Advice for Becoming a Professional Musician

July 10th, 2013 Debra Mann


A mutual friend, interested in becoming a professional musician, recently asked me to answer a few questions about what it’s like to be a professional musician, and how I got started.


I had never met this person, who contacted me by email, so I had no idea of her ability, or natural talent. But, I am always happy to help someone who is eager to learn, and to share my journey with others if that can be of any help. It was a good opportunity for me to reflect on the questions posed to me, and to see if I am still on course, or if my course has changed since I began.


professional music lessons - learn and grow imageRead on for the Q & A….



How/When did you start performing in front of people?

I began performing right after I graduated from Berklee College of Music in 1982.


What was your first paying gig?

My first paying gig was singing and playing solo piano at a really nice restaurant in Boston. I played on a regular basis in the restaurant bar, which had a decent grand piano. I also joined a band, Reminiscence, around the same time. It was a 6-piece jazz-vocal group, we recorded an album and traveled around New England performing at clubs, festivals, private parties and weddings.


How often do you work and what kind of income do you make? (I’ve run into a lot of musicians here that do this as supplemental income, for fun)

At this point, I work anywhere from one-to-three times a week, more or less. In years past, I have worked as many as five nights a week. I make on average between $100-$150 per gig when playing at restaurants and bars. Concerts, festivals, and private parties are, generally speaking, much more lucrative.


What are the worst, most stressful pieces of this vocation?

The worst part is the unsteady nature of the work, which means that you don’t have a steady, predictable, income, unless of course, you have a steady gig, somewhere. At this point, the larger part of my income comes from teaching piano.


What would you do differently if you had everything to do over again?

Excellent question! I think I would have traveled more playing music, but it was something that I was unsure of how to do when I was getting started. I felt insecure about it because, as a female, I didn’t want to be out there by myself. Otherwise, I think I have followed my heart and fulfilled my original vision.


What is your best advice to getting started?

The most important thing is to hone your talent, but don’t wait until it’s perfect, because it never will be. Striving to be your personal best is the best one can ever do. The way I got started was, I recorded a 4 song demo/CD at a friend’s recording studioon the cheap. I put together a PR (Public Relations) kit, including a business card, photo, song list, bio, etc., to bring/send around to restaurants/bars, agents, and hotels. (Nowadays, you can use your website to refer people to, or use EPK’s (Electronic Press Kits). Check out my EPK for an example at


Go out and sit in at jam sessions to get your name around. It’s a word of mouth business. Sign up to do some coffee houses. Get experience any way that feels right to you.


Also, when looking for gigs, go direct with your CD (and business card) to the venue you want to play at. To save yourself footsteps call ahead to find out who you need to speak with, and if they are interested in having live music, or if they already have live music.


Lastly, a few words from Goethe (I’ve always loved this quote):


“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and endless plans. That the moment one definitely commits oneself then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never have otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” – J.W. Goethe


Next week, I will follow up with tools of promotion that I use, of which there are many. Please let me know your thoughts, and feel free to add your questions, comments, and/or ideas for newbies to gain further insight from.




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2 Comments on “Advice for Becoming a Professional Musician”

  1. 1 Kerry said at 9:47 pm on July 11th, 2013:

    Very inspirational! It’s great to get a look on how you have started out and see how it has worked out for you.

  2. 2 Debra said at 1:18 am on July 20th, 2013:

    Thanks for the feedback, Kerry. Please let me know if there is anything you would like to hear more about.

    Peace, Debra

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