Why Musicians Fail

Everyone wants to know how I managed to succeed in my classical music career when so many others fail, and they’re shocked when I tell them the answer. In its most basic sense, it’s treating singing like my day job. That’s really all there is to it. After all, what do most day jobs involve? Acquiring new skills, good record-keeping, networking, getting along at work, and everything else you have to do all day, every day. It’s no different in classical music, and that means: learning to sight-read and speak (not just pronounce) new languages; taking some acting classes; really boning up on that music theory; studying a whole lot about performance practice; keeping your pay and expenses records up-to-date; showing up on time and getting along with people; implement a booking system; and being competent at what you do. There’s very little luck, and very little more to it. If you want to take your music business to the next level, do what the big companies do: get a website, a blog, and promote your brand via the internet. Give great customer service.

Sepia photograph: a man in a trenchcoat stands on a rainy street, holding umbrella over violoncello case

Musician in the Rain
Robert Doisneau

Yes, that means involving the lawyers and the accountants. Get over it—if you want to have a successful career in classical music, you must think like a business owner. That means doing what business owners do. (If you receive a single 1099-MISC form, you are a business owner, according to the IRS.)

And for the “it’s who you know” crowd, who you know is up to you. You’ll never meet the top dogs if you don’t go out of your way to meet them—and what’s more, you have to be able to help them somehow. Those people are busy, so they’re much more likely to give you some of their valuable time if you are willing to give them a whole lot of yours.

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