Music

Two Benefits of Playing Weddings

In addition to giving you the opportunity to make an impact on a couple’s special day, weddings have two HUGE benefits: Networking with day-of coordinators and venue staff. For the coordinators and planners, this is their livelihood and this won’t be the only wedding they’re doing all year. Do well and you’ll lay the foundation for repeat business. In the same vein, the venue staff likely does more than weddings. If it’s a winery they will host parties, tastings, and possibly a small concert series.

Day-of Coordinators and Planners

Ideally, you should already be proactive and in touch with the wedding planner well before the big day. If you’re primarily communicating with the couple, I’d recommend asking them for the contact info of their event planner and reaching out in advance of the ceremony. Even if it’s just to introduce yourself, it shows responsibility and makes their job easier. In your email you should:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Link your website
  • List songs to be played for Processional and Recessional
  • List estimated song duration
  • Confirm venue address and start time

All of this can be taken care of in a few sentences and makes coordination smooth. Not to mention, if you’ve already struck a favorable impression before the wedding, you’re well on your way to repeat business. Making the music portion of the event planner’s job a breeze is gigging with ease.

Venue Staff

At large venues you’ll come into contact with a variety of staff. Everyone from waiters and waitresses to the venue’s event team and managers. Always, always, always introduce yourself to everyone and offer to help out with set-up (you arrived early, remember?) Even if you eat free or get a bottle of wine on the house – tip the bartender or waitstaff generously. With venue staff you should:

  • Exchange contact info
  • Ask about upcoming events
  • Email a thank you a few days after the event
  • Send them your website/press kit

These are two massive benefits of playing weddings and need to be followed to a T. Experience builds momentum, which in turn puts you in touch with more and more people who are eagerly waiting to hire you for their event.

Happy Gigging

Advertisements

Multiple Income Streams

In order to achieve some level of financial stability, every musician will leverage a variety of income sources to make ends meet and eventually break through to higher earning potential. The degree to which each category will be leveraged will largely depend on factors such as individual personality, career goals, style of music, and networking. The three biggest income streams for a musician can be broken down as follows: Teaching, Performing, Sales.

Teaching

Being a music teacher is by far the most stable hat a musician can wear, and this is serves as the foundation for world-class performers teaching masterclasses at Conservatories or Universities and serves as a steady start for the young teacher at the local music store. As you gain experience performing and word of mouth spreads about the success of your students, your studio will fill and your rate will gradually increase.

In major cities, by far the best place to teach is after school programs. You simply set up an interview with the principal or music teacher and then find out if there are any students interested in afterschool music lessons. You won’t get more than a couple kids per day, but the benefits are great: you can command a higher rate, cherry pick interested students, no charge for renting a studio, and parents will jump at the opportunity to keep their kids occupied instead of sitting around waiting for the bus or in study hall. If you’re worried about getting started and have no experience, the most effective way to get your foot in the door is to substitute teach for a friend (again – network!)

Performing

Who are we kidding? Getting on stage and playing is the reason most people pick up an instrument. Unless you’re already booked at the Met or solo regularly with orchestras around the world, performing will serve as a high but often unpredictable source of income. Concerts, background music, weddings, corporate events, and church services all count as a way to boost your income and get you playing for people. In order to get started you will need a website and a couple mp3s at the bare minimum and can expect to take about a year to get yourself up and running and no longer “paying your dues.”

 Some people like to look at their income as primarily teaching-based with performance as a bonus. This will gradually shift as you gain experience performing and once you find yourself turning down more events due to your teaching schedule, it will be time to evaluate your approach, crunch the numbers, and re-focus your streams.

Sales

This includes T shirts sold at concerts, CDs, mp3s, sheet music, iTunes, and downloads. Personally, this is the weakest of my income streams with performing shifting into the strongest stream over the past two years. I always bring CDs to sell to any event and all musicians should utilize sales as an income source. If you have a huge Facebook following or your band is a local favorite, you need to have something fans can purchase. Additionally, having a CD or mp3s you send concert promoters or include in your press kit is a must.

Implementing Good Habits to Take Charge of Your Career

The following is the first of a two-part Guest Post by good friend and fellow musician Frank Gulino. In this first excerpt, Frank addresses the importance of practicing effectively. Frank is a trombonist with the Capital Wind Symphony, composer, and entertainment lawyer based outside DC. His website can be found here.

Musicians are among the most gifted, dedicated, educated, focused, and hardworking individuals you will ever encounter, and yet so many of them find themselves struggling professionally. There are a multitude of unfortunate reasons for this, including the declining number of professional opportunities, heightened levels of competition, and the systematic under-compensation of musicians across the board. One phenomenon in particular, however, stands out: the “art” of music and the “business” of music are more disparate today than they have ever been, and too many musicians focus exclusively on developing their art rather than taking the time to develop both facets.

When I say that the “art” of music and the “business” of music have diverged, what I mean is that it is now appreciably more difficult to make a living in music by working for someone else than it has been in the past, making it more necessary for today’s musicians to be entrepreneurial thinkers rather than solely artists. As recently as two decades ago, there were many more opportunities for symphony musicians, more tenure track professorships in music, packed orchestra pits on Broadway, full big bands on cruise ships, and live music was ubiquitous. There were enough opportunities that, by perfecting your art, it was feasible to win the audition or land the pit orchestra job without having to be especially entrepreneurial or business-minded. In recent years, however, with orchestras folding, tenure track professorships being replaced by adjunct positions, and the widespread use of synthesized theater music, opportunities to be employed by someone else in the music field have become few enough that simply being the best player or interviewee is no longer the most consequential determinant of whether or not you succeed at making a living in music.

While artistic qualification and ability can still carry the day at the very highest echelons of the profession, the vast majority of musicians will need to allocate considerably more time to developing their “business” than they realize. Today, musicians have to be more prepared than ever before to work for themselves. And, as with almost anything else, the implementation of good habits is key.

Good Habits for Developing Your Art
1. Practice

There is no substitute for spending time with your instrument. No cutting corners, no feigning familiarity with the repertoire, no fooling anyone into thinking you’re prepared when you aren’t. Music directors, colleagues, and audiences alike will see through a lack of thorough preparation sooner or later. Practice smart and practice enough, but keep in mind that practicing your instrument is just one part (albeit an important one) of building your career.

I am a proponent of breaking up the day’s practicing into three sessions when possible. By practicing once in the morning, once during the day, and once in the evening, your body and mind will get past unhelpful conceptions such as the belief that “I can’t play first thing in the morning!” or “I never sound good this late at night!” You never know when you’ll be the person assigned to the 8:00 a.m. audition slot, or whether that wedding reception your band just got hired to play is going to last all night. Those become non-issues when you are accustomed to playing your instrument at any time of day.

2. Improve Your Concept
Two players of identical innate ability and practice habits will be readily distinguishable from in front of the audition curtain if one has made a conscious effort to inform and improve his or her concept of sound, while the other has never given thought to the matter. Listen to the best recordings you can, attend live performances, study with great teachers, and continue to refine the sound you desire. Take advantage of comp tickets, and familiarize yourself with the variety of genres and styles in which your instrument is used. The more you listen to great artists, the more you will be able hone your individual concept of sound. The informed desire to sound a particular way is what will ultimately set you apart from everyone else who plays your instrument.

3. Stay Healthy
Music is more of an athletic pursuit than many give it credit for. Sooner or later, eating poorly, neglecting exercise, and depriving oneself of sleep will all have an adverse impact on your ability to make music at the highest level. Eat well, exercise, sleep enough, stay hydrated, stretch, read, make time for relaxation, and surround yourself with wonderful people.

4. Play With Others
No amount of solitary, technique-focused time in the practice room will equip you with the ensemble skills necessary to play in most professional settings. Achieving a desired dynamic result with a decibel meter in the practice room does not mean you will be able to achieve the perfect dynamic balance within an ensemble; similarly, tuning a note to a tuner in the practice room is not the same as tuning a chord with other musicians. There is no substitute for making music with other people, and ensemble skills are absolutely essential to being a complete musician.

Coming Soon: Frank’s perspective on the entrepreneurial aspect of being a 21st Century musician.

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!

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. 

Everything is an Opportunity

Early on, finding success can seem like a total mystery. You hear about friends and colleagues winning competitions, recording a CD, or having a concert and you wonder how they got so lucky – “why can’t it be me?” And this is the problem. The competition or gig or CD was not their “success” – it was the manifestation of the fruits of their labor, the intersection of timing and preparation. It was the moment when their hard work paid off. Success is total commitment to the process of work and practice.

With that in mind and after working long and hard on your craft, only then will what seems like luck to the untrained eye will reveal itself as opportunity. Everybody you meet and everywhere you play has the possibility to lead you someplace new. You just need to keep your eyes opened.

A rather wealthy, older gentleman who comes to many of my performances took me to lunch one day. We ate and spoke and we tossed around the idea of putting together a CD release concert, with him playing Host and taking care of the audience. Over the course of lunch, I asked him what he was doing when he was my age and how he ended up in the position of being able to help young musicians. What he said has stuck with me ever since: “Instincts – I look at everything and everyone as an opportunity.”

3 Simple Tips for Emailing Clients

1. Start with a friendly greeting. This may sound simple, but this needs repeating. Many people have no idea how they come off over email – let alone in real life – but somehow think that communicating behind a computer screen is some sort of safety net. What would amount to an awkward first impression in real life results in an email that either falls flat or comes off as insincere and unprofessional. I recommend making the first sentence of any email a “thank you,” stating my appreciation for their interest in my music and that I’d be happy to discuss their event further. If this is a newly engaged couple – especially if it is the bride you’re emailing – this goes double. Thank them for their interest AND congratulate the couple on setting a date to tie the knot. The vibe you want to established is friendly-professional. They want to know that you’ll not only be a great performer, but somebody who is enjoyable to be around and could possibly be hired again in the future.

2. Keep it simple, stupid. The first email should fit on the screen without need for scrolling. Be polite and friendly, but get to the meat of things fast. I like writing, “just to be sure I understand you correctly…” and then following with a bullet-point list that includes arrival times, duration, event address, repertoire, and my quote. This will make things much easier when you are juggling multiple gigs. You’ll thank yourself later when sorting out the details of an event, and the client will be happy you aren’t wasting time with endless banter.

3. ALWAYS LINK. Always, always, always, always include a link to your website. If you don’t have a website – you should, and that will be discussed on the blog soon – attach mp3s or a resume (or both!) to every email you send. Every email I send ends with a link to my website immediately under my name. If you have an impressive site, this is a great way to show it off to clients, and it speaks volumes about your sense of professionalism.

Again, these are my simple tips and rules that I follow when I email event planners, clients, potential students, and concert venues. If anyone would like additional advice or an in-depth look at emails I have sent (I save everything) feel free to comment or email Gigsmarter@gmail.com

Price Reflects Value

This is a point I’m going to make frequently on this blog.  Price is a direct reflection of value.  People are proud to pay in full for a 100k sports car – it shows off their worth.  People buy designer clothes not due to functionality, but due to BRANDING.  Why do you think H&M gets a away with charging $200 for a blazer, that is really just Indonesian cotton that is beat up and dyed an obnoxious color?!  (I will admit H&M does have great sales…but you get the point.)

If you consistently try to engage your competition a price war , the only thing you offer is a LOWER PRICE.  Price becomes your BRAND.  Think – what are some companies known for low prices – Walmart?  McDonalds?  Sam’s Club?  Their entire business premise is around practical goods or services at the lowest price possible.  What about high prices – Whole Foods?  Banana Republic?  Fogo de Chao?  These companies charge high prices for their goods due to perceived value and higher quality.  Value – whether real or not – and offering a higher quality of service is their brand.

As a musician you can use this concept to your advantage.  You want to be the Rolex of your field, whether playing a wedding or corporate event, small concert series, or doing a recording session.  You want price to reflect your value – not how low you’re willing to go.  There will always be someone offering to do the job for less.   Don’t worry about your competition’s fees – if somebody wants to pay Joe Schmo $100 to play their wedding, well, that’s their choice if they want the music for the big day to sound like a total hack job.  Instead, offer a fair price that reflects your value – and offer a superior service.  Be punctual, friendly, easy to communicate with and make the performance about THE AUDIENCE . 

In the coming posts I will detail exactly how I negotiate contracts and what you can do to leverage simple business concepts to your advantage as a working musician.

Year in Review

2013 Wrapped up to be a great year for me. In fact, it was the busiest year I’ve ever had. While I’m still a fulltime student, I managed to book 46 private events and about 10 formal concerts. I finished recording a CD project of Spanish guitar music with a friend and we’ve just about sold the first batch of CDs – the good ol’ fashioned way – at concerts. The best concert was the Fayetteville Theatre in West Virginia. Not only was it a great show, but we were the first guitarists to EVER play that venue – the whole town showed up simply out of curiosity. Oh, and we stayed at a haunted mansion…

My teaching has been going great and my students are doing well, however, it is starting to bite into my performance opportunities. I got a new job at a private arts school and have two job offers from other music organizations to consider so 2014 has me weighing the benefits of each position – it’s nice to have choice.

In private bookings, I already have 10 concerts booked for 2014 and a short concert tour of Texas thanks to my good friend Jake who’ s the founder of the Aranjuez Outreach Series – they are a KICK ASS music nonprofit that puts on concerts at free master classes at universities throughout Texas. In the coming weeks I will be posting in more detail about how to book events including email and networking techniques.

I’ve managed to break the $700 barrier and $1000 barrier for a single event which is great progress! My average amount of gigs in 2013 was 3.33/month. Not bad, however, I had some months like March and June where I had no bookings, but then had tons of events in August and September. My goals for 2014 are to start my own event business, average 4+ gigs/month and break the $1500 barrier!

Setting high but attainable goals has been a huge part of my process. Even simple things like “wake up, figure out how to update blog email” is a step forward for me (I’m quite technically inept) and that old motto of “a really freaking long, crazy journey starts with a single step.” Or something like that.

What are YOUR goals for 2014?