Engineer Your Career

Originally published as Three Tools To Engineer Your Career on ArtsHub

A career in music rarely means engaging in the traditional model of full-time position with a single employer.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the challenge of how to make a living and be a professional musician.   For 21st century musicians, success is developing and sustaining a career which supports personal and creative goals. 

Musicians who have created successful careers are self-managing their multiple roles as small business owners and performers.  The use of arts entrepreneurship techniques allows these artists to remain the principal driving force of their career.   Flinders Quartet and Speak Percussion are two local examples of the performer as manager model.  Both ensembles are managed by their founding performers, Cellist Zoe Knighton and Percussionist Eugene Ughetti.  Establishing this model as the framework for their career has allowed both Zoe and Eugene to retain ownership of their unique creative output.

No matter where you are in your career, take out a pen and paper and play with the following tips to ignite your entrepreneurial self.

Your Artist Statement:  Your Road Map

Businesses use mission statements to communicate a common understanding of aims and values.  Musicians, by contrast, don’t usually create mission statements as they expect to let the music speak for itself.

A mission, or artist statement is a unique account of who you are, what you do, why it matters and why others should care.  This statement is an important foundation for different kinds of communication about your work and can be used as the basis for bios, media releases, grant applications and performance program notes. 

Writing this down requires you to clarify your definition of success in specific terms that you and others can understand.  This is valuable because it allows you to direct time and energy on things that matter the most when multiple areas of opportunity compete for your time and attention.

Good writing takes an investment of time through multiple drafts, feedback and editing.  Allowing time for developing and revising your artist statement is a valuable investment in your career development.  Revisit this document regularly to represent the development of your artistic goals and personal circumstances.   

The Art of Delivery

A clear and unique artist statement will guide the look and content of all your professional deliverables.  The distinctive mission statement of horn ensemble Genghis Barbie gives a strong indication of what to expect from their social media sites and their performances.

Genghis Barbie, the leading post post-feminist feminist all-female horn experience, is the most innovative and energizing chamber ensemble of its generation and beyond. Genghis Barbie delivers to you a visceral and unadulterated musical adventure, performing eclectic repertoire everywhere from bars in Brooklyn to Carnegie Hall. 

Another small ensemble The Delphi Trio takes a more conservative, leopard spandex-free approach, but still communicates a distinct sense of what to expect from an encounter with the ensemble.

The Delphi Trio is dedicated to the exploration and performance of great chamber music. Guided by the highest artistic ideals, the Trio’s mission is to give voice to the authentic, essential spirit of a composition, acting as a conduit between composer and audience.

Grounded in the immensely rich classical repertoire, the Delphi Trio believes firmly in the music of our time and contributes to expanding the repertoire through its commissioning projects.

Musicians are increasingly required to speak about the value of their work; the development of communication skills and strategies is integral to creating employment opportunities.  The ability to deliver compelling stories about your work creates a connection with your audience and will open doors.  There is a wide audience who need to hear about your work in order for you to create a career that is productive and sustainable.  

Know your audience and create spoken messages that are appealing to them, remembering to lead with what is most distinctive and unique about your work.  By making communication honest and personal, audiences will want to know more about you, hear more from you and engage in your journey.

Cultivate A Network

Effective networking is an opportunity to connect with your audience, expand your community and create public interest in your work.  Networking is about sharing, not about getting.  Developing good personal connections creates high quality, long lasting relationships to support your career. 

Using networking as an opportunity to share takes the pressure off the expectation of specific employment.  In addition to the obvious places like post-concert receptions, networking can happen any time you meet interesting people whose lives are of interest to you.  It takes time to develop a network where opportunities and information are shared genuinely with supportive colleagues and you in turn are a trusted member of that community. Effective networking is a valuable and rewarding long-term investment throughout your career.


Get Busy Now

1 Hour: Fill a page with dreams for your career, this is the first draft of your artist statement.

30 Minutes: Create an email mailing list for your upcoming performances.

5 Minutes: Phone a colleague and inspire them to attend next performance.