Setting Goals to Succeed: Lessons from a Freelance Classical Musician

I never cease to be amazed by the number of players I meet who still believe in playing the classical music equivalent of corporate cubicle nation – clinging onto the notion that an orchestral job is fundamental to reputation and survival.

Those of us who have already escaped from the traditional straitjacket can assure you that life is infinitely more pleasurable and less stressful when you’re fully in control of your own destiny.

For classical music jobs, successful freelance musicians center their work around the concept of a “portfolio” career. In order to survive and thrive with such a lifestyle, just like learning to play an instrument, it is essential that you start with the basics in order to build solid foundations.

Following the method outlined below, I re-launched my classical music career after two decades out of the industry and have never looked back. It works!

What Do You Want Exactly?

It doesn’t matter whether you are still a student, recently graduated or a music professional struggling to pay your monthly outgoings. If you have yet to sit down and figure out the detail of precisely what it is you’re aiming at, permit me to strongly suggest that you schedule this activity as a priority.


  1. The earlier you know exactly where you’re heading with your music, the more likely it is you will achieve your goals.
  2. Future overwhelm, total burn out, lifestyle problems and cash-flow crisis are avoided.
  3. You can achieve a complete turn-around in a hitherto disastrous career once you are clear about what action you need to take.
  4. Your main “want” can be broken down and used to formulate a personalized career blueprint.

Dream Big

There is no quick fix to working through this exercise. If your instant response to the question is “I want to be rich,” be aware that this goal is simply too vague to be of any value. Should this be your gut reaction, perhaps you should probe a little deeper in order to discover what “being rich” actually means to you. Asking “If finances were no object, what would my career look like?” may help you find out why being wealthy is so important. Most of the time, it’s not the money itself that is the attraction but what wealth actually means in terms of lifestyle.

The majority of people are bound by ingrained parental and educative programming and think within the all too narrow constraints of what is commonly accepted. Musicians have a pronounced creative bias. Use this talent in your thinking. Brainstorm. Dare to entertain the innovative and what others will tell you is impossible.

You could call it a dream, a vision, a mental concept. Whatever the word you choose to use, what you’re looking for is the total clarity to create your own future.


I honestly can’t remember who said it but there is a lot of truth in the phrase “If you plan to fail, you fail to succeed.” Sure, there are a few who have rocketed to the top of A-List at the speed of light; this is unlikely to happen to you, however you need to plan to succeed.

If you’re traveling to a destination that’s unfamiliar to you, I’d hazard a guess that before starting out in your car you’d use a map or online itinerary application to work out the best route. You’d take your driving skills into consideration, how quickly you need to arrive, whether or not it’s necessary to factor in a couple of nights stopover for a particularly long trip, etc.

Being successful at anything requires a plan of action even if it’s just a loose structure written on the back of an envelope and pinned on the cork board above your desk.


  1. Once you have a crystal clear statement that defines your main objective (e.g., “I want to achieve global domination as a clarinetist in the classical music industry.”) it is natural to then go on to think about how you will achieve that goal.
  2. Reading a synopsis of your plan every day will enable you to better prioritize and focus.


You’ll find that answering the “how” of reaching your target will result in a series of self-contained mini-projects that should easily order themselves into a natural chronological order.

Each mini-goal should then be further broken down into actionable steps in order to achieve them.

After that, it’s a question of setting realistic work hours, estimating and setting deadlines and methodically working through the plan step by step and day by day.

Don’t forget to factor in some flexibility for illness, family emergencies, holidays and taking up that golden gig opportunity!


Freelance classical clarinettist and motivational author for musicians who is not so quietly building a revolution

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