Becoming a successful musician can mean two things — either you’ve become famous within a genre, and you’re building a brand of your own. Or, you’ve become a professional whose services are in high demand. The former option is the one most people think of when someone mentions a successful musician.
However, famous musicians are few and far between. Most of those who are successful in the world of music belong to the latter category. Here are 6 ultimate tips you can use to become that not-so-silent professional who gets the job done and earns the respect of their peers.
Treat It Like a Job
For many people, music is a hobby. It’s something we do during our downtime to decompress and have fun. Those who are slightly more serious with their music will have a band, practice on the regular, and maybe have a few gigs here and there.
As a professional musician, you need to be at least several tiers above this level of commitment. For you, music and playing an instrument isn’t a hobby — it’s a full-time job. The only way you’ll become a professional musician with a booked schedule is by taking your career in music seriously, just like you would any other career.
That means putting in the time to practice, to learn theory, and network with other musicians. Being a professional musician is a grind in the beginning, but for some, that grind never ends.
Invest In Your Tools
Musical instruments can be costly, but once you go professional, your instrument becomes a tool of your trade. You won’t see professional mechanics using cheap tools, just like you won’t see professional musicians using cheap instruments. Musical instrument enthusiasts from thesoundjunky.com argue that a quality instrument brings that finishing touch to a well-rounded musician’s sound. It’s a matter of giving yourself a tool, a conduit through which you can fully express your talent and your technical know-how.
If you know your instruments, you know that the main difference between a mid-range instrument and a top-tier one is in small things — little nuances that many people wouldn’t even pick up on. However, your peers, and most importantly you, would definitely pick up on them. Get yourself quality tools if you want to be a good musician.
Practice, Don’t Noodle
There are many factors to becoming a good musician. You have to be creative, to see music from your own unique angle. However, you also need to be technically proficient. Whatever instrument you’re playing, you have to master every single major technique and maybe come up with some of your own.
Many rock stars and famous musicians lack the latter but have an incredibly strong creative side. That can slide in their world. When you’re a professional musician, you are rarely called in to write music. More often than not, you’re called in to play a piece that someone has already put together. That isn’t to say that your creative side won’t be challenged from time to time.
To achieve the level of technical proficiency, you need to practice — a lot. Noodling is a term that comes from the guitar world, which represents messing around on guitar and thinking you’re practicing. In other words, playing short phrases from your favorite songs, messing around with pentatonic scales, etc.
That’s not practicing. If you’re a guitar player, practicing is grinding scales in various keys on various positions, doing uncomfortable spider exercises until your fingers go numb, learning the theory of music, and learning how to apply it. There are so many things you need to do in order to become proficient.
Timing is Everything
Music is all about time. Being punctual, i.e. being able to keep tempo is arguably the most important and often the most difficult skill to master. The best bass players aren’t the Victor Wooten wannabes who slap their way through every section. No, the best bass players are those who can play a simple bass line for 10 minutes straight without dropping out of sync with the rest of the band.
Sure, the best possible deal is to get a Victor Wooten-type player who is on point, but such musicians are rare. To become such a master of your instrument, you need to practice with a metronome.
A metronome is an essential tool that can’t be replaced. Using it is the only way to stop yourself from slipping ever so slightly out of sync as you practice. Get a good metronome and use it whenever you practice.
Everyone has their tastes as far as music goes. Some people enjoy classical pieces while others get their kicks off during a heavy metal breakdown. Being a professional means that you won’t always get to play the music you enjoy the most. Actually, you could niche down to a single genre or subgenre, but don’t expect too much work until your name becomes famous among all ranks within said genre.
It’s much better to be flexible and open to genres of music you aren’t necessarily familiar with. Not only will you get more work that way, but you’ll become a better musician as well! You can use this new knowledge to promote your own brand among audiences you weren’t familiar with before.
Be Business Savvy
Last but not least, you need to understand that being a professional musician means that you’re a one-person business. You’ll need to network with other professionals within your niche, establish business relations with all the big players, and generally work your way up through the structure of your industry. Being business-savvy is one of the most important, yet often overlooked aspects of being a professional musician.
Discipline Above All
Discipline is a key skill for professional musicians. The only way you’ll accomplish your goals is to do the work and pay your dues. There will be a lot of practice, a lot of grinding, working odd jobs you may not enjoy and deal with people you won’t necessarily like. However, at the end of the day, all that work will pay off.