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How to Start a Career as a Professional Musician

Advice for musicians

Advice for musicians

Develop your skills, get the best promotional material you can and put yourself out there!

How to Start a Career as a Professional Musician

So, you’re just about to leave university and enter the world of professional music performance.

These first few years are a crucial time for a musician. There’s rent to pay, gigs to chase, and the lingering thought that maybe you should just move back home or get a sensible job.

But it’s also a time where you can grab the bull by the horns and work tirelessly to build the career you’ve dreamt about.

I’ve been a gigging drummer for ten years, and while there’s plenty I wish I’d known, here are three key things that have kept me working and enjoying life as a professional musician.

Part 1 – Practice

You may have already acquired a very particular set of skills, but just as in any job, a musician’s educational journey is ongoing.

If you want to make a living solely from playing music, then you’ll find far more opportunities if you are fluent in almost every genre of music.

Be honest with yourself about the areas you could improve and take steps to get better.

You might be in a position to get music lessons from a tutor, or a professional musician you really admire. There are also tons of free online resources, educational books and DVDs.

Of course, however you’re learning, nothing beats practice, so make sure you’re putting in the hours.

Be a well-rounded player and keep improving yourself

A great way to practice is to learn new and varied songs – this won’t just improve your technique, it will boost your repertoire and prepare you for a wide range of gigs.

Jam nights are also a great way to improve your drumming and performing and also widen your network.

If you want to improve your jazz playing for example, find jazz jam nights in your area and jump onstage. There is no quicker way to learn than throwing yourself in at the deep end.

It may be quite daunting having more advanced players watching your every move, but you’ll find that most of the players are very supportive, and you’ll probably find comfort in knowing that most other musicians there will be in the exact same boat as you (i.e. scared to death).

How to Start a Career as a Professional Musician

Part 2 – Promo

You can be the greatest player on earth, but if no one knows that you exist then you’re not going to get work.

Creating on online profile will really help. If done well it has the potential to reach thousands of people and unlock many opportunities.

Content really is king - especially video! Wherever possible, get good quality videos of your playing in every setting. It doesn’t have to be a professional music video, but you want the listener to stay tuned and enjoy watching it.

If you have the funds and/or connections, hire a studio for a few hours and try to get a videographer student who is building a portfolio to film you. Providing that you’re well rehearsed, the time and effort will pay off ten-fold.

Next up, get some good photos of yourself. Again, this doesn’t have to break the bank, but a few selfies won’t do.

There are tons of photography enthusiasts out there who would be willing to take a few snaps for very little, so put an ad online or in a local photography school.

Be sure to dress smart, brush your hair and wash behind your ears for the shoot, as presentation really does carry a lot of weight in the music industry.

You are now a business! Market yourself well.

Finally, get the promotional material online. A good website will help show that you take your career seriously. It can also get you enquiries from audiences you wouldn’t usually reach.

You don’t have to be a master to create a website; there are tons of platforms such as Wix, Squarespace and Wordpress that offer really great and intuitive templates.

Social media is also a key part of your online presence, and regular updates will keep you in people’s field of vision. I’ve found that the main platforms to be active on are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Here, it’s acceptable to post the iPhone videos and selfies to drive people to your website. While most of it should be music related, it’s also a great way to show off your personality – people buy into a great person just as much as the music, especially in a world of good players.

How to Start a Career as a Professional Musician

Part 3 – Get out there

There are lots of opportunities online to find work, but that does mean you’re up against hundreds of other musicians applying for the same gig.

However, if you have a strong portfolio in place and stay consistent with your search efforts, I guarantee that you will land some great gigs.

Function work is very lucrative – you can start your own band and promote it to various function band agencies, or you can seek dep work. There are tons of groups on social media sites constantly posting ads for musicians wanted.

Landing one job will likely lead to more as function bands often need a reliable network of dep musicians. Agencies such as Function Central are always on the lookout for great local bands with good promo.

Session work is another good way to make a living as a musician but there’s no single way to land a session gig.

It’s a case of preparation meeting opportunity, so head to as many jam nights as possible, talk to people and get networking. If you have the skills to pay the bills you will eventually meet the right people.

Work won’t just come to you, you have to go out and get it.

The online session world is a growing market – if you have a recording setup at home then get in touch with production studios, songwriters and artists and send them links to your portfolio and offer your recording services.

Even if you get one job from fifty emails it will be worth it, and that one job will probably lead to more.

Teaching is another great and reliable revenue source for most musicians. If you are applying for a teaching position in a school, your qualifications will speak volumes for you here.

If you would like to teach privately, do a Google search for local music tutors and post ads on the top results. Also post ads in local music stores and on local social media groups.

On your ad include your qualifications, what your lessons cover and a little about yourself. Before you know it you will have a full diary of lessons.

One final piece of advice I’d give is to just enjoy it, keep remembering why you’re playing, and be a fun person to be around. All the effort is wasted if people don’t enjoy working with you, so have fun and happy playing!

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