Quitting Your Day Job: Working Pro Musicians Offer Their Tips for Making it in Music

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A panel of professional musicians weigh in on what it takes to make the leap from garage jams and bedroom concertos to real venues, playing for real people.

Do you picture yourself on stage when you're jamming on the guitar with your friends? How about working up the courage to play at your local bar? Do you dream about quitting your day job and becoming a full-time musician?

Whether you are just in it for the fun, or you're serious about becoming the next Jimi Hendrix, we asked a group of working pros for the tips you need to succeed as a musician. Follow their advice and you could soon be playing for a bigger audience than just your dog!

Runnin’ down your dream

East Cameron Folkcore
Photo: Tyson Heder

Jesse Moore believes that when it comes to making music, the more the merrier! Jesse is part of a ten-piece (sometimes more!) folk-rock collective called East Cameron Folkcore. This Austin, Texas group—named after the neighborhood they come from—was featured by MTV Hive, American Songwriter, and more.

When we caught up with Jesse, he shared his philosophy about being a musician: In order to succeed, you need to keep your motivation right.

Play music because you love it and because you feel the need to have to play music, not because you want to score chicks or make money. Have something to say and say it with heart. Be an innovator and not an imitator.

But what about the logistics of being in a band, especially with a number of different people that may have clashing personalities? How important is having a band contract?

I’ve been in bands for almost 10 years, and none of them ever had a band contract. They are necessary at a certain point in one’s career, but when you’re starting out they are not important. If you can’t trust the people that you're playing music with, then there’s a lack of love involved, and love, friendship, and family are the most important and enduring qualities for a long-lasting band.

Surround yourself with people you trust, and don't forget the reason you started in the first place. Your love of music will keep moving you forward.

Takin’ care of business

Mark Weiser

Mark Weiser is a human jukebox. A champion on Fox's popular TV show, Don't Forget the Lyrics, and professional entertainer, Mark has thousands of songs in his head. Mark was the highest grossing piano entertainer with Carnival Cruise Lines, and currently runs the Shake Rattle and Roll dueling piano shows in New York.

As a musician and business man, Mark emphasizes the importance of being both in order to be successful.

It's an old cliche, but it's true. The music business is definitely a business. It's not enough to devote yourself to the craft of music and excel at that. To be a working musician, you must also develop your business skills, so that you may fully promote your art.

Mark goes on to say the best way to promote yourself in this day and age is with a great, dynamic website to showcase your talent.

No one will ever be a better promoter of your music then you will be. Devote as much time to understanding the business of music as you do the art of music.

Even if you get signed to a label, it's crucial that you know the how to market yourself. Sometimes it's the most challenging part of the job, but it will be worth it.

Give yourself away

MUG$ Amillion

Rapper MUG$ Amillion (born LeErnest Evans) has been a skilled performer since the age of nine. Surviving a rough childhood, and some mistakes that landed him him juvenile detention, MUG$ never lost his passion for lyrics and rhythm. He picked himself up, and graduated cum laude at his technology school, studying music business. MUG$ has won four Nashville Independent Music Awards, and is now a respected ghost writer for several artists and producers in Nashville.

MUG$ has this advice for beginning musicians: Make your fans a priority.

Connect with the true fans that you have and the markets [in which] they are located. Don't be so eager to charge for gigs in the beginning. Donating your talent to venues will build a relationship with them that will soon open up paid gigs in the long run. It's all about being seen and heard by the people, and letting them spread the word about you as a performer.

And often your biggest fans are the friends and family you already have. Connections with people are a great way to start touring.

Be wise in tour planning by choosing cities where you have family members and friends.This will come in handy for budgets for lodging and food (a couple of the things that you can surely skimp on).

Think about what you would want from your favorite artist as a fan, and try to do that—within reason. Your fans are your biggest asset.

If you want to sing out, sing out

Miqael Persson Hicks

Miqael Persson, who performs as Hicks, grew up in Sweden with the dream of becoming a successful country musician. Even when people told Hicks there was no market for country singers outside of the United States, he proved them wrong, winning "Best European Country Act of the Year" at the British CMAs. Hicks got to represent Sweden at the CMA Fest in Nashville, and his songs have played on thousands of radio stations all over the world.

Hicks shared some advice with us from his own journey to success.

Don't take no for an answer. Don't let naysayers and haters get you down. Stay true to who you are. Find your own sound, so when someone hears your song they know that's your song—that YOUR sound comes across. Be inspired by others, but do your own thing.

Hicks is an inspiring singer, proving that with hard work and an attitude that never stops fighting, anyone can be a successful musician!

You just might find you get what you need

Ash Wednesday

Despite the changing culture full of Auto-Tune fakery and free music downloads, rock band Ash Wednesday believes that people will always be moved by seeing live shows. This band’s members grew up in the same small town, and share the belief in the importance of genuine music. Ash Wednesday's message: "We're all in this together, and everything is going to be all right."

We caught up with Ash Wednesday's drummer, Daylan Kinser, to see what kind of tips he would offer musicians just starting out.

The biggest tip we would give beginning bands is to always be open to constructive criticism. Honing your skills as a songwriter should be as important as your skill at an instrument, and even the toughest criticism can help you to approach your music in a new way and inspire growth.

As difficult as criticism may be to hear, it can often help you grow as a musician.

Be who you are

Erin Ivey

Erin Ivey of Austin, Texas, is considered, "one of the city's biggest critical successes," according to a local radio station. Her folky, jazz-inspired vocals have earned her recognition, and the opportunity to play shows nationwide—opening for acts like Norah Jones and Los Lobos.

We asked Erin for some of the marketing secrets that helped her establish her name in the biz.

The more people see your name/face/brand and hear your music, the more likely they will be to engage with it somehow. Think about all the ways you can reach people—in print, online, radio, television, mailing list, etc.—and reach out consistently.

According to Erin, the most important piece of advice she could give beginning musicians, is to not compare yourself with others.

Try not to judge your life or success against anyone else's. Everybody has their own creative journey and no one has a perfect life. Honor your authentic individuality, and keep your head above the clouds.

When you hear Erin's sultry, beautiful singing, you know she has acted on her own advice and fashioned her own unique sound.

With a little help from your (Facebook) friends

Tae Brooks

Sixteen-year-old Tae Brooks started as a background vocalist for artists in his parent's garage when he was only ten. Tae worked with his family of songwriters and producers on his own urban-pop sound, which he released on his YouTube channel in 2010. His videos quickly became successful, with millions of views. Tae also does voice-overs for Disney, and released his debut EP in September, 2014.

Tae may be young, but he knows success—much of which wouldn't be possible without social media.

Of course social media plays a huge role. It can be hard to predict which of the social media sites will work best for you. Some of it is trial and error. I suggest you secure your name on most social networks whether you are currently using a site or not. Consistency is important to establishing your brand.

Keeping a good connection with fans online is important, as well as keeping up with what sites and apps are relevant.

You have to stay in tune with those changes and adapt accordingly. Right now I mainly use Twitter to stay in touch and Instagram to show what I’m doing.

Many musicians are building a fan base and getting discovered on YouTube. Setting up a channel for your music couldn’t hurt, and it might just lead to the big break you’ve been hoping for.

Come on, express yourself

Making it in the music industry requires a lot of balance: Be a musician and a businessperson. Love what you do, but work hard at it. Care about your fans, but promote yourself.

Successful musicians realize it is both about art, and the logistics of making it all happen. Striking that balance will help you become a better musician, gain a loyal following, and start your journey to a musical career.


# the muse 2014-09-27 08:07
This is an excellent article filled with several useful tips. I appreciate with MUG$ Amillion said about traveling. I will be sure to explain this to my artists when they are booked in places we cannot afford to stay in.

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