Thinking of hiring a musician? Find out what work they do and what you are really paying for.

Musicians are highly disciplined artists who work hard to make the incredible challenge of playing music look like a piece of cake! The very fact that a good musician makes their work look easy begs the question if perhaps doing well at their job is a double edged sword- on the one hand you get a great performance that goes off without a hitch, but on the other hand this can make it appear as though there is nothing to it, no work involved. Come to think of it, the term playing an instrument is further misleading. After all, why pay a musician at all when they are simply taking part in some amusing recreation?

There is no question that working as a musician can be fun as well as meaningful. It is ideal to feel joy and satisfaction from one’s work and this is what keeps a musician’s dedication to their profession alive. However, as in any kind of work, there actually is work to being a musician, and a lot of it. The performance itself, as well as the planning of the performance requires vast amounts of mental and physical energy, and naturally, time. Read on for a list of the true, behind-the-scenes work and costs (in terms of time, energy and money) to working as a professional musician:

20 behind-the-scenes responsibilities of a working musician:

  1. A lifetime of practice- think of anything at which you have had to work hard to improve- this is the true meaning of practice, for the majority of musicians it begins at a young age and and it certainly never ends!
  2. Maintaining a website, marketing, providing and updating information relevant to the consumer
  3. Administrative work, including emails, invoicing and organizing and maintaining separate the details of each individual project
  4. Determining and purchasing or writing music to perform (the writing option is another skill that takes years to develop and sharpen)
  5. Rehearsing material specific to the job
  6. Creating and double checking lists of necessary tools and equipment 
  7. Creating and/or collaborating on a set-list; organizing it in advance for smooth execution
  8. Travelling to and from performance venue
  9. Mapping the venue location and planning on how to get there
  10. Organizing and planning the timeline leading up to the performance 
  11. Leaving three times as early to beat unexpected travel obstacles and those that arise while unloading at the venue, not to mention the unloading and setting up itself
  12. Packing and loading equipment to bring to venue; unpacking and unloading equipment at venue; repacking and loading post performance; unpacking and reorganizing equipment at home
  13. Presenting a polished look- hair, makeup, and clean, pressed and polished clothing options carefully packed and ready for unknown conditions (heat, cold, etc) 
  14. Discreet and confident arrival and departure to and from the performance 
  15. Owning an instrument to be played (no less than $1,000 and often upwards of $10,000) 
  16. Maintaining the instrument- adjustments, repairs and replacing parts regularly (similar to the maintenance involved in owning a car)
  17. Maintaining relevancy and competency through self-directed study, courses and workshops
  18. Maintaining energy and focus. Live events can have many unexpected challenges and distractions and a musician’s job is to remain focused and to deliver! When there are no second chances, the idea of “concentration” is elevated to the highest meaning of the word. Moreover, playing music for an audience also requires an opening of the heart and the vast amounts of energy required to give of oneself. 
  19. Maintaining the physical body through healthy living and various therapies (as an athlete does). Playing music is not only demanding energetically, but physically as well. In addition to the laborious and repetitive movements required, there is also a degree of physical tension associated with concentration and that  “readiness” in the body required for continuous playing. Throw in uncomfortable conditions like an impractical chair or chilled muscles, and the physical challenges escalate. 
  20. Doing the necessary creative and logistical thinking and practical work involved in being an entrepreneur: making sure to have enough financial resources to pay income taxes, union dues and association memberships, agents or coordinators, collaborators, and oneself, in order to make a viable living.  

Thanks for reading and helping to demystify what goes on in the working life of a professional musician. I hope you enjoyed the insight and feel good knowing more fully why live music is so valuable!

Photo credit: Tanya Canam Photography www.tanyacanamphotography.com

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