What is it that really separates musicians who make a career out of music, and those who 'pursue' music as a career, but don't quite 'make it'? Aside from the obvious - talent, songs, work ethic, etc. - what really separates the two is that the successful musician has found his market. That is, he has found his niche in the music community where he can make a living from his craft.
So, exactly how do you go about finding your niche? That's the subject that we're going to hone in on in the next few minutes.
Now, I'm writing this article for a guitar based website, so let's cut straight to the chase. A lot of the music on this site is instrumental guitar-based music, so how would an instrumental guitarist find his niche? To figure this out, we really need to dissect the guitar based instrumental genre and see what opportunities are out there for us.
If we specifically look at the instrumental rock genre for the past 20 years or so, the 'main players' have not changed - Vai, Satriani, Eric Johnson, Steve Morse, Petrucci, Gilbert, etc. But how many new 'stars' have risen in the community? Not many. Granted, there are players out there who are getting some notoriety, but not on the level of the aforementioned group. My point is that there really isn't much turnover in this genre like there is in the pop world, or the rock world, where there is an onslaught of new bands every few years and the bands from 20 years ago are virtually non-existent.
To dissect it one step further, half of the aforementioned 'guitar heroes' have been in very well known bands prior to their solo careers. This creates a dilemma for the majority of us because it makes the genre an even tougher nut to crack, which simply means that we need to think of a few alternate routes to get our music, and name, out to the masses.
There are amazing websites like this one that caters to our genre, but that's just one slice of the pie in getting our music out there. In order for us to make a career out of this, we need to look at some other avenues we can take to find our market and bring in some income.
Everyone's path is going to be different depending on your individual talents and goals. Maybe your path is through endorsements and getting your face in every music magazine endorsing gear by various companies which could lead to playing clinics around the world. Maybe you just want quit your 9-5 and work in your home studio everyday writing for music libraries. Or, maybe you want to go the Trevor Rabin route and work your way into composing for films. The list is as endless as the amount of people reading this article, but no matter what it is you want to do to make a living as a musician, you really have to sit down and figure out who and what your true market is.
Let me finish off by giving you a quick example from my own life and career.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I wanted to get involved in writing music for film and television. I quickly got some work playing guitar for a composer who wrote for some daytime soap operas and within a few months I was learning about the role that music supervisors play in placing songs in television shows and films. I began networking with them and gave one of them a CD after a session. Two weeks later I had my first placement on a network show during the prime time slot. It was a featured song and this was the start of my career with placing my songs in film and TV.
I've licensed every song off my instrumental solo album "Stained Voodoo" numerous times. I'm by no means a household name, but I can say with almost 100% certainty that if you watch a fair amount of television, that my music has been pumped through your television speakers. It's a niche, it's a market, and it's a living. It also allows me the freedom and time to pursue session work, touring with various artists, and writing/performing with my band Chasing Saints.
The world is such a huge market for music of all types. If you take the time to look outside the box, the opportunities to make a living from your music are literally endless. However, you do have to put in the time and effort to being creative and finding that market, just like you put in the time and effort to learning the instrument, learning the craft of songwriting, and ultimately recording your work. You've come this far, why not go all the way? Now go find your market!
Michael Elsner is a guitarist based in Los Angeles, CA, where he has played on sessions for Miramax Films, Chrysalis Music Publishing, and various television, album and film projects. He has written an instructional book called "Introspective Guitar".
His latest instrumental CD is entitled "Stained Voodoo".
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