August 2014 Convention
Chicago, IL

Yes, You Can Make a Living in Music

Barbara Ogar

Barbara Ogar is a jack-of-many-trades, and she has mastered quite a few as well. A teacher, performer, and event producer, she is in demand throughout her home base of southeastern Michigan and abroad as the assistant coordinator for Sir James Galway’s summer course in Switzerland. Her background made her a perfect choice for delivering a lecture filled with excellent, practical advice for young performers pondering a career in music.

One essential point was the importance of maintaining diversification in both playing style (i.e., ability to play many styles of music from different places and time periods) and types of jobs (e.g., chamber music, orchestral music, solo music, contracting work, teaching, production, and so on). Here, Ogar highlighted a fact not often evident to young musicians: music is a product in the eyes of a paying client. A more versatile, flexible musician will therefore have more products to sell.

Maintaining excellence in every element of one’s work was another key point. Ogar stressed that a player who has substantiated doubts about his or her ability in a certain job should not take the job. In addition, she advised players not to take jobs they do not love. Passion combined with musical excellence, however, leads to fulfilling work, especially for musicians who are willing to network. A list of networking ideas included building relationships with event planners, churches, shop owners, hotels, schools, and other musicians. Constructing and maintaining friendly, professional relationships with people and institutions like these is key to building the kind of trust that leads to ongoing work. Moreover, such professionalism extends beyond face-to-face contact to all necessary documents and promotional materials, such as business cards and contracts.

In addition to speaking at length about performing, Ogar covered the ins and outs of teaching, from public school teaching to building a private studio. She pointed out that teaching, like performing, should be done at the very highest level and stressed the importance not only of building good teaching skills but also of having fair, structured studio policies and creating a warm, welcoming space for teaching.

All in all, Ogar’s talk was especially notable in its inclusion of many small details that young musicians do not think about but are essential to building a successful freelance career. It was precisely the kind of straightforward advice up-and-coming players need as they consider building musical lives.

Barbara Ogar

—Timothy Hagen

photos by Brian Covington