It takes a long time to establish your reputation as a musician and performer in a new town. After living in Utah for six years, I felt so well connected to a great number of musical organizations, schools, teachers, orchestras, recording studios, and the like. I enjoyed playing regular gigs, teaching a steady number of bass students, and growing strong relationships with musicians and performing groups throughout the state . . .
. . . and then I moved.
My husband’s work brought us to Oregon, which meant starting from scratch as a stranger hoping to freelance a new music community. So the first thing I did in the months leading up to and following my move to the Portland area was contact absolutely every musical organization I could find. I made phone calls, sent e-mails with my performance resume attached, and inquired about upcoming auditions. During the summer before the move, I took extra lessons, practiced 20 hours a week, and performed a recital in preparation for auditions I hoped to take once arriving in Oregon.
The day after we pulled our moving truck into town I abandoned our unpacking efforts to attend a masterclass sponsored by the Portland Youth Philharmonic featuring Erik Harris, principal bassist of the St. Louis Symphony. Sure, I was a college grad, so what was I doing hanging out with the youth symphony members? I was also looking for connections. As with most professions, the fastest way to find work is through effective networking and personal referrals. So my goal? Get connected!
Let me tell you, it doesn’t take much but confidence. You know you’re a good player, so put yourself out there! And if you don’t feel like a good enough player to get those gigs, try The Art of Effective Practicing. It takes a lot of work to be a marketable performer, but you can do it!
Here are a few ways to get connected with your local music community:
- Keep your chops up by performing regularly. Put on a house concert. Keep practicing. Find an open-mic night at a local venue to sing, fiddle, or do whatever you do. Play at your church or synagogue. Busk at the local farmers markets. There are endless opportunities to perform, and you can create those opportunities yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to do what you can do on your own. You’d be surprised by how many restaurants, café’s, bookstores, and boutiques there are that would be so happy to have your live music in their space.
- Don’t demand paying gigs right away or all the time. Be generous in sharing your talents with others! You can do this while still maintaining your stance as a professional. Playing for free allows you to enjoy the opportunity to meet other musicians without stressing about money and union talk. You’ll be surprised how many connections you’ll make that can lead to future gigs. And come on, we all know the economy is tight, and if all musicians refused to play without pay our artistic community and musical culture would suffer tremendously.
- Participate in your local community orchestras! You don’t have to wait to win an audition with a semi-professional or professional orchestra to play the great orchestral works. Community orchestras are excellent for meeting teachers, performers, and conductors who can hook you up for future work—and they’re just plain fun. You can relax and play great music with a smile on your face. Sometimes when money is in the mix, musicians can become surly, bitter, or demanding individuals, losing sight of why they chose music as a career in the first place. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t let the joy of playing be belittled by your pride or hunger for pay.
- Connect with local schools. I decided to call and e-mail local orchestra teachers offering to conduct a free masterclass for their bass sections. It turned into a very fruitful experience. Give it a try! And who knows, maybe they’ll even ask you to come back. Regardless, reaching out to the youth in school and community music programs is a great way to make a name for yourself as a teacher. Be sure to get your name on the list of private teachers the orchestra directors provide for their students, and remember you can receive 10% off with your teacher discount through Kennedy Violins!
- Don’t just teach lessons—take lessons. Even the most experienced professional musicians can benefit from taking lessons into their old age. Musicians can always benefit from the perspective of another performer with fresh ideas, techniques, and style.
It might be challenging to find the gig of your dreams. But don’t wait miserably for a Golden Ticket while throwing away the chance to enjoy that delicious Wonka Bar right in front of you. There is music to be played, players to meet, and stages on which to perform. So have at it! Make a connection! And keep us posted along the way.