So you’ve decided to be a professional performer, whether that’s as a musician/singer (solo or band), an actor, a presenter/host/MC or something else. You might be aware, to some extent, that it’s a tricky industry to get into and become successful but you’ve decided that you’re willing to give it a go as you love performing and would like to make it your career.
Like any career there are certain aspects that are common regardless of the industry, these include continuous professional development (CPD), great communication skills and the ability to market yourself to future employers. These are very different but crucial elements to keep in mind when planning your career, as relying on luck and being discovered is certainly the riskiest and least probable way of achieving your ambition.
Let’s look at the three aspects I just mentioned in a little more detail with a specific attention on those in the performing arts industry.
<b>CPD (Continuous Professional Development)</b>
You should never stop learning and improving your skills in the area you want to be employed in. You might believe that you’re an amazing musician as you’ve got grade 8 in your preferred instrument or play multiple instruments; you might think that you’re an incredible actor as you’ve had good praise for your role in a local performance of a Shakespeare production; you might feel you’re born to entertain because you filled the room with laughter when you presented a local talent show. Self confidence is one half of the battle, it’s important to not let it turn into delusions of grandeur and believe that you can’t possibly be ignored due to your performing gifts.
A successful performer will not only continually practising their current skills, but will also honestly review their skills that aren’t quite up to the same standard as their best attributes. They will also look at the abilities offered by others in the same area and add any skills that are missing, as you need to offer a service that stands out from others. Whether this means learning other instruments, becoming a more proficient joke teller, learning a wide range of accents/languages or something else.
This should be happening all the time as this is now part of your job as a professional performer and it’s what makes you good enough to be hired repetitively. You’ve not reached your current stage by not practising your craft, so don’t take it for granted.
The only way that you will get any work in your chosen profession is by communicating effectively with the people that are offering jobs and looking for people to employ. For every job that becomes available there are more and more people trying to be the chosen one. In order to improve the chances of that final person being you, there are various things that you can do in the way you communicate that will make you stand out in a positive way.
Firstly, you need to act professionally at all times, even if the person you’re trying to impress is very informal in the way they converse with you. They have earned the right to be this way as they’re the decision maker, but don’t get caught unaware by letting them set the tone of the exchange. Finding the balance between being friendly and formal is a skill that’s definitely worth working on… financially worth it.
Secondly, and along similar lines to the first point, make sure that your written communication is done using proper spelling, grammar and formats. For instance, when sending emails you should always start with a greeting and the body of the message underneath, finally followed with an appropriate closing. Again, even if the other person just sends you one liners, don’t let that set the tone, stick to your professional practise as that will be noticed and will help you stand out as someone who has high standards. For spelling and grammar there are plenty of free online services to help you with this, so make the little effort it takes to do this, especially if you know that spelling and grammar is not a strength.
Thirdly, and possibly most importantly if you’re that way inclined. Don’t fly off the handle or jump to conclusions. When speaking to someone verbally, either over the phone or face to face, you need to plan your key discussion points beforehand, especially if negotiating a contract. Have several different scenarios in your mind from best to worst so that you can either call it a day if the offer isn’t even close to your worst case, or discuss things maturely to find a compromise if it’s somewhere in between your ideal options. Either way, if no agreement is reached just thank them for their time and bid them farewell. This behaviour will be remembered and if another job comes up that has better conditions then you will be contacted as someone who is worth speaking to. When doing this over email you will have time to make your case coherently and diplomatically before hitting the send button. The results will be positive both in the short term or long term.
This isn’t an exclusive list regarding communication skills but you should always consider this when looking for work. Even once you’ve been hired, these skills will help you give great customer service to help you get future jobs and build a solid and professional reputation. Maintaining strong professional working relationships with all those you make contact with will be a valuable tool in your ability to find ongoing work.
There are thousands of books that can be read about this topic and there are courses about it up to PhD level, so don’t expect to be an expert in this area, but it’s important to understand the basics, particularly in relation to the performing arts industry and your area of expertise too.
When contacting promoters, bookers, venues, agents or whoever it is that could be hiring you, they need access to high standard promotional material about you. This should included professional images, either head shots or performance shots, a well written bio and copies of any publicity you’ve had that offers an idea of how third parties have enjoyed your past performances. Back in the day this information used to be sent as hard copies in the post, and some people are old school and will still ask for this, however in today’s technological age you should also have an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) that can be sent over email. This could either be a PDF file or a link to an online web version that includes video footage too, or both… why not?
There are expected standards in your EPK, so you may want to work with someone who has some graphic design training to help you put together something that stands alongside others and won’t be deleted instantly or shown to others for their amusement. You may also want to work with a copy editor who can help you make your story engaging and in line with who you are as a performer. This will separate you from others who may use generic formats and repeat clichéd phrases. Make it personal and let your personality shine through.
You’re a performer not a marketer, so only spend a proportionate amount of time on this aspect, as you need to be primarily focusing on your performing skills. However don’t ignore it, as this is a key part of how you get work. It can be a trial and error process, so be prepared to make mistakes and adjust them as you go to find the sweet spot that helps you get the jobs you want.
Everything I’ve written about here is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of planning your performance career effectively. It can be a little overwhelming when you start but if you’re committed to enjoying a successful career in the performing arts industry then it’s worth putting in the hard work to enjoy the fruits of your labour when you get there.