Getting a Job with Music and Networking
Most jobs that musicians get are nearly the same as other people getting their jobs in different fields. These jobs are found through word of mouth. We create and build a network surrounded by fellow musicians, which in turn, determines what jobs are to be earned. For example, if I know someone who is working at a music store that offers lessons and I want the job as a private teacher, I can more than likely get a teaching position at that music store through that individual. Similar to any other job out there: the ones who have connections with the people associated with the job that is being offered significantly increases the chances of winning that job.
I myself have taught at many different music schools and music stores. I have also performed for various orchestras, wind ensembles, chamber groups and so much more. However, my overall favorite is teaching privately and performing with chamber groups.
How did I get these jobs? I knew people and people knew me. As far as teaching goes, I have almost always been offered a teaching position due to recommendations from others. The same goes for finding students to teach as well. In fact, all of the students I teach privately came from word of mouth. I have not had any luck in finding students to teach whenever I actively searched for them. All of my current students were found, because someone else recommended me to those students.
There are cases in which musicians will need to search for a day job or two in order to support themselves before they can make a living doing music alone. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I recommend it for those who are just graduating college and are looking for work to be done. There are very few who can actually make a living doing music alone right out of college.
For my case however, I never had to work a day job. I have always been a working musician and that has not changed to this day. I thank my network for that. My connections happened to earn me jobs. I was lucky then, and am still lucky now to have gotten these jobs.
So does luck determine it all then? Of course not! If I did not work so hard on my craft, the chances that others would recommend me would be very slim. Yes, luck and networking is a factor in getting a job, but it is also the level of caliber that determines one’s musical career. For example, there was a case where I was searching for a trombonist for one of my gigs. I asked a friend of mine and he said he did not know anyone who could fill the part even though he did know some trombonists. The reason why he did not recommend them was because of their skill level and their reliability as people.
Who you are as a person also plays a big role in getting a job. Are you responsible? Do you show up on time? Do you learn your music before the rehearsal? Do you get along with others around you? So many of these things that build character in a person can help significantly towards getting a job, not just in music but in anything else. Once, there was an incident in which a cellist did not learn their music before one of my orchestra concerts and I never asked for that person again. When I was asked if I knew a cellist, I would recommend other responsible cellists and not the ones who came unprepared. Coming late to a rehearsal or a concert is no excuse either. I have been told, “Do not hire that person because he/she tends to show up late. You will have to repeat your instructions during rehearsal because they will end up asking the same questions that were answered before they showed up.” This is evident in many cases of my own rehearsals. Musicians typically do not have that much time in their hands to rehearse so every minute counts. Every moment that is taken repeating a passage or answering the same question takes up those precious minutes that could have been used for covering other parts of the music.
Simply getting along with others plays a huge role too. Many musicians have been declined a job or a gig because of the negative reputation they put on themselves. The music field is small enough to the point where people in the community all know each other for the most part, especially in the higher level of musicianship. One of my wind ensemble directors, Kevin Mayse once said, “Be nice to the person next to you. You never know who the next John Williams might be.” Even though I have believed this quote to be significantly true, to witness it happen in several of the ensembles I have played in made it a reality for me. Of course we cannot always please everyone around us. There will be those people that we bump heads with, but we must try to get along with all fellow musicians, especially the ones who have already made a success in the music field.
The teachers you have or are currently studying with also play a significant part in what kind of music job you will get. Your teacher does not have to be incredibly famous. However, the way they train you in your musicianship is ultimately important. Again, musicians will remember one another by the way they sound. The caliber of a great musician will be noticed and will more than likely be recommended to others. The connections that you or your private teachers have can also factor in the kind of jobs you will get. They most likely know your level of playing more than anyone else. They are the ones who decide whether to recommend you or not.
If you are currently out of college and you are having a hard time looking for a job, there will be times when you may have to play music for free. There is nothing wrong with that, even if it means for you to be heard and recognized by others. You may even need to teach for free before you can earn paid lessons from students. You will have to go to local public schools and offer your free tutelage and hope that the band director at the school will consider you for a job. From there, you have to win over the students. If they like the way you teach, you will eventually earn yourself private students that are willing to pay for teaching. However, this approach may not always work. You may travel from school to school until you finally get one student. It will be tough in the beginning without a doubt, but these measures have to be taken in order to make a successful living doing music.
If anything, this is similar to any other field. Before someone can be a teacher at a local school, private or public, they may have to start off by student teaching or having an internship of some sort in order to have some experience that they can put under their resume before they finally get the job that they want. We musicians just handle it a little bit differently, but for the most part, it is the same concept.
This field is not easy to get into. You will have to work hard, get rejected, work even harder and still get rejected. There will be days when your work feels like it is not getting anywhere and that everything you are doing is meaningless. My advice to you is to not give up, because once you finally make the career you have longed for, you will realize it is worth it in the end. Overall, be an entrepreneur.