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Music

How to Be an Online Session Musician: Part 3

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:

In these tutorials I’ve covered the skills and equipment needed for online session work. You can find the others here:

In this tutorial I’ll cover presenting yourself, as well as working with clients.

Self Presentation

Whether you use a third party facility, such as Fiverr, or set up your own website, how you present yourself to the world is critical. You need to convey that you’re:

  • Professional
  • Capable
  • Approachable
  • Competitively Priced

Bearing these in mind, here are some ideas that you should consider.

Create a Short Promo Video

This gives you a means of advertising whilst you build a portfolio. Obviously, make it a high quality effort, and keep it brief, no more than 1-2 minutes. 

Most importantly, it should feature your musical skills.

Audio Examples

Open a SoundCloud account to demonstrate good audio examples of previous work, even if it’s just your own songs. 

Your uploads should be according to who you want to appeal to; if you intend to specialise, highlight your genre of choice. If not, demonstrate your own musical diversity.

Thumbnail

If the promo video is about presenting a professional image, so’s your profile picture. If you don’t have a decent picture, get one taken by someone with a quality digital camera. 

Some low resolution selfie taken in a dimly-lit room at arms length will scream amateur. Ensure it includes your instrument of choice. 

Details, Details

In describing yourself and your services, you need to strike something of a fine balance; you want to be personable, but still professional. Therefore:

  • Use correct sentence construction
  • Check your spelling
  • Avoid text speak

Smiley faces are fine, though :)

Whatever you decide to write, include:

  • Your name
  • What you play/are offering
  • How long you’ve been playing
  • Your background/experience in your chosen instrument(s)/genre(s)
  • List of the equipment you use (highlight your best gear)
  • Clients you’ve worked with (if notable enough to name-drop)
  • Anything that sets you apart from competitors

Advertise Success

Perhaps you've completed a challenging or unusual job or received a good review. Making use of social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and others is another way of raising your profile.

Setting the Price

If you’re unknown to the industry, start with lower prices; you can always increase them later on once you’ve a portfolio and/or reputation. Look at other session musicians in your area of expertise and find out what they’re charging.

Decide on your pricing structure. Is it:

  • Per minute
  • Per instrument
  • Per song
  • If you charge for a fast turnaround time (The answer to this, by the way, is yes)

Encourage Contact

Clients sometimes underpay because they haven’t understood the pricing structure or they may book you to do something that’s outside your remit and/or skills. Therefore, urge clients to contact you before they make a purchase.

A discussion before any commitment is made allows you both to understand clearly what’s required. From your perspective it means you can cost the job accurately or respectfully decline it if it’s not applicable to you, or even worth your time.

Explain Yourself Clearly

Messaging and email have an inherent flaws, in that they’re poor at conveying tone accurately. Therefore, avoid strong emotion, sarcasm and if attempting humour. Judge what you say very carefully; a simple misunderstanding could be disastrous.

Furthermore, you can’t assume the client fully understands your thinking, particularly if your first languages are different. 

Discuss your client’s requirements at length if necessary. Before an order is placed, summarise what you think the client wants, and ask for confirmation accordingly. In this instance, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Terms and Conditions

If you’re working via a third party site, make sure you’ve read and understood the terms that bind both you and your client. This means that no obligation can surprise you, and it could also protect you in the event of any dispute.

When writing the terms of the work you’ll be carrying out, ensure you lay out clearly what you’ll be doing. The onus is then on the client as to whether or not they read them before proceeding. Again, this could protect you later on.

Time Management

Build some extra time into your delivery date. Not only will this give you some margin if unexpected delays occur, but beating the client’s expectation if you deliver early will enhance your reputation.

Protect Yourself

Payment usually occurs after your work’s delivered. However, once they have your work, the client could claim it’s not what they wanted (even if it is), and then refuse to pay for it (this isn’t the norm, but it does happen).

To protect against this, use an audio watermark. As simple as a repetitive noise such as once every 10 seconds, it doesn’t mask the work you’ve delivered, but effectively renders it unusable. Deliver the watermarked work as an mp3, telling the client that once payment is received, you will forward an unmarked WAV version.

Be Helpful but Firm

Occasionally, clients will try to get the better of you, such as:

  • Beat you down on price (it’s your decision as to whether you allow that)
  • Claim more work than you initially agreed to do (word your offer carefully)
  • Tempt you with the promise of ‘future work if this goes well’ (there isn’t any)

Remember: they may be the client, but you should both feel good about working together. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you sense you’re being taken advantage of.

Conclusion

You’re entering a competitive market, so consider the following:

  • Present a professional image
  • Create a short promo video
  • Showcase audio examples of your work
  • Get a decent profile picture
  • Describe your skills and services clearly
  • Set your pricing structure
  • Talk to clients and ask questions
  • Understand the terms you work to
  • Build extra time into delivery estimates
  • Use an audio watermark
  • Don’t be afraid to stand your ground
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