In May of this last year, I quit my day job at a record label. To stay up to speed on what was happening in the industry, I quickly subscribed to several blogs. Soon after that, I started my own. It wasn’t long after that Dave and I started this website.
If I had to name the single action that has changed my career, it would be blogging. By openly discussing what it’s like to be a musician and sharing my thoughts and strategies with others, I’ve connected with some really great people.
2. Google Calendar
One of the challenges of working as a freelance musician is keeping your schedule organized. Google Calendar helps me schedule rehearsals, recording sessions, conference calls, dinner plans, gigs, you name it. Among other cool functions, it allows you to share calendars with the people you work with so you can quickly and easily find an opening in each others’ schedules, and it syncs with my Blackberry for easy reference when I’m at a gig and trying to schedule the next show.
If you haven’t checked out the Google Documents software, I recommend it. Dave and I use it to share ideas for this website and track expenses. You can also use the spreadsheet function to capture information from fans, such as email addresses when you give away some of your music.
3. Adam Gussow’s YouTube Lessons
In 2007, some friends showed me Adam Gussow’s Blues Harmonica Secrets Revealed videos on YouTube. At the beginning of 2008, I bought a harmonica and started learning how to play blues harp. In the first episode, Gussow describes how he looked through YouTube for harmonica instruction and was really disappointed with what he saw, so he decided to make his own videos and just “give it all away.” He discusses all the nuances of playing the instrument; the small techniques you can’t pick up from just watching somebody else play.
To say these videos influenced me would be an understatement. Not only have I really enjoyed playing blues harmonica, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Chicago blues artists, which in turn has influenced my guitar playing. His lessons also demonstrated the power of owning your niche and openly sharing your knowledge online (which has how I’m trying to approach blogging). There are other blues harmonica lessons on YouTube, but none like Gussow’s, and he has a strong following because of his unique approach.
4. Taylor Guitars, Fender Telecasters, & Bogner Amplifiers
I bought three major pieces of gear this year–a Taylor 210ce acoustic guitar, a 2008 American Standard Fender Telecaster, and a Bogner Duende tube amplifier. Both have expanded my sound and filled some gaps in my rig. I’m a big proponent of learning how to be as diverse as possible with the gear you have, but at a certain point it really helps to have the right tool for the job. Along with my 1967 Gibson ES-175, Cordoba classical guitar, and ESP Eclipse, I can now cover the gamut of sounds most guitar players need for live gigs or in the studio.
5. New Music Strategies
Andrew Dubber’s New Music Strategies has quickly become one of my favorite blogs on the music industry. His thoughts, ideas, and questions about how the business is run and how independent artists can use the available tools should be required reading for every musician.
6. Heather McDonald’s Music Careers Blog
Dave pointed me in the direction of Heather’s blog after she featured Chronicles of a Cruise Ship Musician on her site. To be blunt, her blog is a gold mine for independent musicians. Read Heather’s feature on this site and you’ll learn about her grassroots, bootstrap experiences in the music industry. On top of that, she’s been a great friend of our site.
HiFive is a virtual record label model that provides some much needed services to everyone from small independent labels to the majors. I’ve done some production work for them and after seeing what they have to offer, I really believe this kind of lean, efficient, experienced team of music professionals will be the future of the music industry. Individual artists cannot do everything on their own, but also don’t really need the full support (and overhead) of a label to be successful. Hiring a dedicated team that can work your new album passionately for a few months could make all the difference in your career. If you’re an artist or small label that needs a great marketing and sales team, distribution, social media management, or simply somebody to quarterback the whole project, talk to these guys.
I was turned onto Twitter by a collegue using it for marketing purposes, as many folks seem to do. After playing around for a bit, I’ve discovered some great ways to connect with people who like the same music as me, which often means they end up liking my music. What’s best is that I don’t even have to talk about my own music, they manage to discover it on their own.
9. Videotaping Your Gigs
This year I got a digital camcorder and managed to convince my wife to record several gigs. If you think hearing your own voice on the answering machine is brutal, try watching a video of yourself sweat all over your guitar. I’ve heard recordings before, but actually seeing what my band looks like during a show really gives me a new perspective. Not only will it help me improve my guitar playing, it will help me improve my band’s shows.
I did a lot of producing and recording this year, and one of the best, simplest ways to keep things interesting is through changing textures from one section to the next. Slight changes to instrumentation, dynamics, or tone can really take a good song to something more.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention some of the great people that have helped me out this year.
First, there are the many friends of this site that have been kind enough to use their web presence help spread the word: Heather at About.com, Andrew at Artistshouse.org, Drew at Adaptistration.com, David at KnowtheMusicBiz.com, Alex at ProfessionalNoisemaker.blogspot.com, Derek at Sivers.org, Carla Lynne Hall at Rockstar Life Lessons, and Jason at shadrickguitar.wordpress.com.
Of course we wouldn’t be half the site without the musicians/writers who have contributed such insightful content: Gary Melvin, Craig Pilo, Doug Ross, Dave Jolley, Lauren Zettler, Heather McDonald (again), Ethan Stoller, Matt Baldoni, and our friends in My Brightest Diamond and Clare and the Reasons.
This site wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for my good friend Dave and all the hard work he’s put in to making this really happen. MusicianWages.com is only a couple months old, but this idea was something we’d been talking about for a long time. We just finally had the time, experience, and organization to actually get it done.
The experience needed to write for this site wouldn’t be possible without my wife Jill, who has believed in me and supported my goals as a musician. It can’t be easy being married to a jazz guitarist!
Thanks for reading, and here’s to a happy and prosperous 2009!