When Tucker Dale signed up on Thumbtack, the musician had just fired the latest in a string of less than successful music managers, and in a panic, taken a managerial position at a burger joint near his home in Redondo Beach, California. The lifelong performer (and father of a young child) was ready to hang up his instrument for good—almost.
Within a month, Tucker quit the restaurant job and focused on getting hired as a solo musician for recording sessions and private events on Thumbtack. Four years later, he has been hired more than 80 times and has more than 70 glowing Thumbtack reviews to show for it. The steady drumbeat of business from Thumbtack leads has become the backbone of Tucker’s artistic endeavors—letting him support his family while fulfilling his creative dreams one gig at a time. Here’s what the Top Pro told us about making it big on Thumbtack.
Is there anything you’re particularly proud of as a performer?
I am 37 years old and I’ve won 11 rap battle championships. For a while that was the majority of what I was working on—I’ve sold 12 rap albums on a label that I started with a friend in 2002, and I’m the three-time St. Louis Underground Music Festival champion.
I grew up in a Midwestern college town, and there was no shortage of opportunities to perform. I started playing in clubs while I was in middle school, and got into the stand-up comedy scene around the same time.
How did you first hear about Thumbtack?
I was trying to book gigs with managers and I wasn’t getting peanuts, and when I tried to book myself independently I would get taken advantage of—it happens to musicians all the time. After firing my fifth booking company in 2012, I hit a turning point. I said to myself that life would either show me the way forward as a performer right now or that was it. I had a wife and kid to support.
In a moment of panic, I took a job managing a burger restaurant—it was a huge mistake and I realized it right away. I quit after less than a month.
I doubled down on finding work as an artist, and as I was googling performance gigs Thumbtack popped up in every search. It seemed like Craigslist, Monster, and Yelp smashed into one for small business owners. I decided to sign up.
Do you have any tips for getting started on Thumbtack?
Thumbtack didn’t heat up for me for around a year. Those early months were what I call fishing time—I was getting a feel for what was out there. In early 2013 I got hired for the first time to play acoustic guitar and sing at a kid’s birthday party. I got a call the next day from a parent at the party asking me to play her kid’s event and the ball kept rolling from there.
Has Thumbtack changed the way you work?
Thumbtack has totally revolutionized the way that I book jobs. It’s gloriously full-time pay and part-time hours. My business has shot through the roof. I can control my own schedule and make really good money. I have so many five-star reviews on my profile these days that people are actually finding me. I receive messages from customers asking me to bid on their job on Thumbtack.
What percentage of your work comes from Thumbtack these days?
My Thumbtack business has become the financial backbone of my artistic career. I can count on four or more jobs to sustain me through the month. I don’t have to go through the haggling nonsense that used to be part of the job—I’m never paid in beer. Thumbtack is like my sword and shield out there, protecting me as an artist.
Right now I’m working on a voice-over job, voicing Benjamin Franklin in a rap battle for a show on TBS (premiering March 28th!), leading a home-school choral ensemble, running a podcast (check out this interview with Wu-Tang), and teaching.
As an artist, I will probably always have five jobs and 15 different endeavors going on. I’m lucky to be in a place financially where I can make this work.
What is an average gig like for you?
Kids’ gigs are a little over half of what I do now, and it’s mainly singing and playing together—it’s what I would call a hands-on imaginative set.
Otherwise, I play a little bit of everything: wedding proposal, funerals, graduation parties. I have a nine-hour set of classic music that spans songs from the 1940s to the present. Once, I was hired to do a custom song on Thumbtack, and I still get referrals from that one job to do that work—everything from thanking a surrogate mother to advertising for a local grocery chain.
Unlike so many of my friends who are also artists, I’m using my creative skills to cover my bills. And when you have a wife and son like I do, paying your bills is a necessary thing.
What do you think goes into a great Thumbtack profile?
You want to give customers your professional heart and soul right there. When I got started, I filled out every last prompt and question on the profile. I wanted to be sure that I provided everything people would need to know. As I get more work, I continue to re-edit and update my profile to reflect what I’m doing.
What makes a winning quote?
When I started, I was writing a novel for every quote. Now that I use templates that process happens so much faster.
As a musician people always want to haggle with you so you have to tap into that psychology from the start. They want value, so be flexible and bring quality. I like to provide a price that I know will be competitive. A number that is better than my competitors without bottoming out our worth.
Do you have any tips when it comes to following up?
I try to be persistent. I check in until I get a firm ‘no’ and if customers are turned off by that, we probably weren’t a great match in the first place. For the most part, people tell me that following up made a real difference. For every person who was turned off by that approach there were lots of others who weren’t. Those are the people I want.
You have over 70 reviews on Thumbtack. How did you get there?
I come after reviews like I come after rings in Super Mario! I tell people when they hire me that all the business dealings are over until it’s time for a performance review. I text them the exact moment that the gig is over that they’ll be hearing from me and when I get home I send a follow-up message that says something along the lines of:
All I need is a paragraph or so explaining what you liked about my work. If you will, please don’t backburner it. It’s pretty easy, so if you don’t mind, please do it now before it has the chance to slip your mind.
What do you look for when you’re evaluating requests?
If the request is for a kids’ gig I know that I’m one of two or three other people bidding on it in the Los Angeles area, and odds are I’ll get it. For example, I just got a job as a choral director for home-schooled children through Thumbtack. I knew I had a pretty good chance of getting it, so I sent a quote. It’s a weekly thing now.
For other gigs, I look for requests that ask for solo artists and acoustic musicians. If they’re looking for a bigger band and offering $1,000 or more I might still go after it. At that point, it’s worth putting a band together for.
What do you think you’d be doing now if you never found Thumbtack?
Part of me thinks that I might have stopped, hung up my guitar, and quit. When I took that job at the restaurant, I remember the guy who was training me telling me that my music was just a hobby. It was a real low point for me and his comment really sank in.
Every time I cash a check I think about how those earnings came from a job that I love, that brings me joy and fulfillment—and I think of him and how wrong he was.
Music was never my hobby. I always knew I could make money doing this. The difference is that now I have consistency. Thumbtack has introduced me to all of these individuals who want to support the arts and will pay to have people like me come and share their talents.
[Photos via Tucker Dale]