Regardless of whether you’re a sideman or an artist, there’s some common things all musicians need to get hired and stay hired. Here are my top 7:
It’s important to be a great musician, but being someone people enjoy hanging around is even more important. I’m on tour right now, and about 22 hours of my day are spent hanging out with musicians, and just two hours a day actually playing music.
If you struggle with being a “good hang”, it’s possible to build on your natural charm. Hang out with people you admire socially, and watch and learn. Go to parties and practice. Most of all, become a great listener and you’ll be an instant success.
It’s great to be able to “shred”, but having great chops is a combination of things. Here’s what I define as someone with great chops:
• You can listen to a part on a recording and duplicate it exactly, while keeping to the beat.
• You can expand and modify what you hear on the recording in real time to fit what the rest of the band is doing.
• You can come up with creative parts on the fly, and be rock solid rhythmically when executing the parts.
• You can solo over the song at any point in the right style.
• You are sensitive dynamically to the other musicians in the band.
• You can quickly dial in the right sound and use your equipment fluidly.
You can be the most amazing musician and have creative ideas for days, but it only counts if you can execute those ideas when the recording light comes on or the stage lights come up.
Consistency is what separates professionals from amateurs, and applies to every area of a musician’s life. Here are some things every musician should be consistent about:
• Performance (same “product” every night)
• Mood (pleasant to be around no matter what)
• Appearance (always look good onstage)
• Sound levels (keeping levels the same from show to show)
Not only does consistency help boost you to professional status, it creates amazing results in your personal life.
Creativity onstage is great, but many musicians don’t apply it to the rest of their career. Focused creativity in your career means that you have specific goals (i.e. I want to eventually do X) and you use creativity and imagination to come up with ways to get to that goal.
5. Always positive.
This is a hard one for me because quite often I don’t feel too positive. Fortunately, it’s possible to almost always find something positive in almost any situation, and focusing on that even in times of duress can make a big difference on the morale of those around you. I’m not saying for you to fake it- you have to honestly acknowledge problems, and then focus on the solutions.
I’ve only had a few tours with negative people, and it can be draining to be around them particularly in stressful situations (which happen all the time on the road and in the studio). No matter how bad the situation, don’t let yourself slip into the bad habit of complaining, gossip, and negativity.
6. Quick, consistent response time.
A musician’s life is non stop rescheduling, and part of being a great musician that no one talks about is quickly and consistently handling call backs and other communication. Create a routine for yourself for when and how you answer and respond to texts, calls, and email, then stick to it. Earlier in my career I missed a European tour with a band I really wanted to be in because I didn’t respond back to an email quickly enough.
Being flexible is all about adjusting to changes gracefully and professionally. Again, I’m learning how to do this myself, but I’m already seeing the value of being able to change on the fly. The musicians that I admire make changes while still keeping their whits about them, which allows them to see more opportunities while they’re pivoting.
What did I leave out? Leave a comment below!