Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Tips for Freelancing (Part 2)

And we're back, with more tips for freelancing!  If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.  Trust me when I say, I've learned each and every one of these from personal experience.

11. Respect your elders.
It seems these days the music industry is getting more and more age-ist.  Everyone is fascinated with the emerging artists, the rising stars.  The newest and hottest young people to hit the scene.  Whatever happened to the respect and awe we used to hold for experienced professionals?  The truth is that older musicians have a LOT to teach you.  They've been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt.  And if you take the time to listen, they'll have some amazing advice and anecdotes to share.  Don't write someone off because their age doesn't begin with 2 or 3.  They may become an amazing friend and mentor for you.

Pierre here could teach you a thing or two about the accordion.
Also, beards and looking stern.

12. Be curious.
When I'm chatting with a friendly colleague, I always try asking what they've been up to lately, and what's coming up next.  Oh, who's the conductor for that again?  And how might I get in touch with them?  This can be one of the best ways to find new professional contacts and eventually get more work.

13. ….But know where to draw the line.
At the same time, you can't expect your colleagues to spoonfeed a career to you.  Some people can be incredibly generous and forthcoming with their information.  But even the most helpful colleague will have their limits.  If a colleague feels like you're just using them for all their contacts and tips, they'll get fed up with it pretty quickly.  Nobody is going to begrudge you a couple of email addresses and tips, but you can't expect them to hand you all of your work on a platter.  You have to do some of the research yourself.  Why would you want to copy their career anyway?  It's their career, something they've tailored over the years to suit their particular skills, talents, and personality.  If you want to be a happy freelancer, you have to build up a combination of work which is right for you.  You have to find your own way.

Back off!  Get your own career.

14. Choose your projects wisely.
One of the toughest freelancing dilemmas is when you get offered two different contracts which conflict with each other.  Sometimes you can negotiate with both parties and find a way to do both.  But usually you're faced with a difficult decision.  Which project to choose?  As someone notoriously bad at decision-making, I know just how stressful this can be.  When faced with a choice like this, I often spend ages agonising over my options and their various pros and cons.  (Seriously, just ask my friends).  There are a lot of factors to consider.  Obviously money is important, but it isn't always the tipping point.  One project might pay less, but still offer a unique and career-building experience – for example, the chance to sing an important role, or work with a well-respected mentor, or perform for important agents and managers.  Perhaps this is a project you know you would really enjoy, because you would get the chance to work with great colleagues, or travel to a country you've never seen before.  In the end you always have to decide what is best for you, right now, at this point in your career.  Is it time to think of your long-term career trajectory, and invest in some professional development?  Can you afford to earn less in the name of fun?  Or is it time to buckle down and do some (perhaps less glamorous) work, so you can pay the bills?

Decisions, decisions...

15. Honour your commitments.
Once you've made your decision, stick with it.  It's important to stay on good terms with an employer, even if you don't think you'll work with them again.  And nobody likes getting the shaft – especially at the last minute.  Sure, sometimes cancelling is unavoidable.  Illness, accidents, family emergencies – these are all justifiable reasons to cancel.  But if you're given the choice, you should always opt to be a loyal and reliable artist.  You can only back out of so many contracts before you start getting a bad reputation.  People talk.  What they'll say is up to you.

16. Pay your dues.
I see a lot of young singers coming out of music college with big heads and starry eyes, thinking they're going to be the Next Big Thing.  And who knows?  Maybe they will.  But they're probably not going to get the big contracts right away.  Everyone has to start somewhere, right?  A lot of the work you do at the beginning of your career will be exhausting, boring, and badly compensated.  It sucks.  I know.  But have courage – you're just at the bottom rung of the ladder right now.  If you do a good job and behave professionally, you'll be on your way up in no time!

Time to get climbing!

17. …But know your worth.
When I arrived in Germany, I accepted some work for very low pay, only to find out that colleagues of the same age and level of experience had negotiated up to a considerably high fee.  Now every time I work for these organisations they'll expect me to be ok working for peanuts.  Why did I agree to work for so little?  I'm a well-educated, well-trained musician with valuable skills to contribute.  And I need to pay my bills just like everyone else!  I've learned this lesson the hard way.  Negotiating fees is a tricky task, but you need to learn to advocate for yourself if you want to pay rent.

18. Keep the big picture in mind.
The problem with gigging around is that it can make you a bit myopic.  You only focus as far as today's rehearsal, or perhaps next weekend's concert.  But what about the bigger goals?  What do you want to accomplish as a musician this year, this decade, this lifetime?  How do you want to build your career?  How do you want to express yourself as a performer?  How do you want to grow as an artist?  If you don't keep thinking about these big questions, you won't have any direction.  Before you know it your whole career will have flown by, and you won't have accomplished half the things you wanted to.

"Remember: we're going THAT way!"

19. Keep getting better.
I know this sounds obvious, but when you're going from one rehearsal to the next, it's easy to get lazy and complacent about your technique.  Maybe you forget to warm up today, or don't bother scheduling a lesson for next week.  Before you know it your sound has gone down the toilet and nobody wants to hire you anymore.  Never take your technique for granted!  You should always be trying to build and maintain it.  After all, that's what's great about being a musician, isn't it?  You never stop growing.  So even if you have a super-busy day, try to take at least 20 minutes to do some technical work and make sure everything is working as it should.  Take pride in always striving to be the best you can be.

20. Fuel your passion.
Sometimes a freelancer gets stuck in a rut.  Shuffling from project to project, never really doing anything they care about.  Everything they do is for money and nothing else.  Not because they love the music, not because they enjoy working with the conductor – only because they need to earn some cash.  This is an incredible demoralising way to work, and if you're not careful it can turn you into a bitter, jaded, and passionless musician.  Ok, so life is not a fairytale.  Sometimes we have to do work that's just that – work.  But we also need to do things which inspire us, which drive us, which feed our musical soul.  Otherwise we may forget what made us choose music in the first place!  So make an effort, on a regular basis, to do a project which really matters to you as an artist.  You may not be able to make money from it.  You may have to set up the whole concert yourself, from the marketing to the venue and reception.  But it will pay off in the long run, because you will be a passionate and inspired artist.  Keep nourishing your love of music and reminding yourself why you do what you do.

Fill 'er up!

I'll be posting more tips soon.  In the meantime, good luck and happy gigging!

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