Contract Negotiation for Musicians

Unfortunately there are a lot of important aspects of the music business that are never dealt with in college. After receiving two degrees in music, I can’t think of one instance where the topic of contract negotiation was discussed. This is unfortunate for the student because he or she will more than likely be taken advantage of the first time they are presented with contract work. Knowing what to ask for and how to ask for it can make any job that much better. In the contract world, there is no fairness, only shrewdness. Those who get paid more usually are the ones who ask for it.

My First Contract

My first experience dealing with contracts came after I graduated from college. Like most new graduates, I wanted a job and was willing to take anything thrown my way. I had been in contact with a couple of cruise lines and desperately wanted to get booked on a ship. I was offered my first cruise ship contract with Celebrity Cruise Lines. At the time they were using an agency to contract all of their musicians. Little did I know, getting hired for a cruise ship through an agency was not the smartest move. The reason is that any agency has to take a cut for finding you work. I believe their commission at the time was 20%. Now, musicians who have worked on ships before know that any commission taken out of how little we get paid is a crime. The standard for the agency was to start new musicians out at around $1,750/month after their commission. This was way too low! But I didn’t know any better and gladly took what they offered. So I signed the contract and boarded the ship.

After I proved that I could do a good job working in a show band, I was transferred to the flagship of the fleet. This would have been a perfect time to renegotiate my contract, but I was still a little green and no idea how to do it or what to ask for. So I took the job and hoped for a raise. I ended up getting $50 more a month. While I was working for $1,800/month, other musicians were making $400-$500 more a month than I was. They were older and had a relationship with our new contractor and were able to negotiate a higher pay. I couldn’t hold that against anyone but myself. If you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it.

I stayed at that pay rate the entire time I worked on cruise ships, which was about a year and a half. My last contract was for just one month and when I received my contract, the contractor had given me $1,750. A decrease in pay! I immediately called them and asked for more money. Their response was, “The contract has already been written. There’s no changing it now.” This is completely false! It was a contract that had not been signed or agreed upon. I had the right to renegotiate but they knew that they could strong arm me and get me to agree, which I did. They completely took advantage of me and my inexperience. This was not going to happen again.

The Art of Negotiation

I quit the cruise ship industry after that contract and went to grad school. Upon completing my graduate degree, I was offered a job playing for the national tour of Peter Pan. Again, I had no idea what the standard pay was for a non-union theater tour but this time I had a little more experience and knew that I was worth more than what any cruise ship had ever offered me. Their offer was pretty good but I was able to negotiate a little more being that I was being called to fill a spot that they had trouble filling. Apparently they had gone through three other trumpet players who couldn’t handle the work. This was a key point in negotiating. Not only did they need someone right away, but they also needed someone who could handle the book. They were willing to work with me and find a price that we could both agree upon.

Here are some points to keep in mind when negotiating money for a contract:

  • Always be polite. Show that you are grateful of the offer and opportunity. Say thank you.
  • Be willing to turn down a contract that doesn’t meet your needs. Be able to feel good about turning it down if you must.
  • Know what you are worth and be confident when asking for what you want.
  • When talking about money, let them make the first offer. It may be more than you were expecting. If not, kindly ask them if it is possible to raise it closer to your standard. In some cases they may come back with an offer without even hearing your counter offer. If they do ask for a counter offer, go a little above what you would accept and work your way down.

There are many other areas of contract negotiating that will be discussed later on.

After I completed my first tour, I was not eager to go back out on the road. Nevertheless, I was contacted by another company to perform on another tour. Just to see how much I could get out of the company, I made a list of demands in a very arrogant way to the contractor. He hadn’t even given me the official offer before I started in on what I wanted to make it worth my while. He was just calling to get a sense of who I was and if I was interested in the show. I immediately turned him off to the prospect of hiring me for the show. As it turned out, I didn’t get the tour and possibly ruined my reputation with that company. Bad move.

About two months had passed before I was offered another tour by another company. This company had a good reputation and I didn’t want to make the same mistakes that I had previously made. They offered me the role of second trumpet on the tour of Annie. Now, I have never been a fan of musical theater and this show was not what I considered to be on the list of high quality music. This contract was going to come down to numbers, plain and simple. I was very kind and respectful of the call and let them tell me about the company and the tour. After we had discussed various topics about the tour, i.e. how long the contract was, where it was going, etc., I kindly asked how much the position payed. It was well below what I had made previously. About $200/week lower than my last tour. I knew that this was for the role of 2nd trumpet but my standard had been set and I was not about to take any less than that. I politely thanked them for the offer, told them what my rate was, and told them to keep me in mind if another position became available that met my quote.

Sure enough, a few weeks after that conversation, the same company contacted me again with another offer for another tour, The Wizard of Oz. I found out as much as I could about the tour from the contractor which included one vital piece of negotiating information: they were hiring me as a replacement. This told me two things: they needed someone and they needed them quickly. After hearing their offer, I used the information that I had in order to negotiate a slightly higher pay. I politely asked them if they could bump up the offer to meet my quote. They came back and met my request. It wasn’t a show that I was dying to do, but at least I was getting paid enough to make it worth my while.

Additional Tips

My experiences have helped me to look after myself in the music business. No one else was going to do it for me. Freelance musicians do not have the luxury (or the money) of having an agent so we must know how to ask for what we want. Here are some additional points to keep in mind when negotiating contracts:

  • Find out as much as you can about the company. How big they are, what is their show budget, how many people they employ, their reputation, etc. This could help to determine how much you are able to negotiate.
  • Find out if you are the first call or a replacement. Replacements can usually negotiate more easily.
  • Discuss the housing situation. Will the company be paying for hotels or are you required to pay? If you are required to pay, does the per diem cover it? Most companies that pay for hotel rooms provide a per diem of $250-$300/week. If they do not provide housing, then the per diem should be enough to pay for it: about $500/week. All per diem is non taxed.
  • Find out if the company offers some form of health savings account.
  • Discuss if the company offers any form of incentive plan for completing the contract, such as overage compensation. In other words, do they give a percentage of the projected sales that are exceeded back to the company members at the end of the contract?
  • Make sure that you have an “out” in your contract. If you need to leave the contract for any reason (hopefully a better gig) have it stated in your contract that you must present the company with 3-4 weeks notice before leaving. This protects both you and the company.
  • Contact the contractor at the end of the contract to say thank you for the opportunity. This will keep you fresh in their mind and possibly first on their call list for future employment.

Preparing for Tour with an Independent Musician

Tours come in all shapes and sizes, from loading up in an old beat up van for a week to being flown around the world on a private jet for six months. Regardless of the budget or length of the tour, there are certain steps you can take to prepare yourself for life on the road. Touring can be a lot of fun, but not if you’re losing your sanity because you ran out of clean clothes five days ago! From band rehearsals to healthy eating, prepping your gear to getting along with your bandmates, I’ve compiled some tips from my own experience that will help you feel your best and play your best every show, every night.

Rehearsal

Tour rehearsals are the best time to get comfortable with the music you will be playing everyday for the next few days or few months of your life. They present an opportunity to really master your performance before you hit the stage, and fully understand your role in the music. Even if you think you’re ready to take the show on the road, well spent rehearsal time can mean the difference between a rusty start and a tight killer sound.

Before each Ingrid Michaelson tour, we’ll have one or two three hour rehearsals in a rented space in Manhattan. It’s important for each of us to review and memorize our parts individually before the first rehearsal so that we can spend the time together working out live dynamics, getting comfortable with tempos and allowing enough time for rehearsing harmonies. Preparing before rehearsal also makes the rehearsal easier and relaxing. I might spend time revisiting the recordings, listening for tempos, specific parts or patterns. I will make sure I have the new songs down verbatim, because I know they will be the focus of the rehearsals. Even though we play on the records, it’s important to review the recordings after the sessions. When everyone comes prepared, there’s less stress and we can also take the time to bond as people. When members of your band are involved in many different projects like we are, that kind of preparation is essential.

TIP: Practice is done at home, not at rehearsal. Practice is something you do alone, and rehearsal is something you do with others. Make sure you come prepared to play your part perfectly so the group can work together as one.

Gear

Preparing your gear for the road will require finding the right balance of preparedness and traveling light. At first it’s better to play it safe and bring too much, but eventually you’ll learn that taking care of your equipment and using professional and reliable gear relieves the need for backup instruments. It’s also a good idea to know the basics of how your gear works in case you run into a problem on the road. Even if you have a tech setting up or maintaining your instruments, when the downbeat hits, you’re the one on stage!

I use a Yamaha Oak Custom Kit, Sabian Cymbals, Vater Sticks and Evans Heads. I am fourtunate to have great relationships with all of these companies and get all of my gear directly from the manufacturers. Each company had different criteria that they used to decide if they were interested in working with me, but each company required a physical press kit to get the ball rolling. It takes time and patience to forge relationships with gear companies, but their service and personal attention has proved to be vital in helping me be prepared. I suggest you visit the website of the company you wish to work with and read their requirements carefully. If you think you fit the mold, you may want to reach out to them through the proper channels.

Before a tour, I make sure all of my gear is in working order and order plenty of spare drumsticks and heads so that I don’t need to worry about running out of anything or watching things fall apart after one week of shows. I have hard cases for all of my drums, cymbals and hardware to protect the gear during load in and load out. I also bring a small personal fan on tour to help me keep cool under the hot stage lighting.

TIP: Bring spare drum keys, guitar strings, cables, tuners, 9 Volts, ear plugs and all other “disposable” gear that you use. Sure, you MIGHT run into music stores along the way, but it’s better to have these things before disaster strikes. Also, some music stores won’t have these items. Your cable will always break when everything is running behind schedule, not when you have all afternoon to buy a new one.

Being Domestic on the Road

Although your gear may be in check, you also need to spend some serious time on your “living supplies.” Thinking ahead is important when you’re picking the right clothes for the job. Packing properly will help keep you stress level in check, your mind clear, and your budget low.

I always pack so that I have a variety of outfits to choose from each night AND so I don’t worry about running out of clothes if I miss an opportunity to do laundry. There may not be many opportunities to do laundry due to time restraints or location, so I make sure I am prepared with some extra pairs of socks and underwear. I also don’t over pack, so it’s easy to find things in my suitcase. When we’re out for more than two weeks, I always bring clothes for both warm and cold climates, because chances are, we will be experiencing all kinds of weather as we travel. A hoodie, light jacket, a winter cap, and some durable pairs of jeans go a long way.

TIP: Go clothing shopping before the tour. Bringing a full wardrobe on the road gives you an incentive to NOT spend money when you’re window shopping in your downtime.

Food and Health

Eating nutritious, lean and tasty food is key to keeping the energy up and sickness away. Packing healthy snacks before leaving and visiting grocery stores along the way always helps control the quality of food. It also saves me money. It’s fun exploring for local fare, but it can also be risky, especially when the tour is a long one. Even if we opt to eat out several nights in a row, we pace ourselves, and keep the meals balanced.

This past tour, I worked out as much as possible, whether there was a gym around or not. I would run in the morning before my shower, or run before soundcheck and shower after if there was a shower in the venue. My workouts were always simple; I did push ups, ab exercises, and stretches. If I had access to a gym, I would also use free weights and some of the machines. I always carried water with me, and made sure I drank enough after the workout and after the gig. Our tour bus didn’t have a shower, so our tour manager arranged for a single day room at hotels in the cities we played for us to share. That way we had an opportunity to shower each day, even if the venues didn’t have an available shower. Hand sanitizer is always handy on the road. We’re all clean people, but living in such close quarters, playing late night shows, getting little sleep, and being around thousands of different people each week can get anyone sick.

TIP: Remember these five steps to healthy touring: Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, eat right, workout at least 30 mins a day, and shower whenever possible. You’ll stay in strong, happy, healthy and pleasant smelling to your band mates and fans!

*For more information and tips on how I keep it healthy on the road, visit my blog The Healthy Musician.

Living and Working Together

As a musician, touring together means living together. Just as a live performance can be unpredictable, so can life on the road. You need to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the journey. You’ll be dealing with other people’s emotions, daily habits, personalities and more. Keeping a positive and professional attitude might be difficult in times of fatigue or frustration. Everyone has good days and bad days. No matter what, you will be up close and personal with the musicians you work with on the road.

Luckily for us, Ingrid, Bess, Allie, Chris, Dan and myself are all close friends. We work together and play together even when we’re not touring together. There’s a great vibe between us as people and that translates to how we interact together as musicians. It’s easy to make music together and we have a lot of fun on tour. Though as much as we love each other, everyone needs their space from time to time, and it’s important to respect that.

After we load in and set up, there is usually a few hours of downtime before soundcheck begins. We use this time to break apart into smaller groups, or even fly solo for a little while. After soundcheck, before the doors open, there’s usually a little more personal time as well. Some of us opt to nap, others will go out to dinner. Like a family or like roomates, we learn to take cues from each other as to when space is needed. We also lend a helping hand when needed, or try to cheer up each other if someone is having a bad day. It’s important to be thoughtful at all times.

Simple things like reading my favorite magazines, watching YouTube, calling my family and girlfriend, or taking a short walk while listening to my favorite music help me stay relaxed and centered.

TIP: Be polite to each other. Show respect for your fellow musician. Common courtesy goes a long way when you’re in close quarters with your band for extended amounts of time.

Being prepared for a tour is a personal responsibility. Although people can help you out, ultimately no one else can take care of it for you. It may seem daunting at first, but if you make a list, set small deadlines and break it down into steps, you will be ready. If you give yourself enough time before the tour to prepare, you’ll get the job done and be ready for almost anything. Almost…

Create Invoices, Get Paid

As a freelance musician, or freelance anything, making sure you get paid for your services can be a tedious task. Individuals or small contractors might be overwhelmed or not very organized and you’ll have to follow up to make sure the check gets in the mail. Large companies tend to have a lot of red tape, and your invoice has several departments to pass through before a check is processed. To speed up your payment, look like a true professional, and make your own book keeping more organized, you should get in the habit of creating detailed invoices for every job performed.

What goes on an invoice?

In it’s most basic form, an invoice is simply a bill stating how much is owed to you and where to send payment. For the sake of professionalism, I recommend including a little more information. Some companies may require certain information before they can process an invoice, so it never hurts to ask before submitting. The information I include on all my invoices was, at one point or another, required by a client.

  1. The word “INVOICE” – This is easily overlooked, but how else will people know what you’re giving them? Some large clients might require a properly labeled document for processing.
  2. Date – Record the date you are sending the invoice to your client on the document, and perhaps even the date(s) of the services performed.
  3. Invoice Number – Similar to a check number, the invoice number will make it easier to refer to the specific job performed.
  4. Purchase Order Number – Also referred to as a P.O. #, these are used on invoices for products. For example: If you design a poster for somebody, you do not need a P.O. # for your service. However, if you’re the printer that sells the actual posters, then you may need a corresponding Purchase Order number.
  5. Bill To: Address – This is the address of your client–the person or company you are charging for your services. Even if you’re emailing your invoice, it’s still good business practice to include the Bill To address for the sake of specifically identifying that client. On some occasions, if I’m just billing an individual person, I will use their email address and phone number instead of a mailing address.
  6. Amount Due – Don’t forget to tell them how much they owe you!
  7. Services Performed – My invoices include a basic table that breaks down the job and how the Amount Due was calculated. I use four columns:
    1. Time/Amount: How many units of measurement I’m charging for (hours, sheets of music, etc.)
    2. Rate: To specify how much I charge for one unit of measurement
    3. Service/Job Description: A brief summary of the work performed. Sometimes I might include a separate page for a more detailed description.
    4. Line Total: This should be the Time/Amount multiplied by the Rate. Add up each line total for the Amount Due.
  8. Payment Terms – This may vary from client to client. My default term is “Due upon receipt.” Terms for Net 30 means the payment is due within 30 days of the invoice date, Net 60 would mean the client has 60 days to pay, and so on. You may also request payment by a certain date. A good rule of thumb is to ask for payment upon receipt unless the client has asked for a different set of terms before services are rendered.
  9. Payment Instructions – On my invoices, I simply have the words: “Please Remit Payment to:” followed by my name and mailing address. This verbiage is a formality required by some of my past clients, so I include it on every invoice.
  10. Tax ID (optional) – If this is your social security number, I do not recommend including it on your invoice. This information should be on file if you’ve turned in a Form W9 for tax purposes. But if you have a business tax ID, it doesn’t hurt to put it on the invoice to help processing.

Is there a standard layout for invoices?

The short answer, no. I’ve seen invoices that are no more than the above information listed down the side of a Word document. I’ve also seen very creatively branded invoices. The most important consideration is that your invoice is easy to read. Invoice templates can be found in standard accounting software programs, or you could use the Tables feature in your word processing program to do something similar. If you haven’t seen an invoice before, look at a packing slip from Amazon or any company that ships you something you bought. That is pretty much how most invoices look.

If you want to get creative, be consistent and keep the important information away from your fancy design elements. I used to work in the Creative department at a record label that employed a handful of designers on a regular basis. Each of their invoices was uniquely branded, but also very easy to read. I noticed a few advantages to their branded invoices. First, people remembered whether or not they’d seen the invoice, which helps if the invoice has to go through several people’s hands before it’s paid. Also, branding your invoice simply looks more professional. Putting your logo in front of the people that hire you one last time just might help you get another gig.

What file format should I use?

If you can email your invoice, I recommend sending a PDF. That way it can be opened on any computer, and it can’t be altered. I’ve also received invoices that are no more than the information mentioned above in the body of an email. That might work, too. When in doubt, mail your invoice!

Templates:

Here is a basic invoice template as described above. There are two formats, both are available on Google Docs which you can download and edit on your computer:

Musician Abroad: Making it in Europe

Okay, so you’ve had enough of the good ol’ US of A, or you’re just restless. You want to put those two years of middle school Spanish to work, or you heard that the cost of living in Berlin is really low. Whatever the reason, Europe calls.

After experiencing Europe’s enticements through international tours, many high-caliber musicians have gone on to settle down across the Atlantic. To us rank-and-file freelancers on the other hand, the idea of Tuscan villas and French girlfriends seems like a pipe dream. Villas aside though, settling down in Europe is a very realistic possibility for versatile musicians looking for a less-beaten path. In this article, I want to talk about some logistical questions that often pop up when people think about moving abroad, and offer my story as inspiration.

Why Europe?

There’s a lot that could be said here, but for musicians there are some specific advantages to living in the Old World. Not least among these is the exchange rate. As I write this, www.xe.com reports a rate of 1.29 Dollars to the Euro. Rates in the last couple years have been as high as 1.60, which means your 100-Euro gig at the local Schnitzel Shack will magically turn into 160 bucks when transferred overseas. Okay, it’s not that simple: if you live in Europe, you’re not only earning Euros, you’re spending them too, and the cost of living in cities varies greatly (and don’t forget taxes!), but you get the idea.

In my opinion, the biggest draw in Europe is the audiences. They’re attentive, they’re receptive to artsy experimentation, and they’re willing to pay for good music. As a jazz musician, I am constantly surprised how deathly silent the room gets as soon as a band takes the stage, even in the dingiest of dive bars. There is an inherent respect for musicians in Europe: introducing yourself as such will yield widening eyes, and “ooohh.. when can I come see you play?” as opposed to the response I usually got in the USA, which was a smirk and a “yeah, but what do you do for a living?”

…and then there’s the rest:

  • the chance to learn another language and culture
  • meet really interesting musicians with completely different backgrounds
  • cheap health care

What do I have to do legally?

A lot. Consider this another plate to spin if you plan on moving abroad. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I want to be held accountable for anybody that reads this and does something silly, so I’m only going to make a couple of suggestions. For further info, go to the US State Department website.

As an American, you are allowed to travel for 3 months as a tourist in Europe. After that, you need a visa. You’re also not allowed to earn money in Europe without a visa, though some countries thankfully offer special artist visas for those with proof of musical training and sufficient means of income.

There are two avenues you can take which simplify this whole process.

Avenue 1: Enroll

A university education in continental Europe costs very little. In the German-speaking world, you’ll be looking at less than €1,000 per semester, more likely around the €500 range. As a student, you can get a special visa that entitles you to live, study, and (to a limited extent) work in Europe. I know, you’re a pro: you’re done with school, you want nothing more to do with ear training tests. If it makes any difference though, Europeans study a lot later in life than Americans, and they dabble in university courses long after they’re done, so you won’t be the only adult around. That, and nobody said you had to attend university, just enroll.

Avenue 2: Teach English

Europeans speak pretty good English in general, but they’re always looking for a chance to improve. Little did you know that the language you grew up speaking could turn into your most valuable skill. It’s really the perfect day job: it’s specialized labor, so you can get away with charging as much as you would for music lessons, plus it’s flexible if you’re just giving private lessons or tutoring. As far as certification, many people go through certified TEFL courses before getting their feet wet, but it’s by no means a necessity. Your American-ness and an ability to improvise convincingly are really all you need. Because you’re doing a job that is specifically tailored to foreigners, your road to a visa is much easier.

My Story

I studied abroad in Vienna when I was in college. During that time I polished up my German and made some connections with other American expatriate musicians in the city who encouraged me to come back when I graduated, so I did. I started working at an American institute during the day, though musical work became frequent enough that the day job became more of a burden than a boon, so I quit.

Nowadays I freelance as a musician in styles such as opera, jazz, hip-hop, Austro-pop (don’t ask) and Balkan. The change in musical culture has been refreshing, though frustrating at times (the stereotype about Europeans having trouble swinging is partly true), and the prevalence of experimental and/or high-brow music sometimes makes one long for a good ol’ wedding gig playing Top-40 hits. In general though, I’ve been very happy over here, and I think for some who are jaded with the musical culture in the states it’s a great change of pace.

A Guide to Being a Successful Sideman

There are many levels of sideman work, from playing in a small-town cover band to backing up Sting, and lots in between. Regardless of the size of the gig, the skills needed are mostly the same. Musicians who master these skills are among the most sought-after working sidemen and women in the business.

Here are some pieces of advice that can apply to just about any sideman gig, big or small, and help you become an in-demand working musician.

1.) Become a Stylist

The best way to ensure that you can get work as a sideman is to be competent in several musical styles or genres. The short list is: rock, pop, jazz, blues, R&B. You can also choose to build on that list with some specialties, like country, classical or funk.

Chances are, you’ll end up working in only a couple main genres with an occasional gig in another, but you want to start out with this mantra in mind: my specialty is not having a specialty. This leaves you open for many types of gigs, and once you get going you can steer yourself towards the genres you prefer. Keep in mind, however, that having a long list of styles on your resume doesn’t amount to anything on the bandstand if you aren’t competent in them. It’s better to play 3 styles well than to claim to play 7 styles but play them poorly.

This leads us to our next topic…

2.) Know Your Abilities

From the moment you get the call, make sure you understand your ability to play the gig. For instance, if you’ve never played country before and someone calls you to do a country cover band for a 4 hour casual, be honest with the contractor and tell them your limitations. If you show up for a gig you don’t have the chops to do and make it a drag for everyone else involved, you tarnish your reputation and your chances to be hired in the future. The music world is a VERY small world – the drummer on that country gig might play in a slammin’ pop band that you would be perfect for, but he will recommend against you after a poor showing at the country gig. So be honest with yourself and your ability to play the gig.

I was called once to play solo classical guitar for a wedding that paid really well, but I had to be honest and tell the contractor that I hadn’t played classical in several years and was not the best choice. He respected my honesty and then asked where my musical strengths were – I didn’t get the gig, but mission accomplished: I’m still on his list, and in good graces.

3.) Do Your Homework

Once you book the gig, it’s time to start preparing. Depending upon the gig, there will be material of some sort to learn. Sometimes it’s easy and they give you a CD or a website to download mp3’s from. Sometimes you have to track the music down yourself and buy it. Sometimes there are charts, and sometimes there aren’t. Sometimes the charts they give you are good, and sometimes they are terrible and you either need to fix them or make your own. Sometimes there is a rehearsal, and sometimes there isn’t. Whatever the case, the bottom line is this: it is up to you to learn the material backwards and forwards so that you can nail the gig when it comes time to play.

Like I mentioned in #2, your performance at the gig plays a big part in your continued success. If you only lightly prepare and only sort-of know the tunes, faking the rest, it will show and you run the risk of losing future work. Similarly, if you do your homework and learn the gig inside and out, it will show, and you will portray yourself as a professional who can be counted on in a sideman situation.

Learn the music. Period.

4.) Learn to Memorize

This goes along with #3, but is so important I felt it necessary to give it its own section.

There are so many things that happen on stage (both musical and non-musical) that can make having your eyes glued to the page a real disadvantage. Granted, there will be some gigs where memorizing the charts is unrealistic (i.e. big band jazz or classical gigs), but the lion’s share of gigs as a sideman will be situations where you will be playing basic songs or parts that can be memorized with a little effort.

I was fortunate enough to have the importance of this tool instilled upon me by a mentor of mine at the University of North Texas, Dan Haerle. When you memorize the music, you not only know what to play without looking at the chart, you also know what’s going on musically. Yes, there are those gifted few who can read charts with incredible musicality, but for the rest of us, looking at little black dots has a tendency to take us away from the meaning of whatever music we’re making. If you know a song from memory, understanding the different sections and transitions, you can play dynamically with the flow of the song as well as react to possible changes that may happen in the moment (i.e. the singer wants to do another chorus).

Taking your eyes off the page also has the incredible side effect of opening your ears.

5.) Learn to Sing

This may seem a bit silly, or maybe you feel uncomfortable with the idea, but adding “vocals” to your musical resume is massive when working as a sideman. I can’t tell you how many times contractors, musical directors and other peers have asked me if I sing when inquiring about gigs. Being able to provide background vocals (and/or the occasional lead) in addition to your instrument is very attractive. When choosing between the keyboardist who can sing and the keyboardist who can’t sing, guess who the contractor/musical director/client is going to hire? This is especially relevant when auditioning for higher profile pop or rock gigs, but is equally beneficial in the cover band scenario.

If you feel uncomfortable or inadequate as a singer, guess what always works… practice! Sit down with your instrument or at a piano and sing scales every day. Sing along with music in the car. Sing along while on a gig where there isn’t a mic in front of you. It isn’t a must, but it is definitely a huge plus in the sideman game.

Oh, and if you are already a vocalist as your primary instrument, the same applies to you but in reverse: learn an instrument! Singers who can play some auxiliary guitar or keyboards are primed for work as background vocalists.

6.) Be Professional

Okay, the word “professional” can have several connotations attached to it, so let’s clarify. Again, I have to cite my mentor Dan Haerle for this one, and in fact I’ll quote him:

“There will always be another musician who will show up on time, has the right attitude, wears the right clothes, brings the right gear, knows the music better than you do, and plays better than you.”

It sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true. A large part of your success as a sideman is based on your ability to do a lot of things that have nothing to do with music! Showing up on time (which means 15 minutes earlier than the scheduled time), having a positive attitude, wearing the appropriate clothes for the gig, bringing the right kind of gear (that works!), returning phone calls and emails promptly, being respectful of your musical director or band leader as well as the rest of the band, and acting appropriately on stage are all part of being a professional musician.

Again, this is another example of a facet of being a sideman that can set you apart from the rest. If a musical director has a choice between two guitarists, and one has the reputation of being very professional and the other doesn’t, who do you think will get hired? I guarantee that professionalism always wins. In fact, I know of situations where a lesser musician was hired because they were more professional than their more musically skilled counterparts. That’s the difference between a musician with a bunch of chops, and a sideman.

A sideman is a talented musician who also understands his or her role in the band/gig/situation, and acts accordingly. A good example of this is guitarist Dominic Miller, who has been playing for Sting since 1991. Dominic is an incredible player, but if he was a drag to be around, do you think Sting would still be using him?

7.) Auditions

In every level of sideman work, you will encounter the requirement to audition at some time or another. The good news is that everything you’ve read so far about being a sideman applies directly to auditions.

Treat the audition like a gig and apply everything you’ve read so far to it. One thing to remember about auditions: don’t take it personally. Many auditions are in “cattle call” format, which means there will be upwards of 20 or more musicians auditioning in addition to you. If they don’t pick you, don’t take it personally.

I’ve come to realize that in every audition I do, everyone there is capable of doing the gig – they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t musically capable. Often times, especially in higher profile auditions, they’re after a certain look/image/personality, and you’re either it or you’re not. But don’t be discouraged – you may not have the right look for one gig, but be perfect for another. Do your best – prepare, be professional, and you won’t go wrong.

————

With all that said, here’s a bit of closing general advice that I’ve picked up over the years: things always change, and you will never be able to predict everything that can and will happen. So pay attention and learn from every situation you find yourself in. I’ve given you an overview of what I’ve learned from being a sideman, but your situations will be different. Be prepared to adjust, and learn from it.

Every gig, even the ones that are a real drag, presents an opportunity to hone your skills as a sideman, both musically and non-musically. Take all the experiences you accumulate and put them in your proverbial backpack that you will keep with you throughout your musical career as well as your life in general. There is a reason why the older working musicians who have been around for a while have…well, been around for a while. Experience is an incredible teacher, so never miss out on an opportunity to learn from what you are doing. The best musicians that you and I admire have a lot of life experience in addition to musical experience. Sure, you’re playing music to make a living, but don’t forget about the connection between life and music that made you pick up the instrument in the first place.

How to Get a Job as a Pianist

Matt from Florida emailed us a question this week:

I was curious how you sort of get off the ground with piano gigs?  I realize that possibly playing in a hotel lobby is a good route, but what is the best way to go about doing this?  Is it a matter of just knowing the people personally or do you recommend just walking up to the front desk and asking if you could play?

Thanks for your question, Matt. How to get a gig is a great topic. We could write article after article about getting gigs and we’d never exhaust the subject.

That said, we have two great articles on the site written by Craig Pilo, who is currently Frankie Valli’s drummer and has worked previously with Maynard Ferguson, Edgar Winter and others. Craig knows how to get a gig, and I suggest you start with reading everything he’s written for us on the subject. Then come back here and I’ll get more specific about piano jobs.

From Craig Pilo:
Getting Started as a Musician
The Next Level – Getting Started As a Musician, Part 2

Great advice, right? I learned a few tricks from him myself.

Now – specifically regarding piano gigs – there are a few angles to consider.

Why are pianists hired?

Let’s consider for a moment why pianists are hired. There are several different scenarios I can think of.

Background pianists are hired for ambiance. Pianists play cocktail parties, country clubs, receptions, hotel lobbies (as you mentioned), restaurants, department stores and many other places. It creates a wash of pleasing background noise to fill up the gaps in the patrons conversations. Silence, after all, is more manageable when it isn’t silent. Like all music, background piano music stimulates customers emotions – usually in a pleasing way – and makes them feel good about the room they are in. That’s good for business.

Continue reading How to Get a Job as a Pianist

Establishing Good Practice Habits as a Professional Musician

One of the most difficult duties of a professional, freelance musician, is finding time to practice. Yet practicing should be at the heart of the musician’s daily routine. Much like a professional athlete needs to constantly maintain their level of fitness, so must musicians keep their skills sharp. Yet unlike an athlete, musicians’ skills can continually improve over decades before peaking, making for a long, fruitful career. It’s just a matter of focused practicing.

Since college, I have struggled with keeping a steady practice routine. Life has always been full of distractions. Some distractions have nothing to do with music, like day jobs or TV, and others have everything to do with music, such as writing new music or booking gigs. Unlike college, when I’d practice roughly eight hours a day, I now rarely have a solid hour of uninterrupted time for practicing.

But let’s face it, everyone deals with the same types of distractions. The people that are the best at what they do have simply established better practice habits than everybody else. Everyone has their own methods–here are some I’ve adopted to improve my own habits.

Set Goals

What are your goals as a musician? What skills do you need to reach those goals? This seems obvious, but knowing what you want to do as an artist is the first step towards being the best. John Coltrane didn’t happen by accident!

When time is limited, you need to be very focused with the time you have. If you’re not sure what exactly you want to do, keep working on the skills that are in demand for better paying gigs such as sight reading and memorization. Those can come in handy in a variety of musician jobs. It’s also always valuable to use your metronome and work on your tone. Excellent time and unmistakable tone are the two things every great musician has in common.

And remember that making a living as a musician isn’t necessarily about being front and center. Highly skilled sidemen are always in demand. Guitarist Gary Melvin recently contributed an article to this site called A Guide to Being a Successful Sideman. In it, he recommends starting out with a broad skill set in various genres that can become more focused later:

Chances are, you’ll end up working in only a couple main genres with an occasional gig in another, but you want to start out with this mantra in mind: my specialty is not having a specialty. This leaves you open for many types of gigs, and once you get going you can steer yourself towards the genres you prefer.

Most importantly, by setting goals you can determine what not to practice. If you have no ambitions to be a studio or theater musician, then sight reading could be a lower priority. If you want to be the first call accompanist in town, then sight reading should dominate your practice routine.

Honest Self Assessment

If you don’t study with a private teacher, then it’s up to you to evaluate your own skills. Record yourself whenever you can, date the recording, and save it. I learn the most from video taping my gigs. Seeing myself play live really helps diagnose the weaker points in my guitar playing and musicianship. I find recording to be the best method of self assessment available, and listening to recordings made over a year ago really helps me chart improvements.

One Hour Before Noon

If you need to force some practice time, I’ve found that the One Hour Before Noon rule works for me. Regardless of what I have going on each day, I can get up and give myself one hour of dedicated practicing before noon. The idea is that once your day starts, you’ll have more distractions and find more excuses to not pick up your instrument. But if practicing never happens later in the day, at least you had your hour before noon.

I’ve also found that by giving myself this hour I can warm up for the day. Then if I have a few minutes here and there, I can pick up the guitar and my hands feel ready to go. These small chunks of time add up to more hours.

Practice Before Bed

When you learn something new, your brain forms new connections, or synapses, between neurons. Through repetition, these synapses become stronger and permenant, which is essentially how learning takes place. There have been studies that suggest sleep enables these connections to become stronger.

Understanding this idea in college, I never pulled an all nighter. I also discovered that if I practiced a new transcription or etude before going to sleep, it was significantly easier to play the next morning. If you’re into efficiency, practice the really hard stuff right before bed, and your Hour Before Noon will be even more productive.

Practice in Your Head

I used to have an hour commute between home and work, and it was a great time to zone out and visualize myself playing guitar. Because a great deal of playing music is just knowing what you’re going to play, visualization can be highly effective. Your brain won’t know that you don’t have your instrument, yet you’ll continue to strengthen the connections between neurons.

Tip: You need to be idle to do this properly. I don’t recommend visualization while driving or listening to your significant other.

Keep Your Instrument Easily Accessible

Most musicians don’t have a problem keeping their instruments out of the case and ready to play, except after a gig. I’ve gone days without even realizing my guitar is still in it’s case (granted I have several sitting out), but now I take it out after getting home from every gig, so it’s ready to go the next morning. Sometimes, just the act of doing this leads to an hour or so of inspired practicing before bed.

Practice vs. Maintenance

One mistake many beginners make is thinking that noodling counts as practicing. Professionals make the same mistake, but the noodling is just fancier.

I used to be a competitive distance runner. When you first start training, you make huge improvements through relatively less intense workouts. When you reach your peak fitness level, it takes more intense workouts to make incremental improvements.

It’s easy for a skilled musician to just keep working on what’s already in their bag because it’s full of great things to play. There’s nothing wrong with this, but sometimes we need a little shove to get outside our comfort zones and work on the stuff we can’t do. At this stage it takes a lot more work to show smaller signs of improvement, but unlike distance running, the improvement is virtually limitless. Be honest with yourself and know whether you’re practicing or maintaining.

Turn off the Computer

We have control over everything that distracts us, yet it can be so difficult to get away from something like your computer or TV. Just remember, nobody will really care if you saw the latest episode of American Idol, or are caught up on all your blogs. But you will only disappoint yourself if you screw up on the next gig!

Schedule Practice Time

Finally, set aside the time for yourself. Allow yourself a solid chunk of several hours a few times a week to really practice. Put it in the calendar ahead of time so you don’t book yourself with other activities. I’m not suggesting you turn down a paying gig, but schedule your social life around your personal improvement. I know people that work their schedule around their favorite TV shows, so I doubt your friends will mind!

Now then, get away from your computer and give me 15 minutes of arpeggios!

Job Profile: Guitarist Matt Baldoni on Working in Las Vegas

First of all, let me say what a wonderful idea this website it, and how pleased I am to be able to contribute.  Congrats to the guys who created it, I’m glad we all have a place to share information with one another and also to hopefully pass along the artform and the tools to some younger players perhaps.

I am a guitar player, it is the love of my life and my life’s work, and I happen to make my living working in Sin City.  To set the circumstances, let me first offer just a small bit of relevant information.  National and international tours, live television as both an MD on a show and as a guest on others, endorsements, a lecturer position at GIT, broadway productions, and everything else discussed here by our friends and colleagues have all been part of my life for the last 10 years, and in the last two I have been spending personal and professional time in Las Vegas.

Let me just say this right of the bat, this is a strange place.  Not in a bad way at all, but well…y’know … it’s, well, Vegas.  I was in LA for several years before I came here, and I have friends in many major metropolitan areas making music, have visited a lot of these places many times, and talk often to musicians in other cities that I know, like all of us.  Based on these experiences and indexing them, I can still say that Las Vegas, musically/professionally and otherwise, is certainly not a microcosm of the business in general, no more than living here is a microcosm of living in other areas of America.  It’s just different, really different.

The kinds of work will sound familiar to many of you, because they are.  The same requirements are needed as they would be in any other serious gig, but it’s just weirder.  Ever show up at a hang with some buddies to see a band, have a drink or two, whatever else… and find yourself saying this:  “Y’know… that guy’s actually a really good Elvis…”  It’s hard for me to keep a straight face saying this, but it happens all the time.

So, let me describe a nice week of gigs for me as a freelance here in this town, this particular week was very recently.  Off Monday, went out to see Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns at the Palms, hung with friends.  Tuesday—played with the Platters, the Coasters, and the Marvellettes at the Sahara, drove down the street to a nightclub and did 10-1:30 with a blues horn band I play with.  Wednesday—did a large corporate event with a 14 piece band at a museum, incidentally with those electronic music stands people are using now and then, which are weird, still getting used to them.  At almost 1 am I went to sit in at a jam session and to hang. Thursday, Friday, Saturday—two shows a night at Legends in Concert at the Imperial Palace Hotel.  Also Saturday, a 12-4pm wedding, solo classical/flamenco/brazilian guitar, at the 4 Seasons (incidentally there were nine weddings going on in there that day, and I was alternating with a string quartet). Sunday was a triple—rehearsal and two church services in the early a.m., jazz brunch at the Gordon Biersch Brewery in the afternoon, and a benefit concert for Child Haven at a nightclub that night, all gigs that day sightread with no charts ahead of time.

Now that’s a good week, other weeks I’ll do well on the weekends and not work most of the rest of the week, other runs of weeks on end I’ll be busting my ass.  Other weeks I’ll be at one gig for days on end.  It just all depends on the circumstances.

There are some circumstances that are specific to Vegas.  Working in casinos is interesting.  Bottom line, gaming is God and all other things are incidental, including the restaurants, show rooms, and lounges.  If gaming is down, like it is currently in these trying times, casino bosses start thinking about changes in entertainment, like for example letting an orchestra go and putting on the show instead with pre recorded backing tracks.  This has happened more than once lately.  Also, casino “ED’s” as we call them, which are entertainment directors, for the most part have come into that position from somewhere else like the hotel, or food & beverage, or elsewhere.  Consequently, a lot of them know next to nothing about actual entertainment.  There are exceptions to every rule though, some of these guys are alright.

Also, recently I showed up to a corporate event at a casino, and it was classic Vegas weirdness.  A four piece rhythm section, a sax player, and a female lead were in the band.  It was for a HUGE group of horse racing enthusiasts, all men away from their wives in Vegas for the weekend, drinking like fish, and acting like idiots.  So, when I arrived with my gear I found out that in the middle of the evening we would be playing to drum and bass-style pre-recorded tracks of “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” and a few other country faves, techno-style, accompanying a half-hour show of 8 strippers.  Far out…

Another example of Vegas weirdness—I left a large televised awards show event for a pharmaceutical company at the Riviera at midnight.  At 1:30 a.m. I was setting up my gear in a 6000 sq. ft. suite in the Venetian with a jazz quintet, backing up a famous Hollywood tv producer who wanted to hire a band for his private party so that he could sing some Sinatra tunes and do some impressions.  I got home at 6:45 a.m. exhausted.

That’s the other thing we must all remember while we work in Vegas.  It’s a nice place to work, but more than any other city on earth, people come to this one to act like idiots, huge idiots.  So, during things like load in and load out, you have to jockey around these people.  We refer to them as “meanderthals”.  It’s like L.A. traffic, you can’t do anything about it, there’s no easier way out, you just have to deal with it.

And as to load ins and load outs, they can be brutal.  Back in August I had a private event I was playing with a 20-piece band at the Bellagio.  I parked in the garage, on the top level, got out of my car, wearing concert black with a jacket, and it was 112 degrees outside.  I drug my cart, which contained two guitars, a pedalboard, a cable/accessory bag, music stand, guitar stand, my charts, and an acoustic direct rig on it—across the garage, down the elevator, through the lobby, across the entire casino floor, and all the way through the convention center to the LAST ballroom in the building.  I clocked it, and it was nearly half a mile.  This can happen all the time, and they get even farther sometimes

As to the heat, yes—it sucks.  I’m used to it, I acclimated quickly, but you gotta watch yourself and stay hydrated.  But 3 months of hell is a small price to pay for the rest of the year, it’s 72 and sunny outside today, and it’s been that way for weeks.  It’s Thanksgiving!!  So, the weather can be a big upside to living here, except in the summer.  Also, the cost of living is less here than it is in other areas, not just L.A. and New York, but other cities like San Francisco or Chicago.  I have a friend in NYC who always says to me, “Vegas…the one town in the USA where the professional musician can own a 4 bedroom home with a backyard and a pool.”  And it’s true, I have a lot of friends who live in nice homes, and I live in one too.

Another plus to working in casinos, the EDR.  This stands for Employee Dining Room.  It’s down stairs in the belly of every hotel, and it’s a scaled down version of the upstairs buffet for all the employees.  They cost nothing, and you’re guaranteed one meal per shift.  Sometimes you can get away with two.  I think we all can agree that getting fed on the job is a huge plus.  Some are better than others, but hey, it’s free.  It saves us a TON of bread.

So now let me talk about what skills I think are necessary, some specific to my instrument, the guitar, and some more general.  First of all, casinos ALWAYS start and end things on time, so be punctual, don’t count on even five minutes of grace periods.  Guitarists, I know we love our tubes, but in this town you maybe working with electronic drums, in ear monitors, and having to go direct, so find a good-sounding alternative to your amps.  At least two complete rigs are necessary, one at your main gig, and one to use when you sub out to go do something else.  A third will be necessary for travel perhaps.  And, as to the in-ears, spend the money on good ones, it’s worth it.  I even carry a tiny little mixer to sub-mix click (if it’s there), tracks (if they’re there) and rhythm section (kick/snare/hat, bass) to my own in ears if I don’t have an accurate wedge.  One production show I was on, I had tracks, keyboards, and click in one ear, with the other ear out, and kick/snare/hat, guitar, and bass guitar coming through my wedge.  And drummers, I know fishbowls suck, I feel ya, but here they are a necessary evil.  Thankfully, most casinos have a house drumkit, so a lot of times you don’t have to haul much.

Two areas to touch on here that are the most important I think, first is the unavoidable track.  Most pop acts are using tracks, most production shows as well, and a lot of working bands too.  Playing to a click and/or tracks is one thing, making it FEEL like you’re NOT using tracks is another.  No different than learning how to play certain parts on different parts of the beat stylistically, the track don’t lie, so if things feel wrong on your part, chances are you’re not playing properly with the track.  Incorporate this into your practicing, be religious with your metronome and drum machine.  I use the good Tama metronome (a little pricey, but great) that all the good drummers use, and when I’m MD’ing, I clock all the tempos from the rehearsal and program them in order so I can count things off properly, drummers do the same quite often.  Like I said, digital don’t lie, so if some cat starts complaining about a tempo problem, chances are he’s wrong.

The second are, and probably most important, READING.  And the three most important things about reading are: interpretation, interpretation, and interpretation.  It’s not just nailing the sticks and balls, or the slash notation.  It’s making it all feel right like you’ve been on the gig for a year when you’re subbing in for one night and you haven’t seen the book yet.  Most of this can only be learned by experience, but there are plenty of books available to help you.  I must admit, I myself am very book-dependent.  The other night the rhythm section was giving me hell for having to open the book on “Misty” because I had to transpose down a minor third on the fly.  I don’t know, I just gotta use the book for most stuff.

I know for a fact that I would be dead in the water if I couldn’t read at least semi-well.  The other two areas that have saved me, are singing backgrounds and leads and having a list of the tunes I do well at a moment’s notice to hand to the MD or leader, and being able to have enough repertoire to do up to four or five hours of solo guitar.  These can be very lucrative gigs, $100 or more per hour, and people out here, and I’m sure elsewhere, love the Nuevo flamenco and Brazilian stuff.  On these jobs I take a looping device and practice standards for half the gig, it’s great.  Without these two areas, along with strong reading of course, I would be working at Quizno’s.

Ok, some more guitar-specific things.  Get your pedalboard together guys, a couple OD’s, chorus, delay, wah wah are the basic essentials.  I include tremolo, univibe, compression, volume pedal, tuner, and a clean boost pedal, all in an ATA case that I can fly with.  Get a good music stand, a good light for it, and I use a little drum trap table below my stand’s desk to keep other things, anything from my keys and my phone to slides, capos, picks, mixer or metronome.  There are plenty of outdoor gigs in this town due to the friendly weather, so spend the bread on thos clear plastic clips that go across the stand for those gigs with wind involved.  And lemme tell ya, in the Nevada desert the wind can HOWL!  40-50 mph gusts on some gigs.  A direct rig both nylon string and steel string acoustics is necessary, and have the ability to plug that in to a powered monitor ready as well.  Also guys, be ready to have the opportunities, like in New York, to play banjo, mandolin, dobro, I even got paid a double for two bars of ukulele on one show.  For some reason everyone expects guitarists to play every other stringed instrument with frets on it.  Check out Tommy Tedesco’s book “For Guitar Players Only”, it’s a great book for your reading, and in one section he outlines all the other instruments, including ethnic instruments like bouzouki, balalaika, guitarron, tres and requinto, what string gauges to buy, and how to tune them so that they’re as close to regular guitar as possible so you can read the parts and get paid for the double.  That saved my life more than once.

Well, I know this was one hefty read, I hope you guys get something out of it.  I love working in this town, but like everywhere else times are tough, and rooms are closing, shows are too.  So we certainly don’t need any more competition coming into town fellas, however there is always work for good players I think, and in this town anyway, I believe it’s all part of the ebb and flow, and some people will ALWAYS want to see and hear a band.  I know somebody’s got money out there, otherwise we wouldn’t be working, right guys?  I am fortunately busy these days, but not only do I know it could go away any second, but that there are 20 other younger, hungrier guitarists out there who are just as good, cheaper, and more ambitious, and ready to steal any and all of my work.  So in the meantime, I try to show up on time, have the stuff learned cold, and be a nice guy EVERY GIG.  Hopefully that’s enough to stay busy.  Hang in there fellas, from yours truly, Matt Baldoni. Ciao!

The Best Local Eats for Touring Musicians

Finding good food is one of the most frustrating challenges that bands face while on the road. Indie bands My Brightest Diamond and Clare and the Reasons are currently on a three month national tour (following their recent European tour) and write to us with a list of healthy restaurants that they have found along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are a van of six lovers of the healthiest food available. After two months of culinary glory in Europe we came to the states with gastronomical trepidation. With our mighty van internet and a lovely network of like-minded food-lovin’ friends and a healthy portion of each morning dedicated to research, we found and would like to share our little wealth of health and tastiness.

City Local Eats Description
Kansas City, MO
List of Local Venues
Vietnam Cafe This is a small family-owned place with very little atmosphere but the best egg rolls this side of the Pacific and extra close to US70. The ice coffee is delicious too.
Grand Rapids, MI
List of Local Venues
Restaurant Bloom This extraordinary place is totally unexpected in a little strip of decent-enough looking eateries. The menu is mouth-watering and every dish delivers. As New York based foodies we would like to say that with such spectacular ingredients and overall sophistication this place could easily hold it’s own in the Village. Good brews too.
Portland, ME
List of Local Venues
The Green Elephant Super clean, modern, friendly veggie joint sporting bold flavors and fresh ingredients. Our resident meat-loving Frenchman totally approved.
St.Louis, MO
List of Local Venues
Local Harvest Local laptoppers gather in small numbers in this sunny, friendly sandwich and more mecca. They have kombucha tea and eggs all day.
Madison, WI
List of Local Venues
Chautaura This jewel in the crown of the mid-west’s reigning hipster heaven calms the spirits and satisfies the senses. Himalayan cuisine prepared beautifully and a chia tea not to miss.
Minneapolis, MN
List of Local Venues
French Meadows Bakery Fresh, organic, locally grown and tons of options in this beyond-a-bakery owned by MBD candyman, Zac Rae’s uncle. Makin’ the family proud.
Denver, CO
List of Local Venues
Parsley A friendly earth-counscious ex-corporate dude runs this small bright and stunningly delicious little shop. The smoothies will blow your mind. Seriously.
Salt Lake City, UT
List of Local Venues
Raw Bean Perfectly roasted beans with no trace of burning and completely lacking any trace of bitterness. An overall perfect shot of espresso.

And now, just a few words about some non-restaurant situations….

The promoter at the Royal Theater (Danvile, IN) has an apartment for the bands that is marvelous! The apartment is gorgeous and stocked with lovely local edibles that kept us happy for several meals.

The tiny town of Paonia, CO was a wonderland of healthy eating. Our fantastically delicious dinner was made by the woman who had grown the ingredients. The local greens were tear-renderingly flavorful and the local wine was so good we sang it’s praises from the stage. After the show the town was so revved up that “Linda’s”, which only opens on the whim of it’s owner, threw open its doors and we experienced what felt like a happy-go-lucky brothel/speakeasy. There were drinks, girls dressing up in lingerie and antique Betty Boop dolls in every corner. It felt like a dream and very well may have been. On our way out of town we stopped at the Homestead Market which is a part of Big B’s Apple Orchard. Local produce, wine, cheese, meats, pottery and the best cider we’ve ever had got us up early on a long drive day and it was worth every minute. None of us had heard of Paonia and now we will certainly never forget it.

Do you have a favorite place to eat on the road?  Join the discussion in our forums.  Click here for the thread.

The Next Level – Getting Started As a Musician, Part 2

You’re out of the gate with your music career and now you are trying to get to “The Next Level”.  You’ve established yourself in one circle or another and you’ve come to realize that you deserve more money, recognition, and better gigs than you are getting now.

For starters, let’s refer back to my first article on “Getting Started”.  The first 3 issues need to be revisited: Honest Assessment, Gather Information, and Set Reasonable Goals.  Whether you are a part time musician looking to become a full time musician or you are a full time musician seeking to increase your gig schedule, we need to establish what constitutes “The Next Level” since it’s quite different for all of us.  Steps for getting to the next level are not a secret but they are uncomfortable and difficult to implement. There is no substitute for hard work and perseverance.  Very similar to getting started in the music business, there is also no single answer for getting to the next level.  Are you ready for “The Next Level?”  Assess your situation, gather some information, set a few goals and read on!

Practice More.  Is it time to update your playing?  Are you getting the same gigs with the same people because you are playing the same notes and licks over and over again?  Is it time to get back to some private study or find a new private teacher?  Try to cut down on the wasted time that occupies a larger than normal portion of your day and use it to get back into the practice room.  Talk to some accomplished professionals and ask what books or techniques they are working on at the moment.  Ask them what’s in their iPod and what they are listening to right now for motivation.

Increase your Versatility.  Are you playing the same job or same types of jobs because it’s all you can do?  Are you in fact limited to one style of music or one situation?  Maybe it’s time to explore some other possibilities. This is difficult because increasing your versatility may mean exploring some kinds of music or situations you are not familiar with and fall outside of your comfort zone.  For example, if you are world’s most undiscovered burning guitar player but you have one gig between now and Easter, what can you do?  How about get a lap steel or a pedal steel and learn a few country tunes?  How about making yourself available for solo acoustic gigs?  My point is that change is always fine, as long as it’s happening to someone else, right?  Time to look inward.

Learn to Read Music.  It’s 2008, it’s expected.  Formal training or no formal training, learn to read music.  It saves everyone time and money especially if you plan to do any studio work.  Reading music increases your value as a musician.  The more you read music the easier it becomes, don’t keep putting it off because it’s difficult at first.  Riding a bike was difficult and we all fell the first few times.  Get up, get back in the saddle, and figure it out.

Always be Prepared.  Are you ready for the “next level”? Whatever it may be? What happens if you get the call to audition for the gig of a lifetime?  Are you prepared?  I cannot stress the importance of doing your homework.  This can take on a bunch of different forms and it’s applicable to a lot of different situations, but it usually always comes down to learning the music.  Whether you are learning 3 or 4 tunes for an audition, or whether you just got a gig and you have to learn 3 decades worth of music, learn it.  Learn all of it, inside and out.  Don’t just be able to “get through it”, that’s not good enough.  Learn to “play it”.

Positive Attitude.  The music business is difficult, and it has politics like any other profession.  Sometimes the best players get the best gigs, sometimes they don’t.  An early mentor of mine always told me to worry about the gigs I did get and not to worry about the gigs I didn’t get.  The message is quite simple, but putting into play is a little more difficult.  Nobody wants to hire someone who is dark, miserable and has a poor attitude even if their playing is stellar.  Keeping a positive attitude and surrounding yourself with people who are successful, innovative and positive will increase your chances far beyond sitting in a coffee shop or bar complaining about the politics, unfairness and inequality in the music industry.

CD/DVD’s.  Do you have CD/DVD’s for sale?  Are you on anyone else’s CD/DVD’s?  Hopefully the answer is yes to both, if it’s not, get busy!  Are you promoting them or are they collecting dust in a closet somewhere?  Are you for sale on iTunes?  Nowadays there are many, many outlets for promoting music online.  Websites like CD Baby and Music Submit are filled with valuable information that is updated daily with information you need to get your product out there.

Increase your Exposure Online.  Sure we all have a website, a Myspace Page, a Facebook page, but is that enough?  What happens when you go to Google yourself in quotes?  If 1 or 2 websites come up, it’s not enough.  There are hundreds of websites, web rings, and link exchanges to join.  Increasing traffic to your website is only a start, especially if you have a CD to promote.  Reviews on other websites about you or your CD are also particularly helpful because they give you legitimacy.  Are you exposed in any other languages?  Do you have video’s on You Tube?  How is the quality?  What kind of comments are you getting?  I know I enjoy watching someone play in addition to listening to them play whenever possible.  Most of the time, video is a more accurate and complete representation of someone’s performance than audio by itself.

Increase your Exposure in Person.  How often are you actually out playing?  How often are you playing shows the public can come see?  How often do you go out to see others play?  Do you see what I’m getting at?

Web exposure is fine and extremely beneficial, but how often does someone get hired purely because of what’s on their website?  If you’re lucky, a website is where people go after they’ve seen you perform to find out more about you.  Make sure you are playing an ample amount of shows that showcase your playing in public.  Hang around afterwards instead of heading home.  On that same note, be sure to check out as much live music as possible.  You can greatly increase your chance of “being in the right place at the right time” if you increase the amount of places you visit.

Seek the advice of professionals.  Ask someone who is doing what you want to do how they got where they are!  It’s okay to pick someone’s brain a little, and even okay to steal and incorporate.  You can steal and incorporate a lot of things.  You can steal and incorporate music, marketing, and networking ideas in general.

Seek out Endorsements.  This is more difficult now than ever, but not impossible.  Endorsements in 2008 are more about marketability than playing.  It’s more about relationships with the companies and what you can do for them.  I have several friends that are not “big names” that do clinics for reputable companies.  They have good endorsements and their names get spread as a result.  They are all competent players and have excellent business skills.  Talk to reps at the NAMM show or visit some of your favorite companies online and try to gather some of the endorsement application requirements.  Don’t ever be afraid to approach a company’s artist relations representative to talk about your situation and your interests in promoting their product.

My last suggestion is a bonus suggestion and needs to be prefaced by a story because it comes from personal experience.  I was 22 or 23 years old and wrapping up my last year at the University of North Texas when I got wind that my absolute favorite local band was auditioning drummers.  I had been listening to this band for a year before I got to North Texas and all 5 years I was there.  I was very familiar with every single one of their tunes and I was ripe for the gig.  I practiced their music for the audition, but the truth is I knew most of it already since I had been listening and playing along to it in addition to attending their concerts for nearly 6 years.

I did more than the necessary homework because I had recently run into a string of bad auditions.  I had been denied a few gigs prior to this audition because I was young, ambitious, I hit hard, I overplayed, and I generally played too loud.  These are all very normal things for a young drummer mind you, but I was very conscious that this was obviously not working and not what people were looking for.  I went in to this audition very conscious of what was not working and decided to go ahead and use plastics instead of full on drumsticks for fear of being too loud.  During the first song, I really held back on the fills because I was very conscious not to overplay.  During the next 2 songs I was very cautious not to hit too hard because I was told many times prior that I was quite heavy handed.  After the final song I was careful not to let on how ambitious I was and how badly I wanted the gig.

At the end of the audition the band told me that they really liked my playing but they were looking for someone who was a little more ambitious, hit harder, played more fills, and generally played a little louder.

Be Yourself.  There is no sense portraying a false image, ever.

Eff It… Quitting Your Job to Pursue (Insert Passion Here)

A little over a year ago, I was on “the path.” You know, the path that the majority of the population follows because they value things like stability, monetary gain, schedule, order….many of the values that make life “easier” and manageable. I was a pretty straight arrow – honor roll in high school, good SAT scores, loads of extra curricular activities….all to get into the college of my choice. Turns out the college I ended up choosing didn’t really care about any of those things as long as you could pay. Welcome to the Real World, they said.

I went to a music school and landed a gig at Universal Music Group in NYC immediately after graduation. I quickly got caught up in the measurement of “success” – the more money you make, the faster you make it, the higher you climb on some invisible ladder….I thought, as a musician, that if I worked in the INDUSTRY, it would be enough. If i was connected in SOME WAY, I would be happy. If you’re a musician and you’re reading this article, chances are you know what I mean when I say I was fooling myself. A musical instrument a computer does not make (in the nine-to-five sense). Meetings are not like rehearsals. The hours might actually be BETTER, but it feels soooooooo much worse.

It took me 22 years, a $120,000 education, and a crappy job to wake me up and be honest with myself. It might take you more, it might take you less. What you do afterward, that’s what really counts. Here’s where things get tricky.

Remember when you were five, and all the adults would ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? And you said something like “doctor” or “lawyer” or “actress” or “rock star”? And the response to all of those possibilities was basically the same – they would ooh and ahh over the possibility and encourage you to do whatever you wanted, because when you’re five, anything is possible. I can’t quite figure out when this turns into something else – when we lose our child-like imagination and enthusiasm. Probably around the same time we find out Santa Claus doesn’t come down our chimneys every Christmas.

As we get older, people scoff at such “ridiculous” ideas, and we become quickly discouraged, willing to settle for something “close” or “more attainable.” For a lot of people, that’s okay. They have families and they enjoy their co-workers and social lives, and all is well. For others, it’s different (not better, not worse). I cry jealous tears every time I go to a concert. I feel uneasy when I know I am not doing what I want to do. I live in a constant state of depression if I am not working towards the goal that has lived inside my heart since I was five years old. I don’t know why this is for sure, but I have a feeling that it has something to do with being aware, being present, aligning myself with the world around me, and believing in myself.

There are a lot of people out there who might read this and say “Yeah, I’d LOVE to quit my job that I hate and do what I love. But I have responsibilities. I need to make money. I can’t just go off pursuing some pipe dream at the expense of everyone around me.” I hear you. I get that. And there’s really nothing concrete that I can say to you to make you believe and trust that when you follow your heart and work your butt off, everything falls into place. I mean, that last sentence is pretty much it. I can tell you that this is the truest thing I have ever learned, but it won’t make one difference if you don’t believe it for yourself.

This world is tricky, and if you’re someone who needs physical, concrete information before you make a decision, well, maybe the office is the best place for you. And that’s completely supported, encouraged, and admired. I, however, felt like I was constantly at odds with myself. And I knew, deep down, that I had to make a change. I knew it like I knew my first name, and I can’t describe it any other way.

SO. How did I do it? The honest answer is that it doesn’t matter. How I did it and how you may do it will be completely different, for obvious reasons. There is no instruction manual when you are trying to pursue such complex goals that are tied directly to who you are.

“Great, thanks for all the help.”

I know. It’s annoying. I’ll humor you. I made the decision to quit my job six months before I actually did. I saved every penny I could. I got organized, read a lot, wrote a lot, tested the waters when I met people, introduced myself as a musician instead of “assistant to the SVP of blah blah blah” – I worked on BELIEVING in what I was about to do. I networked my butt off. I thought A LOT about what I wanted my life to look like. I started researching music-related things I could do to make money. I thought about setting up a studio to teach piano lessons, but decided against it, because I don’t WANT to be a teacher. And to be effective, that job would have had to take up as much time as my old one did.

This networking led me to where I am now.
Do I make a lot of money? Not yet.
Am I famous? Not yet.
Am I successful? Yes.
Am I surviving? Yes.
Am I happy? Happier than I have ever, ever been. In that way, I am the wealthiest person I know.

So that money thing. That’s probably peaked your interest. How the heck do I live in NYC without a “real job”? I’ll tell you what. Maybe I haven’t sold 1,000 CDs this year. Maybe I don’t get paid for half the gigs I play. Maybe I’m not famous or on PerezHilton.com. But I know people, and those people know me. They know what I am capable of. I network my butt off, and they hire me to do things for them. I work my hardest, and they tell their friends. I am not a jingle writer, but the majority of my income has been because of such projects, projects I didn’t even have to ASK for. So fine, writing a song for someone’s 70th birthday party isn’t what I’d like to do for the rest of my life. But it pays the bills, and it makes someone else really, really happy. AND it involves playing, writing, and performing music. That’s WAY more specific than involving “the industry” like my last job.

What more can you really ask for? It beats a job that doesn’t really make ANYONE happy.

I also have a great living situation. I have three roommates. I share a bedroom. I hardly ever take the subway. I walk everywhere. I get my hair cut twice a year. I make sacrifices I am willing to make. This doesn’t mean you have to share a bedroom with some dude named Frank that you met off Craigslist. You just have to get creative and weigh your options. If taking a part-time job at Guitar Center will help you towards living in your own room, so be it. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re still pursuing your dream. I babysit sometimes a few days a week so that I can go buy a pair of Diesel jeans if I want to.

I’m young. I have all the years ahead of me to mess up and rebound again. That’s probably why making such a decision was relatively easy for me. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it in your thirties, forties, fifties. I can’t really explain to you in this article how I know that, but I KNOW it. If you are positive, if you work hard, and if you believe in yourself when no one else does, you have all the tools to get you through to the next day. And the day after that. And before you know it, all of your days are full of things you love to do.

There are a few rules that I live by every day.
1) Be present in everything you do.
2) Be grateful for everything you have.
3) Don’t ever let money be the sole deciding factor in what you do or don’t do.

You may have to live paycheck to paycheck, but the more comfortable you get with that idea, the easier it is. The money always comes. I don’t know how, but I know why. It’s because I need it to and I believe it will. And because I am smart, hard-working, and passionate.

Everything falls into place when you are aligned with your desires and beliefs and passions. You’ll see.

Do I Need a Press Kit?

Press kits, in the traditional sense of a folder filled with printed reviews, various promotional information, bio, photo, and of course CD, are obsolete.  As a musician, I’ve had to figure out ways to present my music to venues and writers, and as a former employee at a record label and night club (two different jobs, mind you), I’ve been on both the sending and receiving end of press kits.  With the exception of a few special cases, you do not need a traditional press kit to book gigs for your band.

Why Not?

The first problem with a new band creating a press kit is that there’s no press.  What most musicians call their press kits are really no more than their opinion of how good they are.  The bio explains how fresh and unique they are, any quotes available are from obscure or irrelevant sources, and photos are amatuer.  Why subject somebody that doesn’t know you to all of that before they even get a chance to hear your music?

Hearing music.  Isn’t that the main purpose of creating a press kit?  The idea, or often misconception, is that when you send your music to venues, you need to include a bunch of other stuff with your CD.  But the truth is, most bookers don’t really care about any press you provide.  Why would you send them anything negative?

Electronic Press Kit

My main argument for saving postage is the internet.  You may have heard of bands creating an EPK–or Electronic Press Kit.  These are becoming the new standard for booking gigs.

Every artist needs a website and a page on Myspace, Facebook, or whatever the trend in social networking happens to be at the time.  Chances are the booking agents, talent buyers, or club owners will be familiar with the social media page and know where to find the information they’re looking for. It’s also important that your website be very clear and easy to navigate.

Another great option is to make a video and upload it to YouTube.  Embed this into every website you’ve got.  Use live footage, but I’d recommend starting it with pre-recorded music.  Segue into different songs, perhaps even work in some footage of yourself talking about your music while it plays in the background.

There are also websites like SonicBids, which has been successful for some musicians I know.  I have not used them personally, because I think the free options are great.

What Goes Into an EPK?

If you’re trying to book a show, there are two things a venue cares about when you email them.  Your music, and how many people will come see you play.  Make sure you name a few “sounds like” artists that the receipient ought to know for reference.  Then give them an idea of your draw, based on the location of venue and night of the gig.  Keep the email to a short few sentences, and then include your links.

The URL in your links should reflect the your band.  Typically, the more direct the better.  Something along the lines of www.[bandname].com/epk is perfect.  I also include my MySpace link to meet the status quo.

Sending your EPK to a label or the press is a little different.  They want to hear the story behind the band.  Where are you from?  Have you performed anywhere noteworthy?  Toured with any national acts?  Image and branding is also important to labels and writers, but only second to the music.  Always make sure the music is well represented.

The above information should be in the email you send and then restated and expanded upon in the EPK webpage.  As vistors listen to your music, they can scan the page to learn more about you.

Physical Press Kits

When you do need to mail an actual press kit, your goal should be to make life as easy as possible for the receipient.  Take the shrink wrap off your CD.  Put everything in a neatly labeled file folder in case they have a place to file press kits.  Make sure your contact info is on everything.  When I worked at a night club, there was a tiny office where all the demos and press kits were thrown into one corner.  It was pretty unorganized, but when a band did get the gig, their materials were kept in a file cabinet.  Today, most venues would rather not have all that clutter and appreciate a good EPK.

The One Sheet

In the major label world, every album has a one sheet, which is essentially used by the sales team.  As the name implies, these are single pages with all the basic album information.  Usually this will include a short bio, target markets, key components of the marketing plan, tour dates or other special appearances, and a few other pieces of info.

Most of that information is not necessary, but the concept is great for the press kit.  If your information can’t be organized on one side of 8.5″ x 11″ paper, then you’re probably saying too much.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

The best advice I can give is to imagine being on the receiving end.  If you got dozens of demos a day, what would it take for something to stand out to you?