Taking Initiative

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Leah Kruszewski
Taking Initiative

Drummer and Lessonface teacher Magesh recently wrote this great article on Taking Initiative in the music business.  He makes a few great points and shares examples and insights on how to move forward as a professional musician.  Very few musicians become professionals by being randomly stumbled upon and discovered. Most of the work we have to do ourselves, little by little, and every now and then we’ll get a ‘lucky’ break.  A university teacher of mine used to repeat, ‘A ‘break’ is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.’  

I especially love ‘#1 Ask yourself how you can add more value to the current situation.’  This applies to so many experiences that we often find ourselves in as professional musicians.  Every gig asks something a little different of us. I experience this in flamenco, where performers of very different experience levels often come together for the same show.  

Sometimes I accompany dancers as they perform their first ever flamenco show.   In that situation, it’s my job to support them with strength and rhythmic security, and to not try out any ‘fun’ new ideas that might be confusing for them to hear in the moment.  Other times I work with singers and dancers who have been performing for decades and I am very much the ‘baby’ of the group. In those situations it’s my job to prepare as well as I can (sometimes you can’t, as flamenco shows are often improvised/unrehearsed) and relax as much as possible.  I can trust the more experienced artists to communicate what they need from me in the moment and to help the team resolve any sticky situations we get into in the moment. A successful live performance is not so much about being ‘up to par’ with your ensemble members - it’s about good communication in the moment.  

Sometimes situations ask things from you that have nothing to do with music.  Sometimes they demand a good attitude in front of a frustrating challenge, or tolerance and flexibility with musicians who work very differently from you.  Or sometimes there is work involved that’s not part of your ideal job description. Recently, I didn’t realize that a venue where I’d booked a gig doesn’t help at all with promotion.  I had to work really hard both on social media and spreading fliers in the street to attract a very modest audience. I didn’t like using my pre-performance time that way, but it was my fault for not getting the full details first.  

It's really unbecoming when some artists let their ego get the best of them and act like a certain gig is ‘beneath’ them.  It’s fine to be discriminatory about what sort of work you accept, but once you take a gig, bring your best attitude to the music and to any unforeseen circumstances that arise.  Your mindset affects the music on some level, even in a large ensemble.

What tips do other teachers have on Taking Initiative?  Any reflections on or further examples of the points Magesh raised?  

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