How to Land a Gig as a Freelance Musician

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Being a freelance musician can feel like a liberating choice. You get to be your own boss and use your passion to make a living. The only problem is knowing how to find a gig.   

At first glance, it can seem challenging to plant yourself a gig that satisfies your creative soul and your need to earn. But luckily, there are ways to get gigs that you can sustain yourself with. All you need to do is follow a few steps. Here’s a road map that can help you with landing a gig as a freelance musician.

Outline Your Offerings

The first step is to divide your skills into two basic sets, primary and secondary. Analyze your primary skills first. Take a look at your strengths and capitalize on them. Figure out what styles, genres, and instruments you excel at. These are going to be your main selling points. Know your primary skills thoroughly before you move to the next step.

Next, focus on the secondary skills. It could be an instrument you’ve lightly dabbled in, a style that you can kind of get your head around, or even skills like mixing, composition, and recording.

When you have all these elements in hand, you’re ready to make your elevator pitch. This is what you’ll be telling your clients and contacts when they ask what kind of services you offer. 

This not only helps you orient yourself to potential work, but it also lets people decide if you are what they are looking for. 

Get Your Work Out There

In the same vein as figuring out what you’re offering, you need to show that you’re practical at executing it. It’s easy to say you’re good at something, but you’ll need more to support your claim. For something as creative as music, this is even more important. 

Just get your work out there. Anything that a potential client can watch or listen to is bound to boost your visibility. And with so many social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, getting your work noticed has become easier than ever.

Learn to Play a Variety of Styles

Music isn’t a binary art. You have your genres, your sub-genres, styles, and individual implementations. And as a freelancer, you’re going to need to meet different demands from different folks. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to dilute yourself to being a jack of all trades. Just step outside of your comfort zone every once in a while. Experiment with a few new styles of music and you could just end up doubling your gigs. 

Network Like Crazy

Trying to make it far as a musician might not be the easiest thing in the world. But with a few people in the right places, it can get a lot easier.

Networking may not be the most natural skill for musician. But if you can get good at it, you will find yourself with plenty of future work and gigs. 

Networking can be as simple as handing out your phone number, adding the right people in your area and posting content and music on social media or as demanding as maintaining your own artist page. There’s no right or wrong way for networking. Treat everything as an opportunity and keep forging new relationships.

You’ll be surprised at how effective this all is. Even something like a casual mention of your services or a referral from someone you’ve played with can end up landing you your next gig. It’s such an amazing thing to witness in action.

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Get Good at Translating Instructions

There’s a good chance that you’ll be working for people that don’t speak music. These can be your studio producers, stage directors, and even just an average person. It’ll be your job to bridge the gap and get on the same frequency. 

Often times, the provided instructions will be very vague. But if you have enough experience, you might be able to pick out a pattern or two. 

For example, are you being told to play more melodically? You probably just need to hit those diatonic thirds more. Need to play jazzy? Throw in some extended chords and chromatic lines etc. 

Clients like to be understood, and as a professional musician, the duty to bridge the gap is on you. Showing that you’re able to understand and execute directions goes a long way towards your reputation. And that can only help you with securing more gigs for the future.  

Pick a Niche and Master It

There are many different freelance musicians out there. Being unique enough to be good at a particular niche can definitely help boost your presence. Anyone can play well. But it takes someone special to play something specifically well. And clients will love you if you can make an effort.

There are many niches to target in the music industry. It can be anything; a genre, a new style of playing, good stage presence, aptitude for theatre gigs, and more. 

Whichever path you decide to choose, think hard about mastering it. Getting niche-focused gigs is a great way to get yourself in demand. And if you’re good enough, your likelihood of getting word of mouth referrals from past clients becomes very high.

Treat Yourself Like a Business…with Flexibility

As a musician, your first instinct might be to play it fast and loose with your interactions. But believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to present yourself in your dealings. 

Generally, it’s a good idea to be a little more professional towards your communication, fulfillment, and image. But there will be problems if you’re too rigid about the whole thing. 

In the world of music, the proper balance is probably somewhere in between. Keep structured ways of doing things but have enough wiggle room to allow for small changes here and there. 

Just make sure you know when and where to set boundaries. Appearances are everything in this industry, and a lot of gigs get handed out on face value alone. 

Keep an Eye Out for Local Gigs

Not every gig is posted online or earned through a referral. Sometimes people like going down the old-fashioned way to get musicians for their gig. 

Be on the prowl for local gigs around your area. You’re most likely to hear about them at your community center, bars, cafes, music stores, creative hangouts, etc. Bonus points if you live near a music school or mentorship. These places usually have some sort of bulletin board with ‘musicians for hire’ gigs.

By far, one of the most successful methods can be to just approach a venue and ask. You might get in touch with the right people to give yourself a head start. Or they might even get you connected with a promoter who could be your gateway to gig opportunities. 

Know Your Ins and Outs

Clients that hire for gigs like musicians who know their stuff. Hiring someone that comes prepared is always a good feeling, and you will earn a lot of goodwill with people if you can prove your reliability. 

As crazy as it sounds, musical chops aren’t enough to make a successful gig. There are other factors at play that equally influence your successes and failures. 

These can extend to things like knowing a bit of basic music theory, being able to keep a tempo, knowing how to read sheet music, following musical instructions, and more. 

Getting just a few basics down can be really beneficial to your overall success. Clients like to have people with the right skill sets in their books. 

Meeting their expectations could mean earning many more gigs with them in the future. 

Consider Expanding Your Skill Repertoire 

Sometimes being a skilled musician is good enough. But other times, you could get held back for something insignificant, like not knowing how to play a certain way.

That’s where you’ll have to think about getting skills past your basic foundational ones. If there’s something that is holding you back, you should improve on it.  

Take a day or two out of your schedule to sit down and look at your current skill set. Identify the areas that you’re struggling with and start to work on them. The last thing you need in the middle of a gig is to be left scratching your head because you don’t know a certain song, can’t execute a certain technique, or can’t keep up with a certain tempo. 

The competition out there is fierce. So be the best version of yourself that you can be, and you’ll see the gigs start picking up in no time.  

Balance Your Artistic and Monetary Goals

The life of a freelance musician can get more than a little chaotic at times. If you’re not going by a carefully planned approach, it can all get a little hectic.  

Step number one on that plan should be to pick your gigs carefully. There are plenty of them out there for the taking. And you might even end up getting lots of them. But which ones should you accept and decline?

This usually boils down to two main components, monetary gigs, and artistic gigs. The first type is simple; they help you pay your rent and keep you fed. They may not be the most satisfying to you, but they keep a good positive cash flow, which is important to survive out there. 

Artistic gigs, on the other hand, are there to satisfy your musical goals and needs. They’re the kind of gigs you’ve always imagined yourself doing. These gigs might not pay the most, but they leave you satisfied. 

Your approach here isn’t to pick one or the other. Rather, it’s to find a nice balance between both. Take too many artistic gigs, and you’ll be left needing cash. Take too many monetary gigs, and you risk burning out. Find something in the middle. 

Work with Several Avenues 

Most freelance musicians have trouble finding gigs because they limit themselves to one stream. In reality, you can find plenty of gigs if you just expand your scope a little. 

Depending on what kind of music you play, you can find gigs in entertainment, performance, education, and studio projects. It’s just a matter of where to look. 

If you only focus on the standard concert gigs, you’re bound to miss other opportunities—gigs like weddings, events, theatre, session work, and more. 

Most of the time, you can even get additional benefits that you wouldn’t get from a standard gig like a higher payout, lower performance pressure, networking opportunities, and self-promotion. 

Best of all, you could end up finding yourself in a position of the least gig saturation, especially if it’s an area that not many other musicians in your area explore. All in all, that just makes more opportunities for you. 

Be a Responsible Musician

Being professional might be an obvious thing to point out. But it is so important when you’re a freelance musician. 

When you’re a responsible musician, your success and gig opportunities are almost guaranteed. 

The first thing you should iron out is your habits. Always try to be someone that shows up early or right on time. Communicate with people openly and ask questions before deciding to change something.

The other side of the coin is taking the time to help with gig duties. Things like helping out with setting up and tearing down or offering to drive your fellow musicians to the gig if you have a car. These aren’t things that you’re expected to do, but they will help paint you in a better light. 

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