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Going Pro

Today I spent a couple of hours hanging with Charlie Van Stee in my apartment. ¬†Together, we listened to the demo tracks from his forthcoming release, “Tigers will eat you!” ¬†(You can listen to most/all of the tracks on Charlie’s Facebook page.) ¬†It is his most heartfelt effort to date, imho.

Charlie wants to make a career out of music.  He is sincere about it, and I believe he has a good chance to do it.  This week, I have talked with two other musicians with dreams of doing just that (Ariel Apricio from Brooklyn and Keith Axline from San Francisco).  Both of them have found it tough going.

I believe that anyone with a bit of talent and a ton of determination and hard work can make a living playing music. ¬†What people don’t always realize is that, like anything else, if you want to make money at music, you have to devote 40 hours a week to it and run it like a business. ¬†This includes networking, honing your craft, and developing a reputation as a professional.

Below is my checklist for things to do to become and maintain your status as a professional working musician.  This list is reflective of my web biz more than it is of my music biz, but I think the same rules apply to both.

Networking

  • Attend local shows 5 nights a week
  • While you are at shows, meet the bands. ¬†Meet the promoters. ¬†Meet the bartenders. ¬†Meet the bar owners. ¬†Engage them all in conversation and hand them all your business card. ¬†Follow up the next day with an email or phone call expressing (sincerely) how nice it was to meet them.
  • Maintain regular contact with aforementioned industry folks. ¬†Ask them for gigs, leads, networking opportunities as appropriate.
  • Maintain an email list and add new email addresses to it at every show
  • Develop an online social networking strategy. ¬†Get active on online social networking websites that make sense to you (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc.). ¬†Spend reasonable amounts of time on these and be focused.

Honing your craft

  • Warm up for 1 hour every day
  • Practice for 2 hours every day solo
  • Practice twice a week with your band (if applicable)
  • Listen to music and music-business podcasts (Check out the CDBaby Podcast)
  • Develop a regular schedule for songwriting (This is the only way you will get better and quicker at your art!)
  • Write. Write. Write. ¬†Blog about your experiences. ¬†Write music. ¬†Write poetry. ¬†Think about things that happen to you, and write about them.
  • Become a leader in your local music community. ¬†There are all sorts of local music organizations in Minneapolis (and probably every big city). ¬†Get involved!

Developing a reputation as a professional

  • Show up to gigs early/on time
  • Be courteous and professional
  • Dress appropriately
  • Get contracts signed well in advance of gigs (if applicable)
  • Hire someone (or get a volunteer) to watch the door so that you don’t get ripped off
  • Sell cds and merchandise at your shows
  • Treat everybody with respect (they are your customers!)

The bottom line is that unless you get SUPER lucky (like Owl City), it will take hard work to make it as a professional musician.  Being a career musician requires starting your own business.  Time spent up front will pay dividends later.  Most of your good gigs will come from friends-of-friends.  You will get paid more the longer you are in the biz.

Now get to it!  :)