Tuesday, January 24, 2012

10 Things Every Collaborative Pianist Should Have

Today's guest post is written by Nancy Harder, who speaks to musicians about being entrepreneurial and tossing out the status quo on her blog, The Composed Musician. She's an active collaborative pianist, teacher, and writer. She's also on the faculty at Virginia Tech's Department of Music. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter on The Composed Musician for inspiration and news.

These are the things I've needed time and again as a collaborative pianist. Some of them have taken me a while to learn about and implement, but they've all made a big difference in my career as an entrepreneurial collaborator.

The list, of course, doesn’t include the indefinables - the gifts, talents, character set, and mindsets that are needed to be a musician.

But, these are the 10 simple things that will make a big difference in the marketing and success of yourself and your talents as a collaborative pianist, whether you’re a professional, amateur or something in between.

1. Website

If I could get all musicians in the world to do one thing for their business, this would be it. Have a website. Have a website. Have a website.

It’s best to have a dedicated domain (a la youname/brand.com), but using a free host like WordpressBlogspot, and Musicteachershelper also works well.

Make sure the site’s clean & organized. Simple = classy.

Think of your website as your portfolio, a one-stop preview of who you are and what you do. 

What could you include to give people the full picture of what you do, what you’ve done, and what you’d like to do in the future?

2. Great Bio

Have a carefully crafted bio at the ready. Don’t be shy about what you’ve done and who you've worked with.

Take note of bios you like and assimilate what you’ve liked best from other people’s bios.

This is important: have both a long and short version. The long version’s for your website, marketing materials, etc. The short version is a good blurb for certain programs, newsletters, etc.

This is not the same thing as a CV/resume. Though, you should have one of those at the ready too.

3. Cocktail Line

What do you do? 

Does hearing this question in social situations make you break out into a sweat? 

Having a great cocktail line may seem insignificant, but it’s not about small talk. It’s about a quick, authentic round-up of what lights you up in the world presented with confidence.

And you never know who you could next be standing in front of.

4. Professional Photos

Have a good headshot and/or professional photos. The investment will be worth it, I promise. 

You can use the photos on your website, promo material, business cards, programs, facebook profile/page, twitter profile, linkedin, etc.

Think about the image you want to get across. If you’d like a range of pics, work with the photographer and be detailed about what you’d like to convey and for what purpose.

Whatever you do, avoid photos that look like they were snapped by a friend at a party or were taken by yourself. 

If it's been more than 10 years since your last photo shoot, it's time to update. You don't want to be unrecognizable in your professional photos. It's distracting and reads as lazy.

5. Business Card

It never fails; the day you forget to carry business cards will be the day a prospective collaborator/event manager/etc…will come up and ask you for one. 

And it just doesn’t feel as elegant to have to grab a scrap of paper to put your info on.

Get some cards printed up cheaply at an online printing service, like Vistaprint.com. (Again, simple is better.) 

And if you’re into arty flair, Moo.com is great for specialty products and cards.

6. Respectable E-mail Address

Avoid monikers like greeneyedpianoplaya@aol.com.

Your name (e.g. janedoe@gmail.com) is better, a dedicated e-mail is best (e.g. jane@janedoe.com). 

Get on the Gmail train if you still hear “you’ve got mail” when you check your e-mail.

7. Attire

Don’t add stress to your life and wait until the last minute to find the right outfit for performances.

Let's face it. As collaborators our concert wardrobe is predominately black, but due to the variety of concert settings we need all kinds of black (Sunday matinee, evening, white tie, etc….) as well as more colorful concert attire.

Make sure you have a pair of shoes you’re comfortable performing in and are scuffed up to prevent slipping on newly polished stage floors.

Ladies - have flattering make-up and hair styles practiced and ready to go. Watch out for too-high heels that are difficult to maneuver on the piano pedals.

8. Set rates + availability

Know EXACTLY what your rates are and EXACTLY when you’re available. 

Don’t wait until a request comes to set a rate or figure out your calendar. This is when the risk of overbooking at too little money becomes very high.

Being very clear about your rates & availability is a form of service and respect to yourself and others.

I say this all the time on my blogIt's our job as musicians to teach the world the value of what we do. 

Want others to respect your role as collaborative pianists? It's up to you to teach others the value of what you do and proactively set what you're worth.

9. Proactive responses

Don’t waste time crafting responses to requests every time one comes in. This is reactive and a big energy waster. Be proactive and have set responses to requests.

For example, create a “Yes, I’m interested. Take a look at more of my info on my website…” e-mail and a “I’m honored you thought of me. However, I’m unavailable/my rate is ___. Here are people I recommend…”

Of course, the e-mail is personalized, but the structure and language of the response is already done and is effortlessly courteous and professional.

10. Have it in writing

Have everything in writing, whether contract, agreement, dates, price, etc… 

It not only protects you legally, but you’ll find people step up their commitment when it becomes official.


  1. Excellent and useful post! Will pass on to my students. :)

  2. Karen4:07 PM

    Great post! I got new headshots done a couple of months ago and just got business cards ordered. I'll definitely pass this info along to my students and colleagues!

  3. Anonymous11:15 AM

    Excellent! Do you have any good examples of resumes you could recommend as examples?

    Thanks for what they seldom, if ever, teach us in Music Schools!

    1. Here's a link to the Musicians' Resume Handbook: