Probably the scariest thing about going to music school to become a more competent musician is graduating and having to find a paying gig. The pressure is on to start repaying those student loans and prove to your friends and family that you haven't wasted the last four years of your life. While there are no surefire tips to take you from being a student to a celebrity, these seven invaluable tips will help set you and keep you on course for many years to come. Pay attention.
1. Locate yourself in the most opportune city to succeed
New technologies have made it more possible than ever for you to get discovered from virtually any part of the world. However, big cities are where the action is 24/7, and living in or near one is more likely to lead to networking opportunities and big auditions unavailable in small towns.
Research the city that makes the most sense to you given your goals, and then plan out a short visit. Utilize your school's resources (such as the alumni outreach department) to get a few numbers of people who may be willing to meet up with you and provide some advice. Attend jam sessions. Visit the local musicians' unions. Thoroughly check out the scene. Just don't rush your decision. Once you move to a new city for your career, you should prepare to stay there and put in the work for several years.
2. Prepare for the long haul by becoming financially sound
Whether it's New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, or somewhere else, there are countless stories about people who move to the big city and give themselves six months to "make it" while living on their friends' couches. Needless to say, that's a completely unrealistic plan.
Be prepared – both financially and mentally – to spend several years pursuing your goals. Look for work immediately to help cover your basic expenses and settle in by joining a local songwriters' organization or networking group that will bring you a sense of belonging. Just remember that success won't happen overnight, so be prepared for the long haul.
3. Bridge long-term goals with short-term goals
While finding work to meet expenses is crucial, stay as close to the music business as you can. Look for music-related opportunities such as private instruction, music transcription for educational books, equipment sales, equipment repair, or even stage production.
Who would have ever thought that one of my buddies would end up with a huge touring gig by setting up and moving equipment for SIR studios in Los Angeles? A band was holding auditions there one night and his boss and the music director were cool with him giving it a shot. He nailed the audition and his career took off from there. Moving gear wasn't fun, but it paid off.
4. Don't lose touch with your college friends
Remember that the majority of the work you do will be based on word-of-mouth recommendations. The genuine relationships you form today can lead to the gigs of tomorrow.
After graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston, I got hired to play weddings by my former teachers with whom I kept in touch. Within one year, I got hired onto my first pro session in New York City by two college buddies that I contacted all the time – this gig led to joining a band on Atlantic Records. Bingo! I was in!
Today, I run into friends from school all the time who are playing with some of the biggest rock groups and working on the biggest films. We still all help each other out in small ways. Remember that connections are one of the biggest reasons why people invest in school.
5. Create your own destiny by being proactive
While keeping in touch with your college buds is paramount and can one day lead to work, don't think that it's enough to sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Be proactive. Take charge! If you're a songwriter who wants to get a publishing deal and get your music placed in commercials and games, try going directly to local business owners first.
When I first graduated from school and was trying my hand at everything, some friends and I wrote a jingle for a local store and pitched it to the owner. He used it in his next radio ad! We didn't wait for the work to come to us – we sought it out. If I can do it, so can you.
6. Be open-minded to new opportunities
While staying focused on your big dream is important, be open to new opportunities that might unfold. You may never know where the world takes you when you are open to its possibilities.
"I rarely meet a person who is doing exactly what they planned on doing when they got out of school," says Loudon Stearns, an associate professor at Berklee College of Music. "Just look at me – I planned on being a film composer and ended up being a very happy college professor.”
Remember that the more experiences you have and the more people you meet, the more doors are left open for you to find a happy, healthy, sustainable life.
7. Enjoy the journey by learning to lighten up
And finally, while on the topic of living a happy, healthy, and sustainable life, learn not to take yourself too seriously. Have a little fun in your endeavors. Lighten up! Smile! You'll project a much more confident and positive attitude. You'll be less stressed out and more approachable. This is the entertainment industry – how can you expect to entertain others if you can't entertain yourself?
Don't waste valuable energy being hateful, envious, or jealous of others' successes, and never associate with those who can infect you with negativity. Stay positive! Believe that one day you, too, will get your big break.
Just keep in mind that big record contract that so many young artists covet is not the key to happiness – it's the beginning of a long journey. And for some artists, it's the beginning of a long nightmare. There are no guarantees in the music business, no matter how hard you work, so learn to enjoy the ride each and every day. You'll be healthier mentally and much happier. Peace!
Bobby Borg is the author of Music Marketing for the DIY Musician: Creating and Executing a Plan of Attack on a Low Budget (September 2014). Find the book on Hal Leonard's website under "Trade Books" or on Amazon. Signed copies with a special offer are also available at bobbyborg.com.