So many musicians want to make a career out of playing music. It can be a fun, rewarding career, but is notoriously difficult to get into. Through my experiences, thoughtful discussions and my own research, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about “making it” in the musical world
Be someone others want to work with
Music is a field that is heavily based on relationships. Sure – it helps to be a good player – but skills will only take you so far. Being a team player, kind, responsible, and trustworthy will make sure that people call you back time after time. You’ve got to be a “good hang” AND a good player.
Know your musical goals
Creating goals for yourself is an important way to frame your career and the opportunities you seek out. Want to be a pit musician for musicals? Look for opportunities in that field. Want to be a touring musician? Join a local band and build from there. Create a range of goals, from short-term to long-term and from easy to difficult, so that you can check things off from time to time and see your growth. Write them down. It’s okay if your goals change over time.
Prepare for rejection and learn from it
I can honestly say that I’ve never met a single musician who hasn’t failed at something. Jobs, auditions, actual gigs – we’re only human and failure is an inevitable part of being a musician.
Avoiding failure is not the goal – learning from it is.
If something doesn’t work out in your favor, reflect on the situation and see what you can learn. Looking at failures as opportunities to educate yourself will help you cope with the situation and improve yourself moving forward.
Responsibility & Dependability
I’m almost repeating myself here, but these are points worth repeating. This goes much further than just being on time or making sure you brought your instrument to practice (although, those are very important…). Other musicians need to know they can depend on you to be absolutely prepared, have in-depth knowledge of the materials, and be wherever you need to be when you need to be there.
It’s your responsibility to practice, work well with a team, and contribute to your gig in the best ways you know how.
Make yourself an asset to the people you work with and for
Be so prepared for that gig, practice, or jam session that people can’t help but call you back. You not only want to make an impression with the leader of the group, but all of the other members you’re working with. You never know who you’re going to make an impression on. Help others with logistics, compliment the work they’re doing, and help make rehearsals and gigs a pleasant experience (as much as you can). Make sure everyone knows you as the kind of person they want to work with.
Give your career time and patience. Nothing happens overnight (until it does…)
Especially if you’re moving to a new area, give yourself time to build connections – meet other musicians, managers, booking agents, talent buyers, etc. – and work hard to climb the ranks. Just like jobs in the business world, musicians often start out in low paying, local gigs (kind of like a musical internship). Once you show that you can work the lesser gigs and do a great job, others will recognize your attitude and abilities. Give it time and keep working hard, things will fall into place.
Working Part or Full-time outside of music is NOT a failure
For most musicians, a full-time job in music isn’t going to happen right away. While working towards your ultimate career aspirations, it’s okay (and probably necessary) to pick up work outside of performing. Not only will this give you the financial means to keep working on your goals, it’s also a great way to learn new and important skills. Having non-musical work may also introduce you to new interests and passions that can influence your music-making in a positive way!
Find other great people to work with
There may come a time when people start asking you for recommendations of others to work with. This is another example of how important your musical community is. Find people you can call on for gigs, sessions, rehearsals, and new projects that you can trust to bring in and do a great job. Your community is a reflection of you and the work you do.
Don’t wait for opportunity – seek it out
Sitting in your living room playing video games can be a great way to relax, but it’s not a great way to meet other musicians. Continue to put yourself in situations that further your musical career. In these times, creating content and having an online portfolio of your abilities is a great way to connect to opportunities. Someone will eventually see what you have to offer and take a chance on you.
Know your limits
It’s very important to stay busy and immerse yourself in your musical scene. However, it can quickly become overwhelming if you continue to add responsibilities to your plate. Know how much you can handle while still maintaining your mental health and your ability to give 100% to each and every opportunity. Becoming overextended is an issue that can be difficult to remedy.
And one final (bonus!) note – stay positive! Some goals can take years to achieve. Don’t allow setbacks to put you in a place that prevents you from taking chances in your career. Positivity goes a long way in preventing musical burnout. If you’re working towards your goals and doing all the right things along the way, success will come.
I hope that these tips help you get started or offer you some encouragement. There will always be room in the musical world for those who are driven, skilled, and great to work with. Good luck!
Author: Nick Bolchoz
Nick has worked with Ensemble Music Schools since 2020 and serves as the organization’s social media ‘guru’ while assisting in digital marketing and content creation. He also teaches at one of their schools in Orland Park, IL, The Music Connection.
An in-demand Percussionist and Drummer, Nick earned his M.M. in Percussion Performance from The University of North Texas and his B.M. from The University of Kentucky. Currently living outside of Chicago, IL, Nick stays busy teaching, touring and recording. You can catch him on the road with Chicago Blues Hall of Fame Guitarist, Michael Charles. You can read more about him and watch him play on www.nickbmusic.com.