Earning

'Practice, practice, practice': 5 tips from my music side hustle, which has taken me to Carnegie Hall

Marty Steinberg — CNBC editor by day, cellist by night — heads out for a gig.
Courtesy Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Gigs are a way to get started in the game of life. A little job can turn into a steady one, or evolve into an entrepreneurial endeavor. The latter is what happened with me.

In decades as a musician, I have played at hundreds of weddings, private parties, and concerts, and have performed at big-name venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Although I've made thousands of dollars a year as a moonlighting musician since 2001, playing wedding gigs and teaching cello students doesn't feel like work. It's a joy.

Here are five of the most important takeaways I've learned from my success as a musical entrepreneur that can help you start, and excel in, your own side hustle.

Put in your 10,000 hours of skill-building

Whether your side hustle is playing music, tutoring, or flower arranging, you can't compete without the basics — and that takes lots of time. Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 hour rule" in his bestselling book "Outliers: The Story of Success" has been challenged, but it's still true that proper training and "practice, practice, practice" can get you to Carnegie Hall. In my case, it did — as a cellist in two orchestras.

I started playing cello in the elementary school orchestra in third grade. (I had wanted to play the violin, but I was tall for my age, and the teacher asked, "How about the cello?") In 11th grade, I set it aside, focusing instead on nonnerdy activities such as football, track and field, and girls.

After college and grad school, I became a professional journalist. A few years into my career, I started to play violin with my young daughter at her lessons. Then for a birthday present, my family gave me a big surprise: They had surreptitiously gotten my cello repaired. I played for hours at a time, hoping to chill out from my high-pressured job as national editor of a major news organization and to set an example for my daughter and my son, who played piano and clarinet, that practice makes perfect (well, "improvement" may be more accurate).

Cellist Marty Steinberg with violinists Maria Valla Ramsay and Mikhail "Misha" Kuchuk.
Courtesy Marty Steinberg

My cello playing built its own momentum. I joined community orchestras and participated in chamber music workshops as far away as France. After one of my solo performances, a friend who was in the audience asked if I knew of any cello teachers for her son. I thought a moment and responded, "I can teach him!" He became the first of many students.

Then some chamber music friends asked me to play with them at a wedding ceremony. That was my first gig! Others followed, and I eventually created a small business called Romanza Music. Over years of performing, Romanza has earned stellar ratings from happy customers and has won numerous awards from WeddingWire.com, The Knot, and TheBash (formerly known as GigMasters).

Dedicate daily time to your side hustle

Carving out the time to develop a side gig can be difficult, but the joy of your endeavor is a great motivator. So is fear of failure, once you get further into it.

Setting a routine of practicing after dinner worked for me. Unlike many colleagues in journalism, I have been fortunate to have stable hours, enabling me to create my routine: My CNBC workday begins at dawn and ends in midafternoon. When I come home, there's typically still plenty of time for cello and family.

But my alarm goes off at 5 a.m., and some days I don't get home until 10 p.m.

Don't leave potential clients in the dark

When potential clients show an interest in you and ask a question, they deserve an answer. But not only an answer — the response must be timely. That means checking your email accounts often and acting quickly on any bid request or query about availability.

Give your customers what they want

Most couples want their wedding to be unique and perfect. Once a client is booked, the fast-response policy is even more important. Things on a vendor's to-do Iist can quickly pile up. When I send the contract, I also immediately make musical suggestions for the ceremony and listen carefully to the bride and groom's wishes.

Essentially, Romanza gives them what they want — their favorite songs played by outstanding musicians. After all, the customer is always right!

Of course, there are limits. Heavy metal and rap do not lend themselves to violins and cellos — so probably no to Slayer or Wu-Tang Clan, but definitely yes to Beyonce and "Game of Thrones." And of course, there's Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Heavy metal and rap do not lend themselves to violins and cellos — so probably no to Slayer or Wu-Tang Clan, but definitely yes to Beyonce and 'Game of Thrones.'

Earn your good reputation

On wedding day, make sure you show up early. That means leaving enough time to run through the music before the guests arrive. Thank goodness for phone calendars and map apps!

Once the wedding is over, I thank the bride and groom — in person and with a follow-up email — for the honor of playing on their special day, and to request a review. What is more joyful than to have a client write: "It was so beautiful it brought everyone to tears. Thank you so much Romanza Music for all that you did! I would recommend them to anyone!"

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