5 Qualities of Successful Freelance Musicians, or How to Love Your Work

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Money tipsWe often talk about what freelance musicians need to DO: make phone calls, send out contracts, talk to clients or potential employers, keep a music stand in the car. But the long list of tasks seems less daunting when you distill it and realize that there are habits and attitudes that you need to develop to be successful in the freelance market. It doesn’t matter whether you’re interested in playing for parties, dance clubs or the opera, the personal skills you need are the same.

This is not a checklist where you say, “I’m no good at that,” and give up on freelancing. This is a list to remind you of the habits you need to develop and ways you need to continue to grow personally. The more you attune yourself to this mindset, the more enjoyable and more profitable your freelance career will be, and the more you will love your work.

And your musical abilities have little to do with it.

The number one personal skill for a freelancer is organization. No surprise here. This is category includes everything from your calendar to your transportation to a performance. You need a reliable WRITTEN (digital is OK) system for keeping track of all the information pertaining to each job: date; place; time; contact name, phone number and email; music requests; fee; and more. WRITE IT DOWN! Don’t think you will remember to write it down later. Have your music organized so you can find it easily when you need it. Organization will create the mental space to let you play the music without worrying.

A close second to organization is personal integrity. Remember you are responsible to the people who hire you and the colleagues you work with. Return phone calls and emails within 24 hours. Arrive early to a rehearsal or performance. Fulfill your promises. Own your screw-ups (because they happen to us all, no matter how hard we try), and take action to remedy the situation, where possible.

Preparation follows naturally as number three. If you are organized and striving to be responsible, you will be prepared. There are lots of little details here, from practicing and gathering your music, to stocking your gig bag with a music stand and stand light. Don’t forget to look up directions to your job and check on the appropriate dress. More than just preparing for one particular job, you should prepare for the business of music too, with some kind of a web presence and business cards.

Next on my list is having a positive attitude. You don’t have to be Little Miss Sunshine, but you should remember that complainers and grumblers are less likely to be hired again. None of us are so wonderful that we are irreplaceable. Clients expect you to reflect, within reason, the mood of their event. And when you’re tempted to give a sarcastic reply to the guest that backed into you, remember that future clients are watching!

My number five is to keep an “abundance mentality.” It’s easy to feel afraid when you see an empty datebook, but there is work out there for those who go and get it. And we don’t have to take work from others to do it. There is much to be gained in the long run from being generous to your colleagues and helpful to your clients. Networking serves yourself and others and opens doors you didn’t know existed.

I am privileged to be a part of some very generous musical communities. I have wonderful colleagues whose support, artistry and friendship I value highly. I love my work. And I want you to love yours too!

Next step: how to get your clients to ask you back!

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  • Michelle Tucker

    Thank you so much for this information! I read this article at a very good time in my life. I graduated with a BM harp performance in May 2013 and moved away from my family and harp instructor when I got married. Now, I sometimes feel like I have been thrown out to the freelance world and don’t know where to begin! I have just recently been getting a pretty steady flow of gigs though, so things are looking up! This article helps me see some great points to remember and put into action in my everyday life. Thank you!
    I am currently trying to find the best way to stay ORGANIZED! I can’t seem to find a good system I like for organizing my music library, and staying on top of gig organization. Sometimes I am afraid I will accidentally bring the wrong music to a gig!
    If you would like an idea for another article, I’d love to read about how you stay ORGANIZED and what kind of system you use.
    Thank you Anne, your a huge inspiration!


    • Anne Sullivan

      Hi Michelle,
      It sounds like you’re doing very well with your new situation!

      Here’s a post I wrote a while back on organizing your music collection:
      It may be helpful you you. But I love your idea of organizing your gig music. That’s something I can definitely write about. Coming soon…

      Organizing your music; http://harpmastery.com/?p=329

      Thanks, Michelle!


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