I recently discovered mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen’s blog The Sybaritic Singer. In it, she shares all sorts of thoughts, ideas, and tips on entrepreneurialism in music from the perspective of a singer who is focused on the pursuit of excellence and audience in new music.
Ok, she doesn’t play bass, I get that. But she shares some great ideas and they are all pretty much transferable to our instrument and careers with only minor adjustment. We’re bassists, we’re flexible.
Each February since 2012 she does a post-a-day feature titled 29 Days to Diva. In each post she dives in on one aspect of something to work on for the coming year. It’s an excellent blend of musicianship goals and career goals–just the sort of thing to keep us working hard without financial burnout.
Here is an index of her 2012-2013 posts in the series, with links straight in for her (extensive) references and further resources:
Career-building advice for musicians, part 1
The sections from Ihnen’s first year are focused on more traditional performance career path things plus a number of the basics that prove useful regardless of where someone is on the tradition vs entrepreneurial spectrum. As with anything, take what is relevant and leave what is not, but give it all some consideration:
- Practice. Make a calendar and plan your progression.
- Make your resumé awesome.
- Write your artist bio, including a ton of practical advice to help you do this (sometimes painful) task.
- Go to concerts, meet people who go to concerts. Social media old-school style.
- Read a book, fiction or non-fiction, about music.
- Make a good audition tape.
- Do an audition (with a ton of practical advice).
- Get a professional photo (or photos) of yourself.
- Get a real website.
- Document everything you are doing in a variety of formats–text, images, video, etc.
- Get your name out in relevant venues (the one she mentions isn’t relevant for us bass players, but there are other ways we can get our names out there).
- Be professional. Including some great examples of things that professionals do.
- Get your finances in order. This one is so important. I cannot stress it enough.
- Spend money on the things you love. This one goes hand in hand with item 13 above.
- Dealing with debt, specifically college debt, but some of the items are relevant for not-college debt too.
- Get a paying side gig. Keep your runway extended. A wide variety of great possibilities is listed in this post beyond “become a barista” so do be sure to check it out.
- Evaluate your teacher. You are paying a lot of money for instruction, be sure it’s being spent well and that you know why you are doing it.
- Become a patron. Commission work. It’s good to be on this side of the equation because it helps you understand what you will be asking of others. Plus it helps make your network larger.
- Go and see some of the best performers you possibly can and take notes from a professional perspective, beyond just being starstruck or amazed by their amazing musicianship–observe the little details.
- Exercise. This is just as important for bassists as it is for singers. We have to move large heavy stuff all the time. Our work is physically demanding. Stay/get in shape and you’ll get more done.
- Get and/or use your healthcare. Get a checkup. Stay healthy. You get more practice and performance time in if you are not sick.
- Be kind to yourself. This is also a healthcare issue. You will play better and for longer if you aren’t beating yourself up.
- Work on your languages. Ok, so we don’t have know a foreign language in the same way a singer does. But it’s good for your brain (and perhaps performance opportunities) so go learn a language. My personal absolute favorite is the Pimsleur Method. A library near you has the 30 day course in a language you want to learn. Do it.
- Create a functional support team that includes other players, advisors, and friends. People who will be honest and that you trust.
- Set specific goals.
- Get comfortable talking with people after your own performance.
- Get into a young artist program. As someone who is no longer “young” many of these tips could be just as useful for being in any sort of residency or short-term program.
- Get a coach.
- Give yourself permission to go big.
Career advice for performing musicians, part 2:
With the basics out of the way from the previous year’s career tips, the second year’s batch is focused more on performance opportunities, including making your own. Several of the posts are far more in the entrepreneurial category (which I, of course, love).
- Declare your intentions. Do not keep your ambition a secret from everyone.
- Get your technique clean, effective, and comfortable/healthy.
- Get your scheduling sane. In particular, don’t confuse busy-ness with being productive.
- Do you live in a place that supports your musical intentions. This includes whether the commute is sucking out your profit as well as opportunity availability etc.
- Plan a recital.
- Play some chamber music.
- Fine tune signature works that highlight what you do best.
- Perform new music (hopefully that won’t need too much arm-twisting from readers here–maybe we should reverse it–play some old music or give Baroque improvisation a go).
- Rehearse your program.
- Bring your recital to a new and interesting venue. Some great tips on marketing an event in this post.
- Wake up early. You can get more done when no one is bugging you.
- Take some time to enjoy quietude, the absence of sound.
- Explore new techniques to engage fully with interpreting the music in your repertoire.
- Get a collaborator.
- Do the things you need to do in order to stay healthy in adverse climates. You know the saying: if you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.
- Improve your memory. For me, personally, my ability to truly interpret music when I perform jumped tenfold once I finally broke down and committed to memorizing the music. I shouldn’t have waited so long.
- Make an entrance. How will you take the stage at your performance? This will have an impact on your performance and the audience’s perception of the performance.
- Be an artist-in-residence.
- Identify new business models for music performance. This is where it starts to get entrepreneurial for reals, peeps. Love this post.
- Win a competition.
- Evaluate bad situations and respond appropriately, even if it means quitting the project.
- Consider whether you need an agent or other intermediary.
- Examine your schedule and quit something. Do less so you can do the remaining things with higher quality.
- Expand your audience network.
- Set a budget for your musical ambition. Factor in the expenses that will not yield direct results.
- Prepare yourself psychologically for success.
- Audit your career. This one is also full of good entrepreneurial spirit.
- Prepare an encore. Just as your entrance is important, so is your exit.
Part 3 of performing musicians career tips
In this installment of the career tips we go almost full-tilt entrepreneurial. There’s a big mix of internal, psychological stuff as well–stuff that’s genuinely important and if we don’t deal with it will come back and bite us in the ass.
- Develop systems that are pointed towards your actual goals, not just the short term objectives.
- Assess your career as a business beyond the music aspects.
- Write an artist’s statement and/or elevator pitch.
- Set up your business legal structure.
- Understand your market. Who is the audience that will be financially supporting your musical goals? Do the research.
- Identify what’s holding you back. What are the weaknesses and threats to overcome?
- Do the “how much money am I really making” or “how much money do I need to be making” spreadsheet.
- Get your finances organized by function. One big pile of cash disappears quickly, a handful of meaningful, functional accounts will support your goals better.
- Set big goals, start living them today. Establish the schedules and tasks to do that.
- Get the digital press kit in order. All the materials you need to promote your work needs to be in a simple and easy format so you don’t have to rush around overtime a new opportunity presents itself.
- Get your audience email list working for you (and for your audience too–remember, they want to hear from you and that’s why they signed up).
- Write a pitch letter to get media coverage.
- Get your social media in order.
- Examine your entire performance from the moment you take the stage to the moment your audience has gone home.
- Make a detailed plan for a project, like your next recital.
- Make a timeline.
- Get your charisma tuned. This might seem like a “singer only” thing but it isn’t. Your body language and everything else about you will have an impact on your success. People perceive you first and your music is perceived through you.
- Reverse engineer an audition.
- Build systems specifically focused on getting and completing gigs without having to re-invent the wheel each time.
- Deal with any rejection fears you might be experiencing.
- Make a budget for your next project.
- Identify where your funding will come from.
- Have a written agreement or contract available.
- Know how to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. If this sounds out of place to you then you are especially encouraged to read it.
- Develop a process for analyzing and understanding musical scores.
- Create an audience development plan.
- Determine the next thing you need to in order to realize your musical ambition.
- Show up.
I don’t know if Ihnen is planning to do another series again this year. I hope she does, it’s a great project and one that I hope you can enjoy and translate into your own music/business/performance goals.