How to become a professional freelance musician: 5 tips to help you get started

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When it comes to being a freelance professional musician…

Many are called, few are chosen.

So how can you put the odds in your favour, and give yourself the best chance of becoming a professional freelancer?

Here are 5 tips to help you get started:

#1 Get good… very good

This tip seems so crazy-obvious, but it is surprising just how many aspiring freelance musicians seem to overlook this point, and simply believe they *should* be freelance professionals because they *want* to, or they *just like playing* the instrument.

Massive reality check warning: There are others out there that play your instrument! Make sure that you have all of the fundemental techniques for your instrument down before getting out there and aspiring to be a freelance professional. Passing a degree (or several) at a music school or university with *high grades* can be one way of ensuring that you’ve got the basics down.

Here are some other things to check (and arguably more important than pieces of paper…)

Can you…

  • play in tune?
  • play in time?
  • play with a good sound?
  • play in a variety of styles?
  • read music as fluently as a newspaper?
  • work together with others?
  • follow a conductor or MD?
  • play as a soloist?
  • play in a section?
  • lead?
  • follow?
  • …and do you know the standard repertoire?

If you answered NO to one or more of the above, chances are you’ll need to brush up on your skills before going further.

Keep at it though, as it’s most often those that practise efficiently, regularly and intelligently that make it.

#2 The camera is your best friend

Closely related to tip #1, the camera is your best friend. What do I mean by this? Well, you may *think* that you have all of your skills down, but there may be some minor polishing that you need to work on, which you might not be aware of until you see yourself from afar.

So, record yourself playing. Audio only works, but audio AND video is better. Ask yourself the question: Would I hire me?

#3 So you’re playing at a high level, what next?

The way we do business is changing. The way we access information is changing. The way the world operates is changing. And it’s all changing at a rate few of us can comprehend. If I was writing this article just a few years ago, I’d say something like “Make a demo tape” at this point.

A demo what?

Forget about a demo “tape”… (Besides LP’s, cassette tapes used to be the only way of distributing recorded music, and recording music of your own) …what you need now, is a demo recording.

There’s that camera again! Record yourself playing on a video camera. Use some basic editing software to produce a nice visual presentation (no fireworks, just keep it clean and simple) and upload the finished product to your youtube account. Tag the video, and include a link to your…

#4 Website

Your website is your public face to the world. It can help show you off in the best possible light, or make you look like a simpleton if the design is nasty, or 1990′s style. In addition to being simple, clean, and fast, your website should include:

  • Your name, and instrument (duh!)
  • At least 1 decent image of you
  • Some audio or video samples of you playing – either alone, or as a *featured* member of a group
  • Basic contact details – either a form, or your email address and/or your phone number
  • Social networking links to sites such as facebook, twitter, youtube etc

#5 So you’ve done all the hi-tech stuff, but isn’t it the real world stuff that really counts?

In a word, yes.

However, having a website and some decent recordings of yourself can certainly help. Remember that you become a better player by recording yourself, listening to the results, and polishing your playing, and, you put yourself out there where prospective employers have a chance of finding you.

And now, we’re getting down to the real nitty-gritty stuff…

Firstly, some qualities of a great freelancer are:

  • They can play – very well – in many styles
  • They are polite and friendly
  • They are RELIABLE
  • They are available to answer the phone or email (except when they’re doing a gig! In which case, they reply to messages as soon as they can!)

The pathways through the freelance professional music jungle can be a little different depending on who you are and the style of music you play. Also, if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, this can certainly help!

Real world connections, contacts, networks – what is the best way to build them?

With INTEGRITY. Don’t brown-nose, don’t scite, and don’t be arrogant. Just be “polite, friendly, and reliable” – hopefully, that can translate to “just be yourself!” :)

Seriously, there are no hard and fast rules for building contacts, but for these pointers might help:

  • Organise plenty of gigs for yourself and the group(s) you play in. Wedding receptions, restaurants, jazz clubs, shopping malls, whatever. Your name will start to get around, and, a bit of good karma by giving your fellow musicians gigs can never hurt!
  • If you are an orchestral player, give your local symphony orchestra a call. Arrange a lesson with the section principal. It can help to create the contact, and will give you some great pointers about improving your game. If you are polite, friendly, and reliable as a student, and play well, the section principal may add you to the orchestra’s deputy list.
  • Cruise ships: Now we’re into other territory. Check back in the near future for advice about how to get work as a cruise ship musician!
  • Don’t hide in a practise room. Get out in to town where you can see and hear the musicians you want to be playing with. Go to concerts, show your face. Talk to the players that you might one day be freelancing with, but don’t cling. Treat them how you would want to be treated in their position.

What did you think of this article? Comment below!

Do you have any other tips to add? Comment below!


11 Responses to “How to become a professional freelance musician: 5 tips to help you get started”

  1. TrumpetmanHSL says:

    Excellent tips here. Aspiring young professionals should keep these tips in mind at all times.

  2. Socializing! Even if you aren’t a drinker, make sure you go out to the bar with the rest of the band after the gig, if you are invited of course. Lots of opportunities and sub work get tossed around over drinks.

  3. tammy says:

    these tips were very helpful.
    do you have any tips on the business side of freelancing?
    How to start the business, does a person need a business ID
    to handle taxes and does a freelance musician need a lawyer?
    info like that would be very helpful too.

    • Jon says:

      Hi Tammy,

      Thanks for the positive feedback!

      Regarding paperwork, lawyers, accounting etc, those things tend to be country-specific. That is to say that what is relevant for someone like me living in Sweden might not be relevant for someone living outside of Sweden.

      However, several of the BrassMusician authors live in the US and the UK so you could start a community forum topic if you like and ask them! :)

      All the best!


  4. fiona duncan says:

    Would you say there is an age limit to becoming a professional.

  5. Gwilym says:

    Learn to ignore hunger. Mind you i try to play tenor sax.

  6. Lisa Jespersen says:

    Astounded to find Brass Musician on the web. Never heard of such a publication before. I’m hoping to obtain a “C” trumpet (with Bb slide) from a shoppe in London, while I myself am in Houston, Texas with my own room in a group home. How to practice without annoying the neighbors.

  7. Mike says:

    Don’t forsake the gathering of the bits. You have to strategically spread yourself across the internet and join freelance websites. There are plenty of freelance websites out there. Some like are starting to focus on freelance musicians. Getting online business is just a way of generating additional streams of income. This is because freelance musicians need more resources to help them stay afloat in an already challenging career choice.

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