by Kate DeVoe
See the end of this post for Kate’s bio.
When I first entered the freelance world after college over a decade ago I had… a lot to learn. College prepared me musically but there were plenty of other things I learned as I went. I learned a lot from trial and error, which I know was good for me because… character or something like that. I’m still learning and I don’t have all the answers, but I think that younger version of me would have really appreciated a post like this.
1. Remember that networking is just getting to know people. When I was younger the word “networking” made my skin crawl. The idea of networking seemed so foreign to me—like perfecting the art of selling yourself. I’ve since come to learn that networking is just taking the time to get to know people and let them get to know you. It’s connecting with each other. I really enjoy connecting with others so this change in perspective was huge for me. When I was younger I would often just pack up and leave after rehearsals, especially with new groups or in subbing situations where I didn’t know people. But this is the perfect opportunity for networking! As a rule of thumb, I try to greet everyone around me when I arrive at rehearsal. If I don’t know someone I introduce myself. At the end of rehearsal I slowly pack up and make sure to stick around. This is often when people start to open up and you can get to know your colleagues. They may even let you know they need a sub for an upcoming gig, or invite you to a show. Sometimes people will go out afterwards, which is another great opportunity for networking and getting to know each other. Connecting and building relationships with other musicians and colleagues is hands down the number one way I get gigs and find others to recommend for gigs.
2. Email etiquette is important. Make it a goal to reply to professional emails within 1 day. When someone has an emergency and is frantically looking for a sub, they want a response right away. Even if you aren’t available, a simple, “Thanks for reaching out to me. I am not available that day, but please keep me in mind in the future,” sent right away goes a long way. So many times people have thanked me for the quick response, even if I’m not available. I’ve even heard people say, “You could reach out to ____. They’re good about responding to emails right away.” That being said, don’t send emails if you’re distracted or if you’re feeling some emotion strongly, especially if it’s frustration. This isn’t to say don’t show emotion. However, it might be better to communicate in person about what is frustrating you. Many times I’ve thanked myself for not hitting “send” after typing up an email in frustration (or kicked myself for hitting it..). Finally, you don’t need to write long explanations about why you’re not available for something (unless you know the person well and think that’s best). Straightforward, but warm in tone, is best.
3. Take risks. Whether it’s about reaching out to someone who seems “way out of your league” to collaborate or to grab coffee, or taking a gig on lead trumpet, or playing modern music with rhythms that terrify you— you’ll be better for it! If you’re anything like me you’ll have some anxiety beforehand (and if it’s a performance you’ll practice your butt off of course), but you’ll feel great afterwards for doing something outside of your comfort zone. You’ll grow as a person and musician and it may even open new doors. You’re going to make mistakes—both in your playing and in your interactions with others. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Everyone makes mistakes. Just remember, the mistakes don’t define you.
4. Evenings and weekends are precious in the freelance world. This one is probably stating the obvious, but what I’m getting at is that if you’re making your living teaching lessons and freelance performing , you’ll need to do some careful crafting of your schedule. I struggled with this especially when I started out. I would have lesson times spaced out (as opposed to back to back) and be driving all over the place to the students’ houses. It wasn’t an efficient use of time. I’ve found teaching in one place is the most efficient, whether it’s at your own studio or at an existing studio. Teaching in one location per day is another good strategy if you’ve built some connections at schools around town. Schedule the students back to back as much as possible to use your time most efficiently. Instead of asking about the student’s schedule, tell students’ parents exactly when your available times are. If that student’s schedule happens to be really rigid you can ask another student to swap times. Start teaching as early in the day as possible—ideally right after school for kids. You can even drive to the school to teach a handful of students if you work it out with the band director ahead of time. I’ve found it’s helpful to stop teaching around 7 or 7:30 most evenings. That way I can get to a rehearsal in the same evening and may only need to reschedule or cancel one student if it’s an earlier rehearsal. I’ve found making a physical grid of my time (as in drawing it out on paper) is helpful for staying organized, but there are lots of ways to be organized with your time these days. So bottom line, find something that works for you. One last thing I’ve learned is that Monday is not the ideal day for teaching. I still have lots of students on Mondays because I scheduled them before this dawned on me: Mondays have the most holidays and no-school days of any other day of the week. When one of these holidays comes up it either creates a no-income day or a rescheduling frenzy.
5. Be kind, be authentic, and advocate for yourself. When I first graduated, I thought I had to act ultra-professional at all gigs and rehearsals and I tended to rarely show my personality. I definitely wasn’t being authentic or connecting with others by acting like that. For me, feeling connected to musicians around me is important for making good music. Being kind doesn’t mean being a pushover. I’ve found often it simply means assuming the best in others. If someone is taking a long time to respond to your email, for example, you could assume that there’s a lot going on in their life right now, probably plenty that you don’t know about. You might send a kind ‘nudge’ email after a few days starting off with, “Hope all is well.” The last one, advocate for yourself, is perhaps the most important. No one is going to advocate for you. At least you shouldn’t count on it. If someone isn’t treating you right, or if Tuesday night rehearsals aren’t working with your teaching schedule, or if you just don’t feel good about something that’s happening, speak up. Be kind and authentic when you reach out but be ready to be firm too. Offer to help find a solution if it makes sense. If you aren’t sure how to handle the situation, reach out to a trusted colleague. If you show up prepared, kind, authentic, and advocate for yourself, you are on the right track for success in my book.