Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

Want That Big Break?

     
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So you want to make it in the music business? Well, your going to have to be smart because you're entering an industry where every chancer in the country is hanging around the business trying to make a million and usually failing. Yes, the music business is probably the most competitive environment outside of professional sport and acting and are all heavily over-subscribed. Traditionally, musicians have had to live the "starving artist" lifestyle either on the dole or doing low paid menial work whilst waiting for their big break.

The 'Popstars' band Hear'say may all be talented singers and performers but, not to take anything away from them, I'm sure they'd agree there are hundreds if not thousands of equally able artists slapping up and down the country playing clubs every night of the week who'll never get a shot at stardom. Trouble is, for most people the "big break" never comes, as it's a case of being in the right place at the right time. "Lady Luck" has to be shining down on you. When you hit 30 you may have invested ten years or more of your life into a project that just never went anywhere. The music business can be vicious like that.


Anyone who has a flair for the guitar and decides to embark on a career of playing naturally aspires to be someone who sells millions of records and tours the world, like Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton. We'd all like to be household names. The reality, of course, is that very few achieve that level of success. Apart from being an outstanding player, many factors come into the equation, not least of which is luck and being in the right place at the right time is often the bottom line.

For most of us, earning a living from our instruments is a hard road to ride. The main factor is to keep all options open, don't be precious about your music and always keep a professional attitude. There are several ways to generate money as a guitarist which you could consider.

The most straight forward way is performing, getting paid to play your music to an audience. It's often the most satisfying way too, especially if you're doing your own thing, either solo, or in your own band. When all else is falling apart around you, there's usually some place to play, even if it means busking, which around here means playing in a public place where players come and stand in the street with their guitar cases open for people to throw money in.

The other form of performing involves hiring yourself out as a freelance or session guitarist for other bands, although juggling dates can be difficult. Times have changed and technology has done a lot of musicians out of this kind of work, but guitars (especially acoustic) still can't be synthesized, yet.

There are a couple sub-categories here, namely commercials (TV or radio) and album tracks and both require a certain kind of player. You must be able to cover a few different styles to do well, especially in the jingle world. Reading helps, but isn't essential, but you must be very professional and able to follow directions. Often the producer will ask you to play something you think stinks or doesn't fit. A polite suggestion of an alternative is OK, but don't insist. You may not be aware of what's going to be overdubbed later on, or what the singer's part is. Punctuality and good equipment is a must. Guitars with poor intonation or amps that buzz are not appreciated when the clock's ticking.


Finally, if you get to the point where you know more about playing than most, you can become a teacher. Not the most lucrative way of earning a living, but one that will allow you to lead a more normal life, you know, get to bed earlier, that sort of thing. If you're practically minded, you could do quite well as a repairer.

The most important element in all the above is to maintain a professional attitude. Musicians are often seen as vague, lazy, stoned, unreliable, and probably alcoholic. You'll often be treated like someone who doesn't really care about money, who just wants to get out there and play music. To counter this perception, you almost have to be overly accommodating. I don't mean grovel, but be straight, punctual, civil, reliable. Make sure the money is talked about and settled early in the piece. Get it on paper.

Get qualified on your instrument or voice. Learn to read music and join a function band to make money. It's not cool, but it's hipper than working in McDonalds!! The work's out there but you've got to make it happen, it won't come to you.

Don't rest on your laurels. While your band's in the pub talking about becoming famous, other musicians are going to be working on their writing, their chops, earning money gigging and making contacts. Many musicians practise eight to ten hours a day. Take advice and if you want to have a career, spend some time with people who do it for real. Make a plan and, with their help, it should have realistic attainable goals. Then, just keep your fingers crossed because being a starving musician isn't romantic, it's just downright unpleasant.

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