Pro Tips for Working Musicians - Houghton Horns

Pro Tips for Working Musicians

Those of us who perform live music professionally are (hopefully) seeing the first glimmers of a return to work in the near future. With that in mind, I thought it might be a good time to share these insights…

  • Be Prepared. Always prepare your music in advance, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant the opportunity is. Bring all of the equipment you might need (other instruments, mutes, accessories). It’s always a good idea to pack a bottle of water and a snack as well. 


  • Be Punctual. Generally, contractors and personnel managers need musicians that are reliable and dependable. Being someone that others can count on makes everyone’s job easier. Punctuality also creates a better artistic product, since performers, conductor and staff are free from the distraction and stress of last-minute personnel changes or upheavals. Be sure to pad your schedule for rehearsals and performances by allowing up to an hour of lead time so that even if you encounter an obstacle (a serious traffic jam, for example) you can still arrive on-time and ready to work. 


  • Be Positive. No matter the circumstances, strive to project an attitude of “can-do” positivity around colleagues, conductors, administrative staff, and audience. This will go a long way towards increasing your chances of a long and successful career. Remember that both positive and negative attitudes can be contagious, so you’ll reap what you sow!


  • Timely correspondence is key. Prioritize emails and text message responses, especially when they come from potential sources of employment. “The early bird gets the worm!”, as they say. For a general rule, make it a goal to return correspondence as soon as possible, and certainly within a 24-hour period. Even if you can’t answer an inquiry completely, you can respond by saying something like: “Thanks for your message! I’ll get back to you on this matter shortly.” This type of response keeps the ball in the air, and is always preferable to the radio silence of no response. 


  • Respect the event. I’ve performed for presidents, famous athletes and celebrities, but I’ve also done my fair share of less than glamorous work, such as low-wage sleepy church gigs, small family weddings, and serving as window dressing or background music at receptions and corporate events. No matter where you are or in what capacity you’re performing, do your best to treat every event with respect and professionalism. The rules and standards of professional decorum shouldn’t change with the environment.




  • Do represent yourself and your section/chamber group with poise, pride and professionalism—no matter your position. 
  • Do support your colleagues with foot shuffles and positive gestures when appropriate.
  • Do remain flexible and adaptable to changes, artistic or otherwise.
  • Do arrive on-site well in advance and begin all rehearsals or concerts prepared and sufficiently warmed up.
  • Do be proactive and diplomatic in working to solve problems (ensemble, pitch or personnel) and ask important questions appropriately during and between rehearsals. 



  • Don’t “throw your colleagues under the bus” or denigrate them around other group members or outside parties.
  • Don’t practice solos or parts (before, during or after rehearsal) that don’t belong to you.
  • Don’t answer questions or assume responsibilities of your section principal or group leader (unless of course, you ARE the section principal or group leader!).
  • Don’t look for any opportunity to get out of scheduled work or accept conflicting outside gigs. 
  • Don’t be an @$$H*LE.



Once again, I hope that this entry has been helpful and relevant. Please share freely and comment below!


Mark Houghton authors the Working Brass Hero Blog. He has played French horn professionally for twenty years. Mr. Houghton has been a member of the world-renowned, Grammy-award-winning Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 2014. Additionally, he is a founding member and part owner of Houghton Horns, and Adjunct Professor of Horn at Duquesne University. Mark lives in the South Hills of Pittsburgh with his loving and supportive wife, Katie, and their three amazing children: Camille, Charlotte, and Maxwell. Mark is not a writer, but he’s trying real hard. He is constantly taking on new projects, despite the fact that he has no time for them. Mark will never turn down espresso before 4pm on most days, and has a penchant for tequila and grass-fed steak. He is obsessed with the game of soccer. 

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