I speak with students often about career-related goals and the skills necessary to be successful as a musician. I am still learning about what that means myself, but over the years, I have learned at least a few things about what sets successful musicians apart from those who struggle to make it. Being really good at what you do is an obvious necessity, but I'm talking about skills that go beyond just being a great player or composer or producer or whatever you do.
Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (photo: indiana.edu)
In no particular order, here are some tips geared toward college students that I have learned from my teachers and from my experiences as a musician. These come from a Christian perspective and some are specifically spiritually oriented, as this is an important aspect of my work at Southeastern University and in my own life and career.
Recognize your career in music doesn’t start when you graduate. It has already started.
Create a great artist bio and resumé. Make it appropriate for your area of music — education, classical, commercial, church music. You may also want business cards and letterhead.
Anyone seeking to make it as a solo or commercial artist needs a quality website.
Be smart on social media — the smallest things can come back to haunt you.
If you’re a performer, excellent performance skills are a given. What else do you have to offer?
Take lots of gigs. You never know what a ho-hum, small-scale gig might lead to. At a certain point, you’ll be able to say no more often (when you’re making enough money!), but when you’re young and getting started, get the experiences and meet new people!
Join your local and national arts organizations and societies.
Be the kind of person people want to hang out with. There are very skilled people out there that can’t find work because no one wants to be around them.
Read a TON. Read about your area of music. Read bios on great musicians. Read about performance psychology. Read about recording technology. Read about tax tips for musicians. Read about how to write a great bio or create a compelling website. Read a good fiction novel and let it inspire your art.
Set time aside to set concrete, measurable, God-directed goals for yourself. Set short-term goals (up to two months out), mid-term goals (2-12 months), and long-term goals (1-5 years). Re-evaluate every couple months. Always listen for God’s leading — he may change things.
Be okay with working outside of a music for a time, while remaining focused on your goals.
Keep a weekly schedule, and stick with it. Be disciplined in time management.
Be early to everything. This shows dedication, commitment, and responsibility. And it helps prevent additional stress on you. If you have to set up, be extra early.
Be knowledgable in basic recording skills. Be able to create a high-quality demo or audition recording — audio and video.
Invest in your career financially. Be willing to spend money to advance your craft. This might be purchasing equipment (instruments, recording gear, camera, etc.), or paying for lessons, or going to a summer seminar or festival, or a convention for your area of music. These investments are worth it.
Don’t wait for anyone to hand you anything.
Expect to teach music at some point in your career. It’s a great way to make money doing music, and you learn a lot in the process.
Keep track of your finances and understand how much you spend and make doing music. This is especially important for free-lance musicians!
Be flexible, be adaptable, and be patient. Don't be so set in your way of doing something.
Learn to FOCUS. Stop allowing yourself to be so distracted. In the practice room, on stage, in life in general.
Write things down. Not just goals, but practice hours, practice reminders, lesson log, what you heard when you listened to a recording of your run-through, etc. Write down people's names you recently met so you remember them the next time you meet. Write down all the rep you've played and recorded, the venues you've played in. Write down everything you need to do/learn for the next couple months so you can see it in one place and prioritize what's most important and make a plan for getting it done/learned.
Always commit your career to God. It’s not for you, but for others to experience Him and His love through music and relationships. Don't treat it selfishly, but seek to love others through your work.
Of course there are many many more that could be added. What additional tips would you add?
Next time, I will share some resources that I or my students have found helpful in growing towards a better understanding of making a career in music.