Want some advice? DON'T DO WHAT JOHN DID!
Don't do what I did. I wanted to join a rock band. And I did. After 12 years of classical training, my mum and my piano teacher were not impressed. I still play in bands, you can't stop me. But when I was starting out, I had no idea that all the other musical stuff in my life would happen. Nothing turns out as you expect, not for anyone. I could imagine performing, recording, writing music (with pen and paper). But I couldn't imagine doing half the things I've done, partly because a lot of those jobs didn't exist. I could imagine being in a world famous rock band. But that didn't happen, and that's probably for the best.
Say yes. Even if you don't think you can do it, give it a try. Don't worry about the money. You never know what it will lead to. I once did a photo shoot with a band because the band leader had a product endorsement, and the product was advertised in a music mag. The editor was there, and he needed a keyboard player to write reviews and conduct interviews. We'd never met, but for some reason he asked me, and I said yes, even though I'd never done anything like that.
Writing for a music mag meant that I had to visit music stores to check out the latest. One time I was in a store, the manager asked if I was interested in working during the day. My first reaction was: “Hell, No!” Then I started thinking about how it might actually free up evenings and weekends to devote to an original music project that I was planning. So I applied, and got the job, even though I'd never done anything like that.
Two years later, I was ready to leave, because I was starting to get work as a session musician, something I had never imagined I could do. At the same time, I'd been noticed by the Australian representative of one of the big name synthesizers that I was selling in-store. They needed someone who knew about music technology. I knew quite a bit by that time, even though I never imagined that I would. I started demonstrating keyboards, drum machines, and synths, and became a “product specialist”, providing tech support and helping the company in heaps of ways, which also lead to a lot of travel, both interstate and around the world.
This part-time/contract position lasted for 29 years. All because I said “yes” to writing one magazine article. Naturally, I'm expecting that this current article will yield similar ground-breaking results for the next 29 years!
Nurture relationships as though they were veritable lifelines. Because they are. Some time ago, I read that most positions are filled by word of mouth, not by advertisements. I thought, surely that can't be right. But then I realized that of all the gigs I've done, all the multi-directions that my musical path has followed, around 99.99% came via word of mouth, through people that I knew, or the contacts of people that I knew in the industry.
I did make a phone call once. I wanted a position playing keys in a new TV variety band. But the MD already had the band sorted, I was too late. However, because I was on the phone, he realized that I could help him with some sequencing and pre-production work. I started going to the TV studio every week, and that lead to preparing the charts for the featured opening song on the show, every week.
Until shortly before that time, there was no alternative but to write scores and music charts by hand, and the ones I'd done were not pretty. My classical training had taught me the basic rules, but I'd never used a computer for scoring, it was a new frontier. Yet here I was, being thrust into preparing and printing arrangements for a 12 piece band, week after week. Something I'd never imagined I would do. I learnt on the job there's no margin for error in live-to-air TV.
That was 20 years ago. Ever since, I've continued with all sorts of arranging work, for major performing artists, musicals, sessions, and on going TV work. All from one phone call.
I haven't touched on composing, producing audio, synthesis, sound design, free improv, charity work, or becoming a Musical Director. Other stories for other times.
I don't want to give the impression that my life has been one easy cruise down the river, with me just dipping my fingers in the water whenever I pleased, to reap some rewards. Not at all. There have been tough times, and very ordinary times. Times when I wondered if I'd lost my way. Like any life. But eventually, someone I knew, or someone who knew someone I knew, called and offered me an unexpected gig.
So don't do what I did. Do something different. And do it better!