This is a continuation of last week’s subject on starting and maintaining a professional music career…

9. Do the considerable office work.

Although making promo materials and doing your own booking are a kind of “office work”, they’re not all there is. It’s essential to know that there is no way around doing the office work; no shortcut. A music career is self-employment, and one must be a good businessperson to keep it viable. Plan to spend several hours a week in your office.

  • Keep good records of everything  –  contact info for gig venues, your performance schedule, info on past gigs and the dates of them, your instrument insurance, repertoire lists, financial records, and everything else pertaining to your career.
  • Writing thank-you notes is a must. If you don’t send them, you might not get invited back to the venue, the house you stayed at, or whatever you need to thank people for. An e-mail isn’t enough; a real note on a real note card in a real envelope is the civilized way to do it.
  • Your phone will get a lot of use as you do your booking calls and work out logistics with organizers. Big phone bills should be in your budget plans.
  • Speaking of budgets, it’s a good idea to develop one. Estimate expenses and income, then keep track of the actual figures, and adjust accordingly.
  • Keep good financial records. The IRS will ask for every detail of your business income and expenses, and many of your expenses will be tax deductible (consult with a CPA on this). Income vs. expenses are your gauge of viability. I once knew a businessman who used cash a lot to avoid paying taxes, and didn’t keep track. Because of this he had no idea where his business stood financially, and eventually the business failed as a result. Keep your records accurate so you know where you stand and how to plan. If you have no idea how to do this, take some adult-education business courses.

I used to wish the desk work would go away until I realized that if it did, it would mean I had no gigs coming up. A busy office means a busy career. If you love your music enough to make it your career, you’ll welcome the office work.

10.  Dress well and look your best.

It’s amazing how many musicians ignore this one. Folk and traditional musicians in particular tend to say, “It’s my music that counts, not how I look.” But there is a simple psychological fact at play: people develop their main impression of you within the first five seconds of seeing you, and they wee you before they hear your music. That first impression can be hard to overcome if it’s negative. So why not make it positive?

11. Smile a lot and treat everyone with kindness and respect. ‘Nuff said.

12. Have a lot of patience when gigs don’t go as planned.

A perfect gig is rare. Usually you end up dealing with bad sound systems, bad weather, grumbly people, broken strings, or a million other annoyances which, if you consider them annoyances, will really get to you. In reality they just come with the territory. Keeping your good humor about it makes life easier, and then when there is a truly perfect gig, it’s a happy surprise.

A band I know had a showcase at a music convention, but only one person showed up to hear them. They played the set as though they had a full house. Afterward, he introduced himself; he was an agent and he booked them on the spot for a well-paid tour in Japan.

13. Don’t give yourself any alternatives to fall back on (such as day jobs).

It’s true what they say: if you have a goal and you also give yourself alternatives in case it doesn’t work out, all you’ll ever achieve is the alternatives. If you aim to do music full-time, working up to it has to culminate somewhere. If you just leave it to fate and figure you’ll know when the time is right, you might never realize that the time is right when you decide it is.

14. Plan Your Travel Logistics.

If you decide to go on tour, do the math first to decide on your best modes of travel and lodging. Your options are air, rail or road travel, and your lodging options are hotels/motels, billeting (staying at peoples’ homes), or (if you have pets or multiple or large instruments, or sleep best in your own bed) you may want to travel in a motorhome. Compare the costs of each.

You can live in a motorhome year round if you set up your tours to follow weather patterns. No kidding. If you don’t need to go home to someplace between gigs or trips, you can actually live comfortably in a motor home, even a small one, spending your winters in the southern tropical or desert climates (I know from experience that living in a motorhome in the winter is no fun), and your summers in temperate states. There is a whole set of skills you’ll learn very quickly for motorhome living and driving, and for some of us it’s worth it. Just know how many miles per gallon your vehicle gets!

Air travel, motels or billeting can be viable if you need to go home between gigs or groups of gigs. Be sure to check out airline regulations for your instruments, and be aware that these change often with the whims of the FAA and the moods of airline personnel.

I’ve done all of the above, and each has its good points and bad. The negatives of motorhome travel were that I spent long hours driving, and since I was not relying on being hosted in private homes I didn’t get to know people as well. On the other hand, there were some private homes that were, uh, challenging to stay in. Such as the one where the carpet in my bedroom consisted of two inches of matted-down dog fur  –  literally. And it wasn’t an art project. Most homes, however, were quite delightful and the hosts very gracious.

The down-sides of air travel are well known, including the occasional smashed instrument.

15. Take Only the Gigs Where You feel Welcome

If you talk to an organizer who is less than enthused (“Well, I dunno, no one knows who you are…”), just cross them off your list. It’s not worth it to try to prove yourself to someone. You need your concert promoters to believe in you wholeheartedly; if your promo materials have not convinced them, nothing will. A promoter’s enthusiasm translates into good promotion, which brings a good audience. Nay-sayers just create failures.

16. Give the promoter enough information to do good publicity.

You don’t need to have a big reputation as long as the people in charge are willing to do good publicity. Yes, at good venues the concert organizer should do the publicity, using your promo materials and perhaps adding opinion or revue-based touches.

It’s a publicist’s job to promote you in an enticing way (not just list your name on their schedule). I think one of the best publicity articles I ever saw was early in my career when the Tucson newspaper announced my upcoming concert with this headline: “Womanworks Gallery Pulls a Coup: Laurie Riley Coming to Tucson”. I was a complete unkown at the time, and it made me wonder if there was something I didn’t know about myself! Now THAT’S publicity. The concert had standing room only.

The other side of the coin is that just about anyone can verbally exaggerate their accomplishments and draw a crowd, but if you can’t back up your promises, word gets around. I did my utmost to make sure I could back up any promise made about my skills.


If anyone ever says a music career is glamorous, they’re lying. Expect many years of really hard work, and many long hours of practice and travel. If you love sharing your music, it’s worth it.