How to be a savvy traveling artist

As performing artists we often have to travel to and from gigs at our own expenses. Unfortunately it often means that we loose one or two weeks salary in the process.

We all know that the price of plane tickets change on a regular basis and it's hard to know if we are getting a good deal or if we should just wait a few more days to get a better one.

Here comes a very handy tool to solve that problem: farecast. Simply put in your travel destinations and dates of travel, and on top of giving you the usual rates, the website will also give you a price predictor.

The price predictor tells you whether the tickets will most rise, drop or stay steady. Even more important, it tells you the percentage at which they believe their prediction is at. So it may say: 68% chance that the prices will drop, or 75% chance that the prices will increase. Not only that, the website will also tell you how much of an expected drop or increase the prices will go!

Unless you are buying at the last minute and have no other choice than to purchase your tickets right away, this is really a wonderful tool to help you get to your gigs as cheap as possible!

What are your tricks for traveling cheaply? Do you have to travel much for your art?



The one thing to do when you meet new people

When you work as a freelance performer, you have to meet tons of new people all the time. You are interviewed over the phone by people you've never met, you have to collaborate with people you've never worked with before, and you are constantly making first impressions.

Here is the one thing to do to ensure a successful start for each new relationship.

Assume Rapport.

Act as if you already have a good relationship with the person. Go into each first meeting as if you were meeting a really good friend. You will avoid over-thinking which would make the conversation stiff and awkward. You will be more spontaneous and relaxed, which will make the other person that way also.

What is YOUR strategy to having a successful first meeting?



The 3 rules to achieving anything

An article from the Harvard Business Review talks about the three conditions needed for you to succeed. One of them is not as common knowledge as the others!
  1. You want to achieve it
  2. You believe that you can achieve it
  3. You enjoy trying to achieve it
 It is the third rule of achievement that is most often overlooked! If you are a performing artist you most certainly live for being on the stage, but do you enjoy all the other things that come before getting there?
  • Audition over and over for a part
  • Practice
  • Do business stuff: take headshots, make business cards, build a website, make flyers, etc.
  • Rehearse
  • Make recordings for competitions, jobs, grants, etc.
Whatever it is that you have to spend a lot of time doing before getting to where you want to be, you have to enjoy it. Otherwise, you won't do as much of it, and you will wonder why even though you want to achieve it and you believe that you can achieve it, you're not actually achieving it.

Picture from http://smallbusiness.uprinting.com/achieve-your-goals/


Where are you on that career ladder?

There is no career ladder for freelance artists. Don't search for one. Here is why.
  1. A Higher Position? As artists we work a thousand jobs at a time, some long terms, some short term. You may get to a higher position at one of your jobs (manager of the school of music you teach at), while staying at the same position at the others.

    Also, many jobs simply do not have anywhere higher for you to go. If you're the concertmaster at your local orchestra, or the conductor of a choir, you're pretty much already there unless you move on to a better orchestra or a better choir.

  2. More respect from your peers? Most people get respect from working with the same people for years, and from their results proving their worth over time. As gigging musicians, we constantly work with different people, which means that you may be respected somewhere and not somewhere else.

  3. More money? Hahaha, who are we kidding here? Fact is, it's not that we don't make money, it's just that we make very different money depending on the gig.

    So in one single day, you can go from teaching one hour in the morning at $40, to an afternoon three-hour orchestra call for $90, to a cocktail gig at night for $130 an hour. How much you get paid isn't connected to your value.
 Knowing that you can't count on a career ladder for your career moves means a few things for you.
  1. Do not take a job that is not what you want, hoping that it will lead to the job you do want. For example, do not work front-of-house hoping it will lead you to an actor gig at the same company.
  2. Do not turn down a $40 gig because the one you got yesterday paid you $70. Gigs just don't pay the same. 


How to get paid

If you work freelance and deal with individuals instead of companies, it can sometimes get awkward to ask for your money.

Turns out that there is an easy way: invoices.

The old-school invoice is on a little piece of paper that you give your customers at the end of a session, but those don't look so professional anymore.

The best way to do this nowadays is online, on free websites like Billing Boss.
  1. You get to create a list of customers, so all the info stays on the database and never have to enter the info ever again. 
  2. You get to send invoices straight from the website to your customer's email, or save it as a PDF, with options of professional looking styles and fonts (including your logo if you have one). 
  3. The great thing then is that instead of having to keep track of a bunch of papers (or not send invoices and struggle to get paid), the website keeps track for you of who you sent invoices to, what due date you wrote down, and whether people did pay you or not. So it's a great system to keep track of people you need to contact again for payment. 
  4. The website also saves all invoices sent so you can always go back and take a look if you think you've made a mistake or if you're in disagreement with someone. 
  5. You can also create a tax report relating to your invoices right on there. 
It's a win-win because you even help your clients in keeping track of expenses for their budget and taxes! 

Those websites are great because they're free, they avoid you having a possibly uneasy conversation, they keep you organized and they make you look very professional.

Picture from http://www.btdtsolutions.com/brokers401k/getpaid.htm


Should you ever play for free?

Musicians should never play for free, and here's why.
  1. It lowers the overall pricing of our industry: most people can't tell much of the difference between good players and great players, therefore between free players and paid players.

    So many people ask musicians to play for free, disguising the offer by saying that it's in exchange of exposure or food. The more of us say yes to free gigs, the more the rest of us have to lower our prices to stay competitive.

    By the time musicians are tired of doing free work, it's too late, the rates have already gone down, and employers don't even consider paying money for musicians anymore. Get paid when you play, period.

  2. It never brings up better opportunities as we hope it would: this links again to the fact that many places try to get you to play for free by telling you that you'll have exposure, whether through allowing you to put your business card near by, distribute flyers, or play for industry professionals.

    Let's face it, people are not gonna grab your business card if you don't give it to them, and if important people are gonna be at the event, the event planners will want to make sure they get the best musicians, and they'll know that the best musicians come at a cost.

    And who would ever think that you're worth anything if you play for free? No one.

  3. We get taken advantage of: sometimes we think we can say yes for a good cause, let's say a charity event with a not-for-profit event. The event is in a hall and they have food, which is served by waiters.

    Well now let's think for a second: is the hall for free? Is the food for free? Are the waiters for free? No they're not, and so, why should the artists be for free? They shouldn't.

  4. We're already poor enough, thank you: Even when we do get paid, it's often not that much anyways. So we have to work tons of hours to make ends meet, if we even manage to make ends meet playing our instrument only.

    So playing for free takes away three things we deserve big time: paid music gigs, paid non-music jobs, and free time. 
When you play for free you not only screw yourself up, you also screw all the other musicians up. Fight the urge. Don't do it.

Picture from http://cashtactics.net/02/09/free-ppc-mentoring-apply-now.html 


Who do you compare yourself to?

My pianist friend Evangelos Spanos told me one day that as tempting as it is to compare yourself with the people around you, the only people you should compare yourself to are your idols.

If you realize that you are not as good as your idols, you won't feel awful about your ability, and you won't wonder if you'll ever make it. It might however push you to raise the bar to a higher level.

It's too easy comparing yourself to the people in your program at your school, or in your direct professional environment.

Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/thebusybrain/2492945625/


19 jobs for pianists

There are so many job options available for pianists that it's very easy to forget some of the options at times!
  1. Teach piano: teaching is the easy part. Now you've got to make sure you cover all your basis for employment: universities, colleges, music schools, private studio, church music education group, group classes, YMCA, in school after school programs, piano camps and piano festivals.

  2. Accompanying: It ranges from playing one rehearsal to playing weekly lessons. You can do a few rehearsals and then play juries and recitals, or offer your services for festivals, competitions, and recordings. 

  3. Ballet accompaniment: vast range of options here too, with playing for ballet classes, professional ballet companies or dance departments of universities. You could be asked to play classical music, jazz or both.  

  4. Choirs: The best resource to play for choirs is ChoralNet. There are choirs in churches, universities, community groups, YMCA, elementary schools, high schools, etc. Gigs vary from playing every rehearsals and concerts to doing only the dress rehearsal and the concert.

  5. Cruise ship: There are lots of jobs for pianists on a cruise ship, ranging from playing lounge music, playing and singing, to playing with a big band, accompanying guest artists, or playing for musicals.

  6. Cocktail parties: Weddings, Christmas parties, Hanukkah parties, office parties, engagement parties, etc. You name it it exists! The way to get them is either to find the gig yourself, or put your name on musicians' lists, or to be attached with a parties service company that would give your name out, or to work regularly with a hotel, manor, restaurant, etc.

  7. Band: bands ask mainly for keyboard players. If you come from a classical background remember that you can make money playing in bands. The gigs range from a three to four members group playing in bars, to a full big band doing event work every weekend night.

  8. Amusement park: Pianists are mainly asked to play for one show, usually between a half hour to an hour long, multiple times a day. Find out more about this here.

  9. Comedy improv shows: there are a lot of improv comedy shows out there that need pianists, whether for songs here and there, or for an improv musical. If you want to know more about what your role is in an improv show, check my previous post about it here 

  10. Piano bars: Some will want you to play background music, others will want you to play and sing, with repertoire varying from songs from the 60s, all the way up to our days. You could also have to play for open mic nights, or to play with waiters singing. The most frequent is dueling piano, where you perform with another pianist and sometimes a drummer, with one or the two of you singing.

  11. Lounge gigs: this is the classier and non-singing version of doing piano bars. Depending on the place you may have to play from memory or not. This could be a one time thing, or you may do it regularly once a month or every Saturday, or you could do a few evenings per week every week. Depending on the place you may get tips either directly or have a share with the rest of the staff, or work on a stipend. 

  12. Church gigs: those jobs vary greatly from full time music director to playing only services, and anywhere in between. You could be asked to play piano and organ, to decide what to play or to be told exactly what to do. As a church pianist you will also be asked to play for weddings and funerals on a regular service.

  13. Solo recitals: the competition is so fierce to be a solo pianist that we forget that solo recitals can be an option too! Libraries, museums, churches and other institutions offer monthly music series. You can also produce your own concerts by finding a place and market the concert yourself.

  14. Chamber music: this could be as serious as a full time thing or be something you can put together for a client who wants more than just a pianist for their event. As for solo recitals, music series are great to target, particularly if you give them the option of performing alone or with a formation.

  15. Orchestra: yes, we forget that one too because it's so rare that there are piano parts in some orchestra works! Facts are, some orchestras hire full time pianists, while others hire pianists on a contract basis. 

  16. Operas: operas productions always rehearse with a rehearsal pianist because of the cost of hiring the whole orchestra, and because the conductor needs to be conducting! If there is a piano part in the orchestra you may be asked to do it as well. You may also be asked to do subtitles during the show.

  17. Musicals: musical theatre productions use pianists in many different ways. You could be a rehearsal pianist, be the show's main pianist, play sound patches on keyboard 1 or 2, or be a music director.

  18. Dinner Theatres: The main difference between dinner theaters and playing for other musicals is the consistency of it once you're in. Most dinner theaters work year round, and many of them offer full time with health benefits for pianists.There seems to be a lot of it particularly in Florida.

  19. Military: Read this to know more about the options, but in short, the best gigs are in the Navy, the Air Force and even better, any Premiere band. Those are real full time jobs with amazing benefits. You could be asked to play a lot of different styles of music, from classical, rock, jazz, to military music of course.

    Picture from http://www.wyevalleymusic.org.uk/memb_benefits.html 
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