About a month ago, when I first began my transition from marketing manager to musician, a close friend asked me, “How do you know when you’ve made it as a musician?” Tough question! The general public seems to have a notion that making it as a musician means performing at Carnegie Hall or singing at the Met. These are both fine achievements or goals, but neither is a career-maker.
As a realist, I don’t seek fame and fortune, or even a career as a solo pianist, so by some standards I’m working my way towards mediocrity. I have a series of personal benchmarks that are steps towards “making it” on my own terms. There’s nothing glamorous here, just a lot of hard work.
People request my services. I was 12 when I was invited to be the accompanist for the middle school chorale, an all-girls ensemble. I wasn’t paid, but we got to go to Hershey Park for a regional choral competition, which is a pretty awesome form of payment when you’re 12.
People pay for my services. My first paid gig was in high school, when I was the accompanist for students of a local violin teacher. I continued accompanying for course credit or pay throughout college. Accompanying and performing will soon be my primary source of income, which is both exciting and terrifying.
People refer my services to others. Like any other industry, getting a referral in music is one of the highest forms of praise. Although I’m a believer in marketing and promoting your personal brand, referrals are absolutely my primary method of gaining work. Not getting referrals is a sign that you’re lacking skills in some area, not just musically, but professionally.*
I can pay the bills. The reality of life is that at the end of the day, I need to make enough money to pay my mortgage and other expenses. For this stage of my musical career, I’m going to define this as “making it.” It’s not artistic or visionary, but it’s practical.
What next? Right now I collaborate primarily with undergraduate- and graduate-level students, which I love. The next best thing to taking lessons yourself is constantly being at other musicians’ lessons. However, someday I’d like to collaborate with professional musicians. I don’t mean big stars, but those who are in a place in their careers similar to mine. Are you out there? Send me an email!
*For a comprehensive list of collaborative pianist skills, visit http://collaborativepiano.blogspot.com/2005/11/required-and-preferred-skills-for.html.