While there’s no doubt that every music genre is highly competitive, classical music presents a variety of aspects that makes it unique and so, perhaps, more difficult to break through. For one, its musical language is often more formal and structured, and its style tends to be more complicated, comprising multiple simultaneous music ideas and varied harmonic progressions. For one to succeed, they must spend considerable time practicing.
What’s more, in classical music, it’s often the composers, not the players, who are considered relevant – even though many of them passed away a long time ago. As a musician, it may be more intricate to build a name for yourself.
So how does one get ahead in their classical music career? We’ve got a few tips for you!
What is the classical music industry like now?
Not surprisingly, a considerable shift in the classical music industry happened as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a matter of fact, many sources reported back in the days that the financial impact of Covid-19 has had severe consequences on the careers of many musicians. A survey conducted in 2020 revealed that in the UK alone, musicians, on average, lost around £11,300 from concert cancellations between March and December 2020.
Although some artists were successful in securing financial support from their governments and grants from various music organizations, many others were struggling to make ends meet. As a result, a great number of artists were trying to get any work they could get to make a living, whether it was gardening, selling groceries, or bricklaying. Even worse, many have decided to leave their profession entirely to find a more secure and stabler career.
Whilst since then, arts and live music have been rather restored and classical music has been on the rise in popularity, an abundance of musicians have pointed out the constant difficulty of navigating through the industry. In a brief article, a former clarinet player and a Julliard alum, Zach Manzi, drew attention to several aspects that have made it challenging for him to actually feel content as a classical music artist.
Whether it’s the constant pressure to be excellent, the industry’s resilience to change, or putting the audience’s experience first, Manzi has called the industry unsustainable and unfulfilling in the long run. And he is by far not the only one.
Now, don’t get us wrong, this is not to put you off from your dream of becoming a professional musician. After all, the way one perceives the industry is purely subjective. However, various opinions and assumptions might indicate certain complexities of the genre that make the profession demanding and a bit less destined for success.
Handy tips for building your classical music career
1. Work actively on mastering you instrument’s techniques
While admitting that talent plays an important role, the violinist and professor Josef Rissin emphasized the relevance of mastering one’s instrument’s technique. Although he was mostly referring to violin performance, we do believe that it is applicable across all varieties of musical instruments.
Rissin has pointed out that only with a ‘perfected’ technique is a person capable of conveying their musical ideas, messages, emotions, and interpretations, which ultimately sets them apart from their competitors.
2.…and pay attention to the essentials
In order to fully grasp someone’s composition, it’s also key to be intentionally and comprehensively focused on the essentials of the work. In Rissin’s opinion, the goal of every artist should be to gain an absolute understanding of a composition’s depths, facets, and wisdom and to do so, one has to internalize and work through the composition step by step.
Only then is the artist able to deliver a transparent and immersive performance, convincingly expressing their emotions and truthfully conveying their own voice through their instrument.
3. Be clear of your ambitions
Ambitions do play an important role as they tend to inspire and drive us to accomplish what we’ve set out to do. However, are they really that crucial? Apparently so!
A ten-year study conducted by researchers from the universities of Melbourne and New South Wales in Australia has revealed that long-term musical ambitions are as relevant to achieving and maintaining high levels of skills and ability as sustained instrumental practice.
The study has also shown that those artists who started envisioning a career in music from a young age were found to be better players than those who did not (even if they have practiced equally).
This assumes that your ambitions can literally push you to be a better musician which can, as a result, set you up for greater success!
4. Focus on building influential relationships
There are different types of relationships that you should strive to build and nurture as part of your music career. This includes, among other things, relationships with fellow musicians and other experts from the industry; professional agencies that can help you secure performances, as well as your own audience.
Just like in other genres, networking can generally take you far in your career, and establishing high-quality, influential connections can be essential for you as a classical musician. What you need to bear in mind is that it takes time and effort to build such relationships so you do need to remain patient.
It’s also crucial to be direct and clear about your goals and intentions when approaching and meeting certain people. Relationships can only yield positive results if both parties know whether and, if so, how, they can help each other and contribute to one another’s journey.
As for your target audience, a solid online presence and a well-defined personal artist brand may help you strengthen your relationship with them. Be sure to share interesting content and powerful stories that will allow your fans to be able to relate more to you. Classical music is known for its ability to evoke emotions in the listeners so make sure to use this power in your communication to establish and care for the bond with your audience.
5. Stay curious and try different things
While, as mentioned in one of the previous points, professor Josef Rissin highlights the importance of perfecting one’s technique and paying attention to essentials, the violinist Todd Phillips can’t stress enough how important it is to nurture your curiosity.
In his opinion, it’s absolutely imperative to be open-minded toward different styles and genres and explore new melodies, harmonies, and instrumental techniques, as well. This way, an artist is more likely to discover, what may otherwise be, the hidden essence of character, structure, and emotions in a composition.
Remember that music, particularly in terms of connecting with an audience, is about creating an experience that is considered extraordinary in comparison to the everyday events in our lives. Exploring ways to make such experiences even more unforgettable can further enhance your performance, especially in terms of authenticity and naturalness.
Being musically and artistically curious may also help you truly understand what it is that you excel at or that makes you unique. Being generally good without having a specific focus or expertise will make you easy to forget. If you don’t know what you’re particularly good at yet, you’ll never know without simply trying a bunch of different things. Overall, you should aim to diversify what you’re doing in order to eventually stand out from the crowd.
6. Be an artist and entrepreneur at the same time
Nowadays, being a classical music artist certainly differs from the rather traditional public perception. Mostly due to vast technological developments, it’s simply not enough to be an excellent musician and exceptional performer. Today’s artist needs to have developed entrepreneurial thinking and gain knowledge of marketing, promotion, and social media in order to continuously thrive in their career.
Speaking from her own experience, professional cellist Astrid Schween strongly believes that to stand the best chance of not only surviving but also flourishing as a professional musician, one has to be highly adaptable, versatile, and flexible. Only then can a person explore and create opportunities in places where they might not have originally existed, and adjust their goals to the changes happening around them.
Establishing a career in classical music might be hard, but not impossible. Knowing that a professional musician is something you truly aspire to become is ultimately the first step to take. Mastering your instrument’s technique, building influential relationships, nurturing your creativity, and establishing entrepreneurial thinking are some of the things that you can do next to get ahead in your career.
Do you need more guidance as a classical music artist? Check out our articles and guides about promoting and mastering classical music; copyright protection of classical tracks, and the position of women in the industry.
All You Need.
All in One Place.
Get tips on How to Succeed as an Artist, receive Music Distribution Discounts, and get the latest iMusician news sent straight to your inbox! Everything you need to grow your music career.