Putting the Work In Working Musician

Jason Parker is one working musician. Really. I know this primarily because of his handle on Twitter, @1WorkinMusician, and because he’s written about it. His website even has the tag line “Makin’ It Happen – Livin’ the Dream – Payin’ the Bills.”

I remember reading one of his blog posts last year in which he celebrated his ten-year anniversary as a musician who makes his money solely from playing jazz trumpet. “When I quit my day job in 2001,” he reflected in his article, “I had no idea what my life would end up looking like, but I knew that whatever the outcome I’d be happier if I at least tried to build my life around my passion for playing music. From where I sit now, I can’t imagine it turning out any other way!”

So what must one do to get to where Jason sits now? How does one prepare to make the leap of faith from music as a hobby to music as a profession? Guitarist and author Cameron Mizell spells it out for you in his excellent article, “How To Find Work As a Gigging Musician.”

Before setting out to find work, Mizell advises musicians to take stock of their musical and networking skills. In short, understand your skill sets, reputation, and how the rest of the community sees you. Those two metrics will have a direct influence on what sort of work you get.

Making sure your musical chops are tight is fairly easy, though it does take dedication and work. In addition to ear training, Mizell strongly advocates learning how to read music. You’re simply more marketable if you can read, and you’re able to accept more diverse work, including Broadway. Finally, have a tune ready that you can play solo and at the drop of a hat. That way you’ll be prepared at an audition when you’re asked to “play a little something.”

Getting to that audition in the first place may be the hardest part, however, and you’ll need to know how to network in order to keep your calendar full. Mizell mentions reciprocation, paying it forward, using college connections, and using the internet as excellent ways to reach out to those who can hire you. Following up an audition with a handwritten note or recommending one of your students for a gig are two great ways to make sure your name gets some positive circulation. Developing relationships through social media tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn, and maintaining a good, user-friendly website are also important to your reputation.

From there, Mizell runs down a list of key groups who hire musicians, music directors, churches, TV/film professionals, schools, and the military among them, and you should read his descriptions of all of them. (I have a few more possibilities listed here.) Making money with cruise ship gigs, in a Broadway orchestra pit, or with a military band may not be your cup of tea, but the point here is that not pursuing these gigs needs to be a choice you make for you, not one some limitation (like having no reading or networking skills) makes for you.

Keep working, keep learning, and keep doing, and soon you’ll find yourself ready to follow in Jason Parker’s footsteps by becoming one more working musician.

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