young musicians

There's No Such Thing As Luck

Have you ever heard people say things like, “You're really lucky you met that person – they really helped open doors for you!”  Or, “You got so lucky!  What are the chances that this perfect job would open up at the exact time when you were looking?  It's the perfect fit!” Here’s the thing: I don’t think luck exists.

Luck implies something random, something unexpected or unplanned, a fortunate occurrence that you had no control over.  In music (and in life), is that really the case?  Are we all waiting to catch a lucky break?  In my experience, things that look like “lucky breaks” are more than just being in the right place at the right time.  There’s more to it than that.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you're a trumpet player.  You happen to find yourself in a jazz club one night after a gig.  You’re sitting there listening to some famous jazz musicians when you find out they need a trumpet player for a few tunes, as their normal guy is sick.  When your friends hear this, they tell these big shot jazz cats that you play the trumpet (aren’t friends great?).  They ask if you want to sit in with them.  So, you play a few tunes with them, they really like you, and the next week they call you to join them on their world tour.  Lucky, right?  No – you were prepared for that situation and you made the choice to get up on stage and take that risk.  If you weren’t a strong enough player, or willing to play on the spot, you would have just sat in the audience and life would have continued on just fine.  The “lucky” situation was not about you being the right place at the right time, it was about being prepared.

Here’s another example: Let's say you are at a coffee shop and you sit down at a table and pull out some music that you need to study.  A woman sitting at the table next to you notices you are looking at music and asks, "Excuse me, I noticed you are looking at the Mozart Clarinet Concerto - are you a clarinetist?"  You reply, "Yes, I am studying for my masters in clarinet performance at the college here."  You strike up a conversation with this woman about music, Mozart, other composers, and coffee.

It turns out she is a conductor for a regional orchestra about thirty minutes down the road.  You've been thinking about auditioning to get on sub lists for local orchestras and have been researching orchestras in the area.  You've actually read some about her orchestra and know a bit about their recent concerts and educational programs.  The conductor is clearly impressed with your professionalism, your knowledge, and your interest in the orchestra.  When you mention you were thinking of auditioning for the sub list she immediately pulls out a business card.  "Here's my card - call me when you come to audition and we can get together for another coffee - my treat!  I will put in a good word for you with the audition coordinator and let them know that we talked.  Do you have a card?"  You pull out your nice, simple business card that you paid almost nothing for, hand one to the conductor, and thank her for a wonderful conversation.

This chance encounter was lucky right?  I don't think so - you were prepared and professional.  If the conductor wasn't impressed with you, she wouldn't offer to help you.  You had done your research and were able to speak professionally with this conductor, creating an opportunity for yourself.

In my opinion, there’s no such thing as luck.  But, there is such a thing as being prepared.  Prepare yourself for success.  Be at the top of your game all the time, be a professional, do your research, and know your stuff.  If you’re prepared, you may find yourself coming out on the fortunate side of situations that might, at first, seem just lucky.

Advice for Musicians: Three Takeaways from My "Hangout" with Nancy Christensen

Last night I hosted a fun Google Hangout for with artist manager and entrepreneur Nancy Christensen, President and Founder of Christensen Arts LLC. Nancy had many great pieces of advice for musicians, and below are three that I especially liked. 1. Be Able to Communicate, and Be Unique Nancy said that when she is considering whether or not to take on a performer as a client, two important factors she considers are communication skills and uniqueness. She talked about the importance of not just being a great performer, but also being able to communicate with an audience, talk with donors after a concert, work with kids in an outreach setting, and more. She also stressed the importance of having something that sets you apart from the many other people that do similar things as you. What about you is different and unique, and why should people be interested in that?

2. Don’t Send People a Bunch of Unsolicited Stuff Being a composer who wants to get my music played and heard, I have definitely been guilty of this one. It is okay to email people you don’t know and introduce yourself. It’s okay to briefly mention what you do. But, you probably don’t want to send them your resume, links to all your performances, headshots, reviews, etc. right off the bat. Nancy talked about starting with just an introduction and trying to avoid overwhelming your recipient (who again, doesn’t know you) with too much stuff.

3. Go to Conferences Whether you want to be a performer, composer, arts administrator or anything in between, go to conferences that relate to your profession. Do your homework and talk to people about what conference(s) might make sense for you – what kind of people you want to meet, what kinds of things you want to learn, etc. For performers looking to meet managers and decide if particular management companies might be a good fit, Nancy suggested the Chamber Music America conference, held annually in New York City in January.

Conferences can be great places to meet people, build professional contacts, and learn about current happenings in the field. When you attend, bring business cards, try to meet as many people as you can (but be yourself - don’t feel like you constantly need to be a salesman or saleswoman) and learn as much as you can. Many conferences have discounts for students or young musicians, and some have scholarships available. You could even inquire with organizers of the conference to see if you could help out in some way at the conference in exchange for a free registration. Be creative!

See a recording of my hangout with Nancy conversation here.