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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.


  • 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!  :)