Monday, April 21, 2014

11 Pieces of Advice I Wish I Heard When I was a Music Student

Last week I recently received an email from a guitar student in his freshman year at my alma mater, Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. He was asking for some advice, stating,"Adrian, … I am a freshman guitar performance major at  Duquesne.  You are an inspiration to me because you are doing exactly what I hope to do one day and I was hoping you could tell me a little about how you got there. Thanks man.”

It’s funny, because I think people’s perception of “success” changes over time, and quite frankly, for some, it never feels like it has been obtained, no matter how much they have accomplished in their chosen field.

So considering this, my response was, “Hello, thank you for your message, I'm flattered. My story is a long one, but I think if you are looking for some career advice, I have some. I'll base it on what has worked for me, mistakes I've seen others make, and even stuff I wish I had done.”

You can see my advice below. After I read it, I wished someone told me some of this stuff when I was his age.

In no particular order:

1. You are at Duquesne, a great music school. I had a lot of fun there and excelled. I can't think of a music class there that wasn't important to my development as a musician... but while music is not a competition, the music business is. Look around to see how much people are practicing, and practice more. 

2. I'll assume you are in choir, which is great. I wish I continued to pursue singing more. If you aren't now, make sure you are working on your vocals. I love instrumental music, playing it and composing it, but the amount of gigs I could have gotten had my vocals been more together could have made a big difference. I am now singing more, and it's paying off. Every band audition I have gone to asks about singing.

3. My general advice to musicians is: Perform as often as possible, with as many people as possible, for as many people as possible. This is important. You will be making contacts that will turn into opportunities much faster the more gigs you play. A band leader, audience member, manager, agent, club owner, fellow musician, etc... will eventually refer you to another, bigger, better gig. The experience of performing, and entertaining is important and something you can really only learn on the job. In addition, you will be expanding your repertoire and musical vocabulary along the way.

4. When you look for a job, try to only do music related jobs... like teaching. I regret taking some office jobs for a few years, it kept me from getting where i am today that much sooner. Your 20s are a perfect time for living on hotdogs and paper plates, so pay your dues then, not in your mid 30s and 40s.

5. Take a performing job at the local theme park, or during the summer on a cruise ship. I didn't, but the guys who did ended up with serious reading chops that will come in handy for session work. Don't be embarrassed about playing goofy "Mickey Mouse" type music there, because your friends will be flipping burgers or working at the GAP... but, you'll be honing your chops, expanding your vocabulary, and meeting other musicians, playing 3-7 sets a day.

6. Buy these books and read them thoroughly: "Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook" by Bob Baker (this book will give you the fundamentals of marketing, and sales, and help you get some success under your belt). "Everything You Need To Know About The Music Business" by Donald Passman (this book will aid you when the industry  start to recognize your success, and keep you from getting screwed). "The Music Lesson" by Victor Wooten (everything you kinda knew about music, but couldn't put into the right words).

7. Learn Jazz, Blues, Classical, Rock, Metal, Country, and finger style acoustic playing. Have a firm grasp of these and you can teach more students, perform more gigs, and record more sessions.

8. As soon as you have enough money saved, move to LA, NYC, or Nashville. In this day and age of internet, a lot is possible, but if you want the referrals and opportunities for the BIG gigs, they happen there. I don't know of anyone from my home town of Fairfax, VA who has gotten that huge tour/gig ... that didn't move to a music mecca first.

9. You can only rely on yourself. This business is rough, it isn't easy. Be focused, keep your eye on the ball. Those with a weaker stomach will quit, thinning "the herd", but you'll be gigging, networking, and getting your reputable name out there. Get a website and start putting together a press kit about yourself. You might not have much to put in there now, but its a start. When networking, it's not about what others can do for you, its really about what you can do for them. However, one day you may want to cash in on all those favors.

10. Be on time, know the material, perform, and know that there is huge value in that. Anyone can play great guitar (just check youtube!), but apparently not everyone can show up to a gig on time and know the material. Be polite, professional, and keep negative opinions of other artists to yourself. 

11. As a professional musician you will have to wear many hats to make ends meet: Teacher, Band Leader, Sideman, Session Guitarist, Songwriter, Producer, Engineer, Composer, Author, Clinician, Solo Artist... get started now.

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