortia. One of the biggest co-operatives is the French wine industry which a lot of people, operators, independent businesses, but as part of a co-operative. So there are models around and I think one of the benefits I feel for the teachers is that being an instrumental teacher is quite a lonely job. You very rarely network with others. So this is an opportunity for you to come together and it provides support for each other. It avoids that sense of isolation. I think that when you are a collective, you have more power to stand up against those forces that operate against you and against music education. I mean, certainly, what we found was that when music services are being disbanded and teachers have operated independently as independent teachers, is that it was constant challenge not to have your fees being forced down, that’s raised to the bottom, you know, so where schools would say, “Well I can go to Andrea for this price but you’re £10 more expensive and so eventually, you kind of go, “Well okay, I’ll match whatever Andrea charges.
And when you work as a co-operative, everybody says, “Now this is the rate. We all agreed to that.” So which gives comfort, I think, then to the members. But I think the other benefit is that it’s the co-operative is democratically run. Everybody has one member, one vote. The co-operative elects its board of representatives and that board of representatives or board of directors looks after the kind of day-to-day operation of the co-operative and deal with any kind of wider, bigger, strategic issues on behalf of the members, but it is very democratically accountable. So if you, as a member of the co-operative, while I’m happy with a certain decision that was made by the board, you would have every right to raise that concern. And if there are enough of you, you disagree with that decision, and then you could collectively come together and change that policy. So it’s very democratically run.
And I think that also, that in itself then empowers teachers to take a greater involvement and greater responsibility for the direction of the organization. And I think this is one of the things that I really love about co-operatives is that if you’ve worked in a context where you’ve worked for an employer, you know, with a very hierarchical system, the boss at the top and then the deputy bosses, you know, it’s very much a command and control situation, whereas a co-operative is very flat.
There may be people in there with certain responsibilities because they’ve been voted into those positions but the co-operative is very much a one member, one vote. It’s open. It’s transparent. It’s democratic and it means that everybody is empowered to make an informed decision about where the co-operative goes.[00:23:30]
Andrea: And is that elected board made up of member teachers? Or are they outside people?
David: Now the members, they’re elected by the members and in some cases, the board can invite outside people not as directors but as consultants and advisers to sit on the board because in many cases, a lot of these teachers have never run a business. So they have accounts which they have to file with our tax office, your version of IRS. So sometimes they need some help and if there are any disputes they might need an external consultant to come and help resolve a dispute. But on the whole they’re volunteers. They don’t get paid and in a lot of the co-operatives they set up a rotation scheme so that over a period of time, everybody has an opportunity to be on the board, which I think is very powerful in terms of developing those people, but also developing the co-operative, so it’s responsive to changes in the market, changes in the environment in which they’re teaching.[00:24:33]
Andrea: And what responsibilities do the teachers have besides voting and teaching their lessons? Are there any responsibilities that they hold to keep the co-operative running?
David: Every member of the co-operative signs a Code of Professional Practice. So in that, it covers their responsibilities in terms of providing quality service and quality teaching. It also covers how they manage their relationships with schools and other partners and also with themselves, so it’s looking both at the customers, it’s looking at other partners and also looking internally. And that Code of Practice is what brings everybody together. And if somebody breaches that kind of practice, there’s a possibility if they continue breach that code of practice, the membership of the co-operative might be withdrawn because it like, in a sense, being part of a gym. If your behavior in the gym becomes unacceptable you could lose your membership, and that’s exactly in this case, it’s essentially those services that are provided to you are withdrawn. And if you want to become a member of the co-operative, certainly, the model we’ve established here is that you are joining a professional association so as a new teacher coming into the co-operative, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have the right skills, the right qualities that you’re the right person to be part of this organization. It is just like being part of any other professional body.[00:26:06]
Andrea: What’s the reputation of the co-operatives for prospective students, like do they see them as, “Oh, I know these teachers have been betted,” they’re high quality because they’re part of the co-operative? Does it have any impact there?
David: Well anybody who works in schools in the UK has got to be– is a service that the government provides so they do all the appropriate checks on you. They check if there’s any criminal behavior or anything like that. That doesn’t at the moment happen in the private sector, but certainly, anything involved in school-based teaching you have those tests and those are carried out by the co-operatives as well.
I think, for younger people, I mean on the whole, most parents and pupils wouldn’t know that they’re having a lesson from a co-operative. It all happens behind the scenes and so I think its credits to the teachers that everything operates smoothly. But I think that certainly, when we form the co-operative, we were seeing this being slightly off-kilter. We were viewed by those employed services as being slightly dangerous because the whole sector was at a very unstable time when a lot of teachers were losing their jobs and here we were demonstrating that if you lose your job there is a positive way forward and the co-operative helps you do that.
As the co-operatives got more and more successful, we became more and more of a potential threat. So we were seen as a bit of a slightly socialist left-wing utopian organization, but in fact, it can be very entrepreneurial and in answer to one of your questions which is, “Is it a profit-making? Is it a for profit organization?” Then, yes it is, but it is up to the members, the co-operative members, to decide what they do with those profits. So it may be that some co-operatives, for example, that profit is used to run what we call a remission scheme for those kids who can’t pay for lessons or it might be used for professional development or it might be used for a mental program or it might be put in a bank account and accumulate it for periods like COVID-19 coming along and where schools are closed and the teachers are now saying things like, “I can’t go into schools. How do I earn my living?”
Some of them are now exploring online teaching but there is a safety net there to support those teachers during that transition period so they still get pay. The decision to do that is taken by the teachers themselves, which I think is refreshing.[00:28:55]
Andrea: Yeah, and it really gives enough independence to be responsible and have that motivation to try to improve yourself as a teacher, improve your organization as a whole, but also, like you said, the safety net and the “you’re not in this alone, we’re going to make this work together,” that sort of atmosphere.
David: Yeah, and I think that is very powerful and certainly, when those teachers that have moved from an employed arrangement to a self-employed arrangement where they manage their own co-operative, there was that culture shock where people were not used to taking were making decisions. It was always made by somebody else on their behalf. Co-operatives, I think, can be very empowering and very dynamic and flexible to wherever the market is going. That collective, coming together, means that you’ve got an amazing diversity of ideas because we all become very channeled in our own little worlds. Someday, you might find that the drum teachers have got some really dynamic ideas you’d think, “I never thought of that,” because in my little silo of trombone teaching, we’re just obsessed with mouthpieces all the time.[00:30:09]
Andrea: Yeah, I love that, I mean, the collaborative opportunities, I’m sure, abound. So you were involved in the Swindon Music Co-operative but you’ve also been involved in several others. Can you tell us a little bit about each one of those and how they’re different and what’s unique about them?
David: Yeah, sure. Well Swindon Co-operative was actually the second co-operative to be formed. The first one was in Newcastle which is in the northeast of England and so they were the very first music co-operative to be formed and all of these co-ops have had the support from the Musician’s Union, which is an amazing organization and has provided—and continues to provide—support. So Newcastle and Swindon therefore are very similar.
We have another very dynamic co-operative in North Wales called Denbighshire and they have a system based on that of Swindon in that you’ve got about 50 or 60 teachers working as self-employed members of the co-operative and they then employ a central nucleus administration that is doing the administration on behalf of the teachers.
We have a slightly smaller co-operative in Salisbury. I think they’re about 50 members there. They have a slightly different model because they are small, they don’t employ their own admin people. They actually buy that in as contract services. So they’ve gone to an independent organization that provides management and administration and accountancy services, and they essentially have a contract for services between the co-operatives and that business, which is very efficient. It’s very effective as well because it means that if that organization fails to continue to do a quality job for the co-operative, they can just cut the contract and go to somebody else.
We have another very fantastic co-operative in Milton Keynes and they run a very similar model in that they buy their administration services from an external provider. Just up the road is Bedford. They do employ somebody now to do their administration for them. It’s just one person who does all of that central coordination for them, a new service in Wrexham, which is on the borders of England and Wales. An interesting model in Gloucestershire, in that the teachers operate a very, very loose kind of co-operative, so they will come together once in a while to discuss their fees and how they might support and collaborate with each other, but otherwise, it’s very, very loose. They don’t have a board of directors. They don’t constitute themselves as a limited company. They are just independent teachers who occasionally come together to agree not to outdo each other and agree to collaborate and et cetera.
That’s the profile and we’ve got a few emerging co-operatives coming where teachers have been inspired by what’s going on in other places and are now looking at forming their own co-operatives. And often, what happens is we see that they start very small with five or six teachers and they kind of follow that Gloucestershire model of just collaborating with each other, but as they get bigger, then it becomes a bit more complex so they need to co-op and make themselves a bit more and eventually, they come to a point where they will constitute themselves as a proper co-operative, a consortia co-operative, and that involves forming a limited company. Do you have limited companies in the US?
Andrea: We do, yeah.
David: So that provides, by forming that limited company, it protects the financial interactions that goes on. So as long as there isn’t anything illegal, if something went astray with the co-operative financially, that debt is contained within the company and the individual teachers are not affected.[00:34:02]
Andrea: Okay, so it sounds like a lot at start as just almost social groups of teachers getting together and discussing things and then they formalize?
David: I think nearly all of them had been, so when we look at Newcastle, Swindon, Denbighshire, Salisbury, the Isle of Wight—I’ve not mentioned them, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Wrexham, they’ve all been formed out of crisis. In other words, the music service was identified for closure. Everybody was told they’re going to be made redundant and then everybody is in a state of shock thinking, “What am I going to do now?” And that’s when the Musician’s Union has stepped in with the book “Altogether Now” and said, “Ah, there is a future here for you and we can help you form a co-operative.” What we’re seeing now is those smaller co-operatives, all those smaller groups of teachers that are now emerging. So those are the ones that are a bit more later laissez faire to begin with.[00:34:59]
Andrea: Two questions from that: Are the co-operatives, do they operate out of the physical location or are all the teachers distributed at their own houses and studios?
David: So most of them will have an office. So in Newcastle, Swindon, Denbighshire, they all have an office. Milton Keynes has an office. Salisbury doesn’t need an office because it’s very small. And so because they buy in their administration services, that person’s office or place of work becomes a kind of the hub. But on the whole, most of them will have an office where they will share a space. A lot of the councils, having made the teachers redundant, will offer some kind of transition support and that often means a free office and with some means of IT, et cetera. So in the case of, for example, the Isle of Wight, which is at the very bottom of the UK, if you would—it’s a little island just at the bottom of the UK—teachers there were made redundant but they were given the council gate and the continued use of an office to help them during this transition period.[00:36:09]
Andrea: Okay, interesting. And then, is there a size like a number of members that seems to work really well where they can kind of optimize their systems?
David: Yeah, now that’s interesting because in the case of the smaller co-operatives with only, say, 15 or 20 teachers but roughly between 10 and 15, it is not viable for them to employ somebody. So if Salisbury gets to a point where they were employing or they’ve got 30 members of the co-operative, it might be they decide to employ somebody. It’s that kind of critical point when that top slicing them out that come back, “Is there enough money for us to employ somebody?”
In terms of optimum size, it depends what you want. So it maybe that Salisbury continues with the arrangement they’ve gotten by those services externally and prefer to do that. When you employ people, it requires a lot of support. You got a responsibility as an organization when you employ somebody. And it may well be that the co-operative decides, “We don’t want that responsibility. We would prefer to buy in a company that does the administration for us.” The bigger co-operatives like Denbighshire, Swindon, Newcastle and Bedford, there probably is a ceiling to how big they’ll ever get, but they run about 50 mark, 50 teachers, and they seem to operate very well.
The more the merrier because then, you can actually get people involved in different kinds of activities. So you might have your board of directors but you might have a board that is looking at new business development. You might have another group of teachers that are looking at supporting professional development and supporting new teachers. So the more that you have, the more opportunities you have for everybody to be involved in the broadening of the services available to the members.[00:38:02]
Andrea: Yeah, it sounds like you’re just limited by the entrepreneurial thinking of the members and what they can imagine.
David: Yeah, and I think in some ways that is the big challenge. That is the big challenge. I feel that one of the challenges we have in education, generally, is developing entrepreneurial skills and I think the Americans do it better than most. But certainly, our education system, we’d look at entrepreneurs as being very different kind of people from the rest of us and yet everybody has the potential to be an entrepreneur. It’s about being given the opportunity to experiment, to grow, to develop, being supported, being creative, and having the self-confidence to try something different. I think that’s, in many ways, a challenge for us in the education world, which is to develop those entrepreneurial skills as early on in children. Certainly, I’ve seen with emerging co-operatives a lot of teachers who are traumatized by that reality that they’ve now got to run their own business and that’s quite terrifying.
Andrea: Yeah. If you thought you were going to step into a job and you’re not, yeah, that would be…
David: Yeah, although I have to say, there came a point in Swindon where we managed to get a lot of funding from government. The co-operative have been going for, I think, about eight years by that time. We’ve got a lot of funding from government. The question was, “Do you want to go back to being employed again?” Because we could probably just about cover it and the response was, “No, we’re very happy being self-employed. We like our independence,” which was great.[00:39:48]
Andrea: Yeah, that’s going to be really empowering too, to no longer have that forced on you but to be choosing that and say, “I believe this is the better thing for me.”
David: Yes, absolutely. When I first came to Swindon, it was an employed service so I had I think it was around about 12 employed teachers at the time. We were on a contract with the council to deliver 36 hours of teaching a week. Now, 36 hours teaching a week is a lot and, I mean, I know when I was a full-time teacher, my best teaching would always be on a Monday. Friday was always big because the weekend was coming. But by Thursday I’m tired and I know personally that my best and I teach well to a certain point and then I need to do something else. And that something else brings things back into my teaching which helps me be a little bit more dynamic. But in the case of these teachers who were doing 36 hours teaching, it was just impossible to provide quality service.
Then we have a whole range of teachers who are on contracts. They’re on paid for the teaching they did and these guys were much more entrepreneurial because if they wanted to get more teaching, some of them of would do an assembly in the school or some of them would provide free tuition as a trial and others were doing much more dynamic marketing and other things because if they wanted more teaching, they have to go out and find it. I think that’s part of the culture shock I think a lot of teachers have had from going from an employed situation where you were told go to the school and teach, to those people who are hourly paid who needed to create their opportunities for themselves.
Andrea: Yeah, all of a sudden you’ve got to create your own agency there to get out and do it.
Andrea: Well David, it’s super interesting to hear about everything, how this works in a context that’s different than here in America but has lots of parallels too. Before we wrap up, we’re going to get to go a lot more into depth into how to actually start a co-op in part 2, but before we wrap up here, is there anything else you want to mention on this part 1 topic?
David: I think we’ve covered a lot. I just think that once people have got into the model of a co-operative and they feel empowered, I think a lot of people would then want to change. They don’t want to go back to employment. Do you know Richard Wolff?
Andrea: The name sounds familiar but…
David: Professor Richard Wolff, he is an American economics professor at the New School, I think, in New York. He does a lot of presentations about co-operatives. I’ve been following him for quite some time now and I do believe passionately in where co-operatives go. I think the other factor is that what it does is we’re quite narrow, I think, in our understanding of what leadership is and what I found with a co-operative was that people who would otherwise be very quiet would come forward with ideas and therefore take on a leadership role.
So it might be that somebody in your team is good at creating websites so they suddenly get propelled into a position of leadership in terms of developing that website. Others might be good at doing Excel spreadsheets. Some of them might be good at composing, et cetera, so I think the co-operative is a great way of drawing out those qualities, those talents and those skills in people and may it continue.
Andrea: I hope so. Well David, thank you so much.
Andrea: As a teacher who has only ever taught in the United States, I thought it was really interesting to hear about the changes in music education in the UK over the last several decades.
David described the “culture shock” that teachers felt when their employment options evaporated, and they had to find new ways to support themselves.
His comment about the music co-operatives being born out of crisis, was so good to hear right now, as we experience the crisis that is COVID-19.
I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon over the last several weeks. With things being shaken up beyond recognition, it gives us an unusual freedom to just try things and see what happens.
Maybe you’ve noticed an openness in your students to try new things that hasn’t always been there. Or maybe the disruption has forced YOU to get resourceful in a way that will have a lasting positive impact on your business.
Crisis breeds creativity.
We’ve talked about several business models now. In Episode 032 Jake Estner talked about building a sustainable independent studio, in Episode 031 Ken Thompson talked about building a large school that could sustain both him and his teachers, and the co-op falls in the middle – where teachers are independent but also experience some of the benefits of a larger organization.
One of the things I really like about the co-op model, is that it gives teachers an incentive to be entrepreneurial and take ownership in the organization, while relieving some of the administrative pressure of being an independent business owner.
Teachers can contribute whatever business skills they have, whether it’s bookkeeping, marketing, web design, or something else, and then pool their resources to hire help for the rest.
I could see a lot of teachers thriving with this arrangement.
In case you missed it, my Vision & Values course is now LIVE!
It’s completely free and my gift to the music teaching community, during this confusing time.
Teachers who have gone through the course talk about how it’s helping them have a clearer sense of who they are as teachers and where they should focus their attention.
For teachers who complete the course, I’m also offering free follow-up coaching to see how you can APPLY that vision to navigate all the changes that may be happening in your studio right now.
All the details are available at MusicStudioStartup.com/vision
That’s all for today, I’ll be back next week!