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Brandon Shaw, author of Startup Musician

Brandon Shaw, author of Startup Musician

If you’re a great musician but are trying to figure out how to do it professionally, this page is for you! It contains information you need to get up to speed on what it takes to be a professional musician.

Getting Started With Startup Musician

Being a professional musician is an interesting thing. I wouldn’t trade it for any other job, but it definitely has its challenges. When I finished music school and earned my degree, I didn’t know what to do next. Do I apply for gigs? (as it turns out, no, that’s not a thing) Do I tell everyone I know, “Hey, hire me!” (not quite)

That’s where this blog comes in. I love musicians and want to grow the community of music makers around the world. If you’re just jumping into music as a career, there’s a few things you’re may not be sure about. So let’s dive right in.


Define “Professional Musician”

What does that term even mean? Like Jimi Hendrix? Well, almost, not quite.

There’s two main types of musicians out there. The ones who write their own stuff and are “Artists,” and pretty much everyone else. I’ve written one song in my life (and it was terrible), and I play the bass. Come on, I can’t make an artist career out of that! But I can and have made a career out of being a sideman.

If you’re set on writing the next big rock song, getting a record contract, and living your life like the Rolling Stones, this blog is not for you. If instead you’re a great musician who just doesn’t know what your career is going to look like, you’re my kind of person.

You may not see them at Madison Square Garden, they may not be household names, and you may have never even heard of them, but they’re everywhere. Professional musicians making an honest living doing what they love to do.

What Being a Professional Musician Is Not

1. Being a professional musician is NOT easy, and takes a lot of hard work. 

It’s not all free beer and wonderwall. You’re going to have to work hard in order to make a living, and since you’re a freelancer, your success is all on you. Yes, being a professional musician is a ton of fun. Yes it’s a great way to make a living. But you’re still going to have to put in a lot of work, or you’ll end up on your parents’ couch in a few months.

2. Being a successful professional musician does NOT happen overnight. 

Don’t get frustrated because you don’t have gigs right now. Play the long game. The more things you’re able to do as a musician, the more work you’ll get. Do you know how to sing background vocals? Are you a good private teacher? What about your Sibelius chops? As you build up a reputation for yourself, you’ll start to get more and more work.

3. Being a professional musician is NOT impossible. 

Like I said, the more things you can do, the better. You’re probably going to have to play some dumb music. Wait, you’re definitely going to have to play some dumb music. But don’t view that as you “selling out”. It’s simply you doing what you have to do to pay your rent. Besides, would you rather be working at Starbucks?


Okay, So What Now?

The first thing you should know about being a professional musician is this: it’s all about who you know. Seriously. When someone needs a musician, they don’t google it. They ask someone they know, “Hey, do you know anyone who plays neo-acoustic-hobbit-core harp?” and that person refers them to you. Or someone who actually plays NAHC Harp. With that in mind, read this:

The Number One Thing You Can Do To Get More Work


Here’s the thing about being a pro musician. There’s lots of other people out there that do exactly what you do. Should you view them as your competition? Do you need to out-play and out-gig your fellow musicians? As it turns out, your “competition” will get you more work. Check this out:

You’re Doing It Wrong


Jumping into being a full time musician is a scary thing. If you’re still in school, just about to finish, or are just ready to make the jump into making music your only source of income, how do you make that transition? How do you know when you’re ready? Read on: 

Are You Ready To Be a Full Time Musician?



Also make sure and check out these series of posts:

How To Not Be a Dumb Musician Series (Broken up by instrument)

Musician Web Design (Build your own site on the cheap, essential for freelance musicians)


Also make sure and check out the podcast! Each episode I sit down with a musician who is making a living doing something in music. I’ve interviewed musicians who’ve played with everyone from Aloe Blacc and Mariah Carey to the LA Phil, and everything in between.

Click here to check out the Startup Musician Podcast!

Join The Club

No, I’m not going to spam you. I don’t even know how to do that. If you sign up below, I’ll send you 1 email every Friday with the latest from Startup Musician, the best stuff from the internet, and a new rhythm chart for free.


Thank You!

Thanks for visiting, I’m glad you’re here. Seriously. We gotta stick together. If you have any questions about anything, feel free to email me here. I’d love to hear from you.