how to recruit more students

It’s the start of the new year—is your teaching studio full?  Have you recruited the kind of motivated and focused students you love to teach? Find out how to recruit more students:

For inspiration, here’s a story from Mike Johnston (of, on how he initially launched his in-person drum teaching studio.

Mike was touring with a signed rock band in his 20s when he came to the realization that what he really loved was teaching. So he quit the band and moved to San Luis Obispo, CA, where he had no contacts.

Mike went to a local drum shop and talked the owner into giving him a room to teach in — one day a week. But he had no students?

Instead of going after students who were studying with other teachers (and making enemies of the teachers in the area), Mike set out to find new students.

He made appointments at the local elementary schools to meet with the Vice Principals. Mike dressed professionally (covered up the tattoos, wearing a button down shirt) and introduced himself with:

“Hi, I’m Mike Johnston and I’m an educator.” [He didn’t say ‘drummer’ or ‘teacher’—he said educator.] “I’d love to come in and teach your kids about geography and rhythm.” [Notice the order of the topics!]

The vice principal was interested.

Mike described what he had in mind, “It’s going to be a free assembly. We’ll get all the kids in the room and I’m going to play something on the drum set that’s going to be super fun and exciting to listen to. And then I’m going to get up and talk about where that rhythm came from and the people that created the rhythm. We can call this ‘Rhythms of the World’ and I’m going to take them through Brazil, Africa, India, and America. And I’m going to show them the different places that created these amazing rhythms.”

The Vice Principal says, “How much do you charge?”

Mike tells him, “Nothing. It’s free.”

“OK, so what do you need?”

Mike says, “All I want is I’m going to give you a stack of 500 gift certificates good for one free drum lesson. Please just hand these out to the students who are interested. That’s all I’m asking.”

Mike goes home, practices his presentation like crazy, comes back on Wednesday and it goes great. He gets everyone involved, lets them try the drums, everyone’s happy. And the gift certificates all get handed out.

Now Mike doesn’t expect to fill his studio right away. He isn’t banking on that. What he’s banking on is those gift certificates landing on people’s fridges at home. And before the next birthday or holiday, the kid is asked, “Are you still interested in drum lessons?” And that’s the start.

When the assembly ends Mike stops by the Vice Principal’s office and says, “Thank you so much. I had a blast. If you want to do it again next year, I can come back and do a bunch of countries we didn’t get to this time.”

The VP says, “Sure!”

Mike says, “Can I ask you for one more thing?”

And he asks for a letter of recommendation which he uses to reach out to two other schools in the area.

So 1500 gift certificates go out.

And within 60 days Mike had 65 students. WOW.

This inspiring story is part of a course on becoming a music teacher Mike offers through Creative Live.

But wait, there’s more inspiration from Mike:

Check out this short segment of a talk he gave on making your living as a musician. He details how to build a career—using an example from the audience, complete with the schedule and money laid out from teaching, gigging, a day job with contacts, and ways to grow the pie.

And here’s a short documentary (12:29) on how Mike built a career as an early Youtube music teacher (the first!) and how he went on to become an inspired live online teacher who offers 10 week-long in-person drum camps per year.

Thank you, Mike for all the inspiration!

This week: What ideas from Mike’s examples could you adapt to fit your own situation? What reasons do you have for not following through with these ideas? Are these perceived obstacles ones you can work around? If you can’t think of a solution, who can you talk with to brainstorm more ideas?

If you’d like to discuss your career goals, and find out how coaching can help you achieve them, let’s talk! Reach me at

Looking forward to hearing from you as always,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well!




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