Busy gig life started with a tinkle in Carlsbad

Piano man Robert Parker talks thick skin and hustle

"I actually rejoice in rejections — because the law of numbers is on my side,” says Robert Parker.
  • "I actually rejoice in rejections — because the law of numbers is on my side,” says Robert Parker.
  • photo by Steve Anderson

Lots of San Diego musicians struggle to stay busy enough to pay the rent, and having a reliable day-job has become a reality for many of them. Pianist Robert Parker is an exception — he has extrapolated skills he picked up as a high-tech salesman to a point where he turns down more offers than he entertains.

“In 2015, I actually did 347 performances,” says Parker. “That was way too many — sometimes four gigs in a single day. I just started collecting Social Security this year, and I’m trying to whittle the shows down to around 200 per year.”

This ascending career came about by accident.

“I wandered into a place called Carlsbad by the Sea [retirement home] and noticed they had a nice piano. I asked if I could play, and the next thing I know, they were offering me a job. It turns out there are thousands of those places.”

That epiphany was only a part of Parker’s success.

“I started canvassing, making phone calls and reaching out. I have a thick skin and I actually rejoice in rejections — because the law of numbers is on my side — I don’t get that many ‘wins’ but I’ve got a serious hustle.”

Parker transformed his popularity in retirement communities into higher profile and more lucrative opportunities.

“Being successful in that area gave me the freedom to land high-end corporate parties in my target demographic — places like Scripps Ranch, Del Mar, and Rancho Santa Fe — what they used to call 'society gigs' — all of a sudden, I became visible to people who own companies. I put together a set list that I knew would move people — that’s how I built my business....

“Doing this requires a lot of flexibility in terms of being where I need to be — but most of the gigs are during daylight hours and it turns out I have a spiritual connection with my audience.”

Not everyone in the audience reciprocates, though.

“I was doing a farmers’ market, and this kid walked up, maybe he was in junior high school — he looked me right in the eye, smiled, then reached into my tip jar, pulled out a wad of cash — and took off running! I probably would have given it to him.”

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