Want a Music Career? You Need to Ask For Help.

combinedeffort

Guest Post by Matthew Sullivan:

Hey everyone,

I have good news and bad news.

Let’s Start With the Bad

There was once a day when practicing regularly, diligently, and with rigorous application of your mentor’s advice; was enough. It was enough to land you a niche as a performing, gigging musician.

That day is over.

The good news is that there is a new horizon in music. The old guard is losing its grip. There are new players and new rules. Best of all, there are already people making it work. They are fiercely optimistic, enjoying themselves, and making a comfortable living as musicians.

To live in this new world of citizen-musicians (to borrow a phrase from my mentor, Richard Kessler), requires a bit more than being able to play down a list of excerpts. And exactly what it takes to make it in this new world is what I want talk about with you.

Making It Work

I recently was talking to a friend of mine who really wanted to know how to get on tours. I told him that I was connected to a few folks who had toured extensively; one guy with the Monkees, and another with David Byrne. I offered to put him in touch with these folks, because frankly I know nothing about getting on a tour.

His reaction was priceless: “No offense, but that’s fake. If I can’t get on a good tour just based on my playing, then I shouldn’t be in this business. I’m not going to schmooze my way in.”

This is when you just walk away. These people can’t be helped.

Not surprisingly, these are the people on the verge of giving it all up. The ones considering rekindling their passion for statistics in hopes of a better future. Unfortunately, once this guy finishes his MBA, he’ll still be afraid of asking for help, and he’ll still be in a position of no growth.

Had he not been so stubborn and set in his ways, here is what I would have told him:

If you want to pay your student loans when you finish school; if you want to avoid taking a job at Starbucks upon graduation; if you want to step immediately into a career as a musician, you need to ask for help. There are people out there making it work, and they asked for help too.

I don’t understand why people are so afraid to do this. It boggles my mind.

As I was finishing school, I reached out to everyone and anyone I could: People in orchestras, people on Broadway, organists, conductors, teachers, and administrators. Many of them I didn’t know. Most were friends of friends.

How to Reach Out

While a lot of people I reached out to were too busy to see me, not one of them was rude or taken aback by my simple request: “Can I take you out for a cup of coffee and pick your brain about how you’ve made it work as a musician?”

I asked about 10 people in the span of my last semester in school. More than half said yes, and I learned things that I NEVER would have figured out on my own.

Incidentally, one of those people was Tuxedo Revolt’s own John Morgan Bush. We now have regular brain-picking sessions. We go back and forth, sharing ideas, offering suggestions, looking for areas where we can collaborate. We’ve both shared with one another our most precious resources, and both of us have benefited immensely from doing so.

It is so easy to reach out and ask for help. But there is one caveat: Don’t be an idiot.

For example…

  • If you reach out to an organist to learn more about getting wedding gigs (hey, some people like that kind of work), DON’T BRING YOUR INSTRUMENT. You asked to pick their brain, not to audition for them.
  • Remember, you are the one asking for help. They are the more important, busier party. Even if they aren’t, pretend they are. Be flexible. Offer to meet at their convenience.
  • If you want to be an orchestral violinist, there are a ton of people who can help you. Glenn Dicterow might be one of them, but more likely that 26 year old gal in the middle of the section will have more relevant advice. Think outside the box. Often the people we think have nothing to offer us end up having the most.

What would a guest post be without a call to action? So here it is: Step out of your comfort zone today and send an email to one person whose brain you’d like to pick. Don’t be lazy and email me just because you’re reading my post, or I will slap you!

If you have questions about…

  • How to frame your message
  • What to ask when you finally do get to take someone out to coffee for a brain picking session
  • How to take a simple coffee meeting to the next level

…Then John Morgan might be a great first person to contact. The guy is brilliant. He lives with his hand out, pulling up those who are making the climb to the summit.

Without an ecology of musicians around you, (friends, peers, mentors, mentees) your progress will be drastically stunted. So reach out and start building your ecosystem right now..

Thanks for reading my guest post, and as John Morgan says…”stay tuned”.

–Matt

About Matthew Sullivan: I’m a freelance trumpeter and music educator living and working in New York City. I write a blog for Fairfield School of Music, covering topics of interest to young musicians and their parents. You can reach me at blogs.fsm@gmail.com. I check my email everyday so send me a message and I’ll get back to you asap. I won’t really slap you.

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