Your 3 Biggest Assets as a Pro Harp Player

How your story, playing approach, & persona can elevate your career big time

Successful musicians aren’t just skilled; their personalities, stories, and playing style are magnetic. They become legends by standing for something bold, having something different to say (and play), and being incomparable to anyone else. It’s not just about musical talent; it’s tapping into human expression in all its forms, making everything you do a canvas to showcase who you are and a way to connect with others. Fans live vicariously through the artists they love. When you love yourself and express freely it frees people up to do this themselves. That’s the power of an artist.

 

To make it as a professional harmonica player, you need to create your own legend. Don’t imitate—become your own complete package that no one would ever associate with any other artist. Craft your own unique “superhero” identity by differentiating yourself in these 3 areas:

1. Your Story

2. Your Unique Playing Approach

3. Your Persona

 

Let’s delve into each.

Your Story

Your story serves as the lens through which people grow to appreciate, comprehend, and trust you. This trust is pivotal in the pathway to receiving monetary support from fans, clients, students, and beyond. Your story is expressed not just in your artist bio or on your website but sprinkled throughout all of your content online and what you say to people in person.

 

A starting point involves reflecting on the most impactful moments of your life and deriving significance from them. How you talk about your life has a huge impact on how people respond to you.

 

Consider this contrast:

 

“I began my harmonica journey at 15, dedicating eight hours daily to practice, eventually impressing audiences live.”

 

Versus:

 

“My upbringing was shadowed by severe asthma, frequent hospital visits, and struggling for breath. Picking up my first harmonica at 15 & becoming a professional breathing expert not only seemed improbable but downright impossible. Against all odds, my greatest weakness became my greatest strength. Years of intensely focussing on a strong inhale streamlined concentration on my breath so much that playing harmonica felt instinctual, each note a testament to my survival…”

 

The litmus test for your story’s effectiveness? One word.

 

Inspiring. 

 

If your story leaves people inspired, amazed, or motivated, you’re on the right track. Remember, your story needn’t revolve solely around harmonica; any life facet shaping who you are can be the focus, woven into your music, brand, and online presence.

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself when crafting your story:

1. What are my 3 biggest accomplishments?

2. What were the 3 hardest experiences I’ve gone through? What did I learn from each?

3. What are my top 3 strengths as a person?

4. What are my top 3 weaknesses and how do I overcome them?

5. What do I want to leave behind before I die? How do I want to change the world?

6. What gives my life meaning?

Your Unique Playing Approach

While some talented traditionalists emulate past harp styles, few achieve enduring success or a thriving professional career. Mimicking the past might gain fans and gigs, but true success as a pro harp player demands distinction and some kind of new twist, even if it’s slight. Learn from innovators like Howard Levy, Jason Ricci, Paul Butterfield and Sugar Blue who distinguished themselves by doing something that other harp players weren’t doing.

 

Howard Levy: figured out how to play real jazz on a diatonic chromatically and play in all 12 keys

Jason Ricci: one of the first harp players to use guitar pedals creating a signature tone; strong use of overblows and speed

Little Walter: first harp player to play through a guitar amp allowing him to compete with horn players and guitarists; incredibly tasteful, jazz-like riffs

Sugar Blue: an absolute speed demon (especially in the often avoided high end of the harp) whose very difficult to imitate and transcribe

Paul Butterfield: played his harp upside down; injected soul into every note he played

 

Craft your own unique playing style by exploring unorthodox methods, unique tunings, and embracing or inventing limitations. For example, Django Reinhardt burned two of his fretting fingers so he developed a style where he only used two fingers to play guitar and it’s down right genius. 

 

Ask yourself:

1. How can I use my specific talents to make a sound I haven’t heard before?

2. What are the majority of harp players doing today and how can I NOT do that?

3. What are some bold experiments I could do that will probably fail, but might lead to an incredible breakthrough in tone or playing style.

Your Persona

It’s not enough to just talk just about your “image” anymore. It’s your entire personality that people are interested in. This includes visual+auditory+written content online in the form of images, videos, captions, newsletters, blogs, and beyond as well as how you act, dress, speak, and carry yourself in person. Basically everything you do that people see and hear besides your music. You can also think of it as your “public life.” You obviously don’t (and shouldn’t) display everything about yourself. You get to pick and choose what people experience and this equates to your persona.

 

It may help to think of it as crafting a character, as if you were writing a script for a movie. You want to make a character that remains authentic yet captivates attention. Personas are often meticulously constructed, like Elton John or Lady Gaga – these artists are still being true themselves, while greatly augmenting elements of their personality to garner attention. Certainly neither of them strut around their house in their stage outfits on a Sunday morning.


Another important part of your persona is your name. Like Elton, Gaga, Little Walter, Big Walter, and an endless list of other musicians, consider adopting a stage name if your given name lacks stage appeal.

 

Jacob Collier is an example of a modern artist whose aligned his appearance, personality and communication style with his music. Sporting vibrant colors, oversized outfits, quirky hats, and surrounding himself with instruments and singers everywhere he goes reflects his creativity and experimentation as a forward thinking musician & producer. 

 

Unfortunately, very few professional harmonica players invest enough effort in their persona to the same degree as other successful musicians; however, some have clearly put time, thought, and budget into it, and it has clearly paid off. Examples include Will Wilde, Jason Ricci, and Dennis Gruenling. Either way, try looking outside of the harmonica world for persona inspiration, particularly at vocalists and guitarists, who more often nail this part of the equation.

 

Paradoxically, the music industry often prioritizes the visual over the auditory. At least at first. Before anyone hears you play, they’ll likely see you in a video or see a picture of you. Therefore, dressing the part and ensuring consistency across your online presence is vital including the backgrounds of your videos, your branding colours, your captions, and text. 

 

There’s no one-size-fits-all appearance, but using a blend of your natural style, imagination and your career goals is a good place to start. For example, if you opt for a style like KISS, your performance and musical skill better match the flamboyance. This will also dictate your audience and revenue sources. Maybe target weddings for goth couples? Conversely, dressing casually may not attract private event hosts or yield opportunities that are as high paying as you would prefer. It’s useful to put yourself in the boots of your ideal fans and clients and ask would I hire this person? How much would I think to pay them considering what they look, sound, and act like?


Creating a persona extends beyond attire—it encompasses your entire brand:

Clothing choices

Hairstyle

Brand colors

Equipment (amps, mics, stage props)

Your on screen personality 

Website and social media presence

Music video themes

Captions and shared content

Backgrounds in social posts

Ideas:

1. Create a brand board on Pinterest and a list of everything you like the look of that can guide your thrift store expeditions and online searches for items to integrate into your live shows and online content.

2. Find the artists you like most and think about how they’ve crafted their image, videos, and other media around their unique personality. Write down ideas that you could that you would be true to you.

3. Start filming yourself talking to a camera and learn to take better selfies; get comfortable with it. Improvise or write a script and record with an affordable teleprompter like the Parrot. Talk about whatever you’re interested in. It doesn’t have to always be focussed on your music. People like people, not mono-topic robots.

4. Ask those closest to you what’s most unique about you. What stands out? What are your 3 best qualities? Take these and amplify them to cater to realities of showbiz.

Conclusion

It may take you a few weeks to a few months to dial in these 3 key assets, but once you do, you will notice a considerable difference in the way people respond to you and your music. You’ll attract more followers, die hard fans, clients, students, and pro harp playing income. You’ll also have a clearer sense of who you are and what you actually want to contribute to the world, artistically, musically, and beyond.

It’s important to remember that your story, playing style and persona will also change over time. They don’t need to be set in stone. Think of them more like artist’s phases when they choose to focus on one style for a while then shift to another. Picasso’s “Blue Period” didn’t define his whole career – just a period in time when chose to focus on paintings that are blue.