Moving to a new town as a professional musician

Moving to a new town as a professional musician

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In 2014 I moved from the city of Groningen. I was born in that city and had lived there for all of my life. After finishing my studies I was in search of new musical adventures and decides to try my luck in Utrecht. Since Utrecht is located more centrally and closer to the other biggest cities in the Netherlands, I knew this was going to be an amazing next step for me.

Building your network after school

Most musicians that study music create a network during the time they study. I would go as far as saying that this is the second most important reason to study music in the first place. (The first being that you can spend an x amount of time just focussing on playing music as much as you can.) When you are part of a class of eager students who want to make music their profession, it’s really hard not to make valuable connections. This is the time you build relationships with like-minded souls who share your passion.

When however you have finished your studies and THEN decide to move to a different city, you don’t have the luxury of building your network in such a natural way. So how do you go about building a new network as a professional musician after you move to a different city? In this article I will give you some useful tips.

The goal of expanding your network

Before you franticly go about meeting as much people as you can, you should be aware what your musical goals are. And mind you, they will change when you get older. Do you want to be a session player? Are you looking for a steady band to play original work? Are you looking for a cozy cover gig? Every goal might require you to approach this in a different way.

A lot of musicians are unhappy about their musical career. And a lot of that has to do with what their expectations are. Its very important that you realize that you have to take control of your own career. Don’t built a network with the hopes of getting called for every gig.

Of course it’s nice if something like that happens, but if you want to be certain of a busy schedule, it’s recommended to also invest in being able to supply your own work. This means booking shows, investing your time in promoting your band (or yourself), approaching bookers/managers/other musicial professionals, etc. The bottom line is, the less dependent you are of others when it comes to filling your calendar, the better.

Jam sessions

It was the first night I was in my new house. I had spent the day painting the walls and trying to get rid of the spray paint the last tenant had used to create a waste high green mess on the walls. I was thirsty for music and beer, so I googled a bit and discovered there was a music bar downtown. They hosted a jam session that exact night. Lucky me! Since all my clothes were still inside boxes, I walked to the bar in my handy man outfit, covered in paint.

In the bar a steamy jam session was going on. I heard some great music that night. I asked the session host to let me come up. Even though he was probably a bit skeptical because of my attire, he agreed to let me play. What followed was a nice little set with some cover songs and some improv. I was even rewarded with a free beer, score!

I met a lot of great musicians that night, by approaching them, asking them about Utrecht and the scene, music in general, their musical heroes and many other things. Usually it can be pretty scary or difficult to talk to someone you don’t know. The best thing about meeting other musicians though, is that you always have something to talk about. You share this amazing passion that connects you, even before you’ve ever met that other person.

If you are interested in going to jam session you might also like my article ‘ How to not suck at a jam session

The next steps in expanding your network

The following months I was a regular at the sessions. Playing along, meeting other musicians and also getting to know the owner of the bar. And there were also other opportunities waiting. I visited other jam sessions in Utrecht and neighboring towns and met even more great musicians.

After a while I convinced one of the bar owners to let me be a host once a month for the jam sessions. This was a huge thing for me as it allowed me to meet even more people. I was also able to supply some of my favorite befriended musicians with a steady gig. Now I could show my skills as a leader and do some paid shows in the same bars on regular concerts night.

Some of the musicians became my friends and I saw them a lot outside of the sessions. We would hang out, jam a bit, have some drinks and talk about music. Once I built that connection, I also got asked to play with them and I started doing regular gigs in the Utrecht area.

Some quick tips about making connections

  • Focus on also meeting and befriending other bass players in town. You want them to push you forward once they have a double booking.
  • Make sure people know that you are a reliable and steady bass player as well as an overall cool/nice guy.
  • Let people know what kind of jobs you are interested in. If you are for example looking for a steady cover gig, let people around you know you are. If you rather find a band with original work, ask around or even better: Start one.
  • When you are playing at a session, make sure you don’t overplay. You can show them that you are good and add in a little extra when the music allows it, but most importantly you should let them know you are functional inside the band. This means to focus on fulfilling your role as a bass player.
  • Offer other bass players/bands to learn their repertoire. So whenever they need someone to sub on bass you are already prepared and ready to shine!

Get a teaching job

One of the other things I did to get myself known as a bass player, is get a teaching job. How can this help expand my network? Good question! If you’re part of a team of teachers, there is a big chance you will have other musicians in your team who could use a serious bass player in their phone book.

Also, if there is ever a situation where you’ve caught the flu or for some other reason are unable to teach, a befriended bass player can fill in for you. Giving you not only some karma points, but also making them more likely to think of you when they need someone to fill in for them.

Classifieds and online market places

One of the things that in my experience definitely doesn’t work, is trying to find a band through classifieds or online market places. Most bands who look for a bass player through these kinds of websites consist of amateur players.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely nothing wrong with amateur players. There are amazing amateur players actually. The difference between an amateur and a professional is not specifically their level of skill on the instrument, but their commitment to music. If you are in a band with people who see music as their hobby, instead of seeing it as their life’s goal, you will run into some problems sooner or later.

They have their true passion in another area. Which could be either their career, their family or whatever. Meaning that every show you are offered on a holiday (like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, the birthday of the drummer’s second cousin) will be cancelled. If your keyboard player is in IT and you rehearse on a Thursday night, expect him to be absent regularly. His boss will probably set unrealistic deadlines.

Also, most professional players that need a bass player will ask around in their network for a good match. Just because they don’t want to go through the trouble of having to waste time on finding someone. They know and expect their friends to give them good advice in a situation like this.

Building a network

The best way to get work as a musician in a new city is to build your network by going to jam sessions and meeting people through a teaching job. After meeting some musicians, you will meet more musicians through those people: It will create an oil spill. Invest time in these relationships and also give back to the musicians that are taking care of you. Make sure you are not only dependent on other people to keep work coming in and find a balance that works for you.

I hope you found this article helpful! Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are and if you have any questions or suggestions. Do you have any other tips for building a career in a new city? Help your fellow musicians out and leave a comment!


  1. Dude, this is incredibly valuable information for musicians that want to expand their network and/or moving to another city. Thank you so much!

  2. Really good article. I’ve been working on the road and around Los Angeles for 35 years. I wish i had known some of this spot on information when I was starting out. Nice job!
    André Berry

  3. You made an interesting point when you talked about how going to jam sessions is a good way to build a network as a professional musician. Would it be a good idea to find an entertainment group or some kind of media company to work with? I would think that it would be a good idea to have some kind of professional representation if you are wanting to become a musician.

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