In this article, I want to give some context to the frequently asked question: “I am a free-lance musician: how do I get more gigs?”
Choosing a career in the performing arts has plenty of implications, which are not necessarily on our radar when, as students, we make that choice. In college, inspired by a world of depth and creativity; supported by an all-round music system where gigs are not only available but most of the time required, we commit to making music for a living.
Then we graduate, and real life hits. Hundreds of musicians are competing for the few high paying jobs in the area; dozens are in line for average paying jobs and quite a few even crowd the auditions for non-paying gigs — to stay in shape and add items to their resume. Weddings here, students there, chamber gigs are a plus, and oh, thank goodness for Groupmuse!
In all this chaos, it’s not so easy to stay financially afloat, let alone to thrive, especially when living in areas with a high cost of living. So back to the original question: how do I get more gigs?
There are many possible answers, of course, to this million dollar question, yet there is one topic in particular that I want to zoom into: FOCUS. My answer is usually: “Well, what’s your focus?”. And what I mean by that is: what are you especially good at? What are you committed to? What makes your heart beat faster? What particular service is in your Zone of Genius, as Mr. Hendricks puts it in his book “The Big Leap“? Would you be happy playing 100 weddings a year, or are you more of an orchestra musician type? Is recording studio your jam, or are you the unaware next Founder of the new biggest Chamber Music Festival in the U.S.A.? Is there something you are so excited about that you could speak about it for hours, and charm every person in the room without even trying?
“I want more gigs!” won’t cut it. Let’s flip it around AND narrow it down, and see what comes out.
Step #1: Flip it around. Getting gigs is the mere result of a process where someone (an employer) needs a service and someone else (a musician) can offer that service. Employers have a lot of choice nowadays, which is probably why you are reading this article. How do I stand out, then, and make myself a tasty choice? Well, let me ask you this: what are you bringing to this employer, space, event, crowd? What are you going to add to this gig that will make it unforgettable for everyone involved? That will make everyone have a better time or a deeper experience than they would, if the “average musician” was hired instead?
This step is a real complex one, since it involves defining your identity, mission, branding and messaging really clearly in the first place. Big topics for another time. The bottom line for the purpose of our conversation is: CHANGE YOUR MESSAGING! From: “Can you please give me this gig? I need the money!” to: “This is what I would LOVE to offer to you, since it’s so close to my heart, and this is how my service is going to make the experience memorable for your community, which will in turn add to the reputation of your event, …”. You get the picture.
If we choose an inspired life in music, we might as well be inspiring also outside music-making. If people want to help others, they volunteer at local charities. They don’t hire musicians randomly. Employers are looking for professionals to put together great experiences, so let’s help them see further!
Step #2: Narrow It Down. “I am a musician” is again too generic and it’s hard to place on the map. “Orchestral settings allow me to give my best musically, professionally and audience-interaction wise, especially those that involve new music, since I am a good communicator of things that people can’t quite put in a box”. That’s clear, narrow and to the point. If that’s my messaging, and if I communicate my message to everyone (colleagues, teachers, festival staff, family, blog readers, social media followers, my agent, you name it!), then most of the time it will hit the right set of ears, who are looking just for what you’ve put out there.
There are many layers to your messaging, depending on how wide of a scale you want to communicate it on. Narrower end of the spectrum: you can simply share in words, in your circles. Wider end of the spectrum: you can brand yourself professionally and shape your visual and written communication so that your website, social media, clothing, stage presence all scream the same message, loud and clear, for a much larger audience to hear. Again, barely tapping into the macro topics of identity and branding here, which I will not expand on in this article.
Demystifying a Myth. Many think that by narrowing their message down, they will automatically block lots of other options out. If I tell the world that I am the greatest soundtrack soloist they’ll ever have heard and I thrive in recording studio because I am precise, expressive, knowledgeable, I am mindful of people’s time and I always get it on the first try…then who is going to consider me for their orchestra? Or chamber music festival? Or wedding ensemble?
In my experience so far in this industry, there is hardly an untruer belief. Narrowing your message lets the right people find you (and a greater number of them) and quickly see your value. When we deliver what we promised and when we create inspiration in specific settings, we sure have a greater chance to be on top of someone else’s list for similar settings, but that’s not where it ends. Inspired people are activated ones, who will dare to think creatively and who will crave more opportunities to be inspired, no matter the circumstance…i.e. to hire you!
Think of a very famous soloist with a strong identity and a clear solo-centered messaging. Google him/her and check his/her calendar. Do you see only solo gigs in there? Or do you also see chamber, teaching, recordings, speaking engagements, and more?
And you? How could your messaging look like, it you flipped it around and narrowed it down?
I hope I was able to spark meaningful questions or mind-spinning perspectives through this article. Best of luck in your “getting more gigs”!
The Creative Way Around
giorgia @ thecreativewayaround . com