The information I am providing in this bulletin is the result of my 30 plus years in the music business. I gained this knowledge from my own personal experience in the business and in the “School of Hard Knocks,” as we in the business fondly refer to the real world. Learning and applying these skills is what enabled me to have a successful career and to continue having a successful career. Developing these skills can also help you to have a successful career.
As we strive for a successful career as a professional musician, there are two main areas that we must focus on. The first is developing your performance skills-learning to play your instrument at a very high level and always striving to go to the next level.
(1) Performing at a very high level is important, but performing at a high level consistently, is even more important.
(2) I was a guest speaker for an Arts Leadership class at the Eastman School of Music where I was asked to lecture about networking in the music business. During the course of my lecture, I referred to my own career as an example of how to network, build relationships in the business, and establish a career for yourself. At one point in the class I received an interesting question from a student. The question pertained to performing and was, “Do you have to be ‘on’ all the time?” My response to the question was, ”Yes, you do.” It does not mean that we never make a mistake, but you always give 100-150 percent all the time.
(3) Always treat each rehearsal as if it were a performance. How you play at a rehearsal could be the deciding factor as to whether or not you get hired again. When I am at a rehearsal, I am always listening to all the musicians around me and I’m making mental notes about the musicians who I especially enjoy working with. I am also aware of the people who are not focused and not giving 100 percent. All of the great artists I have had the privilege of working with over the years are the same way. When you rehearse with them, you are taking an audition, which will determine your future employment status with that artist.
The second area we must focus on includes all the qualities that make us true professionals. This area is just as important as your level of performance and often times more important, because if you do not adhere to these rules, you may never get asked to perform.
(1) Always arrive early to rehearsals and concerts and be ready to play before the
(2) Be responsible, reliable, trustworthy, and show professional courtesy at all times.
(3) If you have an attitude or ego, get rid of it immediately.
(4) Turn off cell phones at all rehearsals, business meetings, as well as business lunches or dinners, and do NOT check your messages until after the rehearsal or meeting, etc. is over. The people you are with need your undivided attention and it is also rude to check your phone messages when you are in any of these settings with professional colleagues. At that moment, your business needs to take priority over everything else, and in essence, when you pick up your cell phone, the message you are conveying is that the people you are with are not that important.
(5) Always check your voice mail messages and e-mails on a regular basis and be sure to respond to people in a timely fashion. Whenever possible, I return my phone calls the same day, if I am unable to return phone calls the same day, I will be sure to respond the next day. If it is not urgent, I may take an extra day.
I would now like to share some final thoughts with you along with some things I have learned from all of my years as a professional musician.
If you want to survive in the music business you must be willing to make sacrifices. I really had no social life in school. Too many times I have seen students throw away their college education and their career, because they placed more importance on their social life. There is nothing wrong with having a social life, but you may have to sacrifice your social life for awhile in order to get your career off the ground. During this time, your work- rehearsals, performances, etc., will become your social life.
Always be courteous and kind to people. No one wants to work with someone who is not pleasant to be around.
When someone helps you out, show your appreciation. Hand written thank you notes are still very appropriate and appreciated, and much more meaningful than e-mail.
Speaking of e-mails and computer- do NOT hide behind your computer and only communicate with people through e-mails. This is a people oriented business. You must develop people skills and learn to talk to people. It is also important to build personal and professional working relationships with people in the music business.
Be humble at all times. Most of the great musicians I have worked with are very humble people and very pleasant to work with. They are very demanding, starting with themselves, but they are also humble and very nice. And they always strive to be better! This is why they are such great artists.
When someone in the music business takes time out of their busy schedule to meet with you and help you with your career, leave plenty of time for the meeting and don’t be in such a hurry to run off. I have been in meetings with students and after a very short time they have to leave and meet their friends. Well, if hanging out with your friends is more important than your career , then you don’t deserve to have a career.
I have one final thought to share with you that I have learned from experience. All the degrees in the world will not help you to have a performance career if you cannot play your instrument at a consistently high level and meet all the criteria that I have just outlined for you. So PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!!
Anyone can learn to play a musical instrument or sing, but not everyone can be a professional musician.