How to be a Full-time Musician: Part 2

Another year has passed, and I'm happy to say the freelance musician career is still going strong.

Let me start by saying that I stand by everything I wrote last year in this article. If you haven't read that article, I suggest you start there.

A lot of the groundwork done in year 1 made this past year easier in some respects. For instance, this website did it's job in bringing me new students. I've basically been on autopilot in terms of recruiting new students. I've actually had the opposite problem...too many guitar lesson inquiries. I say that not to brag, but to encourage those of you just getting started with teaching. Put things in place and then let time and your budding reputation work for you.

I've also done a lot of new things this year.

  • I've built a relationship and started working with another producer in town.
  • I'm now offering Webcam Guitar Lessons.
  • I'm now offering Remote Recording Services.
  • I've created lots of new videos for my YouTube Channel.

    I'm incredibly grateful for the progress made in the past year. Being a full-time freelance musician has got to be the greatest job in the world!

    I'll now share some of the new lessons I've learned about being a full-time musician. I hope you'll be encouraged and inspired to go for your dreams.

    You Must Resist Laziness

    When you finish a project, fill your teaching schedule, etc. it's all too easy to slip into laziness. This has been one of my big struggles this past year.

    Nothing is quite as motivating as hunger (or bills that are due). When you get to a place in your career where you're paying the bills and still have a little left over, be wary of the temptation to slow down.

    I'm not saying you shouldn't ever celebrate your victories or even take vacations. You absolutely should! But set your sights on the longer term goals and keep working.

    I've created a list of long-term project ideas and career goals. Whenever I'm at a loss for what to work on, I'll reference this list. Not only does it remind me of the work that I need to do, but it also keeps the big "music career" picture in mind.

    Slow Progress is Still Progress

    I mentioned this in last year's article, but it bears repeating. As a freelance musician, you're building something...a career. Recognize you must be in it for the long haul.

    Have a clear picture of where you want to be in the long-term, and take steps every day toward that goal. If you keep walking, you'll get there.

    Rome wasn't built in a day. An elephant is eaten one bite at a time. The tortoise beats the hare...

    Enough is not Enough

    If you're the type who does just enough to get by, either find something else to do or learn to go above and beyond.

    Here's a tip...the players who do the work are the players who get the work.

    The great Australian guitarist Michael Dolce once advised me to approach every gig like it's the biggest gig I've ever played. Wise words that I've done my best to live by.

    How do you work that advice out practically?

    Never be late. Know the songs (NOT just the guitar parts). Nail the tones. Have reliable gear (and backups). Be flexible. Be nice. That pretty much sums it up.

    Every time you show up to a gig or session, you're building your reputation.

    I know you want a great reputation, so do the work necessary to build one. If you have to spend 3 hours getting one song down, so be it. No one cares how hard you had to work. They only know what they hear on the gig.

    This is coming from a guy who one would be impressed by anything I can do on guitar if they could see how hard I've had to work to get here.

    Glamorous? Not hardly. But this is what it takes.

    Your Education is Never Over

    There was a time in life when I thought that once I got a degree in music, I'd know everything I needed to know to be a full-time musician.

    Oh sweet, blissful ignorance!

    The truth is, your education NEVER ends. At least, not unless you want your career/influence to end with it.

    There are the obvious business techniques and concepts you'll have to learn. You are a music entrepreneur, after all.

    But beyond that, the musical lessons will keep coming as long as you're playing.

    In the last month alone, I've played Motown, funk, Gospel and Salsa music. Am I seasoned in all of these genres. No sir. But I took the gigs and did my homework beforehand.

    Go ahead and get acquainted with the idea that you will never stop learning. If you go into your career with that in mind, you'll be well equipped to deal with the nature of the freelance musician gig.

    Value Your Relationships

    Again, I have to reiterate this point that I made in my first article on this topic.

    This gig is all about your network. Let me emphasize that your network is not simply a list of people who know your name and your instrument. That won't do you much good.

    Your network is made of people who trust you enough to either hire you themselves or put their own reputation on the line by referring you to someone else.

    How many of those relationships do you have?

    In terms of building your network, refer to the points made above. Especially the point about doing more than enough to get by. You keep doing that and your network will more or less take care of itself.

    And one final point on networking - don't be the guy that's always looking out for your own interests. Help other people out, and they'll be much more inclined to return the favor.

    Selfishness stinks, and most people have noses.

    Final Thoughts

    If you have the chops and don't mind work, I have no reason to doubt that you could have a successful career as a freelance musician.

    For those of you planning on starting a freelance career, I wish you all the best. In fact, that's why I've written these articles!

    As always, you're invited to join the conversation in the comments section below.

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