8 Dos and Don’ts of Freelancing

Freelancing has a lot to do with who you know, and what they think of working with you. The most important lesson my teacher Dan Grabois drilled in was to “be a good colleague.” Not only will your working life be more enjoyable, but it will help you get asked back to the gig. Once you’ve reached a certain level on your instrument, it becomes less about your playing, and more about what it’s like to work with you!

Got a hot tip? Post in the comments below. 

1. Do say hello.
You may feel horribly unqualified, or not understand why anyone older and better would care to talk to you, but remember: freelancers are people. People like to be around other pleasant people. Make it a point to greet your colleagues, and introduce yourself to unfamiliar faces. 

(Ever been in a church service when everyone says “Peace be with you”? Try to greet everyone within your “peace” radius.)

2. Do act like a professional, even at low-paying or pro bono gigs.
If you’re punctual, pleasant, adaptable, and helpful, in addition to prepared and competent in your part, you’re presenting yourself as a smart hire. You never know who’s watching to see how you work, and what work they might be hiring for next. Most people would rather hire a fairly good player who is dependable, confirms dates quickly, and is nice to be around, than someone who might play better but is known for being difficult to work with or constantly late. 

This also applies for students: If you’re known around school for being late, unprepared, or generally difficult, your classmates will hesitate to recommend you later in life. Your classmates are the foundation of your network, and your network is your business. 

3. Do respect your “elders” and learn from them.
You may be fortunate enough to encounter mentors who will teach you important lessons along the way and forgive your inevitable mistakes. Show your appreciation and do not take their kindness for granted. No one is obligated to help you.

4. Don’t be phony or insincere.

There’s a fine line between pleasant and ass-kissing, and most people can sense insincerity. If you only target people you deem advantageous to know, and ignore everyone else, people will notice.  Get to know people naturally, and enjoy the process of making new friends. How lucky we are that part of our business is meeting new friends who love music! (Plus, getting drinks with other freelancers and talking about work means the bill is tax-deductible as a business expense.)

5. Do be nice to everyone, even if they stink. 

You may go to a gig and work with players who are below your skill level, whether they are amateurs, students, or just someone who doesn’t play as well as you. They might even be sitting principal. This does not give you license to be a jerk, or to blatantly ignore their pitch center/articulations/phrasing choices. Treat everyone with respect, because in some scenarios you might be the one who stinks! 

6. Don’t wear strong perfume or cologne, especially not in a pit. 

Just don’t. 

7. Don’t take your carpool driver for granted.

You are never entitled to a ride to a gig, so please don’t act like it.

Always offer to meet the driver in a place that is most convenient for them and always offer gas/toll money. Car ownership is not cheap, especially in NYC. If it weren’t for that person owning, maintaining, registering, and driving the car, you probably couldn’t have gotten to the gig.

If you want to be extra nice, text the driver before pickup and ask what kind of coffee/tea they like. 

(Side note, please don’t lie to your carpool driver about having a service dog if it’s just a pet. Not my story, but a true story.)

8. Do enjoy your career. 

Freelance musicians have autonomy, flexibility, and get to play music for money. Take photos/videos (as appropriate), save programs of gigs you’re especially proud of, and enjoy yourself.

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