A useful post on YouTube by Two Set Violins. https://youtu.be/TAU_6huLGQ8
I wonder if conservatories are starting to put codes of conduct regulating this with their faculty members? Or if it is such an expected part of the business that teachers would revolt and move to less ethical shops? Certainly, in days gone by, famous teachers (often with even more famous students) did quite well every time the kid traded up.
[And just so everyone knows, I am not putting any v.com member in the category of kickback-solicitor.]
Wonder what happens when one of those violin shops gets a tax audit and the IRS finds out they've written off the kickbacks as business expenses.
I suppose it is no problem if the teacher recorded it as taxable income.
Well the key to not getting audited is having high enough revenue, so hopefully the shops can avoid that by making a lot of money in the first place. I believe we call this a "virtuous cycle".
Stephen, that's my point: Likely they didn't. One unethical deed leads to another.
Supposedly the first piece of advice offered to call girls starting out-- whatever you are being paid to do to your clients, make sure you never try it on the IRS!
The feds went after college athletic coaches for taking bribes in Operation Varsity Blues. This has a few parallels except the money might not be as much per student.
Depends, I suppose. If the next Midori finds herself getting a patron to buy a Strad, that's some pretty nice change flowing to whoever refers her to the right dealer.
There have been some criminal complaints, and some lawsuits back and forth involving the practice. I recall one instance in which parents of several students sued a well-known teacher, but I can no longer find any reference to this lawsuit on the web. It seems (to me) to have mysteriously disappeared.
Maybe Two-Set should stick to making viola jokes.
Steve, do you think that all teachers are paragons of virtue? Are you aware of all the teacher-student sex scandals which have occurred, some of which have received broad publicity, and others which have not?
Fritz Reuter seems to have single-handedly started this rumor train, which refuses to die even though the man himself has passed away (and with that, all of his website rants).
David, I cling to the forlorn belief that 99% of the human race are essentially decent, even music teachers.
A particular shop in my "area" has some publicly posted verbiage about how kickbacks and commissions can add up to "six hundred percent" or increase instrument price by "2 to 10 times" and claimed to be the only shop in the area? state? country? at the time this was written, which may have been a number of years ago? to not participate.
I don't find it hard to believe that there would be teachers doing this stuff, even if I've never dealt with it directly. The amount of politics and rivalry in teaching, especially at the level where the students start getting good and competitive, and especially especially at the university level, is kind of astounding sometimes, but also not totally surprising.
Just had a teacher quite rudely ask for a kickback claiming to be poor, I said no way, like he's actually poorer than me, I think not.
"Does anyone remember when [a federal agency] came down HARD on [a particular professional association] on [things related to pricing] - how did that become such a big deal (think instrument prices and remove one or two or more zeroes from the immediate left of the decimal point) over this?"
Frieda - the proprietor of that shop was quick to bash other dealers/shops, even by name, but I had dealt with so-and-so and whoevers before and did not find anything amiss (or was blissfully ignorant). I got the impression that they were passionate and proud of taking a stand for integrity and also that they seemed to be trying too hard because I wasn't familiar with if they were blowing things out of proportion or not.
I'll tell a quick story or two, and then leave this alone for a bit.
David - wouldn't that imply that the practice is more dealer-driven than teacher-driven?
I can easily see how things like sales kickbacks can become a tolerated aspect of a profession like violin teaching. It's not that violin teachers, as individuals, are especially given to breaches of ethics. But it's a profession where there might be more
It makes far more sense to me that it should be the dealer who offers inducement rather than the teacher who demands it. You might argue it amounts to the same in the end, but the way Two-set describe it is as if teachers are operating a kind of protection racket - pay up or we'll put you out of business.
There is another shop that some of my students rent and eventually buy from and where I get some work done on my own instruments, and I also transport their instruments when it works out for me to do so. On one such trip, I helped some random people try violins (pre-pandemic of course) while the proprietor was dealing with my instruments or other clients or whatever else that was uninterruptable. It was purely out of boredom and innate teacher-ness. They had walked in off the street ready to buy, did so, and I was offered a commission for "making that sale" as well as a job! (I don't see myself as being able to do commission sales; that was simply a case of being in the right place at the right time.)
Steve, I think it's a chicken-and-egg question. There's a co-evolution of a kickback arrangement. Probably there is a whole spectrum of power dynamics that depends on the specific locality and people involved.
I once chatted with a local maker, who (if he is to be believed) had placed a cello with a player very famous for some ensemble affiliation. He had a huge collection, but was allegedly gushing with enthusiasm over this new axe. Until it came time to discuss the invoice. Apparently, he was used to getting free instruments with the notion that he could then recommend that maker to his many students.
Yes Stephen, as a student the violin marketplace used to terrify me but now it just baffles and amazes me. There can't be many "commodities" where "consumers" are confronted with dozens of (to them) practically identical examples, some of them worth hundreds of quid and others hundreds of thousands. And you can't even expect how much they're "worth" to be strongly correlated with how well they sound.
I'm curious how large commissions normally are. And if there are commissions for bows as well as violins. Given that almost all students are buying workshop violins, even if the commission is 10%, it's probably something like $100 - $300 for a very few number of sales per teacher. (Most teachers will have students on fractionals rent, and only one or two students are likely to be upgrading to a full-size each year within the studio.) That doesn't seem like enough money for a teacher to consider it worth compromising their ethics.
Lydia's argument that the stakes are too small to bother with is an interesting one. Should you drive your personal vehicle instead of a motor pool vehicle, because you can get personal mileage back and it's more than gas money? Take the meals per-diem and then bring along a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter on your conference trip? When I hear or read about these kinds of things going on I just wonder how so much effort can be put in for such little return. The flip side of that is that if I do my job fairly well, I might get a 4% raise in a given year. It's not beyond the scope of imagination to come up with 4% of a professional salary by means of various micro-embezzlement schemes. The problem is then you have to do them every year.
A long time ago when I was a student of Ivan Galamian, I bought a Pajeot violin bow from Moennig. The offering price was $1800 and I asked for a "professional" discount and they agreed and the price went down $1500. Galamian seemed to be very P'oed at my next lesson when he asked about my bow purchase. My conclusion was obvious.
The most common explanation I've heard from shops which pay these commissions has been, "It's the only way we can compete with all the other shops that do it".
At the very least, schools would be wise to implement a code of conduct. How well the school enforces the policy is another issue. There are stories of schools looking the other way where star faculty are concerned (in various other matters), despite the rules.
Not just the $1,000-- but being told to narrow one's search to something that might not be best at the price.
Last year my daughter had to switch to a full size violin. Her teacher recommend a violin store I didn't know about and said that she takes all her students there to pick violins when they need to upgrade. I checked online to find glowing reviews for a store several generations old serving a number of professional musicians as well amatures. I was happy with the store recommendation, and decided to go and check it out. The teacher offered to meet us at the store and help us choose a violin. I was willing to pay for the generous offer, but she didn't want to accept payment from me.
Ted, I think it's great that you took advantage of professional help. However, I tend to think that this help would be more in the interest of you and your child if YOU paid the teacher for his/her opinions and professional help, rather than the dealer paying the teacher.
At the conservatory level, I can imagine that the skimming might be nontrivial. The instrument prices go up significantly, and more importantly, each studio teacher churns through more students -- most of the students are likely to purchase both a professional violin and a bow before they graduate. The commission on $50k in purchases will be very different than the commission on $3k near-commodity workshop violins.
Frieda wrote, "At the very least, schools would be wise to implement a code of conduct." As Bruce explained quite well, we already have very strict conflict-of-interest policies. I need permission from my dean to accept income for anything related to my professional work. I'm a chemist, so if I play a jazz piano gig, I don't have to report that. But if I tutored students for a fee, I'd definitely have to report that, and I can assure you that it would be forbidden. Consulting (which is the broad category for what is going on with these sales commissions) is likewise scrutinized closely. There are certain things they tend to ignore like offers from publishers to review a book chapter for a fee, etc. But technically I'm supposed to report that. (I don't do chapter reviews, however, because that kind of work bores me and I don't have time.)
As David noted, it would have been better for you (Ted) to pay the teacher and for the shop to give you a discount for not paying a commission.
TwoSet are advanced players with $X0,000 instruments, and their friends presumably are talking about instruments in that price range and above (they play on Widenhouse instruments, ATM, wonder if Ray Chen got a commission for the referral?).
James, distance is no barrier to paying/receiving commissions.
I'll pitch in with two stories of my own.
I first thought about this issue 25 years ago after I had moved to a new area that had reasonable access to a number of violin dealers and started giving lessons there. I consider the practice of teacher commissions abhorrent but still I wanted to direct my students to what I thought would give them the best chance for decent instruments.
"Relationship" discounts are very different from commissions.
I think if there's a quid pro quo for recommending students to the shop or to particular instruments therein, then it's problematic. "We'll give you a discount because we like you. We like you because you send your students here to buy stuff." It's still a little sticky.
As a novice violin student and buyer I might feel a bit coerced and overcharged if I knew that my teacher was making commissions from my purchases. On the other hand, I have gladly compensated my teacher to accompany me to the dealer. He was very helpful and did not ask to be paid. But it was I who insisted as I felt it was well earned.
In my opinion, the problem here is about honesty and trust, not commissions.
Carlo, I agree that it's better with the arrangement being clear from the outset. But I hope you can appreciate that students and parents are often very reticent about speaking up, and for that matter they might not even appreciate the possibility of a conflict, or they might assume that it's a standard practice in the business of violin-teaching. The relationship between a student/parent and violin teacher is often viewed as precious and not worth risking damage over a matter of a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars. Maybe your chauffeur-driven families were made of stronger stuff, but I know that if my daughter's teacher was similarly engaged in such an arrangement, I would have been disappointed, but I would probably have kept my mouth shut because finding a different (but equally qualified) teacher in our area would have been hard. There are no violin shops in our area (nearest is 3 hours by car) so this situation does not arise around here.
It is perhaps different in London, where one can get the same commission from more than one shop. In that case, you're not necessarily steering business to a second-rate solution for a hidden fee. Also, with a fairly sophisticated pool of students, the temptation to do a student wrong by flogging overpriced junk will be minimized.