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Tips On How To Become A Working Musician

13 October 2016

Being in originals bands and trying to take over the world with your music takes its toll after a few years and musicians often find themselves at a cross roads where the energy for starting a new band or project is waining. One too many failed original bands or another conversation with a musician giving crap excuses about why they can’t commit to the standards desired. Bands fizzle out and new bands rise from their ashes only to hit the same stumbling blocks and once again when momentum fades the bands starts to self destruct. But why should that stop you from doing what you love as a career for the rest of your life, after all you were a big driving force behind every band you have been in right? Also you have to live and the idea of being stuck in that Joe-job sucks ass!

But there is good money to be made from them strings, those sticks or that box of voice. Someone who has put the time into their musicianship and all those gigs and experience you have built up has got to be worth some dollar! So where do we start if you have no capitol to start a professional covers band and buy all that gear and pay for the marketing?

The first step on the ladder is ‘Avoiding getting a job’, something I have been very good at all my career. The J.O.B word strikes fear into me ever since my 5 hours in that shampoo factory when I was 19. Half way through the day I walked out and vowed to myself that I would never have a grown up job like that again. I had no idea what I was going to do but I knew I would do whatever it took to make money as a bass player.

Here are some of the tips I used to avoid the J word:

Are you in the right area to get work?

I grew up in Swansea and while I could build a teaching business to teach kids to play there were a few flaws in this plan. There are very few bass players so to find enough bassists to teach would be tough. Also to perform weekly as a paid musician it would mean a lot of travelling and the travel links out of Wales aren’t great as there is only 1 motorway. Living in an area which has a big catchment area of people/musicians and ideally has some affluence in it’s surroundings means you have a lot more chances of finding these opportunities. This is why musicians move to bigger cities, it does mean more competition and a higher standard but the work is there. If this is a financial decision then make it easier on yourself and go where the money and work is.

You need to get paid right?

“I’m a professional and I need to get paid!” Seems a modern day battle cry from most musicians I talk to, usually followed by something about ‘you wouldn’t expect a plumber… bla bla bla!’. Of course you need to get paid however you also need to kickstart the money coming in and you have to meet people and prove that you can do the work. I remember phoning agents, management companies and commercial bands who were gigging regularly and telling them I was new to the area and I was prepared to gig for whatever they wanted to pay me so i could prove to them how good I was. Getting paid to play is not a right its a privilege and the musicians who always remember that always get the work and the money!

Dep gigs pay the way to start

When you are starting out or have moved to a new area, playing the dep game is key in building your name around the area and bringing in work to fund your massive crack habit, or lego habit. The great thing about depping (standing in for a musician who is unavailable) is you become the hero and save the day. Dep gigs could be organised weeks in advance when a musician knows he/she is away for a holiday or it could be an hour before the gig is one of the band members have had an emergency. Setting yourself up as the dep musician is a lot easier than setting up a full band or trying to join an established band.

Firstly you need a bit of content in one place which is easy to find, I always suggest video as its a mobile world and nobody wants to read your CV as a musician. Then you need to make sure you know the set lists of current bands. Most covers bands play similar sets so learning 60-70 classic wedding songs will ensure you know most of the set and can learn a few curveballs on the day.

Extra mini Tips

  • Set up email to your phone so you get emails instantly and reply as fast as you can
  • Learn to sing if you are a musician and if you can sing BV’s, learn to sing lead so you can become instantly employable!
  • You have to be able to drive and must have a car.. If you don’t, prioritise it! You can’t get regular dep gigs if you can’t get there.
  • Send emails/texts a week before you don’t have any gigs with a message saying ‘If anyone is looking for a fun bass player on Saturday I am free, please keep me in mind, thanks!’
  • If you play guitar then buy a bass and an amp and spread the word that you can cover guitar or bass gigs.

Set up a little teaching practice

While I will go into detail a bit more on this in the next blog I want to acknowledge that teaching is the perfect way to slot into your gigging life. Gigs tend to be over weekends when people want to party while teaching happens on week-day evenings after school/work hours. How much you charge is up to you however I would build it up over time and not dive in at £25-30 an hour. If you can find 10 students at £15-20 an hour it could be an extra £600-800 a month, while it’s not going to buy you a Bugatti Veyron it will keep the roof over your head while you develop your career.

Many musicians use these tactics to build up a solid self employed business where they can earn £25k+ a year doing what they love. These hours also mean that you will have plenty of time in the day to work on an original project, develop stage 2 of your session playing plan or just fart around on the beach on sunny days whatever your priorities are!

The key to making money as a musician is building the foundations and not trying to dive in at the top level and compete with people with more experience. Use your free time to become the hero and save the day by being prepared and ready to do something at the last minute and say yes to anything for any price until you have enough work to start being choosy. At the beginning £30 for a gig is better than no gig and losing the opportunity to get someone to owe you a favour. Play the long term game and build your contacts and experience the right way by being a real musicians and not an online marketer!

I hope this helps but any questions just give me a shout!


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