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Become a musician

Become a musician - photo of a band performing on stage

What’s the Idea?

If you want to become a musician then this guide explains the basics, plus gives you links to some great online resources

What’s the Story?

I first started playing the flute and piano aged 8 and singing aged 15.

I reached professional standard in all three disciplines, and have been working on and off as a professional singer/songwriter and musician since my early 20’s.

I love it because I get to be a musician both on my own and in collaboration with others.

Why should you become a musician?

You should become a musician because there’s so many positive benefits –

  • It teaches you great discipline – “practice makes perfect”;
  • You will develop better listening skills;
  • You will gain access to a wide, creative community.
  • Playing and making music does wonders for mental health…
  • and you can “lose yourself” in it if everything gets a bit too much.

To quote Bill Hicks; “Music is a great energiser.  It’s a language everybody knows”. 

And you really do effectively learn another language. A universal one.

How do you do it?

There’s no one route to becoming a musician, but I’ve listed below the things you will most likely need to do. 

Choose an Instrument

If you’ve decided that you want to become a musician, chances are that you already play an instrument.

But if you don’t, the world is your oyster! 

Spend some time listening to all of the wonderful options available.

Broadly speaking that means woodwind, brass, percussion, string, and voice.

Pick the one that speaks to you the loudest and is most suitable for the genre of music you want to make. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that if you want to write songs or play pop music, guitar, bass guitar, piano/keyboards, or the drums are typically the best ones to go for.

Get Music Lessons

Of course you can teach yourself to become a musician, and there are some famous examples of people who have done this.

(Find out who, here.)

However, for us mere mortals, behind every good musician is probably a great teacher. 

Whilst these days it is possible to teach yourself music via online or written tutorials, to my mind there is really no substitute for proper one-to-one lessons.

So if you want to become a musician, I recommend saving up for formal lessons from a quality instructor.

Practice Makes Perfect!

Even the most naturally talented people need to practise regularly to be a great musician.  

If you’re serious about becoming a musician, it’s important to set up a solid, daily routine for yourself and stick to it. 

This practice should involve a mixture of technical exercises plus working on any set pieces for exams or performances.

Plus you should set aside a bit of time for “purely fun” music time, too, so you don’t forget why you’re doing this in the first place! 

I recommend spending a lot of time listening to all different kinds of music, and experimenting with playing them too.

This is one way you can “find your groove” and own your original style.

Get Academically Qualified

By that I mean take music theory, do your GCSE and/or A-Level, or even a music degree.

(See my page on learning music theory here.)

Playing by ear is, of course, an amazing skill, and lots of musicians start this way.

However, if you want to become a professional musician, then reading sheet music, learning music theory, and developing aural and compositional skills, are all essential.

This is particularly true in certain music genres – classical, for example.

If you decide to study these aspects, there are many options available, – at “in person” colleges and universities, and also online.

Write Your Own Music

To have a better chance of furthering yourself as a musician, and pushing yourself creatively, writing your own music is the way forward.  

No matter what the genre is, there is great personal creative satisfaction to be found in composing (and also a higher chance of financial reward).

See my page on how to learn songwriting here.

Start or Join a Band

Playing music with other people is one of the absolute best parts of becoming a musician. 

There is such a buzz to be gained from collaboration.

Together you can develop an entirely unique sound, and all benefit from each other’s skills and knowledge. 

Working with others is also a great way to keep your own ego in check, and develop another key aspect required to become a musician – reliability. 

Turning up on time to rehearse and perform, and being in the right state to do so (i.e. not tired, unprepared, or hungover!) is fundamental to success.

It is the way you will have continued work in the industry and gain a good reputation.

Get Gigs

A great way to start performing in front of others is at an open mic night.  

You will find these in almost every local pub, and you can Google for specific music venues that do them, too. 

If you do well at these, you may find that you get offered a paid gig either at that venue, or at another one via an events manager that is in attendance. 

So go prepared!  When you feel confident enough to do so, get some business cards printed, and record some demos.

You an take these with you to the open mic nights and give them out.

Record a Demo

If you want to further your music career, it’s essential to have recordings of your work available.

This will show others the extent of your repertoire and your level of ability.  

You can record at home directly into your computer using packages such as GarageBand, Audacity, or Logic.

Or you can book time in a professional recording studio for a more polished demo (bear in mind this can cost quite a lot). 

It’s worthwhile setting up a profile on music sharing platforms, such as Soundcloud or Bandcamp.

And you should also have a social media presence, e.g. a Facebook FanPage, Instagram and Twitter account, so you can promote your work.

Learn About The Music Business

The waters of the music business are notoriously treacherous and it’s a good idea to get a handle on at least the basics of the “business” part yourself. 

There are many options to do this via online courses, or in colleges, for example this one at Coursera:

Finding gigs and dealing with the financial aspects can be both hectic and draining, even for the best multi-taskers amongst us. 

So when your music career starts to get to this stage, it’s a good idea to think about getting a manager. 

Take your time, and do a lot of research and networking to find the right person. 

Ask other musicians in the scene who you trust and who are doing well for advice and recommendations.

And always, ALWAYS read any contracts thoroughly before you sign!

Join The Musicians’ Union

The Musicians’ Union is a wonderful organisation set up to look after you in terms of advice, support and if necessary, help you with access to a music lawyer. 

There is a yearly membership fee of around £200 (although just £20 for students).

But if you are working professionally, it’s well worth it.

Find out more here.

The Hard Truth

When entering the music industry, it’s very important to be aware of some tough realities. 

It’s a hard business, and sometimes, no matter how talented you are, or how much you’ve practised, you still may not always get the breaks.

So it’s important to go into it with an open mind, a flexible attitude, integrity, and a very thick skin to criticism and bad press!

It is however certainly true that you’ll have a much better chance if you are highly dedicated and hard working.  

Try not to forget that above and beyond any other reason: be a musician because you truly love it, and it makes your heart happy. 

Stuff you may need

  • Your chosen instrument!
  • Pen
  • Pencil
  • Music Manuscript Paper
  • Sheet Music of Exercises and any required examination pieces, plus music you want to play.

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