Hi, I’m a harpist from San Antonio, 14 years old, and wondering when
“How old” I think there’s no age requirement, but it would be a good idea to connect with the San Antonio office of the American Federation of Musicians. You can e-mail Sam Folio at: firstname.lastname@example.org. There you will find the address, telephone, etc. of that Local. Best is to actually go in and tell them what you told about yourself in this post here. They have all kinds of help for young musicians, and if you decide to join, even more help as you will have contact with many other harp players who do what you wish to do,with friendly advice about repertoire, what fees to ask, and much more. I’m in a different state but am now a “life member” and I owe so much to my membership, for the extremely happy career in music.
Good for you!
While your friends are flipping burgers you can earn some quality cash and gain some real world experience that will last you a lifetime.
I am going to throw a few thoughts at you which may set you on your way.
No particular order.
Firstly – there is no set formula to making money as a harpist performer – you have to try various avenues until things start to click for you, you start to find an initial comfort zone then grow from there.
As you progress you need to push the barriers of that comfort zone and try a few things that at first seem uncomfortable but with familiarity become easier to do.
Eventually this creates several channels of potential income.
Clients and trends can be illusive so you are always cultivating new angles so as one trend dies another rises from your pool of experience.
There are many things you can do besides play weddings – some of which are good training.
So the message is try lots of angles – see what happens.
Do not put your harp at physical risk.
Do not take gigs that may damage your harp.
Brides have really weird ideas of where a harp can be.
Ask a lot of questions before agreeing to do a gig!
You should never be surprised when you arrive at a gig.
If you play outdoors always bring your own emergency shade – ie a 9″ umbrella as the sun moves and a bride’s best intentions may fall short and you end up baking.
Bring all the gear you are going to need.
Do not rely on “finding” chairs etc.
They always dim the lights 30 seconds before a dinner starts – be ready with your own lights.
Have a nice white carpet that people will not stand on – helps maintain space around your harp.
Have your own helper – well meaning bystanders will want to help carry the harp – that can cost you a broken harp.
Get performance experience in various settings
Volunteer at a few seniors residences – possibly in a hospice lobby – not bedside.
At 14 you can make really good money busking at a local market.
Dress on the “young” side
People will have short attention spans and you learn to “hook” them a little.
Beware of becoming to overly cheesy with your performance.
It does not translate well to more formal settings.
But it is huge for your confidence and you do not need a large repertoire.
Lots of skills to learn.
List every harp related expense on a spreadsheet.
Every gig expense.
Assume it costs$0.60/mile to operate a car.
Track your costs carefully.
That will give you incentive to raise your prices as your opportunities grow.
Figuring out charges can be very difficult.
All this data helps a lot.
Record every gig – how many people – how long – fee
This is a reference for future quotes.
Quoting can be super tough.
Do not beat yourself up when you get it wrong.
In a while you will need a website.
Approach your high school infotech teacher and get him/her to create it as a project where you will work with someone to make a site.
Keep it simple.
Understand simple SEO before writing copy.
You will make many changes to it as you grow into harping.
Having longer term website design support is huge.
Own your own domain.
Make a simple handout on your computer – it can be quite small.
Include your website URL if you have one
Always have it available when you are playing and pass it out freely to those asking questions.
Business cards are over rated.
A nice pix of you with harp on a handout is way better.
Handouts can be changed weekly – very short print runs.
Biz cards can take forever to run out.
Websites are the way to go.
Social media may only get your friends out.
Choose your favourite charity
Play for them for free.
Everybody else pays a fee.
You may discount
but always quote full fee then subtract discount.
Easier to get full fee next time.
The music business is 10% music and 90% moving gear and doing accounts.
Persistence is a minimum requirement.
Do not give up easily.
Most do and settle for flipping burgers.
A local music college professor was asked about which students become professional musicians.
His answer was that he knows within the first three classes who will make it.
They do not expect to be given a career.
They do not have a sense of entitlement.
They grab it, they have drive, ambition and persistence.
They are really focussed.
The school just makes it faster..
They will make it with or without school.
(It is you that is important – not the credentials.)
Yes, they have talent but lots of people have talent.
Few ask questions like you do.
Push hard Madeline.
You are worthy of a musician’s career.
But do it collaboratively.
You will need the help of many others to make it.
Including the harpists in your area.
And your teacher.
14 is not too young if you feel close to being ready.
You will never feel “ready”.
If you feel ready you may have stopped pushing as hard.
A career is made by by pushing a little beyond comfortable and just before fully “ready”.
I think you should be an adult, at least 18, for legal reasons and safety. You should be able to do a gig independently, without assistance. There are often opportunities to play for family, friends, organizations with or without pay. It is not fair to compete with adult professionals. That’s what I think. Only if you are the only harpist around at all. Plus, you have to be well prepared and play pretty well.
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