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Questions for Emerging Musicians, By Jim Hopson

In January of 2013, I was asked to give a masterclass for the University of British Columbia low brass students on the subject of career development for young professional musicians. At the time, I was (and still am) a very busy multi-faceted freelance musician (low brass, bass guitar, vocals), composer, arranger, and educator based in the Vancouver, BC

area. I firmly believe that the best way to initiate dialogue and facilitate personal discovery is to ask thought-provoking questions of others, rather than just to lecture them. To that end, I developed this set of questions for emerging musicians. The music business has definitely changed since 2013 - I’m writing this in January of 2021 amidst the coronavirus pandemic - but these questions seem perhaps even more relevant today than they did 8 years ago. My hope is that young (and not-so-young) musicians who read and reflect upon these questions will gain some insights that will help them to prepare for, develop, and direct their careers.


As a Student:

1. Which skills will be most useful to me in my career?

2. What is the best way to acquire those skills?

3. Am I an autodidact, or do I need the structure of formal educational?

4. What level of formal education & accreditation do I need to achieve?

5. What are my strengths and weaknesses?

6. Who are my mentors & inspirations? How can I seek them out?

7. How can I best structure my practice time?

8. How can I invest in myself outside of school? Workshops, festivals clinics, jam sessions, gigs?

9. Am I a lifelong student of music & my instrument?

10. Do I want to be a specialist or a generalist? To what degree?

11. How can I balance my coursework with my playing commitments?

12. Should I complete my degree in 4 years, or would I benefit from some extra time?

13. Do I want to be a player, teacher, arranger, composer, contractor, administrator, etc., or some combination of these?

14. Does the expense of my formal education correlate well with my potential earnings?

15. Which non-music electives will be most useful to me? Which non-musical skills do I need to develop?


As a Performer:

1. What high-level musical skills do I have to offer? (not just playing - arranging, composing, etc.)

2. Which groups/ensembles are in need of those skills?

3. Which styles/idioms can I play convincingly?

4. What are my doubles, and at what level can I play them?

5. How can I develop and maintain balance in my doubling?

6. Am I a leader or a side-person? Or both?

7. Who is (are) my target audience(s)?

8. What are my goals as a musician? In 5 years? 10 years? How flexible are those goals?

9. Can I sightread well? Transpose on the spot? Clefs?

10. Can I play by ear and improvise?

11. Who are my favourite musical collaborators?

12. Am I a consistently excellent performer?

13. Am I an easy musician to work with? (great pitch, time, sound, ensemble skills, communication). In other words:

A. Am I comfortable playing live and/or recorded? Acoustic and/or amplified?

B. Do I have the equipment, skills, and studio space necessary to record/edit/produce professional-level video and audio of my playing? A home studio or access to a recording space?

C. How well do I deal with rejection/failure?


As a Teacher:

1. Am I better at working with individuals or with classes? Which do I prefer?

2. Do I genuinely enjoy teaching, or do I just do it to pay the bills?

3. How deeply do I understand the pedagogy and technique of my instrument?

4. Which instruments can I teach effectively? Valves and slide?

5. Which age groups do I prefer to work with?

6. How deeply do I understand the language of music?

7. Is my teaching approach flexible or rigid? Many approaches or just one?

8. Where will I do my teaching? (in schools, music stores, home studio, universities, online, etc.)

9. How can I motivate, inspire, and retain my students?

10. Am I an analytical teacher or an intuitive teacher? A little of both?

11. Am I teaching the kind of lesson I would like to receive?

12. How easily and simply can I explain and illustrate important concepts?

13. How can I arrange performance, audition, workshop opportunities for my students?

14. What can I learn from my students?

15. How well do I communicate with students (and parents)?How do you deal with 'challenging' students? (learning disabilities, attitudes, lack of practice, etc)

In other words:

A. Am I clear with my expectations for my students?

B. Am I clear with my cancellation & payment policies?

C. How can I use information technology and media to enhance my students’ lessons?


As a Business-Person:

1. Do I need a salaried job, or should I pursue a freelance career? Small business?

2. How can I support myself while I get my career established?

3. How can I promote and advertise myself and/or my musical/educational projects?

4. What image do I want to convey? (offstage & onstage)

5. Where/how can I meet like-minded professionals, and develop valuable contacts in the industry? (Networking)

6. Do I want to establish myself in a city/town, or do I want to be a touring musician?

7. How many people are competing for the same gigs/jobs/contracts as I am?

8. Do I measure up to the standards of professionalism that the industry demands?

9. Am I a detail person or a big-picture person? Or both?

10. What are my material needs/wants, and do they fit in my budget?

11. Which expenses and investments are necessary to the pursuit of my professional goals?

12. What am I willing to sacrifice in order to achieve my career goals?

13. How can I balance artistic success with commercial success?

14. How can I stay organized? (schedule, spreadsheets, music library, income tax, etc.)

15. Am I a good communicator? Easy to work with?

16. How can information technology help my career?

17. How can I embrace and adapt to the changes that happen in the music industry? (career longevity)

18. How can I balance my professional life with my personal life? Family, friends, hobbies, etc.

19. Which non-musical skills do I have to offer? (bilingual, good organizer, good writer, good with numbers, technology, social skills, etc.)

20. How can I find and retain clients? (audiences, students, etc.)

21. What skills can I learn to make myself more employable? Indispensable? (arranging, booking gigs, recording skills, video skills, etc.). In other words, do I know how to contract gigs properly? Sending invoices? Bookkeeping? Basic knowledge of AFM bylaws? Royalties, residuals?


AND THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS!!!

  1. Why do I want a career in in music?

  2. How badly do I want a career in music?

  3. How much time, effort, and passion am I willing to invest in my art?


Jim Hopson is a freelance performer, composer, arranger, and educator who plays trombone (alto/tenor/bass/valve), euphonium, tuba, Swiss Alphorn, bass guitar, and sings. He lives in Surrey, BC with his wife Marissa, two cats, ten fruit trees, and three BBQs. Find him at phonosmusic.com .


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