Don’t Make Money the Number One Objective—Learn To Wait

Posted on January 31, 2011 at 6:02 am by
in Being a Successful Entrepreneur

Presumably you’ve chosen music because you love it and can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. But, on the off chance that you are in music for the money, you’ve chosen the wrong profession. Sure, there are certain celebrity artists who make big, big money, but there is no doubt that the rank and file musician makes less money than the rank and file investment banker. Right out of college you probably won’t be buying that BMW.

Money can be a bad motivator for us if it takes precedence over our artistic standards. It has the potential to cause us to shift our focus off of quality and to take gigs just for the money. Good motivators, like developing a more secure technique or gaining a deeper understanding of the music we play, raise our level of musicianship. If you build your house on solid ground and put it up brick by brick, financial rewards will come. You will be noticed and people will be willing to pay you well for what you do. Careers are built over time. Of course certain events can occur that will catapult you forward or raise you to another level. You might get a new, more prestigious job or some of your works published, but by and large, after you have reached a level of excellence on your instrument, success in music is achieved by slow and steady work as you acquire knowledge and experience

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Act Like a Business

Posted on January 24, 2011 at 6:53 am by
in Running a Successful Business--You, Inc.
Tags: ,

You, Inc. is a business, so you need to act like one. You should look as professional as possible. This includes everything from business cards to websites. I was just out of college and someone recommended me to do a little arrangement of a pop song. Not only did I have to arrange it for two or three horns, I also had to transcribe it from a recording. The composer was what is known in the jingle world as “a hummer.” But that’s another chapter in itself—people who “write songs” but don’t read, write or for that matter play music. Anyway, I did the job. We recorded it and everyone was happy, so the composer asked me to send him a bill—an invoice. I went to music school. I didn’t remember the subject of “invoicing the client” in my 8:00 a.m. theory class. The point is, in business, when services have been rendered, you bill them. This provides a written record of the job and allows your client to pay you. It also helps you keep your records straight. An invoice doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it’s something You, Inc. will need.

Clients like to feel confident that you know what you are doing. When I first began doing radio and television contracting for national accounts, I immediately contacted the union and became signatory to every agreement that I could. If I was going to operate in that arena I had to know, or have access to, the rules.

One more thing: now that you’re a professional get rid of that email address that seemed so clever in high school. Your PookeyPuppy handle doesn’t make it anymore. The same is true for the greeting on your answering machine. Your precocious daughter singing Old MacDonald doesn’t cut it. Make sure the photos that strangers can access on any social network to which you may belong are not questionable. Use common sense and remember your brand. Protect it—and yourself.

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Unions Are a Musician’s Friend

Posted on January 19, 2011 at 12:37 pm by
in Being a Professional

This past spring I received an email signed by a dozen or so Eastman students. It was sent to Eastman School jazz students and faculty. This group had met out of frustration. It seems that within the student jazz community at Eastman, there has not been much discussion or communication between them about how to contract gigs, or for that matter how much to charge. This had resulted in a wide range of prices charged for the same type of work, and as a result there has been a considerable amount of unintentional undercutting going on. Some bands were not rehired to play at certain clubs because another group would play for less. The musicians who met and drafted the email proposed several minimum wage scales. It occurred to me that they were, in effect, forming a union.

This is what unions do. They establish minimum pay rates and working conditions. They help organize and protect the musicians. They have standardized contracts, and if an employer tries to renege on paying, the union will stand behind the musicians. The other major function of a union is to gain legal representation on behalf of a group of workers (read: employees), and then negotiate directly with the employer on their behalf. Examples of this are orchestra contracts, contracts with specific performance venues, and various recording agreements such as: Sound Recordings, Industrial Films, Theatrical Motion Picture, Television Film, Basic Cable Television, Commercial Announcements and National Public Radio

Unions help take the “Wild West,” every man for himself, mind-set out of the mix. One often hears the comment, “What has the union done for me? They haven’t given me any work.” That could be true, but the union’s job is not to hand out work. It is to protect its members from what I just described.

Now, there can be great variation between locals in their effectiveness and service to the rank and file, but in general, I think unions are good. I have a nice little pension due to the recording work I have done, and I have good working conditions in the orchestra in which I play. For a professional musician, unless you are a soloist, most of the “good work” is union work.


Musicians Can Now Sell Directly on Facebook With This New App

Posted on January 15, 2011 at 8:15 am by
in Technology
Tags: ,

If you have a band and are trying to get your name around, Moontoast might be something to consider.  They’ve come up with an app that allows musicians to connect with their fans and sell directly on Facebook.  Check out the article here:

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Do Your Own Thing, Then Figure Out How To Get Paid For It

Posted on January 2, 2011 at 8:38 am by
in Being a Professional
Tags: ,

I once was invited to be part of a panel discussion at the International Trombone Association’s annual convention. The subject was orchestra opportunities for trombonists. When I arrived at the venue, I looked at the sessions and concerts that had gone on in previous days, and I saw that a sackbut quartet had given a concert the night before. (The sackbut is a precursor to the modern trombone and dates from the fourteenth century.) I thought to myself, “What is that all about? Those guys must get together once a year and haul out their sackbuts and jam. They can’t make any money at it!” I voiced this thought to the trombonist friend of mine who invited me to the conference, and to my surprise at the time (but not now in retrospect) I learned that those guys are in demand all over the world! They were on their way to Europe right after the conference. They are doing their own thing. Their music is too specific to do it full-time in Des Moines or Denver or even New York City, but they apparently dominate the sackbut world market, and they do very well playing the music they love, on these old instruments, for lots of people.

Think about Bella Fleck or Jake Shimabukuro—banjo and ukulele virtuosi, respectively. They have taken their particular instruments and put them into musical contexts that were previously unimagined. The lesson for me is to do your thing, very well, and then figure out how to get to the audience that wants to hear you and is willing to pay for it. It’s not that big a stretch if you are very, very good.

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Hello, World

Posted on January 2, 2011 at 8:33 am by
in Being a Professional, Uncategorized

It’s the first week of 2011 and this is the start of my new blog, Street-Wise Lesson of the Week. Many of the posts that you will read here in the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years, will come from my new book, Lessons From a Street-Wise Professor: What You Won’t Learn at Most Music Schools, but there will be lots of new lessons too. I hope that some of them will hit home and resonate with you. For you high school students just thinking about a career in music, these posts may open your eyes to the musical world before you. For college students, they may help you fine-tune your career path and get you thinking about other options you might have in the music profession. And for professionals already in the business, this blog might remind you of why you decided on a career in music in the first place. In any case, I hope you will find these lessons helpful and interesting reading.

Ramon Ricker

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