Teaching 'Stairway to Heaven' on YouTube earns this guitar instructor six figures annually

  • Marty Schwartz uploaded his first guitar tutorial in order to make sure one of his students was practicing.
  • He now teaches people online through guitar tutorials and gets 7 million views a month.
Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page
 Images Press / Contributor
Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page

Marty Schwartz says he has "one lazy student" to thank for his online music career.

Schwartz, who teaches guitar in San Diego, said that in 2005 that student came in for a lesson and for a third straight week couldn't play the tune he was supposed to be learning.

"I flipped open the camera on my laptop, and I filmed the Jimi Hendrix riff we were working on," Schwartz, 43, said in an interview. He uploaded the video to a fledgling website called YouTube.

Schwartz soon realized how useful it was to have a site for large video files. When he was laid off from his job as an elementary school music teacher in 2008, YouTube became a place for Schwartz to post custom lessons for students and a way for people to discover him as a teacher.

Ten years later, Schwartz's main channel — Marty Music — has about 948,000 subscribers. He says his videos average 7 million views a month, earning him hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in advertising revenue, thanks to popular songs from bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Nirvana and Radiohead.

"While much of YouTube's most successful content capitalizes on timeliness, Marty's videos are timeless," said Kevin Grosch, CEO of Made In Network, which helps manage the Marty Music channel. "People come to Marty to learn how to play their favorite songs, many of which are decades old. They also come to develop their skills as a musician, which is a need that will be around as long as people want to play guitar."

Entrepreneurs like Schwartz have helped turn YouTube into a multibillion-dollar business, though only Alphabet knows the exact size because the company doesn't disclose the site's metrics. Analysts at Nomura Instinet estimated in July that YouTube generated $12.8 billion of revenue in 2017, and the firm expects that number to reach $22 billion by 2020.

Schwartz started playing guitar during his senior year of high school because his friends were getting into it and "obviously girls liked it," he said. He joined a band that played songs inspired by jam bands like Blues Traveler and Phish.

Marty Schwartz from Marty Music makes a living teaching people how to play popular songs on guitar through YouTube videos. 
Courtesy of Made In Network
Marty Schwartz from Marty Music makes a living teaching people how to play popular songs on guitar through YouTube videos. 

Halfway though his studies at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico, Schwartz realized he wanted to be a music major. He got involved with what he calls "corporate bands," playing nightclubs, events and "all the classic wedding songs." That helped form the backbone of his online instruction career.

With that money, "I was buying beer for everybody and I bought the first PlayStation for my roommates," Schwartz said. "But there's no career path."

Schwartz moved to Los Angeles after college, eventually landing a job as an elementary school music teacher in Carlsbad, north of San Diego. He also taught music lessons on the side.

After losing his school teaching job, he went home and filmed himself playing the Beatles "Don't Let me Down." From there he was hooked. He now uploads videos five days a week and sells custom courses on the side. Ad revenue from his YouTube videos makes up half his pay, he said.

Video-based classes have other advantages. For example, they save him from having to teach the same Led Zeppelin solos over and over again.

"I thought to myself, 'I'm so sick of teaching 'Stairway to Heaven,'" he recalled. Now he can send students his YouTube page and say, "Let's learn something else today," he said.