A step-by-step guide to starting a performing business.
Double your music teaching income by performing…
Did I just read that right?
I’m happy to report that, yes as a working pianist, there is a lot of demand for skilled musicians to perform for events.
All of my colleagues are swamped with work and we are making hundreds of dollars per hour. The old adage of “starving artist” really doesn’t have to apply if you are working hard and are strategic in the marketing of your skill.
Playing the piano is something that not a lot of people can do well, so why not leverage that and be paid what you are worth. Bonus: your students will think you are a lot cooler!
In my last year of university, I started to plan my future as one does. I had been teaching piano since I was 15 and knew that I always wanted to keep teaching as it felt like a calling. I also wanted to make sure I kept performing in some capacity.
As part of my degree, I was required to give a few end of year recitals, which went to my mark for the term.
It was a lot of preparation and pressure put on that one night, it actually made me very stressed out. What gave me joy was being in my practice room, singing and playing my favourite pop and choir tunes.
I had done a few gigs playing background music for parties and a few weddings through a university referral program and I wondered if I could do this on a more regular basis?
The background music gigs felt freer, like I could perform to give people that same joy I had without having to worry about memorizing music or being judged.
So I set out to start my performance business.
Without being linked to the university, how would those potential clients find me?
I decided to Google it and quickly realized that I needed a website with some professional photos. I hired another music student/hobby photographer to do a simple shoot and built the website from there. More on that later.
I was living in Winnipeg, Canada and decided that if I really wanted to do this I would need to be living in a more metropolitan area so I moved with my partner to Toronto to pursue my dreams. It’s been six years since then and I’ve grown from doing 30 events to over 100 events a year and making almost as much performing as I do teaching. How did I do it?
When do people need to book musicians?
For the average person who is not an event planner, the first time they actually have to look and find a musician is probably for their wedding or a funeral. They might know some musicians from their church or other communities, but they might also want to broaden their search to a professional.
This is where you come in faithful Tim Topham reader!
I decided to specifically brand myself as a pianist for “weddings and events” because I found that engaged couples were the most likely to be looking for a high quality professional, and willing to pay enough for my services to make this a viable business.
If you don’t like the stress of weddings though, you could target funerals and funeral homes, or corporate events or church gigs. It’s important to really think about where you would enjoy performing that would make the most sense in high volume.
I still remember when I booked with my first venue and their first question was “How many weddings can you do a day?”. I was happy doing just one!
Let’s say you chose to target weddings. You’d be looking at marketing directly to wedding planners and engaged couples.
How would they find you? Probably the first step would be to Google “wedding pianist – followed by the city you live in.”
When I first did this, I was surprised that many of the hits were wedding directories where couples could find multiple vendors.
There were also a few people who had their own websites ranking on the first page so I decided to check out what they had and saw how they were promoting.
The first place most people go for referrals is Google, so it really is essentially to have a website. Here’s mine.
It’s also pretty important to have social media and especially an Instagram page for your business. You can build websites for free and fairly easily these days. To publish the site, you will have to pay a small fee for your domain name and it is worth it to opt for a professional hosting service as well so there are no ads on the page.
You should have at minimum:
At events, professionals trade Instagram handles now like they used to business cards.
In the moment at an event, often people are running around with clipboards and checklists and no pockets, so offering your business card is sometimes useless. They will always have their phone on them and ready to exchange social handles though, especially if you agree to tag each other in your posts that day.
If you also follow them and then send a DM of where they met you, there is a way higher chance that they will actually remember and engage with you.
Video is also becoming really important, especially for musicians. It is worth it to get some professional video done for your Instagram and/or YouTube channel so that couples can quickly find you, check out your work and be impressed.
Here is an example of a video I had shot and edited by a professional videographer:
Once you have set up your website and social channels, make sure that the SEO is all as optimized. You can learn about that here!
You could link to an internal article here as possible for someone searching for your service in your area. Consistently test to make sure you are ranking highly and don’t fall for e-mail or phone scams from google that tell you that you can pay to rank higher, it just doesn’t work that way.
This way when people are researching wedding vendors, your name will keep coming up. I’ve had clients reach out that said they didn’t even consider having a pianist until they saw me on xyz.
Be where your clients are and they will come! All of these directories provide links back to your website and social so your SEO will be strengthened in the process.
Once you’ve got your online presence up and running and humming along, check out who looks to be the most reputable in your industry and take them for coffee!
Why not, there will always be more clients so get to know the busiest vendors. Then when they are double booked, hopefully they will pass clients to you and vice versa. They might turn out to be a good mentor as well and be able to support you as you grow.
Having said that, you don’t want to copy the top ranking person on google, you actually want to do things a little differently to get ahead or at least to find your niche. I’ve carved out mine to be solo piano for wedding ceremonies for a few reasons.
I noticed most musicians advertising were full bands or ensembles that were pretty expensive
Most musicians were targeting the cocktail reception/dinner/dancing music
There were hardly any pianists
In a sense I almost created a new category and now I think (and hope) that I am the go to ceremony pianist in town.
While I do offer ensembles and also play for other parts of the wedding, I sell those options as additional add-ons. Couples appreciate having my versatile music stylings at a lower price because it’s just me. The average spend in the US on wedding ceremony music in 2018 according to the Knot.com was $797 so if I can offer my services at half that price, engaged couples will jump on it.
This over all else is what really boosted me to doing over a hundred weddings a year. Always be researching the top wedding planners and venues and sent them your pitch.
Sure many people don’t respond to cold e-mails, but enough will if you are thorough about it. I’ve always found that it doesn’t hurt to ask or even just to be on someone’s radar.
When crafting your pitch, focus on what you can offer them. Most often they are wanting to attract clients to their all-inclusive package which might not have music yet. If you can add live music, that is a huge draw.
They may be hosting a wedding open house that they need music vendors for. These one night showcases can mean big business especially if you can somehow capture the contact information of all the couples who went to the event.
Once you have the gig you want to make sure that the clients leave a positive review and refer you to other couples so that you can keep the momentum going.
Always do your best – mistakes can happen but if you are always professional and calm under pressure that goes a long way! Make sure you are playing well and practicing enough to pull off the event. Offer what they are looking for including proper equipment, a variety of songs/styles and be open to any special requests.
If you are easy to work with and take care of everything then they should have only good things to say. Remember it’s not like a recital, people aren’t judging you on how well you play for the most part. They are thinking about if they are enjoying themselves and if the pianist is on time, having fun and engaging with the guests.
I hope this motivates you to think about injecting some more performing into your life!
There are not enough qualified musicians doing this job and I think we would all benefit from more crossover from our piano teaching world into the world of real live music making.
Doing this job has really been fulfilling and affirmed why I worked so hard to become a musician in the first place.
The doubling of my income doesn’t hurt either. I encourage anyone reading who feels the desire to perform more to try some of these marketing ideas and see where it leads you.
I’d love to hear from some of you in the comments below if you have any questions or other ideas.