My favorite class in college was Music 101. That class wasn’t supposed to be anything special. It was the GE of music, merely an introduction to what we were going to experience in the years to come. This was a pass/fail class, easy peasy. But God had different plans for Music 101, fall semester of 2007. That different plan was a different teacher. The normal professor had gone on sabbatical for family reasons and last minute she was replaced with a professional bass player who had been a professional musician since the late sixties.
This guy had seen it all. The glory days of the music industry. He had performed on more platinum albums than could be counted, been on more movie scores than I had heard of, and was known and loved by the professional music world. This was our new teacher. Thank God for His different plans!
I remember one day in particular he was talking about the odds of being successful in the entertainment industry. He said, “Look to the right. Now look to the left. These people will not be professional musicians.” Obviously some of us went on to become just that, but his point was – odds are, it ain’t gonna happen.
Then he taught on the pyramid. He divided it into thirds. The bottom third, and consequently the biggest third, was the level where most people would fall into. This is the area where music was a hobby/or you were a starving artist. The second third was smaller than the first third but still an okay amount. This was the area where people didn’t get rich off music, but they were able to do it full time and make a good living for they and their family. Finally the top third. These are the people, and the smallest group of people, who are going to become rich off of music. He said by the end of the semester we would be able to tell who would fall into each category. You know what? He was right.
That day changed my life. It gave me a perspective of the amount of work it would take to get to the point I wanted to get to as a musician. In my short, thus far, career I have been privileged to work with some of the greats in the music world. I have been privileged to work with some of the best musicians in the world and fully believe that the best is yet to come. The journey to being a professional musician is often long, tiring, and full of obstacles. There are times when there seems to be more failure than success. There are days when you want to throw in the towel (and quite possibly throw out your instrument ha!). Then there are days where you get in such a groove everyone better get out of the way because no one is stopping this train.
So how did I do it you may ask? How did I break into this seemingly elusive world of music?
Practice, Practice… Oh yea… And Practice Some More
This seems simple. If you want to be a professional musician, then your skills have to be at a professional level. Duh, right? You’d think, but you’d be amazed at how many people only work on their craft a couple times a week (at best) and expect opportunities to just fall into their laps. Seriously. Those who are able to make music their full time career are able to do it for a reason… they are the best. I mean so stinking good that you are going to fall our out of your chair because the goodness that comes out of them is that mind-blowing. So practice. Get that good at your craft. That way when your opportunity comes knocking, you’re ready. It’s who you know that gets you in the door. It’s what you know that keeps you in the room.If you want to be a professional musician, then your skills have to be at a professional level. Click To Tweet
Love What You Do
Music is a hard business to crack. It is a great one, but there are a lot of potentially annoying eccentricities this industry has. If you don’t love it, you’ll start to get annoyed and finally give up. If you do love it, most of the time it won’t even bother you, let alone stop you. That love for music is what is going to carry you through some crazy obstacles on your way to the top. It’s the only thing that will.
Set Your Face Like Flint
Aka… perseverance. There are going to be ups and downs, highs and lows during this process (honestly even when you make it there are still those eye-rolling times). Put your nose to the grind and get moving. It doesn’t matter if you can barely do anything to push your career forward, whatever it is, do it! There were times early on that I was working three jobs, plus going to university full time, and trying to improve my craft. It was darn hard. I had to be crazy organized. Some days the only writing I got done was singing tunes into my phone on the commute in between jobs. I did what it took, and it is paying off. So don’t stop. Circumstances do not stop your dreams… you do. As long as you keep going, you can achieve great things.Circumstances do not stop your dreams... you do. Click To Tweet
Get Out and Meet People
One of my favorite things about the entertainment industry is it’s SO relational. Here’s the deal though. Please, please do not be that smarmy (I love that word!) person who is only meeting people to get something from them. The professionals in the industry can smell that doo-doo from a mile away. Network to make friends, to help others, and to make life better for the people around you. Just be a nice person. Yes it can take longer to be able to call in that favor, but when you do, they’ll actually say yes. Most of the friends and contacts I have in the industry are in a relationship with me because they know I’m not always bugging them for favors. Consequently on the rare occasions that I do ask, they are more than happy to help out. Bonus tip, always try to make it worth their while when calling on their help.
Thank You, Kindly
There is a great art that has been lost in our culture. That art is the thank you card. If someone goes out on a limb for you to get you an audition or gig or whatever, please handwrite them a thank you note. Just FYI, etiquette for thank you’s are to send it out within 3 weeks of the event that caused the need for a thank you note. I try to do it within the first 48 hours after someone has done something nice for me. I cannot tell you the amount of doors that have opened up because I said thank you.There is a great art that has been lost in our culture. That art is the thank you card. Click To Tweet
Social Media… Be On It
This is a new one that I tell people, because the results are just so dang effective. Take pictures and videos of you doing your craft, of your life, of whatever. Take a marketing class on Instagram, or Facebook, or Twitter or whatever to get really good at it. This makes your reach bigger and to be honest right now, studios are looking for people with decent following because it’s free marketing. It’s not the only thing going into decision-making, but if there are two musicians with similar talent they will take the one with a bigger following. You don’t have to do this. I know plenty of professional musicians who don’t. Again the industry is so relational that you can definitely success without it. I just like to stack the deck in my favor, and figure every little bit helps. I have gotten jobs from people who follow me.
So there you have it. If you’re just starting out in this process, God bless you! It’s not always an easy road, but as someone who is living her dream I can tell you it is worth it. Hope this helps!
Love and Blessings,