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Professional skills for musicians

As musicians you have devoted many years developing your skills; you deserve to be paid for your great performing skills. However, there are professional skills that you need to be aware of, in order to be booked regularly by booking agents and clients.

For the last 12 years, following a music performance career, I have been running Viva Live Music. I often hear from clients who are frustrated by the way musicians conduct themselves when they are booked for events. As an ex-musician, I wish to share some tips, to ensure you are bookable as a musician.

  • Leave plenty of time to arrive punctually. It is easy to look at the ‘start time’, and we know it often doesn’t take long to set up. BUT travelling usually takes longer than you think AND clients worry if you aren’t there are few minutes before. So aim to be there 30 minutes beforehand then you have plenty of time to set up and you will have a happy client.
  • Invoicing and keeping accounts. The majority of professional bookings require you to provide an invoice; otherwise you won’t be paid. It is your responsibility to send this and also to check you have been paid BEFORE chasing up invoices that haven’t been paid. It is not unknown for musicians to ‘accuse’ us of not paying them, and then, as if by magic, they discover they have, in fact, been paid.
  • Read the contract before the event. Check exactly where the event is being held, timings, and also what you should wear. Some clients want musicians to be smartly dressed upon arrival, even if they are going to change into performance clothes. And “But I had the school run” isn’t an excuse for arriving at a luxury venue looking scruffy. The client is only interested in the work you have been booked for not your private life.
  • Bring your contract to the event. There are occasions where the organizer isn’t available, and an assistant or someone from the venue needs to direct you to the right place. Having the contract with all the facts helps everyone.
  • Be courteous and helpful. Running events are very stressful for everyone involved. Of course you will need to check specific details; sometimes other people will need you to be flexible. The reality is that the music is only one element of an event, and we have to fit in with all of the other suppliers. Keep smiling!
  • Do not be tempted to sell your services directly to the client. You are representing an agency, and clients don’t like this. You might think it is clever, but clients will contact the agency to complain. And the agency won’t use you again.
  • Be prepared before the event. This includes eating beforehand. Whilst some events provide food, some don’t, so eat before hand and take some snacks to sustain you, in case it isn’t provided. Events people have said to me that their number one question from musicians is “Where’s the food?” rather than “Where am I performing?”
  • Be contactable. It is frustrating for an agent when they contact a musician for work and they don’t respond for days afterwards. Of course I am aware musicians are doing other jobs and won’t be able to respond immediately, but ensure you reply within 24 hours and also check your details are up to date with the agency.
  • Ensure you have PLI and electrical equipment is PAT tested. The former comes with your ISM membership, the latter is mandatory.

Musicians are in a highly competitive market and agencies will ask for feedback from clients after an event. If a client isn’t happy for reasons above, the agency won’t use you again. I really don’t want it to happen to you, so be professional.

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Susan Heaton-Wright is a former opera singer who is now the Creative Director of Viva Live Music. The company provides exquisite live musical entertainment for corporate and high end private events in United Kingdom and Europe.