By Mike Vaccaro
(from Mike's Musings #9, our newsletter)

Quality Saxophone Mouthpieces | Clarinet Mouthpieces from Mike Vaccaro Sax & Clarinet MouthpiecesI don’t know about you, but when I was in school, no one ever talked about money. How to get it, how to keep it, when to spend it, and what to spend it on were never mentioned. To me, this is a real void in the education system, and I hope all you music teachers will talk with administration to see that all students, not just music students, learn what to expect financially in the real world.

I was lucky, as the Musicians Union Pension system worked well for most of my career. While that is not true now, it was for most of my vesting time. This, along with Social Security, investments that I started making when I was 55, and a couple of side businesses, have left me very comfortable. I would have never been successful without the Union Pension, as I had no idea about money until I learned it myself, I saw retirement age coming faster than I planned.


What's your plan for having a financial cushion during your working years that will extend into your retirement? Remember, it's not only the money you make, it is the money you keep and make grow that can give you a peaceful retirement, free of financial worries.

One of the first major books on the subject of personal-success was “The Law of Success” by Napoleon Hill. It was the financial bible that every business major read. There are now hundreds of books telling you how to be successful. My suggestion is that you read "The Law of Success". It is available in hard cover, paper back, Kindle, and as an audio book. Hill also wrote “Think and Grow Rich” his most popular book. I suggest you also read that book.

Keep in mind that these books were written in the 1930’s, so you will have to adjust your reading with his references to life at the time, and substitute your own examples. HOWEVER, the lessons stand as he teaches them. You may not use all of them, but if you don’t read at least one of these books, you will be doing yourself a disservice.

So what is important on a daily basis? How do you promote yourself?

  1. Remember that everyone you meet, rehearse with, or work with, whether more proficient than you or not as proficient, should be treated with respect for trying to keep up in the time consuming art and business of music. Be a good sincere friend to everyone. Be a good listener. Be kind to those people who you don't feel comfortable with.

  2. Have a business card. That sounds corny these days. What a business card does for you is make a quick transfer of contact information possible. Remember a business card is two sided, so if the front is for the contact information you want to give out, and the back might be a good place to put your website address or other information you might feel to be important. When you put a phone number on the card, try to make it your permanent phone number for life. Having your own internet domain is also important, as phone numbers can change, but the Internet is Forever. People who want to contact you will appreciate your reliability. Know when it is appropriate to present your business card. Buy a small number of cards say 300, as you will want to change them from time to time. The formality of always exchanging cards as the proper thing to do when meeting someone is no longer necessarily appropriate.

    So what if you don’t have a business card? Then it’s….. I’ll find a pen… you have some paper….. just tell me your email address and I will remember it….., etc. None of these options work. When you give someone your card, you make them responsible for it. They may immediately throw it away, or they may keep it, perhaps throw it in their card file/box as an archive. I go through my card file about once a year, when I give my desk drawers a good cleaning and only throw the cards away of those who I don’t remember. At a certain point, the cards I keep go in my database for permanent storage. The point is, you give someone a piece of paper with your information, that they become responsible for.

  3. A CD or DVD is the new business card. People can hear or see what you do. With the inexpensive and excellent digital recorders available, there is no reason even a student can’t have a good recording of some sort. For students, it is good to record a music track every year so they can monitor their musical growth, and when they think they are good enough, they can actually make a short CD and give it to friends, relatives, and people who might be able to help their musical growth. Record something you can sound good on, even if it is Mary Had a Little Lamb, for beginners. Get used to recording and being in front of a camera. It is the immediate future for our industry. For a professional it is imperative to have a CD or DVD as a business card.

  1. Social Media – This is the best way to reach countless new contacts. Be careful though, what you post, and the manner in which you post it. You can share your recorded tracks with others who may be looking for someone to perform with or may be able to help you sell your tracks. You will gradually meet many people who have similar interests to yours.  It is important not to be provocative in public forums. Let me give you an example: If you post that you went to a wild party, that's great for the people who are party people, but for those who are not, they will see you in a negative light, which is not good for your career. So be conservative in posts and keep your more colorful actions for emails or communication for those friends who think like you do (your private list). Again, remember that the Internet is Forever.

    Know how people want to communicate, so you can converse with them on a level they are comfortable with. Does the person you are talking to prefer snail mail, email, telephone, cellular phone, texting, Skype, or instant messaging from their main computer etc.? Some people even like to talk over dinner, or a cup of coffee. I know it’s hard to believe. Make the person at the other end comfortable, communicate at their preferred technical level.

  1. Be Seen – “Out of Sight Out of Mind” was the old saying, and it holds true today. Go to concerts, recitals, clubs, and wherever else music is being played. Especially if you know the musicians. If the musicians are new to you, and you have the easy opportunity go up and introduce yourself and tell them how much you enjoyed the music and their playing, do it.

    Play in as many groups as you can. The people you meet when you are young will keep coming into your life. Take auditions and attend-play at contests and master classes. Even if you don’t get the reward, the powers that be get to know you, and might tell someone else about you. People usually don’t think far in advance about their needs if they run a group of some kind. They look for a musician when they need a musician, so if you have the luck to be around when they need someone, you just might get a place to play. It has happened to me, so I know it works. Also, people like to work and perform with people they are comfortable with, so once you are in a group, if you are a good friend, and play well enough, the chances are you will be with that group for a very long time. Also give concerts/recitals/soirées. Invite your family, friends and those who you would like to hear you.

  2. Advertise and promote your concerts, your CD’s and DVD’s. Musicians need to be self-starters to be successful, unless they are musical geniuses of some sort. Depending on your age, promotion can be very different. If you are young just putting a flyer in the band/orchestra room, the choir room, and around campus, and inviting your relatives might be enough. Mail the fliers to your relatives and friends. If you are a professional, make sure you advertise in social media, newspapers, and on media sources. You might even call a media outlet and arrange an interview to discuss your concert. How about a mailing list? If you start when you are young and spend about an hour a week keeping your list up to date, and adding new members, you can get thousands of people on your list before you know it. Just like this mailing coming to you is a mailing list. Don’t be shy about asking people to join your list. In fact, if you weren’t on this list and read it from someone else please join it at:

  1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you are training to be a symphonic clarinetist, it doesn’t hurt to play a sax well enough to play Romeo and Juliet or Pictures at an Exhibition. It also doesn’t hurt to play sax if a Pop act comes to play with your orchestra. You might just keep the work for the night by being able to play sax. Many full time musicians teach. The best way to learn is to teach, and at the same time you are giving back to the art just like someone did for you. The pocket change doesn’t hurt either. You get the idea. A little flexibility and interest in other things might make you a better musician.

  2. Dress Appropriately – Whether the dress code for your group is tuxedo, suit, blazer, jeans and a t-shirt, black pants and a white shirt or whatever, LOOK GOOD. If it's cool to have long hair, have good-looking long hair. If you shave your head, make sure it is freshly shaved. If you have a beard make sure it is at least semi-trimmed. Look like you are ready to go for the event. Most musicians hate the thought of being in “show business”, however, whether you're simply playing in front of someone, even in a recording studio, everyone looks at you. You don’t have to try and out-dress anyone, but you do need to look presentable. Remember that everyone you meet might be able to help you in some way and looking ready always helps. Whether or not you like it, even should not be that way, people do evaluate you partly on your looks as part of your total package.

I have given you some ideas to help ensure your success. These are only some of the tools. Think about it. You don’t need to make a living in music. Most likely, unless you are really motivated and have no other choice, you should not count on making a living in music. Make it fun.

If you choose to make a living at music, there is some business involved. Pay attention to the business that you are in.


Unless you are born into money, it drops from the sky, or you live in a monastery, money, skills in how to use money, and how to keep money are important to develop.

Save Your Money!
Invest Your Money!
Protect Your Money!


Be happy with where you are at while you are trying to get to where you want to be.