Musicians receive a constant onslaught of professional advice; it’s just the nature of the field. From the advice judges at competitions offer to criticism from publications to well-meaning comments from friends and family, it seems the “advice” never ends. It begs the question then, “Where should I get my professional advice?” or more succinctly, “Who can I trust?”.
I recognize the irony in giving you advice about advice, but it also creates an opportunity to consider what makes advice good. Here are some questions I ask myself when deciding if advice is valuable:
Does the person offering you advice understand the situation as fully as possible? In other words, do they understand the topic at hand, the pros and cons, and how you fit into the situation?
Is this a person I am capable of listening to openly and with respect? If you are not open to having an honest discussion with the person giving advice, or you are unable to listen and speak openly, then you will be unable to digest the information given, no matter how good it is.
Is this advice simply what I want to hear, or does it offer honest and deep insight into the situation?
Considering these questions, there are really only a handful of people who are able to give you advice at your individual career at any given time. That is not to say that you can’t learn more from others, or receive guidance in other ways. It does mean, however, that when you’re looking for advice pertaining to a specific situation in your career, there are probably only a handful of people who are qualified to offer you guidance. I like to divide these people into three types: artistic advisors, professional advisors, and personal advisors.
Artistic advisors are those who will help you determine whether a course of action is best for your instrument and the artistic vision for your career. Therefore, your first artistic advisor is your teacher. They are intimately familiar with your instrument, your progress, and are in a professional position to help you determine the pros and cons of any given situation.
The next person to ask would be your coach, or another musician you work with frequently. Similarly to your teacher, they have a intimate relationship to your musicianship, along with the professional experience themselves to guide you in your future decisions. Lastly, if you are a singer, you may also have a trusted director or dramatic coach that can give you advice on your acting or stage presence.
While your artistic advisors may be able to give you business information, you’ll probably want a separate set of people who are as understanding of your professional and financial situation as possible. The best person for this (and the person who is most likely to cross over between artistic and business advisor) is your manager, if you have one. Your manager will be able to help you determine if an opportunity is worth pursing, or they can help you work information from outside sources (like critics, audience members, and judges) into your career plan.
You may also want to consider having a lawyer and/or an accountant on your team if possible. While they certainly won’t be the first people you ask for overall professional advice, they’ll be able to help you determine if a contract you’re offered is ideal, what taking a certain job would mean for your finances, and so on.
Personal advisors consist of trusted friends or family. While they may not have intimate knowledge of your work, they do know you well. Therefore, your personal advisors are good at helping you find some work-life balance, along with helping you decide how a situation or opportunity will affect you personally. A good personal advisor would be a significant other, a close friend, or a family member.
Furthermore, don’t forget the most important personal advisor of all – you. You know your instrument, your business goals, and your personal feelings better than anyone. Oftentimes, we have gut feelings about opportunities or experiences, and we really shouldn’t take those for granted. When there are hard decisions to make, that’s when our other advisors come in handy. Ultimately though, you’ll be the one making the decision about your career or processing information you received, so it’s best to be on your own side as much as possible.
To help you sort through the advice your advisors give you on important issues, I’ve included here a free downloadable worksheet on sizing up opportunities. With this worksheet, you’ll be able to list the essential details of the opportunity you’re deciding on in one place – be it a role offer, applying for an audition, or something similar – and then take notes on what your advisors say about the particular opportunity. Please feel free to download it and use as often as you’d like for your personal use.
Where do you get your professional advice? Whose advice do you value the most? Let us know in the comments!