Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Tips for Freelancing (Part 1)

I'm still pretty new to the whole freelancing game.  In no way would I consider myself an expert on how to do it successfully.  However, I have been freelancing for just under five years now.  And that's enough time to make some significant mistakes.

There are a lot of important things which nobody tells you in school about being a freelance musician.  And so, over the last few years, I've often had to learn things the hard way - through screwing up, falling on my face, and generally being an awkward turtle.

But fear not!  You don't have to learn things the way I did.  I've decided to compile a list of freelancing tips, based on what I've learned through trial and error.  Think of these as the ground rules for gigging.  I originally intended this to be one post, but as it turns out, I have a lot to say on the subject.  So let's begin now with part one of... well, many.

1. Don’t just be on time, be early!
Especially if you're travelling to a new venue.  Many are the times I've found myself running around in a confused panic, searching for a church or a concert hall in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.  

"Where is the venue??  WHERE IS THE VENUUUUE????!!!!"

Granted, I have a terrible sense of direction.  But even if you were born with an infallible built-in GPS, it's always a good idea to leave in plenty of time before the rehearsal or performance begins.  Expect the unexpected – leave extra time in case there's a delay on the train or bad traffic, or, yes, in case you get lost.  Even if there are no delays, it's always good to have a nice window of time between arriving at the venue and beginning to sing.  This way you can get your bearings and relax a bit.  Nobody works well when they're feeling rushed, disoriented, or stressed out.

2. Leave your problems outside of the venue.
Whether you're annoyed with your landlord or just had a fight with your wife, your colleagues don't want to know about it.  Sure, artists are emotional creatures.  But if you want to be a professional artist, you need to learn to control when, where, and how you vent your feelings.  Your personal life and your changing moods should not affect the quality of your work.  Your problems should not become your coworkers' problems.  Work on maintaining a pleasant and professional attitude, no matter what you may be feeling on a given day.

3. Never take any work for granted.
It's a great feeling when someone is hiring you on a regular basis.  Congratulations  they like you!  But unless you're on a full-time, permanent contract with them, you should never assume that they will continue to call you for every gig.  I hate to break it to you, but as a freelancer, you should always feel at least a little bit insecure about your work.  This means you should always aim to impress with your musicianship and professionalism, and remind people why you're the best for the job.  It also means you should always be hustling for new work.  Remember: complacency is the enemy.

4. Watch your money.
Probably the hardest thing about being a freelancer is the cashflow.  One month you might make thousands, and the next month might be a big fat goose-egg.  In the meantime, most employers expect you to pay your own travel costs up front.  And as a younger musician you'll be investing a lot of your earnings back into your career with things like lessons, recordings, website building, and travel to auditions.  You have to spend money to make money.  So it's important to learn to be careful with your cash.  Always be looking ahead.  If this month is more lucrative than the next one, try to pinch your pennies while you can.  You may find yourself eating ramen noodles while you desperately await your next paycheque, only to spend it all at once in a rush of relief and euphoria when it finally arrives.  It's a dangerous financial trap to fall into.  But with some planning and budgeting, you should be able to stay on a more even keel.

Don't do this on payday.

5. Keep it respectful.
This goes without saying when you're dealing with other professionals.  But I would say it's especially important when you're helping out at an amateur gig.  Maybe these people aren't as musically educated or sophisticated as you are.  Maybe they're out of tune and can't count to save their life.  But while this is just another gig to you, it probable means the world to them.  Chances are they've been rehearsing for this concert for months, and it's the big musical event of their season.  So please, have some respect.  Don't make snide, snobby remarks or give exasperated sighs at their mistakes.  These people are making music for the joy of it, to connect with people in their community.  Can you imagine a cause more noble than that?  Amateur musicians deserve your respect just as much as professionals – if not more.

6. Be nice to your management.
I've often seen animosity develop between artists and management, and it can create a very unpleasant atmosphere.  Most of the time this comes from misunderstanding and a lack of empathy on both sides.  From the artists' side, I'd say it's important for us to remember that people in arts administration often deal with an enormous workload, long hours, and a high-pressure work environment – and all for very poor money.  They care a lot about their job, and they are doing their best to take care of the musicians.  Perhaps you're annoyed with a mistake they made in your paperwork.  But while you are only dealing with your own paperwork, they're dealing with the paperwork for all the musicians involved in this project.  So when communicating with your management, try to come from a place of compassion and understanding.  Always give them the benefit of the doubt.

7. Take responsibility for yourself.
As a freelancer, you are your own boss.  This means that nobody else is going to motivate you, hold you to task on important goals, or keep you on any kind of regular schedule.  It all comes down to you.  So man up and take charge.  Be proactive.  Be disciplined.  Be the captain of your own ship.

If you want to feel like a real bad-ass, pretend it's a pirate ship.

8. Take care of yourself.
Your well-being is your livelihood.  So do whatever is necessary to make sure you're happy, healthy, and in good singing/playing form.  Eat good nutritious food, get plenty of sleep, and don't forget regular exercise.  It's extremely important for you to be in good physical shape.  After all, performing is very physical work.  You need good breath support and muscle control, as well as the ability to move well on stage.  But beyond that, you'll find that being fit just helps you feel good. I joined a gym a couple of months ago, and it's been a real revelation.  I find that I have more strength and energy in my day-to-day life.  Travelling is much easier – I bounce back more quickly from long journeys and jetlag.  Furthermore, going to the gym adds a bit of structure to my routine – which tends to be pretty chaotic most of the time.  If you need more good reasons to exercise, check out my post about it here.

Let's get physical!

9. Rest when you need it.
I get it.  You're young and ambitious and you want to do everything NOW.  But taking days off is an important part of your practice.  If you don't have the discipline to not practise right now, you may run into serious physical and technical problems in the next few years.  I try to have one non-singing day every week.  This is not always possible, but I find it's a good guideline to aim for.  Regular rest is essential if you want to stay in top form.

10. Get a life.
I always hear people say "music is my life", as if it's something to be proud of.  But if music really is your life, you're setting yourself up for trouble.  You can't let all your happiness depend on one thing.  You need other dimensions to your life in order to feel balanced and fulfilled.  Get a hobby.  Join a club.  Buy a pet.  Or just make friends with people who aren't musicians.  Anything that adds to your life and isn't connected to your music will make you a happier, healthier, and more well-rounded person.

That's all for now.  Stay tuned for more tips soon!

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