Sales Skills for Musical Success


5/25/20243 min read

We don’t like to think of ourselves as businesspeople, salespeople, or accountants. We are musicians. However, the simple reality is that to thrive as musicians, we must learn to be all of the above as well.

Recently, as I was starting my life again in a new country, I found myself working in sales to support myself until my musical activities could build enough momentum. Starting over for the fourth time didn’t mean I was good at it. On the contrary, this time I was not part of any musical institution that provided support or a quick way to get to know other musicians. So, I found myself in sales, not by accident.

Over the past four years, as I tried to understand the results I was experiencing in my life, I realised how many of these skills I was lacking. Most of them, like accounting, can be learned online and are easy to practise, allowing us to manage our finances better. Sales, on the other hand, requires practice and performance, much like playing an instrument. So, I practised.

The experience was eye-opening. I noticed certain behaviours in myself that came naturally when I talked to strangers in the shop but were difficult when meeting new musicians in a new country. I realised that when people do not know or understand my ‘qualities’ and achievements as a flute player, they interact with the person in front of them. This is a great way to see how people perceive you.

After about five months in sales, my first gig in the UK came along. Knowing how I tend to act in such situations, I made a list of how I wanted it to go rather than letting things play out as they always had. My “aha” moment came when I finally understood that, despite being an outsider, it was up to me to engage with the orchestra members, show my goodwill, and influence how their first impression of me went. I applied the same skills I’d developed in sales: initiating conversations, being genuinely interested in others, and ensuring my positive attitude was apparent. This was not very intuitive to me as my previous reasoning was: don’t bother anyone and let them come to you. It is so easy to slide back into old behaviours, but every day I made a point to improve by using the skills I’d developed in sales.

The process is simple but beneficial for anyone who finds themselves in new places, as well as for improving existing relationships with colleagues:

  1. Don’t wait for others to say hi; initiate the interaction.

  2. Look people in the eyes with a genuine big smile and ask for their name.

  3. Make sure you remember their name and ask again if you forget. People love hearing their name, and showing the effort to remember it shows you care.

  4. If the time and place allow it, get to know the person in front of you. Focus on them. If they ask about you, give a short and genuine answer, but always bring the conversation back to them. We feel special when people listen to us, and that’s a wonderful way to start any new relationship—by letting the other person feel special and appreciated.

  5. Every day, make a point to say, “Hi… (Use their name or ask for it again), and how are you today?” If they told you something the other day, ask about it to show you remembered—meaning you care.

  6. Always have a natural, genuine smile. We like interacting with happy, positive people, not with someone who is clearly in a bad mood or keeps complaining. You can share your experiences but avoid complaining.

  7. Make sure to give compliments. Don’t fake it. Everyone has a lot of value to give to others, and they do so intuitively. Keep an open mind and be humble, as you might learn something.

  8. Rinse and repeat until this process becomes second nature. It will improve your experience as well as others’. When people like being around you, they will invite you more often.

Sales is about identifying what the other person needs and, if within our capabilities, helping them get it. It’s not about making someone buy something they don’t want; it’s about giving value. We must learn how to sell ourselves better as musicians, which means we need to bring more value to others. The first step, in my experience, is to acknowledge that as we are surrounded by highly professional players, who we are as a person and how nice it is to be around us is much more important for creating more professional opportunities.

When playing with other musicians, starting a new school, or joining a new ensemble, make sure you come with positivity, eagerness to learn about and from your colleagues, and the courage to take the first step in engaging with others with a big smile on your face.