Nov. 17, 2017

The Music Biz

Now here’s a howdy-doo ~ our class discussion took a 180 degree turn and instead of a discourse surrounding music itself, we came around to the Music Business and how to be successful as a musician.

This is a very sensitive topic for many musicians, I’m sure!  You see, that’s because music is STILL not a profession that is taken seriously by many, many people.  You’ve seen the memes, you know what I’m talking about.  “Will you play/sing for my Wedding? I’ll let you stay for the dinner”, or “Come do a gig at our Craft Show, it will be great exposure”.   We don’t ask Doctors and Lawyers for their time for free, or to get exposure, do we?   My favourite is when I begin telling people what I do, and they say “Oh, do you know so-and-so?”   I’ve yet to figure out a rebuttal to that.  :)

Many musicians have likely chosen the profession without a lot of support from their parents, because the parents don’t see it as a viable career.   Now, it could be that those parents don’t know what the work of a musician involves, and think that it is an easy (read lazy), attainable, and light thing to do.   Or, it could be that those parents have seen what the struggling artist must endure for the love of their art, and they don’t want to see their child suffer.   Both ideas are misguided, however, the second one has a little more merit, in that it can be exceedingly difficult to make a decent living as a musician, unless you hit the big time.  I am lucky to have a supportive mother...but she was not so lucky with her parents!  Nevertheless, she made a wonderful career out of her music.

What can we do then, to be exciting, hirable musicians when we graduate?  (And I’m speaking more for the 20 somethings in the group, although I have the same aspirations).  I believe that the more self sufficient we are, the better, but also, that there must be a safety net involved.

A safety net for a musician is necessary because while there are many opportunities to perform, there are equally as many different levels at which to perform, and to be compensated for such.   Some emerging artists enter competitions and are extremely successful, others may enter and even win, but still there’s no guarantee of superstardom after that.   It’s no secret that even at the top of one’s Operatic game, for instance, that the Opera Houses cannot always pay a full salary, so there are often wealthy individual benefactors who step in as a Patron of the Arts.   That is the height of heights and still it is a very risky, subjective area to be in, concerning pay.  Seek out what’s going on in the ‘scene’ at the level in which you’re comfortable being out there, and join in!   We all have to start somewhere.

There are any number of other (non-musical) things you can do to supplement your musician life/income.   Many choose to find something that is related to the field, for instance, I know a few ushers at the COC who are beautiful singers themselves.  They are already inside the organization!   Some build websites for Artists because they have that skill set.   Some offer help with Income Tax because they’ve found out all of the tax write-offs that are allowable for a working Singer to claim, for instance.  You want them helping you!   Some hold down bank jobs during the day, or drive a bus, or do modeling.  Another has developed a soul and body-renewing Yoga program for singers!  Dig down and figure out what your other ‘major’ could be, hmmm?

We need to NETWORK.  Networking is vital to moving forward and to finding new connections or building stronger existing ones.    Not everyone will help you as I’ve learned over the years.  In a 30 year career I have built an incredible network of colleagues and friends, some have helped and some have not.   In Real Estate for instance, they say that for every 100 phone calls that are made, the odds of a ‘sale’ are 100:1.   Imagine how it must feel, contacting 100 people and then selling 1 home, or widget.   We are better off building a network of colleagues and slowly becoming known within each circle of our ability, as we grow.    We will become braver as things move forward!  

We must be entrepreneurial...we cannot sit around and wait for things to happen, or to be invited to perform.  No ~ we must make our own opportunities.   Is there a work you want to do in Recital?  If you have a few friends who are collaborative musicians, that’s a fine place to start!   Ask them if they’ll be part of it, and you are now THE IMPRESARIO, creating something and getting it moving.  Do you know someone who owns a business?  Perhaps they’ll sponsor you for a mention in your program.   If you don’t ask, you will never we must ASK!    If you can build a budget, then you know how much money you’ll need to raise, to rent a venue, get insurance, and pay your musicians properly.    The Arts are a very worthy thing to sponsor.

A typical Budget for a Church-based Recital might look like this, for example:
Church Rental 300.00 - 500.00 
Insurance - different requirements by Diocese but the Premiums are low to get even up to $1m in coverage, maybe 50.00 
Programs & Posters - Can be made on your own (although they’re a pain in the @**) and Printing is not too expensive
Musicians - if you hire your friends and split the door after expenses are covered, then they’re paid and so are you.
Advertising doesn’t need to cost anything - Snapd is free, EventBrite is fairly cheap to sell tickets through... LinkedIn, Twitter, and FB are all useful.   But emailing people directly (not spamming all your friends at once) always seems to be the best way.  

Put yourself out there!   I feel that too many are afraid to put examples of their work out on Social Media.   There IS a fine line to this, in that what you share needs to reflect your best foot forward.    If you’re not sure, ask a trusted peer or teacher/professor/coach whether your material is “Facebook Worthy”.  Chances are that you’ll have something that is excellent and can easily be posted.   The fine line though, is to be careful that you do get the feedback and that you trust it.    When I first started posting things online, I had one colleague say that she felt a few spots were under pitch, so I took her advice and did not post that song from a Recital.   In another instance, a trusted friend felt that my French diction was not correct enough...down it came.  These days, it does not cost any money at all to make a decent video and to upload it to YouTube and distribute it.   I’m not saying that everything you post needs to be perfect, because  that is just not possible ~ but your very best effort and one that shows the preparation and potential that you have, now that is exciting.     Video is the most telling...there is little we can do to edit or enhance a video, or even a home recording for that matter, so that is why many requests for submissions call for a Video.  If you can believe it, an hour of Studio time to lay down and refine/master 1 or 2 tracks can have wonderful don’t have to make a CD and publish it...but you can walk out of there with a darn good mp3 version of your work, for a couple hundred bucks.  

Look for commonalities to introduce yourself with, to strangers.  Want to engage a Music Director?  Read THEIR bio online, to see if there’s anything that you could mention that will start a conversation, or pique their interest in you.  Maybe that Conductor is from your hometown, maybe they once played trombone too.  Are you singing Russian rep?  Strike up a conversation at the local Russian could connect you with their Church group, with the Russian Community, with their local newspaper... BOOM!   I once had a gentleman show up at my door trying to sell me windows...turned out he was Russian and the next thing I knew, he was an attendee at my Recital!    Do you have a comic gift?   Incorporate that into something you’re doing.   Perhaps you could combine an art show with your performance, using pieces that reflect the nature of what you’re singing about.   Perhaps a dancer who would love to be involved could also add an element of interest.  Each person you involve, has their own network of people that they could call upon to support the efforts of the group.   The trick is to find the people who are as committed as you are, to get bums in seats.  <3   Many performers who are established don’t even need to try to get an audience...but those who are hungry, like you, know the value of networking and selling themselves.   YES!!  Sell yourself, always...but find that balance between too much ego and too much shyness.  Your real enthusiasm will always shine through.  None of these ideas are ‘new’ but you get the drift!

I am one of those people that says YES to everything and sometimes that is exactly the right approach, but once in a while, it is not the right thing to say.   Oh gosh, we worry, that if we say NO, will they ever ask us again?   I believe the answer is yes, they will, if they were truly interested in you to start with.   Your health and your ability to learn the material and give your all to whatever you’re working on is still the most important thing in the world.

I am also one of those people who is innately disappointed when I don’t receive a response to an email.   There have been many, many instances where I do receive a response, but even more where there is none.   This is something we must get used to and somehow not take personally.   I suppose it may be true, that those ‘in charge’ cannot possibly respond to every artist that sends their bio and headshot along with a sample of their work.  I believe persistency is the key here.   (Still, I’m befuddled with why they cannot respond...I’ll equate it to me running a Facility with 1200 heads in it, or managing a $10 million dollar project...and having a response commitment of no less than 24 hours...and no unread emails in my inbox, to the tune of receiving between 30,000 to 50,000 emails a year.  NO UNREAD emails, and everyone requiring a response got one.)    Alas, it’s the nature of showbiz...we must submit to it.

Never give up, that is my motto.    And if you try, then you have at least tried, instead of doing nothing at all.    A great Opera Chorus Director once said to me “Always Try”.  I have taken it to heart.

We all need inspiration, and we are lucky that there is so much of it available! 

I would like to turn you on to a few cool things:

Schmopera - Subscribe to read the tips and tricks of the trade mostly for singers, but some stuff for collaborative pianists.  They also often feature emerging artists.  If you have a story, submit it to them!   (See what I did there? ;) )

Susan Eichhorn Young’s Blog - she speaks often of The Authentic Voice...finding the beauty and worthiness within your own self is so important.

Cindy Sadler’s Blog - The Business Of Singing is a fantastic resource!  I hired Cindy to help me build a proper resume.

Want to hone your skills and get real feedback from a working professional?  Reach out to
The Audition Clinic and book a session with Renee and Allyson when they’re next in town.

Want to perform in your favourite Opera?  Gather your friends and fill all the roles...and pitch it to Opera by Request....  

Better yet, start your OWN THING!