Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Creating a group online.

One of the first things people claim to be stopping them from starting their own freelancing career is that they don't have a group.

Fair enough.

From my experience, the most difficult thing about getting a group going is finding people that you want to work with that will make the initial investment of time to get the group started.  Classical musicians in particular tend to be extremely defensive of their time and would rather spend it playing 6 bars of Beethoven by themselves in a practice room all day.  Most people I know don't want to show up to rehearse something unless they're getting paid to do it that weekend and I know from experience that the best way around this is to make the group exist on paper when starting out.

If you're willing to do all of the legwork yourself, you can get a group going with just an hour of time from everyone else.  Let's say you've got a wind quintet and you are looking to play some graduation ceremonies. All you really need from other people is an hour of their time to sit down and read some music down and record it.  Assuming that you're bringing in solid players that can just sit and play, you'll have more than enough quality audio to get your group started.

Once you've got a recording, no one else has to do anything if they don't want to until you get a gig.  Here are the steps you'll need to take and some free resources to help you do it.

Make an audio sample.

There are tons of programs out there for this.  Personally, I use Audacity because it's free and really easy to use.  Realistically, most people aren't going to listen very long (if at all) so make it short and sweet.  Attach it to all of the emails you send to potential clients to make it easier for them.

Set up a website.

There are countless places on the web that you can create webpages for free.  Here are few that I've used or know that other have used and had positive experiences with:

Weebly---I found this to be by far the easiest to use.  Very simple, clean, and easy design.

Wix---Wix is a much more involved website design platform.  It has a lot more bells and whistles in the free version than Weebly, but this also makes it a bit more to manage for a first time user.  Still a great website though. (.org is different, so be aware of that)---I know many people that host their blogs through Wordpress and have had great experiences with it.  I had difficulty figuring out .org, but .com is apparently easier.

All of these basic website designers come with more than enough gadgets for what you'll need to get started. Realistically you will only need a place on the page to talk about the group and what you do, a page where your sound sample is available, and a contact form.  These are all standard features and they're all you really need to get started.

I know what you're thinking, that sounds like an incredibly boring website.  But I'm a firm believer that simple is better.  This is especially true when starting out.

However, I know that it's nice to have some photos, visitors, domains, and all that fancy stuff, so here are a few more links you may interested in to make your page better: you will find thousands of images that are free to use.  There a some really great pictures here of EVERYTHING so this is a good place to start when filling space on a webpage. site has some free images, but most are for purchase. your audio files here if you like. your own domain name here!  Or at  There are tons of places to do this.  It just adds legitimacy to your site.  (Free sites will usually have the host in the name) you want people to actually find your site when they're looking for the services you offer, check out this website.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important so that your page pops up on Google and other search engines.  Here is help from Google themselves:

If down the road you want to get a logo for your group/organization, the following resources are all fantastic crowd sourcing sites that allow you to put up a description of what you want and have thousands of freelancers all over the world have a chance to design it for you.  You just name the price, what you're looking for, and time limit, and the designs will pour in.  This also works for merchandise, websites, brochures, and just about anything else!

This will take an afternoon to set up, but once you get it up and running your group will officially look as legitimate and professional as any other group out there!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Finding clients.

One of the most important things for kick starting your career in the music biz is to find some clients!  Everyone wants to get called for gigs, but strangely enough, nobody actually wants to do the work the really make that happen.  This is the most important part of the process, and it's also the part where most people will never do.  Which is great for those of us that don't mind investing time and energy in to spreading the word.  The less competition the better.
The most common excuses I hear from my friends are that they either don't have the time, or that they don't have a clue where to start.  This is a load of crap and everyone knows it.  You've always got time if you choose to make time, and it's not about the best place to start.  There is no right or wrong place to start, but the key to this is just doing it.  Most people will never start.

Hopefully the following tips will help you getting started:

Cast a wide net.
Don't be afraid to send a ton of emails to ANYONE that may be able to help get you a gig.  You just never know who will be able to help and the worst thing that will happen is they won't respond.  When I did my initial batch of emails, I was trying score some wedding gigs for my group.  I sent around 500 emails to church music directors and wedding planners within two days of making a sampler.  Guess what?  We didn't hired for a single wedding.  Not one.  As a matter of fact, we still haven't.  BUT, we actually got hired to put on a full recital at a church, we've got a really awesome Easter gig coming up (I got about 5 offers for that weekend which I was able to pass along to friends), a funereal, and we're also being considered for a concert series at  a church in Cambridge, MA.  Now this is only a handful of gigs to get us started, but in addition to these I have gotten the other guys a handful of individual gigs as well.

Be Efficient.
The argument of time always comes up when I talk to friends about this stuff.  People never seem to have enough time.  Most people (myself included) don't use their time effectively at all.  This doesn't have to be a major investment of time if you do it right.  I found that the easiest way to do this was using directories and other already compiled lists to contact.  It would take an eternity to go on every church/wedding planner website to find their contact info.  But if you work smarter, you'll save a ton of time and cast a much wider net.  No matter what you're trying to start, I think it is well worth the time to do some thorough research before starting this process.  You'll thank yourself when you save hours of time.

And one more quick thing on efficiency:  Make an email that can be sent to everyone and BCC every in to the same email.  It keeps all of the contacts together and will save oodles of time.  If you're looking for a playing gig, attach sound clip AND a link to your website to make it easier for the person receiving it.  People are very busy and get flooded with spam in their inbox.  Don't let your message go unread.  Slap a nice subject line on there and make it short and sweet.

Be prepared for that first call.
When you do get a bite, don't waste the opportunity by not being prepared.  You should have a fee in mind and everything figured out before you actually start a dialogue with someone that could potentially hire you.  Nothing makes you sound more unprofessional than not having your details ironed out.  If the gig is an hour away, figure out how much compensation you need for travel.  Is it outdoors?  Cover every base and leave nothing to chance.  People will not trust you or take you seriously if you're fumbling around on the phone trying to pull answers out of thin air.  Don't lose a gig by being unprepared.

Be Patient.
Since I started hustling this group around the area, I have probably sent around 750 emails.  Want to know how many people have responded?  I give you a hint, it's nowhere close to 750.  I'd ballpark the responses around 30 to be quite honest.  But I don't let it get me down, and neither should you because of those emails sent, I have already made a lot more money freelancing than I would've otherwise.  Even though most people didn't respond that doesn't mean that they won't eventually. 

I got a call just the other day from a wedding planner that is looking to hire us.  She probably received my email two months ago and just now called me back.  Even if she doesn't hire us this time, I have now at least had the opportunity to connect with her and that goes a long way.  She knows we exist and will hopefully spread the word to other vendors.  

The fact is, most people won't respond.  That's totally fine.  But if I had only sent 50 emails, I may have never gotten anything.  Again, don't be afraid to cast a wide net because quite frankly, it's the only way to really effectively get out there.

Doing this and everything else that I've talked about in the past few posts will seriously take you less than a week.  It really doesn't even matter what your situation is for this stuff to be applicable.  If I were moving to new city next week, I could use the same process to get started with a career and so could you.  You don't have to be the best player in town to get started, but you certainly do have to put yourself out there.  If you do even half of this stuff, you'll have a major leg up on the majority of your colleagues who are still waiting around for the phone to ring.

Get to it!

Monday, March 11, 2013

First steps.

I know a ton of people that say they want to be professional musicians, artists, dancers, and all kinds of things but actually have no idea what that means.  They have no idea what they actually want to do and therefore spend a lot of time waiting around for something to happen to them.  This fine and dandy, but unfortunately you'll never get anywhere with this method.  If you never put yourself out there, no will ever know that you exist.  This might be harsh, but unfortunately it's true.
But wait, there is good news...THIS CAN BE AVOIDED!!!!!

(See the bottom for picture explanation)

And it should be by everyone if they seriously consider what I'm about say.  

Figure out what you really want to do with your life.  And I mean seriously think about what makes you happy and how it lines up with your interests.  You have to seriously consider if what you love can actually support you financially.  Do other people do it?  Why does it work for them and not others?  It's pretty incredible what some people do for their careers, so I'm totally positive that if you've got a legit plan and put it in to action you'll figure out how to make it work.

It's tough to give your life direction when you don't actually know where you want to go.

Once you have given it some thought, the next step is to start doing some serious brainstorming to figure out how to get everything off the ground.  Maybe I'm a total weirdo, but I think this is so much fun!  I am constantly thinking about what I can do with my own ideas moving forward.  A good place to start is looking at similar people/groups are doing.  

Let's just say theoretically you're a violist and you want to start a string quartet.  Maybe you'd like to just get started with some extra income by doing things like weddings, church services, and other things along those lines.  First off, maybe you should do some research and find out how many string quartets are working in your area and elsewhere.  This will show you two very important things.  First, it will give you an idea of what the marketplace is looking like.  If there are a hundred groups that are all fighting for the same work, is there a niche not being filled?  If a group is getting a ton of work in NYC doing something that isn't being done in Philly, that should raise a red flag that maybe there is something else you could give a try.  Trial and error is a big part of this.  Even if there are a lot of people doing what you want to do, it doesn't mean you can't get in on it, but it does mean that you'll probably have to be really unique and creative with your approach.

The second thing that you can get out of looking at other groups is just seeing what kind of specifics you can learn about different niches.  If you dig around long enough, I bet you can find just about anything you want to know about the work that is available.  Do not be afraid or feel weird about going on a groups website and researching what they're doing.  Every successful business in history has gotten to know the marketplace they're trying to compete in.  Music is no different.

Continuing with the wedding quartet spiel, the first thing I would do if I were this fictional violist, is find out where I can get my hands on information of other groups.  This one is actually really easy because of websites like Wedding Wire and The Knot.  Any legit group in ANY city is listed on these kinds of sites when it comes to wedding music.  You can look at groups all over the country and get an idea of what they're doing.  I would (and have) looked at every single Philly area group's website and their calendar, rates, and organizations they're connected with.  All of this information is readily available to us and we should utilize every resource we have.  

Like I said, any successful business does this, and you should too.  Don't be so naive to think that someone else isn't doing this and getting a leg up on you.  If you're going to work in a competitive environment like music, you bet your ass that you better remain competitive to keep up.

It's pretty amazing how much information is available to us if we look for it.  I really encourage you to give this some thought and start doing some market research on the area you'd like to go in to.  Careers in the arts are very different than most other kinds of jobs and therefore need to be approached in a different way.  Figure what you want to do and go do it.  

Take those first steps and go make something happen for yourself.
P.S.---If you type in "freelance musician" in Google Images, that is the first picture that pops up.  Hopefully this guy just got back from a killer gig and is celebratory drinking instead of wishing he had more work, haha.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Start freelancing today.

For over a year, I have been wanting to start my own group and as of a few weeks ago, I finally did it.  I'm starting small.  Very small.  But I have found the mistake I made in the past was trying to do too much too soon.  I have talked with a lot of my friends about this and some people have expressed some interest in the process so I hope that some of you find this helpful.

Starting out, the most important thing is to decide what kind of group/work you're trying to get going.  For me, I just wanted to try to fill out some of my calendar with my own gigs.  I have done the "let people call me" approach for a few years and I can honestly say that it was pretty damn lame.  I got called for a handful of things and friends helped me out by passing stuff my way, but it's not nearly enough to even consider myself a "freelancer".  So I decided to take things into my own hands and start getting some work for myself.

I have always loved playing in brass quintets, so that seemed like a logical place to start.  I wasn't even sure I could get five people together, so I spent a few days arranging some general wedding/ceremonial music for a quartet of trumpet, horn, trombone, and tuba.  I called up a few buddies that I know were around and we met up and played everything straight down while recording.  45 minutes later, I had something to work with.  That night I edited a short sampler together using Audacity and spent a few hours the next day sending out about 400 emails to churches around the area.  Within 24hrs I had us hired for a great Easter gig and a few handful of emails coming back with messages saying that they'd keep my info on file.

What a satisfying feeling it was to get that first gig!  The group had our first gig and I had more motivation to continue pushing ahead.  Since then I have gotten us booked for a handful of other gigs in the coming months and I'm expecting a little bit more to come in soon!  We did a funereal a few weeks ago, Easter is coming up, and I've gotten us booked to do a paid recital later this Spring.  As of this exact moment in time we'll all be pulling in an extra $600 this Spring.  This may not sound like much, but considering I got all of this work from a recording that took about 45mins to make, I'm pretty proud of this.

Money aside, the best part about this whole experience so far is that I've learned a ton about how to make things happen for myself.  It has showed me that if you really take some time to do the leg work, it's not actually that hard to figure out.  Anyone anywhere that ever wants to do freelance work can (and should!) take some time and do this.  All of the resources are readily available to anyone with a computer so there is no excuse not to start making something happen if you really want to.  You can record, edit, make a website, get contact information, and everything else you need to get started for FREE.

The best part about this is that if you really take the time now to start doing this, you'll have a huge jump start on many of your colleagues.  Everybody wants to get some gigs but most people don't want to actually put in the time and effort to make it happen.  I've learned just how far you can stretch a 2 minute audio clip of hokey wedding tunes and I hope you'll put the time in and discover it for yourself.

This will be an ongoing topic so be on the lookout for more about this coming soon.

In the meantime, I'd love for some of you to share some thoughts and experiences.