How to Become a Professional Musician (as proven by Artie Kane)


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Making it as a professional musician is definitely a challenge. By studying the lives of others that have done it, you will get some inspiration and ideas. And that’s why the memoirs of composer Artie Kane is such a valuable asset for every aspiring composer/musician out there.

Have you ever said to yourself; “Man, this music thing is just too challenging. I will never make it, so I should just give up and move back home”?

Then you should really read the story of pianist, film score composer and conductor Artie Kane in the award-winning book “Music to My Years: Life and Love Between the Notes”.

Artie, now 91, shares with us his deepest personal stories from over six decades in the music and film industry — his ups and downs from his life as a musician (and human being) inside the professional music and film industry. And he is not afraid of being brutally honest.

I don’t know much about you who reads this, but I could guess that you are an ambitious musician. And if that’s the case, just imagine the benefits of having first-hand access to the life of someone like Kane, who has over 50 years of experience in the music and film industry.

And that’s why I decided to put together some of the key highlights from his life into answering the age old question: How to get into the music industry?

Based on the experience and life of Artie Kane, these 5 proven ingredients will increase your chances of becoming a Professional Musician:

  1. Choose and really practice your music instrument
  2. Build and utilize your connections
  3. Don’t lock down your goal
  4. You are never too old to learn new skills
  5. Learn from your mistakes

As you can see, only the first takeaway is actually a musical skill. The others are mental ingredients that we will further explore in this article.

But First, who is Artie Kane?

Kane did his last musical work in 2004, so if you are a young musician, you might not have heard of Artie. Here is a short introduction to you.

His music career as a pianist in the Hollywood studios spans from 1960 through 1978, working with Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, John Williams, and Quincy Jones, to name a few.

He conducted over 60 motion pictures for various composers from 1991 through 1999. As a composer, he wrote music for over 250 television shows (Wonder Woman, Vegas, Loveboat, Hotel, Dynasty, Matlock, Question of Guilt, Man Against the Mob) and seven motion pictures, such as Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Eyes of Laura Mars, Night of the Juggler, and Wrong Is Right.

In other words, he has quite a lot to share with us!

Alright, now you know a little more about him. Let’s get to the key takeaways to become a musician from his book “Music to My Years: Life and Love Between the Notes.”

Takeaway #1: Choose and Really Practice Your Music Instrument

Artie Kane started learning the piano at a very young age and won several contests before he was 10. Now, if you are older, don’t despair. You won’t need to be a prodigy like Artie to have a solid music career. But you will need to set aside countless hours practicing your instrument of choice.

Regardless of what kind of musician you want to be, you will benefit from being really adept at a particular musical instrument. You should have a go-to instrument that you use to create your music. Nowadays, the introduction of MIDI, virtual instruments, etc., has made it easier than ever before to produce a whole track yourself, but there will always be the need for studio musicians or live musicians.

So, what could you do by being really good at a particular instrument?

  • Live Gigs (for example as a show pianist)
  • Studio Musician

Artie started playing in front of an audience early on and later went on to work as a studio musician, which he states was one of the finest periods of his life.

Takeaway #2: Build and Utilize Your Connections

When you read the book, one thing gets really clear: Whether it is 1940 or 2020, actively searching for ways to build your network is still one of the most important things you should do in order to build your music career.

Joan Benny and Artie

Yes, some people you will only work with once. Some of them you will love. Others, not so much. But regardless, including other people in your life will only increase your chances of getting where you want to go.

For example, in his book, Artie shares the good deeds of a friend who believed in him and lent him the money he needed to pay rent. Artie also got in touch with a film composer, who eventually got him his first film-scoring job in Hollywood.

Takeaway #3: Don’t Lock Down Your Goal

This is perhaps one of my favorite takeaways from Music To My Years. Artie Kane is really adept at spotting new music career possibilities, even though they weren’t a part of his actual plan.

If you are like me, you like to lock your focus and remove any distractions in the way towards your goal. But this also makes you blind for other possibilities that will show up. Artie does not strike me as someone who locks in on one, singular goal. His mother, on the other hand, did that for him. But that is a story I’ll let you read for yourself.

By studying Artie’s actions, you will see there are a lot of different ways you can live off your music. In the book, you will see that Artie did a lot of different music roles over the years, which you also could do, such as:

  • Conduct film music
  • Film composing
  • Perform as a show pianist
  • Arrange and orchestrate music
  • Produce albums
  • Write music
  • Be a studio musician

There are lots of things you could do with your music passion, and in the book, we get quite in-depth information on many of them. In this digital age, we even have more options than Artie did!

So, just because you want to become a film score composer, don’t think that there is only one way to get there. And keep your eyes open for other exciting opportunities. Often, they will present themselves right in front of you.

Takeaway #4: You Are Never Too Old to Learn New Skills

As the previous takeaway said, it’s okay to change your goals while you are moving forward. Artie had been both a show pianist and studio musician for a long time before he got serious with his goal of composing music to films. Actually, he was 44 when he decided that it was possible.

And yes, he was advised to reconsider his goal by some of his friends — after all, his film composing career “should have begun 20 years earlier,” according to them. However, based on his years as a studio musician on film scores, Artie was confident he could do it. If you are asked to do something you are not familiar with, do it, even though you (or your friends) think you can’t.

There are multiple stories in which Artie shows his drive and relished a new challenge. For instance, the time he accepted to play the weird instrument, clavinet, which he hadn’t even heard of until he saw it on the scoring stage.

In Music To My Years, Artie reveals that learning orchestration was highly important to his career. Coming from a pianist’s life, the orchestration was something Artie learned from Tedesco after moving to California.

What is orchestration?
In music, orchestration is the assignment of different instruments to play different parts (for example, determining which instruments are going to play the main melody, bassline, rhythm, etc.). Orchestration is most commonly used for an orchestra or other musical ensemble.

It just goes to show that, even if you go into a business with one specific role in mind, you should still have the drive and confidence to pursue other roles as well.

Takeaway #5: Learn From Your Mistakes

This is the obvious one that everyone tells you, right? Well, it’s one thing to say it. It is a whole other thing to actually do it.

“Wave your arms till the music stops. Then turn around and take a bow.”

Artie reflects on his conducting mistakes and working with Elmer Bernstein in a very entertaining chapter in the book.

Failed album? Family expectations? 8 marriages? Addiction?

You see, in his memoir, we get detailed, amusing, and tough stories of the career of a child prodigy that started on a journey that gave him 8 wives, 3 kids, paralyzing panic attacks, parental custody fights, and struggles with addiction.

In spite of this, Kane did enjoy great success as a pianist, TV and film composer, and conductor.

He performed with Frank Sinatra, playing the Hammond organ. He toured as a show pianist on “Holiday on Ice” with then-superstar Sonja Henie, and he worked with legends such as Quincy Jones and film-scoring mastermind John Williams.

Artie went through a lot of stuff, but as we can read in his book, he got stronger and learned from his mistakes. Sure, his affection for saving the damsel in distress resulted in 8 different wives, but even learning slowly is better than not learning at all!

Why you need to read Music To My Years

I have now presented five key takeaways that could help you on your way to becoming a professional musician. But there is so much more.

  • He shares what it’s like to work with big names in the industry
  • Legit music instruction is just as valuable as on-the-road experience. Both are necessary.
  • For film scoring, be conversant in all styles.
  • Never be defeated by failure. Get back up and try again.

One thing that really takes this book to a higher level is discovering how many pieces Artie had to assemble to be able to get forward, whether it was his fight to see his son Paul more often, lack of money, marital problems, how he dealt with the depressed mother of his son, or how he dealt with the pressures of his music career.

I especially found his ongoing internal battle of beating himself up over tiny mistakes really relatable. And I am sure you do too if you have a creative mind.

If you are a creative person trying to get ahead in a creative industry, I am sure you can relate to the struggle of having to live off of noodle soup while working 2-3 different jobs just to be able to maintain your dream.

The most important thing to remember to become a professional musician is that it requires more than just raw skills. It takes discipline, focus, developing connections, and business savvy.

Also, if you work in the creative industry, you might relate to his stories and maybe even get some new perspectives on your own life. I surely did.

Click the book to read a free preview and buy the hardcover book on Amazon (369 pages, 197 photos)

  • Music to My Years is also available as an audiobook on Audible
  • Get the Kindle version

Thomas Leypoldt

Hey there! My name is Thomas and I have been a film composer for over 10 years, delivering music to feature films, documentaries, video games, and commercials. I share everything I have learned on this website, to hopefully be of help to your own development as a musician.

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