Archive for September, 2009

Nobody Loves A Starving Musician

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Nobody Loves a Starving Musician

By Keith Hatschek

Republished with permission from Artists House Music

Have you ever been a starving musician? Not metaphorically, but in reality.

It’s no fun.

Wondering where this month’s rent money is going to come from, scrounging up change in the sofa to put gas in your car to get to an audition, hoping that a string doesn’t break during the gig…

You get the idea. It isn’t pretty.

But most musicians know that no one goes from unknown artist to self-sufficient professional overnight. So how DO you do it?

Here are seven rules that will help you make the transition from someone with talent to someone with talent and a level of financial self-sufficiency. Someone who is well on their way to building a successful career in music.

Rule 1: Always Bring Your “A” Game
Making the decision to spend your life as a professional musician is a big commitment. Once you’ve made that decision, you need to focus on bringing your “A” game to every interaction that impacts your music studies, performances, networking and other points of contact with what we loosely call the music industry.
Never put a half-hearted effort into anything musical. First, the competition to get work and keep working is fierce in every city and town in the world. Second, since so much of the music industry is based on personal relationships and reputations, if word gets out that you gave a weak effort at a gig or rehearsal, chances are you may not be getting a call back in the future.

Rule 2: Get Out of Your Practice Room
Isn’t practicing supposed to be the road to musical success, more gigs and maybe even superstardom? Well, no, it’s not.

Actually, your musical chops, whether you are a shred guitarist or a composer of madrigals, is only one part of your overall career skill set. Not to say that playing, singing, of composing extremely well is not absolutely essential. It is.

But there are thousands of talented guitarists who can play every lick by whoever the hot guitarist of the month but seldom play a gig. Why?

They spend their lives studying music, perfecting their skills, however they are unfortunately violating one of the most important rules of music career building. You must develop connections to people and institutions (think clubs, radio stations, booking agents, other bands, etc.) that are like-minded and can help you.

So if you’ve been spending 4 hours every night after work practicing, take one night a week off and get out and meet some music professionals. Ask around your local music store or music school about meeting up with some people who are interested in similar types of music, careers, etc. Find a club that hires bands like yours to play, go to a show, get the phone number of the booker and get your promo kit into their hands.

Most importantly, find a way to learn how other musicians and music industry professionals have become successful and what advice they might offer you to build your own career. (Hey, you’ve found Artist’s House, so you’re already well on your way to learning more about building your career!)

Rule 3: Nurture Your Network
All of us have a network of friends, family, and most of us have various professional connections. This is your current network. To fast track your career you need to continually work to expand your network, adding persons who can help you grow your career and you need to keep in touch with your network.

Social networking sites such as MySpace.com have created excellent opportunities for musicians and bands to create, grow and profit from an expansive network. But MySpace is primarily a fan-oriented medium. Additionally, you also need a closer group of individuals who will offer support, guidance, keep an ear open for opportunities that may help you, and even offer a shoulder to cry on from time to time. Call this the “inner orbit” of your network.

Start today by making a list of everyone who you would consider supporting your music career goals and ambitions. Then, set a goal of adding a few people each month to your network, as well as giving support and aid to the members of your network. In more than 30 years in the music industry, I’ve found that the vast majority of gigs and jobs were the result of a personal connection, rarely from a job listing.

Ignore your network and you are condemning your music career to the slowest possible track.

Rule 4: Get A Music Industry Day Gig
This is counterintuitive to many talented young artists. Why should I get a day gig when I could/should be practicing my brains out, much less a music industry day gig? (Re read the first few sentences of the article, OK?)

Aside from keeping home and hearth together, using your love, knowledge and passion for music to help a music industry company meet some of their goals is a fantastic way to expand your network, and learn more about an area of the industry that you will be involved in when your career takes off.

For example, a rock musician may learn quite a bit about record distribution or radio airplay by working at a well-managed record store or a radio station that features the types of music you perform.

An aspiring opera singer can learn a tremendous amount about how opera companies or other non-profit arts organizations are managed by working for an opera, theater company or orchestra.

An aspiring jazz drummer may forge many useful connections by teaching beginning drummers at a well-managed music store, opening up the opportunities to meet drum manufacturers, clinicians and other drum and percussion professionals.

Remember, flipping burgers is not likely to help your career onto the fast track we all want to be on.

Rule 5: Get Educated
Are you in school right now studying music? If so, congratulate yourself. You are investing in your future success and should make the most out of every opportunity to connect with teachers, fellow students and professionals who have contact with your program. Of course, you attend every master class at your school for performers, no matter what instrument, right?

Through with school? Not to worry, there are literally thousands of opportunities each month around the world to continue to learn about music careers at conferences, seminars, workshops, clinics and the like. How do you find out what opportunities are available in your area? See rule 3. If you’ve been building and nurturing your network, you’re already in the know.

One final element pertaining to your musical education is that everyone in music can benefit from a mentor. Did you know that even the highest paid opera singers in the world have a voice coach on whom they rely to keep their performance in tip-top shape? Who are your mentors?

Rules 6a, 6b & 6c: Be Humble, Self-Aware and Self-Critical
Getting up on stage in front of ten people or an audience of 10,000 takes courage. If you are very talented, it’s easy to “believe the hype” that may be swirling around after a particularly successful concert or club gig.

Don’t do it.

Remember, there’s always someone who plays, sings, arranges, or composes better than you. Not to diminish your musical accomplishments in any way, but remember to be humble, because everyone in the industry would prefer to support a talented artist who is striving to be the best they can, rather than a stuffy, egomaniacal artist who causes everyone backstage to roll their eyes when she or he struts past.

People also love to see a windbag fail, but will often make considerable sacrifices to help out a centered, respectful and humble new artist.

Being self-aware is a wonderful life skill for everyone, but especially so for musicians. When you play your instrument, what is your body language conveying to the audience? Are you loving or hating the piece you play?

When you go to meet with a potential agent, are you prepared, confident and able to communicate what you can offer as a musician? Or are you nervous, edgy and feeling naked in front of the world?

Know yourself, and your level of preparedness for whatever the next step you are about to take in your career.

Being self-critical means taking your work as a musician seriously and providing yourself with the tools and time to evaluate your own efforts. This can be as simple as making a tape of the piece you have been learning and listening back to it to identify which spots still need work, to asking a trusted colleague or music teacher to offer you some constructive criticism after your next show.

Remember, to a musician, there is really no such thing as a perfect performance, instead successful musicians learn how to create a situation each time they perform for an optimal performance on that day, time and place.

Rule 7: Keep Your Sense of Humor
Did anyone tell you the music industry is a pretty crazy way to make a living? One minute your life can be filled with the rapture of a musical triumph, and the next day you’ll be wallowing in agonizing doubt because you didn’t get a call back for a crucial audition.

In order to cope with the stress and struggle of a career in music it is absolutely essential that you maintain a sense of humor, as well as a few non-musical outlets to allow you to keep on an even keel.

Take these seven rules and start building your professional music career today. Nobody likes a starving musician but everyone wants to support a young artist on the way up in his or her career.

Take charge of your career and good things will start to happen. Really. Endnote: The author gratefully acknowledges the inspiration for performers that can be found in Angela Beeching’s excellent book titled, “Beyond Talent,” which goes into much greater depth on how to become a peak musical performer.

Minute for Marketing: Review for Philip Johnston’s Promoting Your Teaching Studio

Friday, September 25th, 2009

practicespot1By Laura Lowe

Republished with permission from the Piano Studio

No series on marketing the independent teaching studio would be complete without a review of Philip Johnston’s book The PracticeSpot Guide To Promoting Your Teaching Studio.

In general, I think this book’s a worthwhile read. It will help you launch and maintain a full-fledged advertising campaign, as opposed to utilizing a few isolated marketing efforts here and there. Especially since most of us have spent more time learning how to play and teach well than how to advertise effectively, it provides a valuable education in how to think like a marketer. It’s one of the only books about marketing geared specifically for piano teachers. The ideas range from yellow pages ads to community involvement.

Most reviews of this book praise it for the many ideas it presents for advertising the teaching studio. I think the book’s greatest strength is not in the individual tips, but in the marketing theory which is woven throughout the book and which you’ll assimilate without even realizing it as you read. Most of us could think up those practical marketing ideas – we see other businesses using those techniques all the time! But, I think we fail to realize that we can do the same things, or even need to do those things. By the time you finish Johnston’s book, you’ll be thinking of your teaching studio as a business that needs a marketing plan just like any other business, and you’ll some good practical ideas for how to put your plan to work.

I do have a couple of criticisms. First, the book fails to address how to prioritize marketing efforts according to cost-effectiveness. Most of us have very limited advertising budgets. I think this should have been a major point, and it will be the subject of my next Minute for Marketing post.

My second criticism is that, even when it was copyrighted in 2006, the book was limited in its discussion of online advertising. The last chapter of the book, Using the Power of the Internet, is an advertisement for Johnston’s own web service for teachers, PracticeSpot’s webvertisements. While I don’t blame him a bit for doing this (he’s a savvy marketer and after all, the book’s title is The PracticeSpot Guide to…), it does prevent the book from being complete as a guide to marketing the teaching studio. Even in 2006, the power of the internet for music teachers was certainly not limited to PracticeSpot. For instance, there’s no mention of blogging, a medium alive and healthy in ‘06. By now, the book is sorely outdated where internet marketing is concerned as social networking, social bookmarking, and other dynamic applications are changing the game in a big way.

In short, I like the book and would recommend it to anyone looking for ways to grow a teaching studio, especially new teachers and especially those who are opening a large community facility. Just keep in mind that it’s incomplete.

What 10 Things Do I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Teaching?

Friday, September 25th, 2009

By Leah Coutts

This blog was inspired by an article with the same title that I read in the Autumn 2001 Keyboard Companion magazine as part of my studies. As I was reading through the article, I noticed that my list of things I wish I’d know was quite different. I thought I’d share the 10 things that I wish I had known before I started teaching:

1. That my studio would grow so quickly – I could have been more selective about the type of students I decided to take on.

2. That teaching is my livelihood and that it is vital to have a steadfast policy from the start – this would have saved so much hassle with lack of payment and ridiculous catch-up schedules and missed lessons.

3. If you lower your expectations, so will your students – if you keep saying it is okay when no practice has been done, students will not start to practice efficiently.

4. Importance of educating parents as much as the child students – parental involvement is critical for a young child’s success.

5. Play up to natural motivations rather than trying to bribe students to do just what you think is important.

6. It’s not all about the written music – from the start it is about exploratory games and the essence of music, not just learning the notes on the pages.

7. You can say ‘no’ to students – whether it is taking them on as a student, requests outside of your studio policy, or requests for pieces of music that are obviously outside of their current playing standard – and your reputation will not be brought into question, as long as you are reasonable in your response.

8. A student’s goals do not have to match yours. If you understand their motivations for wanting to learn, your relationship will be a lot more successful.

9. You can’t practice for the student. This is one that I still have trouble with – even though it is such an obvious statement. I guess that only those who have been there know how much you can actually achieve when you put in the effort. All we can do is help to motivate and cultivate the desire to want to play.

10. Have designated ‘work’ hours, or it can totally consume you.

If I had known all these things from the start, I don’t think I would have been as good a teacher as I am now through learning these things along the way, as it is experience that shapes you more than knowledge.

Now it’s your turn – are there any things that you wished you had known before you started teaching that aren’t listed here? Do you agree with the above list?