During and since the pandemic, an army of new talent has emerged. They are now looking for a career in music, along with semi-professional musicians with a lot of fuelled frustration who have also made the decision to turn professional. It’s an enormously competitive market, it always has been, even more so now as we slowly start to get back to normal.
So, what are the things to look out for?
Ask a 'Seasoned Pro'
Seeking advice is key, especially for young professional musicians. Don’t be afraid to ask the ‘old school players’, they’ve been there, bought the t-shirt, read the book and seen the film. Fusion artist and multi-instrumentalist Steve Freund advises musicians new to the pro circuit, "Study the old masters and learn the roots of whatever genre you are trying to learn."
There’s a lot of advice out there on the internet, but you can’t beat making contacts in the industry face to face. This can help your career in other performance areas. Talk to a pro artist or band that relates to your act for example, along with sound engineers, record producers and promoters.
Trumpet player extraordinaire and Fusion artist Alexis Baro both agree:
"Don't give up, it's never too late if you're serious about your craft"
and Diane Eaton, French horn player in the Basel Symphony Orchestra advises:
"Don't give up on your dreams!"
Getting paid along with expenses is a bonus, but it’s not all about the pennies. Very rarely is it all ‘gloss and glamour’ from the start, there are many ups and downs that are often related to a ‘feast or famine’ life style.
Thousands of recorded hours of music in all genres are uploaded daily. Musical talent is everywhere and whilst we all have social media skills, additional finance and marketing knowledge can help you increase your odds of success as a professional musician.
One of the biggest obstacles faced by many young musicians is the simple lack of money. Running your promotion and media campaign full time, is incredibly time consuming and can be very expensive. There’s funding out there but it takes some tracking down, it’s worth pursuing every avenue.
Fingerstyle guitarist, Janek Pentz based in Poland insists communication is key:
"Never stop communicating, even if the communication concentrates on shows, if there are no shows, it's time to create something else, a new way to communicate. Communication gives life. No communication is equal to the digital death."
Professional multi-instrumentalist also known as one half of the Opera-lele Duo, George Bartle, says:
"Ensure that you have a wide range of skills. Not just musically but in social media, editing, finance, etc. Build useful contacts and don't be afraid to use these contacts."
If you can’t afford a manager, find someone who you can trust and work with, to review your shows, build a database of important contacts, edit finances which may include travel expenses, studio and equipment hire and crew, along with essential security for your equipment on stage and overall insurance cover.
Protect your material
Most songs are compiled in the same way, on paper from an idea or an inspiration and, whether they become a big seller or not, they need copyright protection before the ink dries. Copyright all your material as soon as possible and, if you are lucky enough to get a contract, read through thoroughly or seek legal advice.
That’s squashed a few of the negatives, the downsides, where ‘never give up’ is the other half of the equation, now let’s get in front of the mirror.
This is not an exercise in vanity, use it to see how you look and perform in front of an audience. If you are lucky enough to be heading into the professional world without a lot of live experience, it’s essential you think seriously about the qualities that divide the amateurs from the professionals.
We asked Fusion artists what they would do differently if they could begin again in 2020? Guitar and bass player Steve Freund says:
'I would do more live stream music shows and start much earlier."
Chris Buono, Multi-Media Guitar Madman from New York comments:
"I would dig more into social media profiles and live streaming as well as shift my online teaching to subscription-based."
Sure, work on self-promotional home videos, but look at fine tuning. Have a cool backdrop and not the wardrobe door, spend on decent lighting and hi-res cameras. Have someone work with you, to avoid leaning towards the lens to start and stop recording, better still, get a camera remote.
Be natural when talking on video and on stage, have a basic script to follow, practice this script and you’ll be surprised how many times you say ‘er’ and ‘um’….avoid!
Learn your lyrics
Looking back at the last 24 months, in hindsight, multi-talented saxophonist, keyboard and accordion player Ken Whelan said:
"There's no silver bullet, do some practice... and then some more. Continue every day."
Never has there been a truer word spoken. You’ll have a set list no doubt, learn the songs backwards, including the lyrics. Looking at a mobile phone or glancing sideways at a tablet on a stand for the lyrics is so unprofessional and dilutes the whole visual concept. You are on stage entertaining, look and perform to the audience.
It’s a wonderful feeling when you know every word and all the instrumental parts, but don’t be overconfident, stay focused. Bands and artists that have been around for many decades, come out to tour their biggest hits every couple of years, and yet they still have to refresh the set list.
Chatting between songs is also vocally communicating, it’s an ideal way to self promote yourself. Talk about your next show, your material, the theme and inspiration behind each song. Use this to create your identity and character, build an off-stage image that your fans can instantly relate to on all social platforms and at your up and coming shows.
Pace yourself, it can be stressful, be confident on stage and in the studio when the red light comes on. Again, free singing without a lyric sheet helps develop an inner passion, warmth and depth to your vocals.
If you are fresh and new to the larger venue circuit, you are liable to be one of several acts at that event, watch and take note how the professionals cope as the curtain call gets closer. You should be relaxed and again, not fretting about songs or lyrics, if it’s dark and chaotic out front, your instrument, or the mic on the stand is your friend…think back to you mirror on the wall.
If you are a vocalist in a band or a solo artist on a large stage with a sound crew, as often is the case, microphones are supplied. If you have your own good quality mic, insist you use it, remember Covid is still out there.
You’ll need decent reliable equipment whatever the show, the choice is huge and readily affordable. The likes of spare guitar strings and drum sticks speak for themselves, but it’s essential to have spares, backup instruments, mics, bass drum pedals and spare skins for example.
If it’s not regarded cool to play a brand of instrument your ‘older relatives’ used, there are some funky alternatives out there, ideal for live gigs and that all important promotional video.
Looking good and feeling great evokes confidence in you and your stage performance, so try and select outfits that suit you and your public identity.
Over the decades artists have created and followed dress trends to suit their musical style. Flared jeans, big hair, mohawks, denim, leather, rhinestones, spandex, eye patches and face paint have contributed to some of the biggest fashion statements in rock and roll. Think about what goes around comes around, there are some classic looks that might inspire you.
Your visual appearance won’t necessarily make or break you and you don’t have to look super cool, it’s not going to be easy to come up with a new fashion statement, but develop your own style.
There are many benefits to being a successful musician, writing and performing original material or working as a session player. You have the freedom to chart your own career path whilst doing what you love best, enjoying your music in whatever form and earning an income at the same time.
From spiritual chants to Black Metal and all genres in between, music is an international language, its power is said to stimulate more parts of the brain than any other human function.
Highly successful Fusion guitar and bassist Usama Allati, based in Palestine says:
"Never let the general situation of the pandemic put you down. Keep doing what you like to do, always!"
If you're starting out a professional musician in 2022, be creative, enjoy your music, keep writing and perform your art with passion and have fun, it’s what the whole music industry is all about and never-ever-ever give up.
About Lars Mullen
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column and Fusion Virtual World Tour Interview Series.