Ten Do’s and Dont’s of Career Building

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

Dear Edna:

In this fast paced changeable world we live in, we artists feel like a little boat in a vast ocean, many times lost and orphans of good guidance. A wonderful legacy, and a practical one from an accomplished pro like you, would be for us new artists to have a list of ten things to focus on and a list of 10 don’ts. Would you be so generous to share that with us? —Susana Galli

Dear Ms. Galli:

It is a weighty task to come up with ten do’s and don’ts and hope that they comprise some sort of legacy! However, I have done so below, and perhaps I will follow up at a future time with a second installment.


Spend considerable time identifying your particular strengths, soliciting input from teachers and others who know you well, in order to plan your career and performance repertoire in a way that emphasizes them.

Make sure that you have good quality, attractive photographs and that your promotional materials are well-written and always up to date. In addition, take care that any video samples you post on YouTube show you off to best advantage. Having a fine quality performance dvd, or at least a demo cd, is definitely an advantage.

Go to a healthy number of concerts, especially if you will hear music with which you are unfamiliar or performances by artists you admire who are likely to inspire you. Go backstage to meet them after the concert. It is an added plus if some of these concerts take place in untraditional venues.

Look for opportunities to perform for audiences who may not go to concert halls, and identify performance spaces that might allow you to engage with new audiences in a more informal setting. If you are aware of series, for example at a library, which present artists at your level of career development, write to them directly, proposing an attractive program that you are prepared to perform. It might be helpful to go to one of their concerts and to try to meet the director of the series in person. You can also write to institutions with whom you have been associated in the past, who might be interested in presenting you in concert (e.g., a school, competition or youth symphony).

Consider forming a chamber ensemble, especially as performance opportunities may be more numerous and competitions and residency opportunities might afford avenues for exposure.

Begin to build a list of people who might be interested in supporting special projects you plan to undertake and also identify individuals whom you would like to meet through others. Whenever you succeed in getting such meetings, be sure to read up on the person in advance so that you can ask intelligent questions and evidence your awareness of their considerable accomplishments. Be sure to let these people know of your ongoing career successes.

Look for opportunities to attend training workshops that will expand your horizons, such as those offered by Carnegie Hall. Even if you are unable to attend in person, bear in mind that some, such as Chamber Music America’s “First Tuesdays”, are archived online.

Plan to spend your summers in places where you might be noticed by established artists and industry leaders who regularly visit.

Try to meet composers, especially those of your own generation, who might welcome the opportunity to write something for you that they know will be performed.

Go the extra mile and be nice to everyone. Write a handwritten thank you note to anyone who does something nice for you. So many of the significant things that happen for artists evolve from the good relationships they have established over the years.


Don’t use superlatives about yourself in your bio, on your website, or in written communications with presenters.

Don’t perform a concerto or other substantial work in an important place for the first time.

Don’t enter a competition seeking greater exposure unless you feel comfortable with the process and motivated by the potential for artistic growth, and for gaining valuable performing experience, regardless of the outcome.

Don’t push too hard too soon. For example, you should only seek out management when your artistry comes across as distinctive and personal.

Don’t think of being on a management’s roster as prestigious unless the management is recognized as being effective on behalf of its artists and has earned respect and recognition in the industry.

If you have management, don’t arrange concerts on your own, thinking that the management won’t find out and you won’t have to pay commission.

Don’t record music that is not in the public domain without first exploring rights payments.

Don’t grant any rights to another party unless you understand everything about how those rights will be used and are comfortable with the terms.

Don’t let your concert attire divert the audience’s attention from the impact of your performance and affect the memory of it that they carry away with them.

Don’t address someone you don’t know by their first name, unless it’s me in my Ask Edna column!

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

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