New to the profession

So you’ve just graduated from music college and are entering the exciting and daunting world of professional music.  What now?  I’ve been freelancing for nearly four years and I’ve come up with some “top tips” to remember.  I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, so I hope this will help you avoid some of the pitfalls.  Good luck!

1) Learn how to take rejection and criticism: Can anything compare to the anguish of a bad audition?  Or being told you’re no longer on a trial for a job you were dying to get?  When I first started trialling and auditioning, I took each rejection so personally and every one was a little wound I carried around with me.  It was really damaging to my confidence and it’s taken me a long time to get over.  I try to remember that each setback is a learning opportunity, so I always ask for feedback in order to turn a negative into a positive.

2) Be proactive:  Contact professionals you admire for extra work auditions and lessons, audition for every job that comes up, and send your CV to freelance orchestras. When I left college, I made it a rule to dedicate at least one day a week to professional development and it really helped.

3) Keep taking lessons:  You’ve finished music college, but this doesn’t mean you’ve finished growing and developing as a player.  One lesson with a really great teacher is worth weeks of practicing on your own, and can give you insight into the profession that you wouldn’t have without them. Believe me, it’s more than worth the money.

4) Treat what you do like a job:  You’re an artist, but you still have to do normal stuff like administration and taxes.  Speaking of taxes, KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS. You’ll thank me next January.

5) Triple check your diary:  It can be really tricky to keep track of a busy schedule, but believe me, you never want to get the phone call from a fixer asking, “Where are you?”. I still get nightmares about the time it happened to me. Do whatever it takes to be organised and on time.

6) Use your free time well:  You’re always preparing for your next big gig, even if you haven’t been booked for it yet.  It’s incredibly disheartening to look ahead at an empty diary and can make it really difficult to find motivation, but remember that you could get a last-minute call at any moment, so keep practising!

Kate Cole practising hard…

7) Use social media for good not evil:  Do promote events, cheer your friends on, and share cat videos. Don’t surreptitiously brag.  No one likes a clanger!

8) Don’t compare yourself with others: There will always be someone doing better than you. The sooner you make peace with that, the happier you’ll be.

9) Value your time:  So you’ve had a slow month and someone asks you to do a two day patch of work, but they’re offering very bad money . What do you do?  This is tricky, because we all need to pay the bills, but it’s important to look at the big picture when it comes to low-paid gigs.  If it’s a favour for a friend or a project you care about, go ahead and take it! Remember though, that some people take advantage of young musicians by offering very low fees.  This is exploitative and it hurts the profession.  You’re better off getting some private pupils and using that time to practise.

10) Remember why you became a musician in the first place: You’re pursuing this career because you love music and can’t imagine a life without it.  Most of the remuneration you get from this career will not be monetary.  Foreign travel, impromptu drunken chamber music evenings, and lazy Monday mornings – these are some of the experiences that make it all worth it. Be grateful for what you have, don’t dwell on what you don’t.


By Kate Cole, London-based freelance violinist and graduate of the Royal Academy of Music

18 June 2017