I’ve been a musician all my life, a professional for many years, although I haven’t always been so full-time, and here my top 10 tips for musicians that I’ve picked up over time. In my “previous life” I was “suit” working in marketing and advertising, after having graduated with a degree in marketing management. This background and experience, I believe, have given me a slightly different approach to how I’ve gone about making a living out of my main, albeit not first, instrument (i.e. the drums).
With this in mind, I’d like to offer the lessons I’ve learned so far in the shape of tips for those starting out as musicians, or those wanting to take the same leap I did when I decided to turn my passion into my work.
A healthy routine, and being disciplined
Try to maintain a healthy routine, which to different people might mean different things. To me, this is about going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting up and being productive by 9.30am. This involves keeping a regular practice schedule, and well as going to the gym, and giving myself time to have a creative outlet.
Similarly, now that your passion is your work and your work is your life, be aware that it’s easy to get caught up in this. So do your best to spend as much quality time with your loved ones – they’re your support network and are just as important as your work.
Join a gym
Do this; it’s an investment and it’s invaluable. Exercise 3 – 4 times a week. You will look better, will feel better, and will even play better. Being physically fit also means being mentally fit; and will have a positive effect on every aspect of your life.
Don’t be a diva
Having a bad attitude is probably the worse thing you can have as a musician. Be polite, friendly and courteous, make sure you’re always on time and that you know what you’re supposed to be doing. Having a positive attitude and helpful disposition go a long way!Treat others how you want to be treated.
Leave your ego behind, and play to serve the song. Likewise, being a good musician is not about how many notes you can play per second; it’s about listening to the music and to what others are playing. In other words, it’s teamwork.
Trust in the universe
Did you ever read a book called The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho? Do yourself the favour and do so if you haven’t. One of the take away messages from the book is that when you follow your heart, the universe conspires to help you. And whilst quitting my job wasn’t inspired by the book, I have personally experienced that things have a way of working themselves out. Keep your head down and work.
Go to gigs or musical / industry events (i.e. the London Drum Show, or drum clinics) and meet musicians. Make friends with your local music shop, jam with as many people as possible. This will help not only get your name out there, but you will meet people from the industry who could be helpful. For instance, the drums industry is very small, and as a result, is not only a nice community but also a supportive and collaborative one.
Have goals, but don’t compare yourself to others
As a player, it’s important to have goals yet you have to remember that you’re not better or worse than the next guy. They’re farther ahead than you because they’ve been playing for longer, or spending more time on stuff.
Listen to lots of different music
Not just that, but learn about the instrumentalists who play on these tracks and the nuances to their playing. You never know when someone might ask of you to play like such and such person in such and such record. Keep in mind that most of the time it’s not about what you play, but how you play it. Listening to varied music will make you a more well-rounded musician.
Don’t stop learning
Take lessons, watch videos, buy books… Whatever it is, don’t stop learning. Learning keeps you young, relevant, and as a result, in demand.
Get the most out of your instrument as a money-generating skill
What does this mean? For instance, I’m a drummer, yet I don’t just play to earn my keep. I teach privately, I write for magazines, I play in cover bands as well as original bands, I do teching work in studios, I created and launched my own product, etc. Think of different ways in which you can apply your instrument to make a living from it.
If you don’t believe in yourself, then who will? This is something I always struggle with, and need to remind myself constantly about. To that effect, you can only do your best under the circumstances you’re under. So, go for broke and give it your best shot.