Swindling Music Students over instruments?

Posted by on February 26, 2011

Deal or no deal, music students swindled

Harriet Alexander
February 26, 2011 – 3:00AM

INSTRUMENT dealers call it their ”dirty little secret”, the pact they have with music teachers who funnel them students – in exchange for a slice of the profit.

It is just one of the traps for aspiring virtuosos whose parents have saved up thousands of dollars to buy them an instrument, in a market rife with fakes and swindlers.

Some dealers will give teachers up to 10 per cent ”commission” for referring students, but unlike industries such as financial planning, the buyer is unaware their patronage has been bought.

The system has operated for decades, and though some businesses are uneasy about it, they fear teachers will boycott them if they do not offer an incentive.

A retired dealer, Robert Tepper, said no dealer would admit to it. ”I was well established so I didn’t have to do it much,” Tepper said. ”But when I had to do it, I did it.”

But some businesses and teachers are speaking up, saying students could be paying inflated prices or buying instruments of an inferior quality because their teacher has an incentive to use a particular store.

”I don’t call them commissions, I call them kickbacks,” said Charmian Gadd, a joint owner of the Violinery in Lindfield.

”There are many teachers who won’t deal with us because we don’t do kickbacks.”

Some teachers actually sold violins to their students, she said.

”Some of them have a good instinct for finding good instruments for their students and from that point of view you can say it’s good, but others make a living out of it. It’s a pretty murky and horrible business frankly.

”I think the whole notion of taking a commission on an instrument to come to one of your students is immoral.”

John Simmers, a Brisbane violin maker who also refuses to pay commissions, said it was not uncommon for school students to spend up to $10,000 on a stringed instrument and tertiary students to pay up to $20,000. They relied on the advice of their teachers.

”The students and their parents are so desperate to make it that they’ll do anything, so the teacher says, ‘You need a new instrument and you need this instrument worth $20,000,’ and the parents all unquestionably buy it,” he said. ”A lot of these parents aren’t musicians themselves and … that’s where the teacher becomes so powerful.”

One teacher demanded a 20 per cent cut, Mr Simmers said.

”The really silly thing about it is that the shops that are more likely to pay the commissions are the ones who are more likely to have the … more dubious instruments.”

Goetz Richter, an associate professor in strings at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, said he refused offers of commission from violin dealers.

”They’ve insinuated that if you assist us there might be something in it for you,” Dr Richter said.

”I think there’s a sizeable number of [teachers] who would think it unethical and actually refuse if offered. There are some who are decent people and who feel ethically and professionally unable to conflate those two activities.”

The practice is mostly confined to stringed instruments, which are the most expensive and appreciate more in value.

Gerard Willems, an associate professor in piano at the conservatorium, said dealers had given him unsolicited commissions of $300 to $400 for his private students, but not for years.

”The ’70s and ’80s were the heyday and now things are a lot tighter so there’s no such thing as a free lunch any more,” Professor Willems said.

The students would not be informed because the money came out of the profit margin. ”This would be something between the shop and myself.”

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/deal-or-no-deal-music-students-swindled-20110225-1b8qz.html

One Response to Swindling Music Students over instruments?

  1. admin

    Just to add that if I refer the parents of my students to my local music store to purchase a piano (after they have looked around at prices etc), and IF they decide to purchase from that particular store, the PARENTS get a discount if they mention my name.

    I do get 10% off my personal purchases when I shop at my local music store, and in return, they keep my name on a list to refer customers to if they are looking for a teacher in the area. I am also notified of events and promotions.

    I have never benefitted personally from my students purchasing a violin, and have never expected to.