I get the chance to work with young musicians every day and they often ask for advice about being a successful musician. While much of the advice I’ve given out over the years mirrors these lists by professional oboist Pamela Ajango, I’ve never summarized them as elegantly or eloquently as hers. Regardless of your profession or age, these lists are well worth the time to read. Lists to live by!
Hi friends, I’ve been writing some lists on my phone with the goal of making them into posters for my studio. Here are some initial thoughts (from this old freelancer – 20+ years professional and still going strong!). Perhaps they’ll be useful to some of my younger musician friends. Feel free to share your thoughts/additions!
THE FREELANCING MUSICIAN
TO BE SUCCESSFUL:
1. Play great!
2. Be low maintenance
3. Be friendly
4. Be a quick thinker
5. Be a flexible and adaptable player
6. Be comfortable playing many styles
7. Don’t make excuses
8. Don’t worry about your competition
9. Don’t gossip about others
10. Be professional, courteous, and on-time, no matter what.
KNOW WHAT YOU CAN/CAN’T CONTROL:
1. You can control how well you play. You can’t control how others play – so – don’t tell others how to play!
2. You can control your own ensembles and work, hiring the best players. You can’t control other ensembles or who they hire.
3. You can control your own behavior at a gig. You can’t control anyone else’s. Lead by example.
4. Complaining about not having enough work is not going to get you more work. It’s going to make people suspicious about why you don’t have enough work.
5. Creating your own work and not waiting for others to call is a great way to show you are a successful musician.
6. Being a good teacher is one of the best ways to show you know what you’re doing.
7. Some people are going to hire: their friends, family, students, or lovers, over the best players. Or, they’re not going to hire you because you’re better than they are. Sometimes, life isn’t fair. Get over it.
8. Acceptable excuses for missing a gig: you are so sick you can’t get out of bed, you’re highly contagious, you’re in the hospital, you’ve been in an accident, you’re dead, or someone close to you died. That’s about it.
9. Not acceptable excuses for missing a gig: a headache, a cold, a sore throat, a slight fever, indigestion, a paper cut, a power outage that rendered all alarm clocks useless, or forgetfulness.
10. If you get a better gig offer, make sure you have a great player who is willing to take your place before you ever call to request getting out of a gig. Don’t say yes to the better gig until you are released from the original one. This shows respect to all parties involved.
1. Don’t go into music to make lots of money.
2. Only pursue a career in music if you can’t imagine doing anything else.
3. There are many more qualified musicians than there are jobs. Figure out how to stand out.
4. Freelancing can be a rewarding career and can be much more varied/interesting than having one full-time position.
5. Being a successful freelancer requires that you’re just as good as full-time players in your town, if not better. You need to be ready at any time to play any music, and do it well. You are the last minute sub, who will be the one to step into a concert cold and fit right in – no knowing what you’re going to play next season.
6. Positive people are more fun to be around than negative ones. The sad freelancer quickly becomes a downer to his/her colleagues. Save your woes for closest family and friends.
7. Pitch can and will change. Be ready to change with it. A tuner only tells you the ballpark figure – anyone who plays with a tuner on his/her stand during a rehearsal or concert does not understand relative vs absolute pitch, or doesn’t care.
8. Playing perfectly with no expression is like speaking words in monotone. It means nothing, and no one wants to hear it.
9. Always be learning from others, listening, and trying to improve. If you think you’re the best and stop working hard, you’ll soon be unpleasantly surprised.
10. Did I mention: no excuses!
Here is some background on Pamela so you get a feeling for the depth of her experience:
Oboist Pamela Ajango has been an in-demand freelance musician and professor for 15 years. She is a member of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Circle City Wind Quintet, and is adjunct professor of oboe at Butler University. She plays regularly with the ISO as a substitute player, with visiting Broadway productions, at local recording studios and area churches, and with regional orchestras and chamber groups. She maintains a successful studio of private students and is an active contractor through her company, Pamela Ajango Music Contracting.
Mrs. Ajango, originally from Indianapolis, began studying the piano at age 6 and then the oboe at age 11 with Malcolm Smith, retired principal oboist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. She completed her Bachelor’s of Music in Oboe Performance, cum laude, from Boston University, where she studied with the esteemed oboist and retired principal of the Boston Symphony, Ralph Gomberg. She received her Master’s in Orchestral Performance from the Manhattan School of Music (high honors) in 1998, studying under Joseph Robinson, now retired as principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic. She is currently an ABD candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from SUNY Stony Brook.
Mrs. Ajango began freelance work at an early age, and by the time she was an undergraduate student, was performing with groups such as the Boston Chamber Orchestra and other area ensembles. She began her full-time freelance career in 1998 in New York City, where she performed regularly as an extra player on Broadway and with orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, the New Jersey Symphony, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. She was a founding member of the SONOS Chamber Orchestra of New York and served as its first personnel manager and soloist at the premiere concert (she continues to serve on the Board of Directors). While in New York, Mrs. Ajango also worked in administrative positions with the New York Philharmonic’s Education Department, Midori and Friends (administrative/grant writing), and CultureFinder.com (online writing for arts events).
Currently, Mrs. Ajango serves on the orchestra committee of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, and is active in working to develop relationships in the community through educational outreach. As a member of the Circle City Winds, she has performed numerous concerts in conjunction with Eli Lilly & Co. and other area businesses that make connections between music and the corporate world. Mrs. Ajango is also active in the IDRS (International Double Reed Society); she presented a recital of new arrangements for wind quintet at the 2006 conference at Ball State University, lectured on Successful Freelance Performance/Teaching Careers (2012 conference, Miami University in Ohio), and was a member of a round-table panel of professionals discussing Creating Your Own Opportunities in Music (2013 conference, University of the Redlands). Mrs. Ajango has a strong interest in new music. In 2011, she commissioned a work for oboe solo by Frank Felice, faculty at Butler University. Titled “The Empty Sky”, it is in memoriam of the victims of the World Trade Center attack, and the premiere performance was in September 2011, 10 years after the events of 9/11. She is currently working with composer Matthew Bridgham on a new work for oboe/bassoon/trumpet/piano (title TBD) to be premiered in 2015.
Mrs. Ajango’s students have continued their studies at some of the most prestigious programs in America, including the Interlochen Academy, and at the Eastman, Oberlin, Rice, Yale, and IU Jacobs Schools of Music. Former students are also performing as professional oboists in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as other locations as far away as Santiago, Chile. Mrs. Ajango has served on the faculties of University of Virginia, the Manhattan School of Music, and Earlham College. She currently holds additional adjunct positions at the University of Indianapolis and Anderson University.