Month: March 2014

5 Essential Practice Tips

A wise man once said “insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” That wise man was Albert Einstein, and he happens to be a pretty smart dude. In fact, he felt most of his scientific breakthroughs came as a direct result of improvising on the piano and violin – so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Music is a journey. Gaining musical proficiency requires both disciplined practice as well as patience. The process is about developing oneself through your ears and out your soul. If you do it right, you’ll notice changes in yourself – how you play a piece, how you perform with others reflects your personality and your day to day life.

Whenever I am struggling with a piece, technical exercise, or memorizing a new program, I find myself falling back on a variety of methods to dig myself out of a hole. Everyone is different, some may need to focus on only one or two of my tips below, others may need to do a little of everything. Below are the best ways I know of how to improve dramatically – even over the course of a day – and really begin to understand problems in your playing in an objective manner.

Listen to yourself: I firmly believe that the better you are at listening, the better you become as a musician. When you practice or perform a piece, how often do you really listen to yourself? Are you aware of that slight noise when your fingers touch the string – or do you just let it slide? Do you hear that gap when you shift from one fret to another down the neck? Take the time to listen to the sounds you create. Listening to each note from its inception until the last audible vibration is the best way to honestly appraise your playing. Start each day by playing/singing one note or chord, close your eyes and listen to it ring out. Take a breath. Repeat. Now you’re ready to move on.

Record yourself: This goes hand in hand with listening. If you record yourself playing for practice or even a performance, and objectively create a map of the things you want to improve you set yourself up for success. Hell, use a webcam, cell phone, video, audio – doesn’t matter. In fact, if you manage to sound great on a terrible recorder you know you’re practice is beginning to pay off.

Stop whatever you’re doing and do the opposite: Want to get faster? Forget speed for a few weeks and go back to basics at a snail’s pace. If you find yourself hitting a wall in your practice, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break. Spend two weeks practicing something entirely different. Cultivate an awareness of your body and instrument and truly own the notes.

Perform for others: This is the biggest way to improve. Play for others. Play for friends, set up a small house concert. It doesn’t matter if you crash and burn – you’ll be better off after running the gauntlet. I’m convinced that the reason people get so nervous and notice what can seem to be an insurmountable amount of mistakes in performance comes from that fact that not only are you no longer on practice-room-autopilot, but you’re actually listening to yourself – AND – so are other people.

Set Goals:
This is simple, but it’s amazing how often people forget. My personal favorite is writing a weekly practice log. Sometimes I break it down into small daily goals. At the extreme, there have been times where I’ve written up a sheet of paper for each piece I’m working on as well as every gig I had coming up. I wrote dates and goals on each page and taped them to my bedroom wall. Every time I accomplished a goal or finished a piece, I checked it off with green marker. Learn to love the green marker. Even if you come up short, aim high. You can only end up ahead.

These are my 5 go-to practice techniques – if you have any other effective ideas, post below!

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Setting a Fair Rate

In my previous post I highlighted the importance of self-evaluation and knowing your worth as a performer. Now that we know the importance of setting a comparable monetary value for one’s work and how settling for low-paying gigs only brings more competition and frustration, this post will explore how to set a fair rate for an event.

Location plays a huge part in setting a quote that is reasonable to the client and fair to the performer. Having lived in major cities like Baltimore and San Francisco where cost of living is rather high, any quote for an event is going to be more expensive than it would be in a smaller city/town for an event of similar duration. For major cities like New York, DC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, you’d be a fool to charge small town rates in the big city.

Flat Quote or Hourly Rate? There are benefits to giving a flat quote or using an hourly rate for events. Personally, I like giving flat quotes – it’s straightforward and I avoid itemizing charges in contracts like hours, breaks, travel, etc. I simply give a number and don’t hassle the client with minor details. This works great for weddings and gives the Bride-to-be one less thing to worry about. However, for a small concert or an event that needs background music for a specific amount of time an hourly rate may be more appropriate.

Part of setting a fair rate for an event is having a feel for how much you believe your performance is worth in the context of a reasonable budget. As I’ve said before, there’s always somebody willing to work for less. You need to command a higher rate to stand out – and also DELIVER THE GOODS! This means consistently playing your ass off, being social with guests/audience members, and being sure to take the time to thank the person who hired you – they’re providing you with work, and you’re providing them with an irreplaceable service: live music!

This link between the professional and social aspect of being a musician is part of why I prefer setting flat quotes on a per event basis. Breaking down an event to hourly rates tends to give the gig a feel of a transaction – paying for time as it is. Like putting coins in a parking meter. This can leave the performer feeling like a human jukebox and the client only concerned with putting enough coins in to keep the tunes coming.

To command a good fee, you need to go above and beyond simply playing for the allotted amount of time and this is something you want to make very clear to potential clients via your websites, emails, and phone calls. This is why I prefer to give a flat quote. Somebody emails me saying they need classical guitar for an event in a couple weeks. I email them back thanking them for their interest in my music and tell them I’ll happily play for them. I may only be playing an hour and a half, however, when I give a client a quote they know that also comes with my guarantee to arrive early, set up, provide my own amplification as well as set up a microphone if someone may speak at the event, plan the music program, and learn any song they may require for the performance.

This is where I differ from other musicians. In the same city for the same event, a lesser experienced guitarist may give that same event a quote based on their hourly rate. At $100 an hour for 1.5 hours total = $150. They may then include travel expenses or booking fees, all of which feels like getting a bill from Verizon or Direct TV rather than giving your client a personalized, all-inclusive musical package. It’s cheaper, may be easier to quote and convenient, but you’re basically selling yourself short. Lots of people may book you, and that’s not bad, but the main reason they book you is because it’s a cheaper option.

Breakdown This should serve as a guide for event price range and is my average of 75 gigs between 2012-2014.
• Short Wedding (less than 1 hour) $200 – $400
• Wedding and Cocktail Reception (up to 2 hours) $350 – 800
• Private Event (Wineries, Universities, Hotels) $400-1000
• Corporate Events – $400-1000 (my experience has been corp. event budgets are about 1k for music)
• Small Concerts, House Concerts – $300 – 600

These are the ranges that I use when quoting an event to give an idea of what is possible and as you can see there is room for flexibility. I was booked for considerably more weddings than anything else, and I’ve also had to turn down several events that didn’t align with my price ranges. When this happens, work with the client and their budget, however, if you can’t agree on a number you can always refer a friend who would love the opportunity.

Know Your Worth

Knowing your worth and valuing yourself as a performer is the single most important aspect of making money as a musician.  After years of lessons, hours of practice, teaching, and getting your feet wet with small gigs here and there, there comes a time when you will be forced to evaluate yourself and what you offer the community.  You aren’t getting paid for all the hard work, yet you deserve to be making money with your talents.  Why aren’t I getting more gigs?  Why was there a poor turnout at my last concert?  Sooner or later these questions enter the head of any musician, and the answer lies in how you view the business side of your career.

 Life Outside the Practice Room                                                                                               You could be the greatest musician in the world, but if your cat is the only thing to hear you play, you’re in for a tough time when looking for opportunities in a city where nobody knows you exist. Having confidence in your ability to deliver a truly great performance and the ability to communicate with your audience in a genuine, friendly manner goes a long way to securing a fair booking fee.  Ask yourself – what would I pay to hear me

Shoot for the Stars, Land on the Moon                                                                                    With performer based search engine sites like Gigmasters, GigSalad, and Wedding Wire, it can be difficult to book events as the new kid in town especially when up against longtime members.  These sites are great for getting started; however, they are best used to drive traffic to your personal site.  I’ve shared these same struggles and I’m going to share with you some of my tips to get the rate you deserve and book more gigs. 

 1.       Know  the competition

Whether you use Yelp, your own personal site, or a large event booking site like the ones mentioned above, take some time to view other musician’s press materials.  Do a search in Google and type in things like “Piano wedding Baltimore” or “Guitarist for event” and see what the results are.  Take a look at sites you like and don’t like so you can organize your webpage accordingly.

2.       Know what types of events you’re interested in

This should be common sense, but don’t waste time with events you aren’t interested in.  If you want to play weddings, contact wedding planners and do some research on many of the popular venues in your city for ceremonies.  Don’t waste time in desperation trying to find a bar looking for music once every blue moon.

3.       Charge more than the competition

This may sound insane, but if you truly know your worth, believe in yourself, and stand by your rates – you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the events that may roll down your pipeline.  It all comes down to proper groundwork.  If I was looking to hire somebody, I’d never take a musician seriously if they charge $100 for a performance or $20 a lesson.  That’s just too low for all the time spent practicing and reeks of desperation.  Yet, that’s the price range of the bulk of my “competition.”  To top things off, with a rate that low, you’d need to land at least 10 gigs a month just to pay the rent – that’s hardly surviving.  You want to be the Ferrari, not the Honda.

 50 gigs later, after one year in a new city, I’m convinced that a large part of my success is due to my ability to set high goals.  I moved from the East Coast to the West and came to terms with the fact that There’s always somebody willing to work for less.  Rather than low-balling my quotes to potential clients and competing for scraps, I waited it out and laid down the proper framework to beat the competition. The first couple gigs were tough to book, but if I hadn’t been sure of my worth as a performer and the experience I offer in planning music for a wide array of events, I’m afraid I’d still be competing for $100 weddings and $200 background music events.   Now, I have broken the $1000 barrier and am still looking to improve my results.  Do I still do the occasional $200-300 event – absolutely if it is something I’m interested in!  However, rather than scrambling for dozens of gigs, I can pay the rent and then some after 2 or 3 all because I trust my worth and what I offer as a musician and businessman. 

Remember: You bring with you not just an instrument, but thousands of hours of practice, past performances, and the years of experience gained from honing an art.