Being a musician is friggin’ hard. I have non-musician (normal?) friends who, about once a month over margaritas, will expound upon the ins and outs of their jobs. Recently, I professed to one that at the start of every fall, I grapple with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“But you love your jobs,” they say.
Of course I do. It doesn’t matter how much I love what I do, or how good (or not good) I may (or may not) be at it. That doesn’t mean that every August, I don’t sit down with a 24-month calendar and meticulously chart the course of the months ahead, usually down to the hour and tens of dollars. That’s overwhelming, even for a seasoned freelancer who is not immune to burnout, and who, about once a year, contemplates the practicality of becoming a dentist.
This isn’t a slam on dentists or any professional with a traditional or even non-traditional nine-to-five (or seven-to-four or six-to-six, as the case may be). The difference is in the safety net, the invisible trampoline ten stories down that affords those in traditional institutions a sort of unspoken privilege, a space to free fall. Led by a bureaucracy, it is easy to overlook the work needed to grease the wheels, churn the product, keep the lights on and the people happy. As a musician, that’s all on me, and even in my funkiest of funks, I have to remember to move forward, as my success is a direct result of my productivity.
So here are some things I’ve been trying to make work. Each one of these might open up a whole can of worms in terms of time or financial investment, but the point is to get out of a rut and make progress! Throw this deck of cards in the air and cherrypick as they apply to you!
52 THINGS MUSICIANS CAN DO RIGHT NOW to further their career.
- Start a blog. Write three articles and set to auto-publish once a month.
- Pull out a calendar and set one goal for three, six, or nine months from now (or all three). Chart your way backwards, set a plan, and get to work.
- Book one paid gig for next month.
- Book one volunteer gig for next month.
- Invest in one piece of equipment (a mic, amp, instrument, book, etc)
- Book a house concert in a creative venue.
- Host a house concert for another musician.
- Host an express happy hour meetup for musicians. Ask everyone to bring their cards to exchange.
- Update your website. At the very least, it should have a visual, bio, and contact section.
- Make a video of yourself playing, practicing, giving a tutorial, or hosting a Q&A. Publish to youtube or a platform of your choice.
- Start a facebook group for area teachers, bands, performers, or singers. Use it to your advantage and offer your own deposits.
- Pick one song and arrange a cover. Record it and publish to a platform of your choice.
- Listen to one industry podcast episode while you exercise, cook dinner, or drive.
- Offer one free lesson, tune-up, track, coach session, or any other service you have under your belt that would help someone else out and forge a connection.
- Go to a performance in a venue you haven’t attended. Make it a point to learn one new name of someone involved. Give them your card.
- Review a show, performance, or album. Post it to your blog or platform of choice.
- Ask three brutally honest friends to review your website. Be open to changes and enact them proactively.
- Scope one new potential venue where you could perform. Be friendly, engage authentically with the establishment, and follow up with them when the time is right.
- Perform in a church service and negotiate with the music director or organization to sell your CD or other merch. Make sure to stay for lunch if they invite you.
- Learn a new DAW or recording software.
- Read “Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music” by Angela Myles Beeching. Take notes as you go.
- Identify a touring artist directory and apply to it.
- Research grants or residencies for musicians. Pick five and apply. You’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process.
- Google yourself and see what comes up. If you don’t like what you see (or don’t see), do something about it.
- Ask another musician to share a set with you at a location of your choosing.
- Subscribe to an industry magazine, podcast, blog, or other publication.
- Leverage social media: find one musician whose music you enjoy and propose a like for a like or a follow for a follow.
- Turn off all social media, go to a secluded place, and write a song. Do not emerge until it’s complete.
- Go for a ten-minute walk. Commit to coming up with five new song ideas (or other related ideas) by the time you’re done.
- Dust off your chops – pull out a piece of past repertoire and re-learn it. Play it for someone who would appreciate it.
- Play at a nursing home, retirement facility, or assisted living environment. Record your performance and use it for applications, on social media, and EPKs.
- Create a one-page EPK addition to your already-tricked-out website.
- Stage an online concert. Accept tips. Use it as paid practice time and rehearse your onstage banter, setlist, etc.
- Arrange a popular tune for voice or choir. Sell the sheet music online.
- Better yet, contact a local music ensemble or organization and offer to arrange a song tailored for their group (ask what they need). Donate a certain number of digital copies or offer a discount (or give it for free). Add the sheet music to your store.
- Launch an online store! If you don’t have a lot of merch, start small and sell digital downloads of a single recording.
- Launch a patreon account. Commit to a content plan for three months, then get to work.
- Design an infographic offering knowledge in your area of expertise. Post to a social media platform of your choice.
- Take another musician out for coffee for an hour and pick their brain.
- Launch a kickstarter, gofundme, or other crowdfunding campaign for a project of your choosing. Remember to give back to your donors generously.
- Donate a few dollars in your professional name to another musician or creative project.
- Start a newsletter and link a subscriber sign-up to your website.
- Make a lyric video for one of your songs or compositions.
- Learn a new video editing software.
- Live stream a practice session or rehearsal.
- Run a social media giveaway for your facebook page. Offer something in return for a facebook like or share. Engage!
- Invest in some paid advertising; set an amount, choose a platform, and see how far it takes you.
- Identify a need in your community. Is it pro gear rental? Low cost lessons? Now try to solve it using your skills and resources. Fit yourself into the puzzle and go do it.
- Publish something, some piece of content, anything. Don’t worry if it’s perfect. Work to publish.
- Find a songwriting workshop or trade conference and make plans to attend. Invite a friend and carpool.
- Visit another musician’s studio space or a music retail establishment you haven’t been to. Sit in on a lesson or rehearsal, or introduce yourself to the staff.
- Spend time each week doing something completely unrelated to music. Honor the space.