It’s no secret amongst us musicians brave (or foolhardy) enough to pursue a professional career in the industry that finding gigs is tricky. Often, when people are looking for a performer, the recommendations from friends or colleagues will prove pivotal in someone taking note of your CV. Exposure, in other words, is key to getting gigs. Easier said than done I know; you need exposure to get gigs but you need gigs to get exposure right? Well… yes and no.Nothing will showcase your ability as a performer better than, funnily enough, performing for people (the same applies to composers of course, hearing your work live will say the most about your ability to create fantastic compositions). But there are a few other handy methods that you can use to help you get those opportunities, and boost your standing as a professional in your chosen field.
My name is Chris Hill. You can find out a little more about what I do in this Voice article here.I’m a professional flautist and composer currently reading music at Oxford University. The following methods are absolutely not a comprehensive list of all the different ways for you to get your name out there, but it is what I have had the best experience with and what has personally brought me the most success when looking for work.
Whether you’re a composer or performer, Soundcloud is an invaluable tool to get people to hear exactly what you can create. It’s a very popular application which gives you a huge potential audience, is free to use, user-friendly for both uploader and listener, and full of other aspiring artists from whom you can draw inspiration for your own work. What’s more, unlike other sites, the way Soundcloud allows you to present its content in a group/album-like layout means that listeners are encouraged to dip in and out of your different creations, or just let the whole album play while they are busy performing some other task. This is something that Youtube, for example, would not necessarily allow for as Google’s algorithm selects which video should autoplay next, and it doesn’t even have to be another one of yours! With Soundcloud, you get to dictate what and when a listener hears your individual works, which gives you more control as to exactly how people interpret your art.
As an example of how this can work, my Soundcloud page contains multiple different compositions that I have created for my college arts paper. By putting all four individual compositions into a playlist, people can listen through the tracks in the order they were created and get a sense of how the compositions referenced and influenced each other as the collection grew.
It’s probably not a surprise that this site is on this list. Its benefits are pretty self explanatory: it’s a HUGE platform with a massive potential audience.Getting to see the performer play lets a viewer know a lot about you as a performer; your personality, confidence, and stagemanship. What’s more, they are more likely to create a personal connection to you and indeed to your performance if they can see the artist behind the work. Failing that, adding a suitably cool image, slideshow, or video to accompany a composition or performance that didn’t originally have video is just another tool you can use to attract the attention of your audience.
3. Website and other promotional material
Making a website is a useful asset to refer to on all the other platforms you may be using. While perhaps in today’s world, someone looking for a performer is more likely to seek out potential candidates via social media than on personal websites, having your own website provides you with just that little extra professional credibility.
Wordpress is a popular method by which you can make a website but this popularity has its own drawbacks: you can recognise a Wordpress website very easily, you’ve seen one and you’ve seen them all. This has the advantage of everyone looking at you website being familiar with its layout, but it can also be a little uninspiring and bland. Take a look around at the other website making tools that are out there, there’s a huge choice, some require a paid subscription but some are free and create impressive results if you put time and effort into them. If you’re up for the challenge, creating your own website from scratch is also possible. It may sound like a daunting task, but there is a Youtube tutorial for everything and if you’re willing to put the time in to learn a little about coding you can fully customise your website to get out of it exactly what you want.
Business cards are also a useful asset to have a few of on-hand when you are at a gig. You can get a huge quantity printed using professional sites at a reasonable price. The other option is grabbing some high-grade card paper and print some off yourself (you can usually get about 8 cards out of 1 A4 sheet). However, be careful about the DIY approach, an amateurish business card could damage your professional image you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. Be sure to look up some guidelines for making business cards, and perhaps watch a tutorial on Youtube to see how the professionals do it. I made the embarrassing mistake of not accounting for how the text on the cards will scale down when printed, and thus ended up with a card that would be completely illegible to anyone without a microscope on hand!
Busking in public holds the benefit of your performance being heard by potentially anyone! This is a fantastic way not only of acquiring some potential future gigs from lucky encounters with the public, but also a handy way to earn a little money. Be sure to always check what your town/city guidelines for busking are. Some cities, like Oxford, allow you to busk without a license so long as you follow a set of guidelines and a code of conduct, some are much more strict and require you get a license first.
5. ‘Exposure Bucks™’
Now for the contentious one. Working for free is a minefield, and choosing whether to accept a gig that won’t pay is a decision you must take great care over. Working for ‘Exposure Bucks™’, as we in the industry often dub this practise of working for free in the hope of getting more gigs from it, sets somewhat of a dangerous precedent. There was a controversy not so long ago around East Midlands Airport asking for young musicians to play for free in the departure lounge on the promise that it would be ‘good exposure’ for them. Understandably, musicians who rely on being paid for performing to… well live, were more than a little perturbed that a huge company like the airport would ask people to play for free when they could easily afford to hire a musician.
However, playing gigs really is the best way to accrue more opportunities, as it’s in performing live that people see the true extent of your ability. As a general rule, before accepting a non-paying gig (unless it is for charity), my advice to you would be to ask yourself the question “can the people organising this afford to pay me for my services? If they can, why aren’t they?”. The answer to that question will give you a good idea of whether or not you should accept the gig or not.
So there you are, five different ways of getting your name out into the world and setting yourself up for opportunities. The most important thing is most definitely to do your research (Google is an invaluable tool) and find the methods that work best for you. If you can show people how talented you are the work will follow.