How To Write Your Music Resume
The skills needed to DO the job are not the same skills needed to GET the job.
You’ve been asked to submit your artist or music resume: what to do? Maybe you already have one but it needs updating, polishing, or refining. Or maybe you’ve never had to put your resume together but you realize now is the time. Where do you start?
Writing your own resume can be a daunting task and will lead you to ask many questions about how best to portray your professional and educational background, skills, talents, capabilities, and desired career to the world. Though never easy, answering these tough questions can be very helpful to you in many ways, not least of which may be finding the right direction for your future career.
In seeking the work you will love, you need to know what you are good at and where the need for your skills most likely lies. While this involves some introspection, you also need to look beyond your self. This will force you to think about those who may be searching for what you have to offer and how to communicate to them exactly what you do and why they should hire you. Keep in mind there is no one “right” way to create your resume. Of course, there are some mistakes to be avoided and much general advice is worth considering as to how to organize and present your experiences and abilities to strangers.
Ultimately, the resume should reflect your own personal style, relative to your professional aspirations and life goals. It should also accurately portray your experience and background while lending credibility to what you intend to become. Fortunately, we can use all our knowledge of creative processes in writing our resume. Think of it as an exercise in creativity, similar to painting a picture or writing a song. The goal is to express something meaningful, and you should be happy with it when you are finished. If you love the resume you have created, it will be more likely to resonate with your reader.
Writing an artist resume or music resume isn’t very different from writing any other type of professional resume, and so many of the tips you can find in online blogs and resume-writing guides will apply. It’s best to view resume writing as a process of self-discovery. Presenting yourself to the world as a professional will guide your thinking about the work you seek, what you will become, and how you wish to be viewed as an artist.
Start Here: Make Some Lists
A great way to dive into the resume writing process is to make some lists. Write down all of your educational and work experiences. Include dates, locations, and brief description for each. Next, organize into categories, and decide where each entry belongs. For example, under “Education” you would put all of your formal education and training experiences, with the name of the institution, date, location, credential earned, and a very brief description of what you did, possibly including grade point average (GPA). Studying independently with a Private Teacher most likely does not belong here, so if you want to list your Teachers you might choose to do so under a separate category titled “Private Instructors” or “Principal Teachers.” Choosing the categories and the order they appear on your resume is a very important step, as it will determine how your resume flows and comes together to give an accurate picture of who you are and what your accomplishments have been.
Ultimately, the resume should reflect your own personal style, relative to your professional aspirations and life goals. It should also accurately portray your experience and background, while lending credibility to what you intend to become.
Choose Your Categories
Choosing which categories to include is the most important next step in designing your resume. There are many possible categories besides “Work Experience” and “Education.” For example, you might wish to include “Languages” you speak, “Special Skills,” “Volunteer Work,” Military Service,” “Honors and Awards,” or maybe “Software” or “Technology” you have learned to use effectively. The list of potential categories is lengthy and the order you present the categories in is also important. As we consider the artistic accomplishments together with academic achievements and employment experience, it makes sense to order the categories in a logical way to highlight the more important aspects of your background. For example, a prestigious scholarship or school-related performance might be listed under “Honors and Awards” and it might also fit under “Education.”
Note: There is such a thing as an artistic resume, which lists only musical achievements, repertoire mastered, (it might also include “Summer Camps,” “Workshops,” “Masterclasses,” Performances,” and “Principal Teachers” as categories), but this is typically used for college admissions applications or scholarships. For the purpose of our discussion here, I am addressing the characteristics of a professional music resume. Scholarship applications once already enrolled at a college will usually ask for a professional resume. I know, it’s a bit complicated. There are many kinds of resumes. In any case, the choice of categories and how they are ordered is a crucial defining element of any resume. Ultimately, you want your resume to flow nicely and everything should line up in a way that makes sense to the reader.
Chronological vs. Functional Resume
Most resumes are a combination of chronological and functional in their organization. By organizing your resume into categories you are grouping your entries together functionally but when it comes to the order of listing of each entry, the protocol is to list the most recent first. This is known as reverse chronological order, meaning the oldest item is listed last. It is important to be consistent with the order of presentation from section to section, i.e. if you are using reverse chronological ordering in one category (I recommend this), you should do it in every other category. You might also choose to put “Education” as the first category if you are currently in school or about to graduate. This makes sense because it is most recent. If you’ve been out of school for five or ten years, readers would be more interested in seeing your “Work Experience,” which would then be placed at the top.
As an aside, having an objective at the top is a protocol that seems to have fallen by the wayside and is now rarely or never used. If you choose to use an objective, include a position title and list a few of the skills it would require of you. Another category which has fallen out of favor is “Hobbies,” or “Other Interests.” There was a time long ago where this was the custom, presumably to show what kind of activities you like to do with your personal time, perhaps as an indicator of whether you would be a “fit” with the organization’s culture. Now, the idea seems quaint. People don’t really care if you are into hang gliding or macramé, they want to know if you are prepared to do the gig.
First impressions really matter; it’s exactly the same as how people size up a person quickly upon meeting them, based on appearance, demeanor, and attitude. If your resume has inconsistencies or is difficult to read, the reader will subliminally feel a sense of annoyance and be more likely to dismiss you in favor of a competing candidate with a better-looking presentation.
Visual Impact – Consistency Is Key
It’s important to be consistent with how you present everything you include on your resume. Pay close attention to all design elements, such as margins, fonts, bolding, italics, bullet points or another formatting, alignment, placement of dates, and so forth. Since most people only spend between 10-20 seconds “reading” a resume, it’s super-important your resume is scannable. That means the eye can quickly take in the content while moving quickly down the page. To achieve this, your content must be impeccably organized and cleanly presented.
First impressions really matter; it’s exactly the same as how people size up a person quickly upon meeting them, based on appearance, demeanor, and attitude. If your resume has inconsistencies or is difficult to read, the reader will subliminally feel a sense of annoyance and be more likely to dismiss you in favor of a competing candidate with a better-looking presentation. Pro tip: avoid dense paragraphs, or too much description, and never use the first person tense (avoid using the word “I”).
Starting at the very top, your name and contact information should be placed in a header which you can use on all your other materials (cover letter, artist bio, supplemental materials, etc.) in exactly the same format. The header can work as a visually unifying element across all your promotional materials. Do NOT include a photo or headshot. (The only exception to this rule is a musical theater resume).
Help Is Always Available
There are many resources available for resume writing and I would urge you to take advantage of them. There are templates online that might be helpful, at sites such as monster.com. The advantage of a template is you don’t have to start by staring at a blank page; the template prompts you to fill in the categories and gives you clear choices. The disadvantage is when you finish, your resume may resemble that of all the others who used the same template. That may not matter at all. Any college career development center or high school guidance office should have some resume-writing guides available to students. I’d recommend asking your local friendly Librarian and of course, there are many self-help style books out there for purchase, such as Resumes for Dummies.
There are certified resume writing specialists you can find at sites such as LinkedIn.com. These are professional writers, and sometimes job or career coaches, who have completed a certification or courses to provide a professional resume-writing service. They will have a process for gathering all the information from you needed to craft the resume. They can be expensive though and are more used to working with seasoned professionals than students or recent grads. My opinion is you don’t need to hire someone if you are right out of school (or in school) but it might be worth considering if you can afford it and are really struggling with doing it yourself.
Interestingly, most schools don’t train their students to compose their resume and other promotional or job-search materials. They may be great at training you to do what it says on your degree or diploma but they don’t specifically cultivate the knowledge and skills needed to actually get the work. It’s a shortcoming most schools are aware of but the reality is they haven’t yet figured out the best way to do this. It might be because there isn’t one “best” way; what works for one person might not work for another.
In closing, I would like to return to the statement at the very beginning of this article: The skills needed to DO the job are not the same skills needed to GET the job.
Once you are aware of this and embrace it, you can study and work hard to develop all the skills needed to get the job and career you want. Writing a professional resume is the ideal place to start.
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