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Home » Music Business » Tough Times, or Is It Attitude?

Tough Times, or Is It Attitude?

  -  Member Local 78 (Syracuse, NY)

Probably not a week goes by, where someone doesn’t tell me about how things are “getting tough.” Business has changed over the years. Weddings are using DJs, clubs aren’t booking singles or groups, shows are using more recorded music, and a lot of the gigs we used to play are nonexistent. Many bars want musicians to play for the door. Not only that, nobody buys records or CDs anymore; they stream it on their iPhone or listen digitally. OK. Got it. It’s not easy anymore.
Well, I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but there was really never a time when it was easy, and the phone just rang off the hook constantly with people looking for a single, combo, or band of any size. It never worked that way. And it’s not going to happen now.

Playing for fun is a hobby. Making money playing music is a business. So if you want to work as a professional musician, you need to treat it like a business. That means press kits, demo CDs, business cards, brochures, voice mail, e-mail, a terrific website, networking, and a business plan.

You also need a good attitude—a business attitude. You can’t blame not getting yourself booked on things you can’t control. It’s human nature; when things start going into “tilt,” we like to come up with excuses. Excuses like, “the economy is bad,” “we’re in a recession,” or “nobody wants to hire live musicians anymore.”
On top of that, we blame the stock market, the president, the town we live in, the competition, or the customers themselves. However, with all things taken into consideration, it is easier to just look in the mirror and see who is actually responsible for getting work, or the lack thereof.

It’s up to you. You’ve heard it before. You are the prophet of your own destiny.
To make it in the music business today, you need to let people know who you are as a musician. You need to hone your craft, and you need to tweak your business skills as well. That means marketing, selling, publicizing, networking, and promoting … as well as performing.

Any roadblocks you have getting work as a musician can be overcome. It might not be easy, it will take some work, and that overnight success you’re trying to achieve may take just a little longer than overnight. If one of your major roadblocks is getting what you’re worth, don’t immediately start wavering. When somebody says that you should consider playing for less because you are doing something you enjoy, remind them of how long you had to practice to get where you are. Tell them about the perfection a professional musician strives for, and that it’s not your hobby, it’s your job.

This goes for casual dates, symphonic work, corporate gigs, recordings, and concerts. It goes for every type of musical performance as a professional musician. We do it because we like it, we are good at it, and it’s our life. It’s our business. We’re members of the American Federation of Musicians and we want to make sure we get paid fairly and get proper acknowledgement for what we do. The AFM helps to ensure that, even if we are enjoying what we do, we get paid well at the same time.

I have a real problem with people who want musicians to play under scale because musicians enjoy what they do. Maybe we should just hand them an instrument and ask them to see how good they are at it. Think about that the next time someone asks you to play at an unfair price.

Besides a business plan, what are your goals as a professional musician? Oops, wait a minute. Do you even have a goal? It could be working one of the top casinos in Las Vegas, backing up a famous singer, playing six nights a week at a major club, appearing on Letterman or The Tonight Show, playing hit shows on Broadway, or simply filling your calendar in your own hometown. If you really want to make it as a musician, and if gigs are really important to you, why don’t you just bite the bullet, come up with a plan, and start putting in the time, money, and effort you need to be a success? Start now, today.

A journey of 100 miles begins with the first step. What are you doing right now to reach that goal you have set for yourself? Your personal success as a professional musician is directly related to your belief in yourself and your music. Your success is in your own hands.

So, what’s your answer? Do you want to come up with a plan and give it your best shot, or do you want to just sit back in your chair, hoping things will get better, and maybe the phone will ring?

It’s your choice. There is plenty of work out there. Musicians are still working in all sections of the country. You need to be creative. And you need to go after gigs with a positive attitude, some decent goals, and a plan to make it work. Remember, we’re in the music business, and to be a success means working at our business every day.

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