Get to Work

I present a lot of clinics, and I meet a lot of young, aspiring musicians. A question I get a lot is, “How do I make it as a professional musician?”

That’s a great question, and one with multiple answers.

Play Well, Be Humble

Be prepared to play your instrument at a very high level. Know the level of playing that is out in the real world and strive to be as proficient as possible.

Being able to play well won’t always get you the gig, though! There exists a musical community hierarchy, and it doesn’t matter to the person hiring that you think you play better than someone else. You’re not being hired for your ego. Remember: Music doesn’t owe you a living!! So, how does it happen?

Follow the Scene

First, you have to be in a city such as New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Seattle or New Orleans, which all have thriving music scenes. There are always amazing players in a city that no one on the outside really hears about, but they are local legends. Find them! Hear them play and hang with them. Take them for coffee or lunch and pick their brains. Give them your support at their gigs; that shows you want to become part of that community of musicians.

Be Businesslike

Some basic ideas to follow … be on time (meaning be early) to the gig, be prepared, don’t make excuses, be respectful to others, be polite and don’t take advantage of food and/or drink. When it’s time to solo, serve the tune (no one wants to hear John Coltrane changes at a wedding!). Above all else, be grateful for the gig. Remember: Music is a service industry. Whether in a live or studio situation, these concepts apply. No gig is too small not to care.

You will gain a solid reputation, and people will call you for work if you are easy to get along with, professional, polite, on time, courteous, grateful, and you take care of business. Oh, and you have to play well too.

About the Author

Jeff Coffin is the three-time Grammy Award-winning saxophonist/ composer/educator from Dave Matthews Band (since 2008) and Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (1997 to 2010). As a Yamaha Performing Artist, Jeff has presented more than 300 clinics worldwide—from Farmington, Maine to Perth, Australia. Jeff and the Mu’tet have a new recording, titled “Into the Air,” that debuted on Sept. 4, 2012. Dave Matthews Band released a new recording, “Away From the World,” on Sept. 11, 2012. Visit for more information. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffcoffinmusic.

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