Zildjian reprints a 2015 Modern Drummer blog post by drumline alum Damon Grant ’01 where he offers career tips for working musicians (and anyone, really!).
This list is in no particular order, and they all should be number one because they are all important.
Have fun and smile! People will hire you more if they like to be around you.
Remember people’s names, because everyone is important. This falls under the category of networking and building relationships. Also, look them in the eye when you talk to them. People shouldn’t be considered with more value only if they can only help you move forward in your career. Everyone should be treated with equal respect. You also don’t know if someone from one situation can recommend you for something else.
Keep relationships and keep them in tact. Out of sight is out of mind. I still work with people from college and high school; believe it or not, a couple from middle school, too!
Get a great accountant for your taxes, and have a lawyer you trust available to review contracts and other important documents. You can always ask for less money, but you can’t necessarily ask for more.
Rehearsing is a luxury. If that luxury is afforded to you, take full advantage of it. When you are in school you are rehearsing all the time (a lot of it is required) and then when you get out into the real world, you hardly rehearse at all. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, just that it happens a lot less.
Don’t fear failure. With everything being so instant, don’t let yourself get discouraged easily. A good amount of successful individuals may not be the most talented ones to touch the instrument, but you better believe they were the most determined. And if they made mistakes, they figured things out really quickly.
Take care of your body, which is also your instrument. Get health insurance and go to the doctor for checkups.
You should have a basic knowledge of using recording software. This can range from Pro-Tools, Logic, or even Garage Band.
Learn to sing. Being able to sing basic harmonies, or even “oooos” and “ahhhs” while you play your instrument, will get you hired more—especially if it’s between you or another great player who doesn’t sing at all.
Save all, save often. This goes for paperwork like contracts, music (charts), textbooks, etc. It also goes for when you’re on the computer using programs like Finale or Sibelius, or even a Word document. I like to take it a step further with spare parts for my instruments.
Social media is a doorway between you and the rest of the world. Make sure you have a lock on that door and are aware what may be going through that portal.
No gig lasts forever. All gigs come to an end because of one circumstance or another. A venue closes, a tour ends, someone quits, the band breaks up, someone dies, you get bored of playing the same thing, you start a family, other performance options arise, etc. No matter how good or bad things may be in a performance situation, it will end.
Off the stage is just as important (sometimes more) as being on it. If you are a great performer who knows all the notes and can play every inversion of every chord invented with blazing speed, that’s great. However, that can be all derailed if you don’t have things in order off the stage.
Also important is showing up on time (early), learning your music before the gig, regularly grooming and cleaning yourself, dressing with the proper attire for the gig, and treating everyone with courtesy and respect. Your playing doesn’t supersede being a great human being.
Learn the business of music. Music is an art form, but it is also a medium in which business is conducted. You should learn how basic businesses work. This can include contracts, marketing and promotion, building websites/social media pages, giving people enough time to react to the information given, doing taxes, etc. There are also specific aspects to the music industry like royalties, unions, song rights, publishing, and licensing, among others.