Trying to carve out a career in music? Firstly, where do you apply to find a job as a musician? What sorts of activities should you be doing now to prepare yourself for a career in music? It turns out that your skill alone typically will not lead to success. Landing the dream gig, or any paying gig for that matter, requires business savvy — Check out these 8 effective strategies to become a successful professional musician.

1. Connect

Notice that this specifically says connect, not network. As a musician it is crucial to develop meaningful relationships with other musicians and industry professionals.This means more than just saying hey to another guitarist at the bar. Go out and support other musicians at shows, offer to buy someone lunch, and be willing help out when needed. Sometimes your industry contacts may ask you to fill in on a gig you do not necessarily want — it’s important to have their backs when they call on you. You never know, the next time they call you, it could be for your dream gig. It is also important not off, especially based off of first impressions. Major music cities like Nashville really are small towns and pissing off anyone is risky. Just because a young guitarist may have a music legend as a mentor or a touring pro as a parent. A positive word travels fast, a negative word travels faster. Lastly, make meaningful contacts with people from all areas of the industry. If you are a drummer, make contacts with professionals other than just drummers. While your drummer friend may recommend you when he leaves his touring gig, it is also possible that you will get a call from a guitarist, bassist, or manager who knows an artists looking for a drummer. Think about it… if the bandleader is looking to replace the current, drummer, he most like won’t ask the current drummer for a recommendation, right?

2. Develop Your Band

Think about who you are as an artist and a musician. What is your background and where are you trying to go? Craft this into something that helps others identify you online and offline. What images come to your mind when you think of McDonalds? Probably those golden arches. It plays to your advantage to have a symbol for your own brand. This is especially true if you are an artist or running a business as a studio owner or session player. Now combine this with the idea of connecting. Build your brand via social media and use it to attract a large following. Again, it is important to actually connect with your followers and fans. Believe it or not, musicians really are landing major label gigs through social networking websites like Instagram. And please, do not buy followers. It is so obvious you buy your followers when your page has 20,000 followers, but your post gets three likes. Connect with your followers, engage with their musician gigs, but also great endorsement deals!

3. Use Your Strengths, Improve Your Weaknesses

It is no secret that people tend to ignore their weaknesses. Does it really make sense to focus all of your practice time on things you are already good at? Of course, musicians need to keep their skills sharp and there is always room for improvement. However, it is incredibly beneficial to determine your weaknesses and focus a good amount of your practice time improving in those areas. When you perform live, highlight your strengths. That could be anything like stage presence, tone, rhythmic playing, soloing, crowd engagement, etc. When you practice, improve upon your weaknesses.

4. Make Yourself Versatile

If you move to a city like Nashville or Los Angeles, you will quickly find that there are thousands of people chasing the same gigs you are. When there are so many people competing for the same gigs, have something unique makes a big difference. Right now in Nashville the ‘utility’ musician is a huge trend. So many country artists have banjo, pedal steel, mandolin, and dobro parts that they needed covered, but they lack the funds to hire someone for each instrument. Picking up one or some of these other instruments is a great way for a guitar player to make him or herself unique and versatile. Keys are also a great instrument to double on. However, this isn’t the only way to make yourself unique. knowing the right style and appearance for each gig is also crucial and can set you apart at an audition.

5. Tone, Touch, and Timing

These three big T’s are absolutely crucial to sounding like a true professional musician. Spend time with your favorite records and master every aspect of the part. Match the tone and phrasing exactly to how your favorite players played it. Playing the right notes usually isn’t enough in the realm of professional musicianship. If you’re playing a stringed instrument, try to find the exact position on the fretboard where the part was played. Of course, it is sometimes important to take your own creative liberties while playing live. However, this is a great practice exercise. There is a reason those players are the ones you are listening to. Take the time to learn the little things they do that make them true professionals. When you play a live gig, place extra focus on the Tone, Touch, and Timing. A simple solo that has all three will always sound better than a complicated solo that doesn’t.

6. Make Daily Advancements

A long term, successful music career takes time to develop. Think of it like training for a marathon. If you go out and run 15 miles on day one, you will probably injure yourself and not reach your goal. It makes more sense to plan ahead and take your time working toward your goal. Becoming a full time, professional musician requires daily advancements. It will not happen overnight. Set aside an amount of time for daily practice, branding, and/or connecting with other professionals. Over time you can and should devote more daily time to reaching your goals. Also, keep track of your progress. This can be mental, but videos are also great. Recording practice sessions It is a great asset for motivation to look back on where you were a year ago and see all of the progress you have made.

7. Know Your Place

Once you have landed the gig, how do you keep it? A musician must know his or her place within the organization. Are you in a band where everyone is considered to be the artist or are you a side musician? If you are a side musician then you need to understand that a lot of people on the tour bus are your ‘boss.’ The artist, the managers, the bandleader, and potentially others could be your boss. It would be a bold strategy to show up and start telling them what’s what. If you have a legitimate concern about how something is being played, there is a right and wrong way to bring that up to the bandleader.

In the end, it is the artist’s show. You might get a couple solos or spotlight moments. You might not. Soloing during the first verse is a great way to get fired. Lastly, learn about the other people on the tour and their personalities. Behave appropriately and don’t be a drunken wreck. While the road can and should be a lot of fun, remember that you are being payed to do a job. So in conclusion, show up (on time), be respectful to everyone, play the right parts, and be a good hang.

8. Record Your Practice Sessions

Very few people like to listen to a recording of their practice sessions. It is kind of like hearing your own voice on an answering machine. This relates back to #3, improving your weaknesses. The video never lies. Maybe when you play along with the record your tone sounds great. However, when you listen back you may notice that you have too much gain and not enough mods. If you are honest with yourself and what you’re hearing, recording your practice sessions will help you identify and improve your weaknesses. It will also be great documentation for looking back and seeing how much you have improved!

Finding a career as a musician can be a challenging but worthwhile pursuit — you get to play music for a living and get paid. If you find our advice helpful, be sure to check out our entire library of content and interviews with professionals in the music industry on topics like how to find paying gigs in music, how to nail the audition, and much more, here.

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