Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to Get Work as a Gigging Musician

I had a GREAT question come in the other that made me think alot, and it's a question that I think every gigging musician, not just drummers, asks at one point or another...

"Your page is kickin man. I was just checking out your songo beginner lesson. I was recently working it out, It's proly one of the most difficult grooves I've tried learning and def made me feel like an idiot haha, but anyway I was wondering how things are going for you work wise? I'm in nola and feel like works been really slow but trying to think of new ways to get some more things happening here or debating a move to a LA or somewhere where the scene might be a lil more poppin.

Got any thoughts?"

What's up man...

Yea man, the songo kills! Coordination through the roof...but it pays off once you get it under the hands.

The ol' work conundrum. As far as for me, work is going exactly like I make it go. This may get a little long...for that I apologize, lol...and you've probably heard some of this before...

I lived in nola for 3 years playing on Bourbon Street...great I know alot about the scene there. I had house gigs, went through times without gigs, went through times with way to many gigs (which is always a good problem). I've been doing this thing long enough that I am adamant about one make your own work. In other words, if it's not comin' to you, you best be's goin' to it.

Here's the blueprint (I say this tongue in cheek...)

You need to make sure you work while you're at the gig...or work while you're at work in other words. We to often get the gig and then just go play it, have fun, etc...the thing is, that one gig could lead to the next gig...and the next, and the next, ad you need to treat it like that...treat every gig like Carnegie Hall. Everyone at the gig should have your number by the time the show's over...even the bouncers and bartenders! You laugh, but hey, they're there every night and the bands talk with them...sometimes they may throw your number to the right peeps. Make friends with everyone you meet there, especially the guys in the band. Be an easy hang, not a diva...nobody wants to bring on a player that has a bunch of baggage. Show up on time (that means 15 minutes before the stated soundcheck/load in), be ultra accomodating ("You cool with what I'm playing there? How's the tempos? Do you like the ride or hats underneath your solos?")...the fact that you're asking questions and trying to give them an easy night goes a long way in the bandleaders mind.

Follow up every gig with a simple email, FB posting, or text (i.e. "Man, I had a blast the other night! You killed it on the second song! Can't wait to jam again", etc and so forth). Once they've seen you, you want to stay in their mind...but not in an annoying desperate way...there's a difference. Find out where their next gig is...go to it if you can. Casually hang around, chat on their breaks, get to know the drummer...that last one is uber important. To many players get in this competition mode of who's the better player....WHO CARES?!?!?! We all love music, nuff said. The goal is to become that drummers first call guy...when he can't make a gig, you're the one he thinks of immediately. This may require goin' out for a drink, grabbin' lunch, goin' to see some shows together (this is sounding alot like a date, lol!).

Now, as far as stirring up more work. Here's a few bullet points that have helped me in the past.

-Post on Craigslist. I know, i know, there's alot of junk on there...but that can work to your advantage. If you make a legit listing, one that sounds professional, lists some of your recent projects, has a link to some of your playing or a picture, etc...well, you win. All of the other guys will pale in comparison. I'm not suggesting you solely rely on Craigslist for work, but there was a time that it was making a $1500 difference in my month...and it's FREE!!! Well worth the time...even if it's for networking purposes. You'll have to shift through the rabble and field a couple of bogus "hey man we got this band and we're tryin' to get signed and we got a gig at Floyds Beer and Ceramics Store this weekend", but it's well worth the time.

-You no longer have a night off. Why sit at home and pine about how you don't have any work when you could be out making stuff happen? If you're not out and visible, no one will know you. I don't know where you stand on the "work vs creative" process, but I believe in them both. You have your money gigs, you have your fun gigs...and sometimes they're two in one, although I certainly never expect them to be. Go down to Bourbon Street or Snug Harbor...or Beale Street if you're in Memphis...or Lower Broadway if you're in Nashville...or a million other streets in a million other towns that have the same type of setup. Find out when the bands go on break and get there about half an hour before that. That way the band will see you actually listening and not feel like you just came in to hand them a card...which you did, but they don't need to know that. Talk it up on their breaks...casual stuff "What kind of amp you usin'? Are ya'll here every night? Where you from?". This is not the time to mention you're looking for work. Once they're a bit comfortable w/ you, ask if they'd mind if you sat in for a song...or better yet, ask the drummer if he'd like a break for a song or two. When you're playing a 5 or 6 hour club gig, a 2 song break is warmly welcomed! Tell them if they don't like what they hear on the first song, you'll be more than happy to get down...I've never been kicked off after that first song though. If you can, find out their setlist and learn 5-6 of their songs...they'll ask you what you want to play and you want to have several ready.

And don't just do this once. Go back again and again...once the drummer knows you can handle some of the songs he'll be more than happy to take a paid break when you're there. You'll make new friends, play some fun tunes...and I promise, once you've set in with them enough and heard enough of their tunes, they'll be calling you.

This goes quicker in the bar band/cover band arena...the jazz arena is a bit more snobbish. I've never known why though...

-Always have business cards with you...they need to have your name, email, number, and a link to your playing if possible. Give 2 to want them to have one to hand out to others.

-Start teaching if you feel like you're capable enough. A 6 year old doesn't need Neil Peart teaching him...he needs a cool guy that likes hangin' with him and can show him the drums. I'm not down playing need to be thorough, professional, make lesson plans, follow up, etc...but you don't have to be a guru to do it. You just have to have a passion for the instrument.

-Go to as many auditions as you can. Even if there's no chance of you getting the need to go. Experience and networking.

-EVERYONE needs to know you play the drums and that you're looking for more work. It doesn't need to be in a desparate can just phrase it in a way that explains you're looking for some new experiences.

-START YOUR OWN GROUP!!! This one is way to often overlooked because it takes alot of work. But who cares...if you don't have a steady gig, you have nothing but time on your hands. Put together a business card, band name, and find some guys that know alot of the songs you do. Rehearse some and then get with it. Offer to do a free night for a club as a trial...or 3 free nights. If it leads to a steady 4-5 night gig then it's worth it. You can write the free ones off on your taxes, lol! Just be sure you sound good. Clubs, weddings, fraternities, and private parties are all great places to dig for gigs. Go to bridal shows...set up a booth. Offer a 3 hour reception for the price of a 2 hour one, etc.

Let me just say...I'm in the "make some money" mode while writing this. Some gigs are work. Some aren't. But in the end, you're playing drums, so shut up about you don't like the gig. All of these things work for original projects as well.

As far as moving to another city...that's a personal thing. You should never move because a certain scene looks more need to make sure it's happening before you relocate. There are alot of FANTASTIC drummers in LA that don't have work. And Nashville as well. And nola. And Memphis...etc and so forth to infinity. The ones that are working took the time to network and bust hump getting to know other players and sitting in with them. I will tell you that starting over in a new city lose all of your old contacts and no one knows what kind of reputation you have. It takes a while to build that, so don't be to hasty to jump ship.

In every city there are people making a living doing what you want to do...find out how they did it. I think there's a ton of work waiting for you in just have to find it.

I told you it would get long, lol!
Hope that helps!



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