GUEST COLUMN: What being a session musician taught me about winning clients

Lucian Camp

Brand & Marketing Consultant

Lucian Camp Consulting

Lucian Camp is a financial services brand consultant, copywriter, author and blogger. He co-presents the On The Other Hand podcast.


A couple of million years ago, I was trying to earn my living playing in a band.  We were almost completely unsuccessful, and very little living was earned.

It was obvious that I needed to diversify my sources of income, and the first and most promising option seemed to be becoming a session musician.   By the standards of those times I could play fairly well;  I could read music;  I was more or less clean and presentable;  I could be relied upon to turn up on time.  What was not to like?

I told everyone on my shortish list of music business contacts that I was now available for session work, and waited for the bookings to flood in.

Of course they didn’t.  I don’t think I ever got a single session booking in my own right.  You might describe my efforts as even more unsuccessful than my band, except for one thing:  they did teach me the most valuable lesson that I’ve learned in the whole of my career.  Which is:

Doing the work is completely different from getting it.

Or to put it a slightly different and rather longer way, the fact that you can do the work has nothing whatsoever to do with whether you can get it.

Basically, it’s all about the numbers.  What I had failed to understand was that there was probably about enough session work in London for, say, about 20 bass players;  and there were about 425,000 bass players trying to get it.

True, about 90% of those bass players couldn’t play very well, but that still left 42,500 who could.  And, worse, there were already 20 very good bass players doing all the session work, and most of the time there was simply no vacancy for a 21st.

All through my long agency career, I kept that lesson in mind:  Doing the work is completely different from getting it.   There are thousands and thousands of people who can do the work, but the huge majority don’t have the faintest idea how to go about getting it.

Over all those years, I’ve worked with countless start-up clients in countless fields of business, and known countless people who’ve given up the security of a monthly paycheque and gone off to start up their own firm of one sort or another.

A few have succeeded.  A few have done OK.  A lot have failed. But in almost every case, whatever the nature of the business, after all the problems inherent in getting it started have been solved, there’s still been that one final question remaining – that one final question which, in the end, makes all the difference between success and failure.  That question is, in short, “How are we going to get the clients?”  Or in a slightly longer and fuller version, “How are we going to get enough clients, quickly enough, and at a cost we can afford?”

And whether you’re a one-man band like my friend Brian, who’s just set up a tiny new branding agency, or a start-up digital bank backed by a billion pounds of private equity,  that question is the same.  “How are we going to get the clients?”

There may be a tiny number of businesses, or individuals, whose proposition is so different and so appealing that it sells itself, and the clients just form an orderly queue outside their doors.  In forty years, I’ve hardly ever met any.  In fact, I’d say that more often than not, a proposition that’s dramatically different is more or less a guarantee of failure, as cautious and risk-averse buyers peer at it nervously and ask you to come back in three years when you’ve proved yourself.

So, what, then?  If this is the question that makes all the difference between success and failure, it would obviously be helpful if, on the basis of those forty years of experience, I’d be so kind as to give an answer to it.

Sorry, but not really.  My first and least satisfactory answer is that I’m really not sure if I’ve ever known.  I’ve never been anything even close to a business development wizard.

My second answer is better, but still vague:  I’m with Woody Allen when he said that 90% of the secret of success is just to keep turning up.  Be out there.  Whatever your marketplace, be in it.  Be visible.  If possible, be memorable.  Better, be at least tangentially relevant.

What is being “tangentially relevant”?  I don’t have a precise answer.  I might return to the subject in a future blog, to explore in a bit more detail.  But for now, let’s just say that I guess it could include writing articles a bit like this one.

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