5 Tips For Aspiring Professional Musicians

I often get asked questions (of varying kinds) from musicians who aspire to have a career in the music industry. I’m by no means an expert and to be completely honest, I’m still establishing myself in the industry so I’m still learning as I go along. However the questions persist and I love to be able to offer advice to those who may not be as experienced as me as I’ve had people in my life who have done that for me. I love paying things forward and this blog is an easy way to do that on a big scale because we don’t even need to meet for this to be helpful for you.

Forgive me for the titles… We’re creative; our minds wander… I just wanted to keep it interesting and add some humour/banter to this post.

Who Lives In A Pineapple Under The Sea?

Ok… The Sponge Bob Square Pants title was to grab your attention but what it should say is “become a human sponge”. Learn from those who are more experienced, ask questions and seek opportunities to serve, where you can see things done at a higher level than you are used to so when your time comes, you know what to expect and know the things that will keep you at that level and help you go higher.

I can give you numerous occasions where I’ve gone into rehearsal rooms and (as an aspiring MD) just watched how the Musical Director runs the room, gives parts out, directs the band, does the programming and learned the all important WHY those things are done so i know what can work for me and what I also need to work on to reach that level.

If you would like to learn more of a particular thing/get first-hand experience and knowledge of how and why things are done in relation to your instrument or aspect of the industry you’re coming from then seek opportunities to serve. Be a tech for the day, help set up and pack down the play-back rig, the guitar rig, the hybrid drumming rig (you get the picture) and see how it all works… And hey, if you approach someone and they say no; you have lost NOTHING… But that leads on to my next point.

My Name Is NO, My Sign Is No, My Number Is No…

If you follow what I do and who I work with, you’ll see that I’ve worked with Meghan Trainor a couple of times (hence the title) but this isn’t about her, but rather the word NO! Hearing the word “NO” can be soul destroying for a musician. We often wear our hearts on our sleeves and when we audition and don’t get the gig, send our CV’s out for consideration or even sign up to an agency and don’t get any work (yeah I’ve experienced all three) it can leave us down and out and questioning our abilities but I want you to remember this. When pursuing an opportunity, the worst thing that can happen is, someone saying no. Don’t let this stop you, let it inspire to go after opportunities that seem out of your reach. They may say no; but if they say yes, your boldness will really have paid off. Basically, go after every opportunity because at the end of the day; some we win and some we learn but we never lose unless we choose to be defeated!

You Are Your Business!

It’s ironic that one of the most important factors for musicians is also the most overlooked. We are the business and our talent/expertise/experience is the product.

Find out what it takes to be a successful musician. As I’m a drummer I’ll use drums as an example… As great as it is to be able to chop more than a butcher’s knife, a lack of competency in triggering/hybrid drumming or even not having the right gear will lose you work, not because you are not good enough, but because you are not prepared enough. Drummers are often also in charge of playback on shows so some understanding of these things helps add value you. There’s more but I’m sure you get the idea; in a nutshell, it’s the other strings in your bow that add value and propel the arrow (your main gift) to the target.

Also there’s branding and marketing. These things aren’t easy to a lot of us because we’re all about the music; but in the digital age we live in, it’s important to have an online presence where you can document your work and make it easily accessible to others who are trying to decipher whether or not you have what it takes for their project, or even if you are good enough. Use social media to showcase your work, your abilities and your personality and while it may not come naturally, it’s still important. If brands such as Apple still need to advertise/market/promote; SURELY we do too.

I’d like to think it goes without saying but just in case… Your branding/marketing MUST also include your punctuality, being prepared; having the right gear, your attention to detail with the music and also the right approach as not every gig requires the same thing.

Comparison Is The Thief Of…

Theodore Roosevelt said this… “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I agree with this for the obvious reasons but I also have another take on that famous quote and it goes a little something like this… “Comparison is the thief of opportunity!”

As musicians, we spend lots of time being inspired by other musicians, whether the inspiration is drawn from their natural ability, the career they’ve forged for themselves, the gear they have or lifestyle they lead. How can these things that inspire us be the thieves of our opportunities? Comparing ourselves with others can stop us from going for auditions/putting ourselves forward for work (because the other people going for the same “gigs” are (in our eyes) better musicians.

It’s easy to diminish the value in what we have to offer because our CV isn’t as decorated/we’re not as experienced as those around us. Comparison puts the focus on the wrong person and instead of being inspired we become defeated because we compare the best of others with the worst of ourselves. Remember; it’s not about being the best, but rather being the best you can be and offering something that only you can offer.

Kick A$$… Don’t Kiss A$$

I often hear of lots of young musicians who think the way to get gigs is to go to jam nights and suck up to “the established musicians”. I’m sure it’s worked for loads of people but it’s very short-sighted. I genuinely believe that life moves at the speed of relationships and while I may not be the most well known musician; since I started doing music as a career I’ve formed amazing relationships with some great musicians. Not because I wanted them to give me work but because they make genuine friends away from the music and add value to my life in ways that have nothing to do with music. Some people I work with are colleagues and we get on well at “work”, but then there are those who are genuine friends and I get more from these friendships than from someone I may have sucked up to, to get a gig and ironically not got a gig. Keep relationships alive, you may be in talks with an MD, management or even the artist themselves but sometimes timings are wrong. Keep the relationships alive, check in with them every few months and remember important information they may have shared with you about their lives. People love to work with people they like and get along with, not just people who seem desperate for a gig!

Long story short… Kick a$$, be great at what you do, be professional, network, maintain relationships and you won’t have to worry about kissing a$$.