Friday, 12 December 2014

Tips for Freelancing (Part 3)

Welcome to my third post of freelancing tips!  These are mostly things which I've learned the hard way, "on the job".  I'm posting them here in the hopes that some of you can avoid making the same mistakes.  At the very least, you can enjoy chuckling over my blunders with a mixture of recognition and Schadenfreude.  If you've missed my past posts, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

21. Be prepared.
This is one point I have to say I've never struggled with.  I have always been very conscientious about learning my music.  But unfortunately I can't say the same for all of my colleagues.  I have seen people show up at the first rehearsal not knowing a single note of the score.  And it is REALLY annoying.  Any musical endeavour is only as good as its weakest link.  And when someone doesn't know their music, everyone else has to slow down their progress to accommodate them.  This is an extremely unfair burden to place on your colleagues.  Not only is it unprofessional, but it shows a complete lack of consideration and respect for others.  And don't think that your colleagues are the only one who will notice you don't know what you're doing.  The director, the conductor, and any other management present at rehearsals will certainly take note.  You can be sure that no matter how talented you are, they won't want to hire you again.

Scar makes a good point.

22. Dress the part.
I'll never forget my first Messiah.  It was at a cathedral in Paisley.  I wore a beautiful sleeveless sapphire-blue evening gown.  And I almost froze my tits off!  If I had put any thought into my attire (aside from the vanity of wanting to wear a pretty frock) I would have remembered that the Scottish winter is pretty cold, and most churches don't use central heating.  I would have worn thick woolen tights, and a dress with sleeves.  At the very least I would have covered my shoulders with a jacket or a shawl.
Any time you are performing at a new venue, or with a new company, make sure you do your research on what to wear.  Do they have a dress code?  How conservative is the audience?  Are bare shoulders and cleavage frowned upon?  Are women allowed to wear trousers?  And most importantly, how hot or cold are you going to be on stage?  It is essential to dress appropriately if you want to avoid being embarrassed or uncomfortable.

23. Make sure you're on the same page.
Here's another fun anecdote, again from Scotland.  I was hired for my first Vivaldi Gloria.  I immediately got a score from the library, and began preparing my part.  On the day of the concert I made a horrifying discovery: there are two versions of the Vivaldi Gloria, and I had prepared the wrong one.  The edition I had prepared had a considerably shortened version of the duet with the soprano.  We were performing the longer version, and there was a big chunk of music which I had never seen before!  After some panicked photocopying and note-bashing, I managed to get through the concert without disaster.  Needless to say, though, it was not ideal.  This is how I learned I had to check exactly which edition to use.  Don't make the same mistake I did!

24. Check, double-check, and check again.

To Do:
-Make List
-Check Twice

Make sure you're absolutely certain about every last detail.  The repertoire, the fee, the timing of the rehearsals, the address of the venue – anything which risks getting confused or miscommunicated.  Be meticulous about this, and do it well in advance of the gig.  Read and reread any information you've been given.  Make sure there's nothing missing, and if there is something missing, ask.  There is nothing more embarrassing than showing up at the wrong place, or at the wrong time.  There is nothing more uncomfortable than having a misunderstanding with your management about scheduling or money.  So make sure you know everything and are ok with it.  This is what contracts are for.  Which brings us to…

25. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
I know, I know.  Paperwork sucks.

"Um... a little help..?"

But most of the time it's there for your sake.  And if you don't pay close attention to it, you could land yourself in deep trouble.  Like any job, freelancing involves important financial and legal considerations.  So get your reading glasses out and protect yourself.  Make sure you're registered for taxes as self-employed.  Educate yourself on which expenses you can claim, and how to prepare and file a tax return.  Get insurance, and if you can, a savings plan.  In Germany we have a wonderful thing called the Künstlersozialkasse (how's that for a mouthful?).  You make monthly payments based on how much you're earning, and in return they pay your health insurance and put money into a pension plan.  This is an invaluable resource for any freelancing musician.  Most importantly, pay careful attention to the paperwork your employers send you.  Any time you get a contract, make sure you understand and agree with everything before signing it.  Remember: you're usually the only one looking out for yourself.

26. You don't have to like everyone, and not everyone has to like you.
This is a hard enough lesson to learn in life, but it's especially painful to acknowledge when it comes to music.  I know we all like to think that music-making is a magical process, and everyone involved is brought together in peace and loving harmony by the beautiful sounds they make.

"Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya...."

Let's get real though.  Music attracts all kinds of personalities, including the difficult and unpleasant ones.  Don't get me wrong here.  I hope the majority of your employers and colleagues will be lovely, kind, and friendly people.  I hope you will have lots of things in common, and enjoy each other's company.  But the fact is, not everyone is going to become your new bestie.  In fact, some people might be downright mean to you.  The sooner you learn to accept and cope with this, the better.

27. …But you do have to get along.
You don't have to have go for chummy beers together after rehearsal, but you do have to be civil to each other.  No matter what you might think of someone personally, at the end of the day they still are your colleague.  You have to be able to work with them in a pleasant and respectful way.  And this may not be the last time you work with them.  So stay on good terms.  Don't burn any bridges.

28. Learn to manage your diary.
As a freelancer, your diary can look pretty crazy – especially in December.

What the Christmas season looks like for most of us.

But until you get your own management or can afford a personal assistant (sure, that'll be the day) managing your diary is up to you.  Before you accept another gig, take a good long look at your calendar.  Are you sure you're not double-booking yourself?  Are you sure you're not taking too much on?  Think twice before accepting new commitments.  As for the time between gigs, that's important to manage too.  You'll likely have a long to-do list and a lot of unstructured time in which to tackle it.  Learn to prioritise.  What's urgent?  What's important?  What can wait a bit?  Pay attention to your energy at different points of the day, and try to schedule your work accordingly.  Ideally you would want to do your practising when you're feeling the most energetic and focused. You can save your paperwork and emails for when you're feeling more mellow.

29. Know Yourself
Everyone is always talking about how you have to "sell yourself" in this business.  But how can you sell yourself if you don't know what it is you're selling?  Before you start "getting yourself out there" – auditioning, building a website, networking with prospective employers and so forth – you have to do some soul-searching and answer a few important questions.  What are your unique talents and skills?  What kind of musical and performing personality do you have?  What kind of repertoire suits you best and why?  What kind of work do you want to do?  Your answers to these questions will inform a lot of decisions, such as how you market yourself and who you audition for.  It will also help you feel more focused and confident as you continue to build a career.

30. Add some strings to your bow.
Very few musicians make a living doing just one thing.  It's tough out there, and work is hard to come by.  So if you are going around looking only for work as a concert pianist, you are narrowing your possibilities considerably.  How about being a concert pianist who also accompanies, teaches private lessons, and composes arrangements for their own ensemble?  Now we're talking.  Everyone has their own variety of skills and talents.  So find out what else you can do well, and capitalise on that!  The more diverse your skills, the better your chances of survival.

The most important thing to remember?  Freelancing is a tough business.  And despite all the anecdotes and tips I've tried to share with you on here, you will probably make your own unique set of mistakes.  Don't sweat it too much.  Mistakes are normal.  Just make sure you learn your lesson and move on!

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