As a guy who’s been freelancing for quite some time now, I’ve got some thoughts on the hidden dangers of getting too enmeshed in the freelance scene while you’re auditoning for jobs. While I’m being a little overly dramatic with the title for this post, there is a real danger to getting spread too thin when you during your prime audition years.
Most people have a window of prime auditioning years, during which it is most likely that they will get a job. This window is usually from around 22 years old to 30 years old. This age bracket is when the typical musician completes an undergraduate degree (perhaps entering grad school during this window) or an advanced training program like the New World Symphony and is the period of life with the most concentrated period of professional study (lessons, coachings, etc.) and the least amount of outside distractions.
This window has less to do with a muscian’s actual age and more to do with the amount of non-musical committments and distractions that inevitably crop up in life. As you get older, you have to worry about silly little things like:
Each of these things, while a natural part of life, take away time, energy, and focus from the audition circuit. Combine that with the less intense musical skills grooming of non-academic life and you have a steep decline in auditon success for many people.
If you think it’s hard to prepare for auditons while in school or just after finishing school, wait until you have some of the above responsibilities! The amount of time spend honing your craft will probably never be greater than while in school, and most auditons these days (2008 and beyond) are won by musicians still in school or just out of school.
Does this mean that it’s impossible to win an auditon after this time frame, or when you have a wife, house, and three kids to drop off at school? Of course not! Many people in their 40s and beyond win positions with all these responsibilities and then some, but the odds of success diminish on average due to these factors.
It really doesn’t have anything to do with actual physical age, just what tends to happens in a person’s life as they reach a certain age. A 40-year-old who immerses himself or herself in a musical environment (music school, New World, etc.) similar to that of a typical 22-year-old is likely to have results similar to these younger colleagues. Most people, however, find diminished time and resources for audition preparation-style practicing–the kind with 5 hour daily practice sessions and frequent lessons/coachings–as they get older.
So, is auditioning a young person’s game? Yup. Does that mean that older musicians can’t succeed? Of course not. Some musicians (though not most) actually find that diminished time focuses their preparation and gives them the fire to play their best–gotta get a job that pays the bills! Most musicians, however, have a distinct window of opportunity for auditioning.
With this in mind, I have six brief tips for making the most of these prime audition years:
1. Guard your time! – We all have to find a way to make a living, and locking yourself up and doing nothing but practicing eight hours a day can end up driving you nuts, but take great care not to spread yourself too thin. Most musicians cannot play out of town gigs every night, teach a large private studio, and effectively prepare for an audition. Some people, if they need to work while they’re taking auditons (this probably includes most people) actually find it easier to have a 9-to-5 regular job rather than freelancing.
2. Put yourself out there – This may seem like contradictory advice to tip #1, but it’s not. In order to make progress in the music world, you’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there and take a chance on things. Go to concerts (you are going to concerts, right?), then go backstage and meet the performers. Attend masterclasses, audition for summer festivals, and make appointments to play for the best performers and teachers on your instrument. Your persistence will pay off in spades in the long run.
3. Seize opportunities – if you keep working hard and attempting to make inroads into the professional music scene, opportunities will present themselves. Learn to distinguish between valuable opportunities and time wasters. This can be difficult at times, so consult a trusted teacher or mentor when deciding whether to go on that tour, take that fellowship, move to that city, or any other such life-changing decision.
4. Be wary of the freelance scene – Freelancing is a great way to make some cash, get some experience, and get known as a valuable commodity in your particular scene. Be wary of going “gig crazy” and clogging up all your time with commutes to far-flung locales. If you do decide to become a freelancer, you’ll have many years of this lifestyle ahead of you! Leave time for practicing and attending live performances, and take care that you don’t burn out early.
5. Take a lot of auditions…but prepare! – Some people take every audition that comes along, regardless of how much they’ve practiced. Others never take any auditions, being perpetually dissatisfied with their playing. The correct balance for most lies somewhere between these two extremes. Take auditons that you’ve prepared for, but don’t freak out if you haven’t reached some arbitrary level of preparation you’ve set for yourself. You get better at taking auditions by taking auditions, but only if you’ve practiced enough to set yourself up for success. You may play poorly due to nerves, but you shouldn’t play poorly because you haven’t done your homework!
6. Set yourself up for success – Sometimes the simple things in life, like being friendly to people and showing up on time, are the determining factors in a person’s success. Step outside of yourself for a moment. How do you come across to others? Are you the type of person you’d want to hang out with? If not, why? Believe it or not, sometimes all it takes is not being a jerk or wierdo!