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Build Your Career Get Ahead

My Job Description: The Pianist

My Job Description: The Pianist Credit: Karjaka Studios

You may have taken piano lessons when you were a kid, but did you ever consider what it would be like to become a professional pianist? Eunbi Kim makes her living performing classical and contemporary music and teaching piano lessons. And apparently, playing piano professionally isn't as glamorous as it looks. Although the job comes with many perks and opportunities, Kim said there's also a lot of hard work to do, and sometimes there's even rejection and disappointment to face. Her main advice? Thicken your skin, try new ideas, and don't forget to create contracts.

Business News Daily: What do you do?

Eunbi Kim: I'm a professional pianist. I wear many hats — I perform, speak/lecture and teach full-time. I've performed and toured my own shows playing classical and contemporary music in [venues ranging from] concert halls like the Kennedy Center and Symphony Space to clubs to retirement homes. I speak/lecture at universities and national arts organizations on self-producing for artists. I'm also considered an expert on the author Haruki Murakami, whose novels inspired "Murakami Music," a music-theatre performance that I created, produced and performed in. I've also been teaching piano privately to students ages 4 to 45 for the last 10 years.

BND: What made you want to pursue the industry you're in?

Kim: It's been a dream since I was a little girl. From my very first recital, at age 6, there hasn't been anything that I love more than performing. Performing and being on stage is an elevated, almost spiritual experience for me, in which it takes me completely out of myself.

BND: How did you get into your job?

Kim: After I graduated from conservatory, I decided this is what I wanted to do, so I had to start from nothing and try to create performance opportunities and look for students. I definitely paid my dues. I did all kinds of stupid stuff, like playing and teaching really terrible gigs. In the beginning, I had a lot more time as I was building my teaching studio, so I used it to develop projects and create my own work. Over time, I gained more experience, and it led to better opportunities. It's a lot of hard work that includes networking, marketing, learning about the industry, and a lot of trial and error. It's only been three years. I'm still figuring a lot of stuff out! [See Related Story: My Job Description: The Dance Therapist]

BND: What do you like about your job?

Kim: I love that there is no limit to getting better, or in what you can create, and that every day is different and brings new challenges. For example, there is no end to being a great artist — there is always so much more to learn of the art form that it's an entire lifetime's work. In terms of just making art alone, there are limitless possibilities in what you can create and experience. The same goes with teaching — there is always so much more we can do to become better teachers and make music exciting and fun to learn and experience. And I'm always meeting really interesting people! I get to see and experience a lot of great art. Life is never boring.

BND: What challenges do you face at your job?

Kim: With increasing budget cuts at schools, organizations and venues, it's a highly competitive environment right now for concert musicians to get performance opportunities, professorships and grant money. There's also a shift happening with things like Spotify and YouTube, making music easily accessible and for free, so we really have to think out of the box and be creative on how to generate income in today's world.

BND: What's something people don't know about your job?

Kim: There's actually a lot that goes into every single concert! I know that it looks like I pop on stage and just play the notes. Not only does it take a tremendous amount of preparation and practice to learn a program, [but] it also takes a lot of logistical planning, too. Ninety-five percent of what I do is not very glamorous.

BND: What's the most interesting thing you've ever done at your job?

Kim: I was invited to be in a documentary on author Haruki Murakami. This was a really crazy thing for me. NHK, Japan's public broadcasting [corporation], produced a documentary on internationally acclaimed writer Haruki Murakami, and they featured me and my performance project inspired by him, "Murakami Music." They shot the world premiere of the performance at New York City's Symphony Space. This project was something that was completely born from a passion of mine that I had since I was 17 years old, and then somehow, I became intertwined in Murakami's world in a weird, unexpected way.

BND: Do you have any advice for others pursuing a similar career path?

Kim: This isn't for the faint of heart. The level of disappointment matches the extraordinary highs. Develop a really thick skin for rejection and all the naysayers — these are just signs that you're on the right path. Find mentors to guide you and to add to a supportive network of friends and colleagues. The most important thing is to work on your craft, and the second most important is to get out of the practice room or studio to see what's out there, so you can be inspired and use it towards your art. Learn to communicate well, both verbally and in writing. Create contracts and agreements for every single job that you do, even amongst friends. Don't be afraid of failure and to try new ideas. 

Brittney Helmrich

Brittney M. Helmrich graduated from Drew University in 2012 with a B.A. in History and Creative Writing. She joined the Business News Daily team in 2014 after working as the editor-in-chief of an online college life and advice publication for two years. Follow Brittney on Twitter at @brittneyplz, or contact her by email.