tips

The Importance of Having a Website

A website is basically a 24/7 advertising tool to an innumerable audience.  It can be viewed across the world at any hour of the day or night and serves as an online billboard for your business.  Anytime a student asks me, “what do you need to do to start getting gigs?”  I always answer: “you need a website.”  With millions of sites added daily and millions of people using the internet at any given second, it’s your best shot for being “found” and keeps contacts current on career updates.

 Get a Website

Before you expect students and concert presenters to fill your inbox with emails, you have a solid year to look forward to of little to no traffic on your website.  Your site will be the online version of a billboard hung above a seldom-travelled backwoods road; however, you have to start somewhere.  This is why I recommend every musician – even if all they have is a photo and an old mp3 – put something online as a placeholder.  You can always update the layout later, but you want people to have someplace to go should they look you up on Google. 

The Essentials

  • A Good photo with your instrument that lets viewers know what you’re about immediately
  • A brief Biography that highlights your accomplishments
  • Sound and video clips
  • Contact information 

There are a ton of free options such as WordPress, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn that can be up and running within 10 minutes – there is no excuse not to have some sort of online presence in this day and age.  In addition to the free options available, there are several companies that offer dirt cheap domain registration and hosting. 

Hosting Companies

My personal website is hosted by iPage.  It’s super simple to use and, for the most part, I’m happy with it.  With “Drag and Drop” builder, no knowledge of HTML coding is necessary,  and all you need are the text, photo, or sound files you want to upload from your computer.  Some reputable companies that offer simple hosting are:

 http://www.ipage.com/ipage/index.html

http://www.hostgator.com/

http://www.godaddy.com/

http://www.weebly.com/ 

I am not an affiliate of any of these companies.  I only offer these links as a route to finding different hosts.  As a musician – set yourself a goal and put up a website – even if its just a picture and brief bio – as soon as possible.  Later down the road you’ll thank yourself. 

 

Protip: Anniversary Follow-up

Early on I used to compartmentalize performances and events into separate categories. They were divided by the companies that hired me for corporate events, small recitals, and couples who hired me for their wedding. I viewed myself as a guitarist who just so happens to play weddings, and thought of the different events as a separate life in comparison to my “serious” performances.

What I realized was that one great way to keep in contact with past clients and get them to come to your next concert is to follow up via email. I don’t recommend blindly adding everyone to your email list, as most of the time it will feel spammy and end up in the trash folder. However, always follow up immediately after a gig with a short “thank you” email.

For weddings you can take this one step further. I’ve found that the thoughtful gesture of emailing the bride/groom on their first anniversary to be a HUGE success. Simply wish them a happy first anniversary and remind them how much fun you had playing for their big day. Ask them what their plans are for the future and in a sentence or two, let them know about your upcoming CD or concert. This is a great way to stay in touch and I’m sure they’d love to hear you play again – after all, you did play for their Big Day!

This demonstrates professionalism, friendliness, and thoughtfulness all in one short email. I’ve even mailed a free CD to a bride’s mother completely out of the blue. The result was she mailed me a surprise bottle of wine and referred me to another couple who is getting married. In order to use this successfully, it will require you to be a bit more established and be at least a year into the game. It’s crucial to have this level of commitment because eventually, you will soon have just as many anniversary emails to send as you will for new bookings.

Hope this helps – how do you keep in touch with past clients?

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.

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!

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.