10 Steps to Becoming a Professional Musician

10 steps musician_svg


At some point or another, I feel like, we all see an epic performance by a legendary musician and think for half a second…could I do that?  I’m here to tell you, you might J.  Being a musician, like any other profession, is attainable.  And music, like any other profession, has dues that need to be paid.  Being a musician means you’re running your own company selling yourself.  You’re the CEO, Financial Manager, Marketing Department, Product, Inventor, Project Manager, Salesman, Janitor, etc. You’re running every part of the business and you’re the product.  So, being strategic with your goals is going to be key in your success.  That’s why I’ve given very actionable steps for you to follow.  Think of these broad steps as starting points.  How you apply them to your brand will be specific and unique to you.  I’m so excited to see and hear how you apply these steps!

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Keep in mind, like any business, you start from the ground and build up, slowly. Artists who sell out arenas are like the mega chain stores in all the big cities with endless money and resources.  And you’re like the little mom and popshop starting out in your hometown.  You’re the little fish in a big pond.  But, give it time, be strategic with your plans, and stay diligent.  You’ll find your business booming and growing in no time!

I’m going to assume you want to make a livingbeing a musician and so your definition of success is going to start at being able to make a living as an artist, not just being cool and playing the part of ultra hip guy or girl that can sing and play guitar.  I’m assuming you want more and are willing to set professional goals and see them through.

Before you start taking steps toward becoming a professional musician, take some time to cultivate a visionfor the type of artist you want to become and come up with a personal mission statement for yourself as an artist.  Verbalize why you want to become an artist and remember this picture in your mind, when times are hard.  There will be many tough struggles, like with any goal worth achieving.

10 Steps to Getting Started as a Professional Musician/Artist

  1. Develop Skills and Sharpen Talents. Well, this is like, “duh,” but seemed like the right place to start.  Put the hours in to master your instrument.  (As a voice teacher, I include the voice as an instrument.)   Don’t be good by accident, here’s how you master your instrument:
    1. Take Lessons
      1. In person. Taking lessons in person with an instructor is great because they can see your specific strengths and weaknesses and help you with them.  Private instruction is great because it is customizable and you’re held accountable for your progress every week.
      2. Online-Is great because it is sometimes easier on the pocketbook and you can go at your own pace, if you’re dedicated enough to stick with it on your own.
    2. Courses
      1. Brett Manning’s Singing Success is my favorite ‘go to’ for vocalists
      2. When I teach, I use the Hal Leonard series for all of the instruments I teach at The Maple Leaf Music Company.
    3. Take what you’re learning in your lessons and find more practical applications of the theory concepts and techniques.  Learn all your favorite songs and master them!
  2. Songwriting. At some point in your career as an artist, writing songs is going to be a must.  You will have to create your own material. There are a host of resources for this, but the ones below have helped me.   Much. They contain many exercises that can be completed easily to demonstrate all of the songwriting concepts presented in the books.  If you think your songs are ready to be recorded, I have a publishing company and would love to look at your songs and give you pointers, contact me HERE.
    1. Pat Patison’s book, “Writing Better Lyrics.”
    2. Simon Hawkins’ book, “Song Maps.”
    3. Sheila Davies’ book, “The Craft of Lyric Writing.
    4. Berkley Press-“Melody in Songwriting.”
  3. Practice. Practice the Music. Practice performing.  Then when you perform, video yourself and evaluate your stage presence and image.  Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method is an awesome video and resource for helping with crafting your stage performance.
    1. Practice the music until you can play it in your sleep.
    2. Practice the performance. When will you talk between songs? Where will you move on the stage?  Will you stand or sit?  How will you transition between songs?  Is the emotion conveyed in each song?  Will you be transitioning between instruments?  If so, do you know what you need to make smooth transitions?
    3. Once you perform video yourself, then watch it back and make notes. Did it go as you planned?  Evaluate each piece of the performance and use it to propel you forward as the artist you want to be.
  4. Your Product. Your Brand.  Once you have gone through a few cycles of booking a gig/performing/videoing/evaluating/tweaking/and repeating the process, ask yourself if your ‘product,’ a.k.a your music and yourself, is ready to move past the beta stage.  Start viewing your music as your business.   The Book, “Unsigned and Unstoppable,” by Nona Jones is a great read for Independent Artists.
    1. Ask yourself these questions to help you learn represent your business the most professional way possible.
      1. Booking. Do you have a template or a method of ‘pitching’ yourself to prospective venues?
      2. Product Examples. Do you have link to or an electronic press kit for the venue to view to see if you’re a good fit for their event/location?
      3. Do you feel comfortable speaking with the venue contact person about fees, payment, sound arrangements, and logistics?Do you have a method to get this information to the venue?
      4. Do you arrive early enough to cover set up/sound check? Are you prepared for the concert/gig?
      5. Is your performance translated to the audience the way you hope for it to? Does your performance/image/sound best represent your brand?
      6. Are you comfortable with following up with venues about future performance opportunities?
    2. How can you make it better?
  1. Keep Performing. Perform anytime you have the opportunity.  The more people and venues that hear and see you, the bigger your fan base will become.  Your fans are your best advertisement for you.  The more fans, the more reach you will have.  So, learn what your fans love about you and give them what they want!
  2. Since this is your business you’ll need a financial plan of action for making money to live on and also to grow your business.  You’ll eventually need products to sell like albums and possibly other merchandise.  Consider these possible ways to generate funds as a musician.
    1. You can make money at the door, tips, or by negotiating a predetermined fee from the venue.
    2. Sell downloads of recordings on places like iTunes or Amazon. Yes, that’s a shameless plug for my music 🙂 
    3. Partner with organizations as their musician spokesman.  Places like Child Fund International and Compassion International love partnering with musicians.  Plus, it’s a wonderfully rewarding way to use your music to give back and make a global impact.
    4. Sometimes you can acquire sponsorships if you perform about 30 shows a year.  Sponsors can help provide equipment for you in exchange for advertising at your gigs.
    5. Online Artist Presence. See Below.
  3. Expenses. Consider your expenses, make a list, and check them off as your business grows and you’re able to acquire the items you need.  Start out with simple items then go for more expensive items.  Here are a list of items to consider.
    1. Business Cards
    2. Sound Equipment
    3. Banners
    4. Trailers for sound equipment and instruments.
    5. Instruments
    6. Lighting Equipment
    7. Camera/Video Equipment
    8. Merch-T’s, buttons, stickers, etc.
  4. Online Presence, Social Networks, and Networking.Getting the word out about who you are, where to find you, and what you do is VITAL!  We have so many free ways to get mass amounts of information out to mass amounts of people.  If you’re not promoting your music online, you’re missing HUGE opportunities.
    1. Create Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter Artist Accounts. Make sure to use your artist email.  They’re free, too.  Use your favorite email provider, and get it going J.  Use your artist email on your business cards, too.
    2. Set up your Artist Youtube channels and video your performances! You might even get enough views to get paid from Youtube!
    3. These can be free.  I like WordPress or Hostgator.  Use your website to promote your music, merchandise.  Allow people to see your bio, find links to all your music , youtube, and social media.  Your website can be a place to contact you for booking, and read your BLOG!
    4. A Blog is a great way for people to get to know you and for you to even make an extra income!
      1. Blog about what you’re doing and learning.
      2. Become an influencer of your favorite products through affiliate marketing.
      3. Get to know your fans through communication and comments.
  1. Recording. When should you record?
    1. When you have fans/people that actually want to buy something from you, your performance is top notch, have something unique to give to the world, have enough money to pay for it, and a plan of action to use the recording to generate more opportunity and income. Use your recordings to grow your business.  Make sure you have a marketing plan for the release of your single/EP/album.
    2. The Book, “Unsigned and Unstoppable,” by Nona Jones is a great read for Independent Artists and touches on this topic.
    3. If you’re interested in learning to release your songs on iTunes and don’t know how…Shout out to me and I can help!
    4. Make sure to join a Performing Rights Organization to help make sure you’re getting all of your royalties J
  2. Go!Turn Heads.Take Risks.  Be Amazing!

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