As a musician, one of the questions I get most often is, “What do you play?” Seems like a simple question, but not always easy to answer. I go to school for percussion, and in that I mostly play marimba and vibraphone. However, I mostly teach drum set and marching percussion. I also play hammered dulcimer in my old time music groups. I’ve been learning classical guitar and mountain dulcimer for fun, and I sing on occasion. These ventures outside my comfort zone (apart from being a lot of fun) have made me a lot more marketable as well.
Diversifying yourself as an artist can sometimes be a daunting task. We’re going outside of our comfort zones and doing things that we’re not used to. You hope that one day you’ll be paid to do only things that you want to do, but when just starting out, it’s best to keep yourself involved in as many different things as you can. When tackling something new, I like to go through these three steps to help me through. I’m sure there are a lot of little steps along the way, but I think this system allows you to become more diverse without spending a lot of time and money.
Getting back to basics: Everyone seems to have their own specialty or preference when it comes to what they do as an artist. In music, it could be a preference of style with classical vs. jazz vs. pop. However, having even a rudimentary understanding of other areas in your field can go a long way. Just learning the basics does not take much time and can greatly increase your total understanding of your field as a whole. The best part is that “basics” are usually easy to find and learn about for free on the internet.
Creativity: Now that you have the basics, use what you know to figure out solutions to problems that arise. I remember several years ago, I was put in charge of fixing quite a few percussion instruments for a music camp that was going on. I was put in a large room with a bunch of broken instruments, a small toolbox, a basic understanding of fixing things, and no budget. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had! Each broken instrument was like a new puzzle. I made a game out of using only the pieces I had to fix each instrument. I left that summer with a greater understanding and appreciation of the way the instruments were made and a great skill set. I went on to my masters and doctoral programs in charge of repairing instruments as of my assitantships. I’ve also gotten some side work fixing instruments for various schools and churches. I don’t consider myself a master by any means, but I took my basic understanding of instrument repair, applied a little creativity and found a new outlet for making extra money and connections.
Knowing your resources: No one expects you to know everything, which is good because you can’t know everything when a problem arises. However, it is more important that you know how to get the answer. Don’t be afraid to ask advice from someone who’s already knowledgeable this new endeavor for you. The internet is also good, but beware of false information. Using online tools that you know are available and that you can trust will make you feel more comfortable and confident in your business.
I seems that as artists, we are slow to admit our weaknesses. We all have them, but by taking some time to work on just some of your weaknesses, you can make yourself more marketable and profitable.