Hello everyone, please sit back, grab a cold one, and enjoy the ride (read) Get a Real Job, an article explaining how anyone, anywhere can become a working musician.
A Very Little About Me
A long time ago in another place and decade, called high school a friend of mine took the initiative and started a band. Being a music lover and overcome with curiosity I was compelled to listen to them while they practiced at a nearby music store. Soaking up the atmosphere, it was really the first time I felt naturally connected with anything. I loved everything about the process, the rehearsals, the camaraderie, the humor, and that four people could create such a great sound.
Even as a bystander, I could feel the chemistry and magic as the room came alive when they played. Another crystallizing moment bestowed upon me at this time was watching them perform live at the skating rink. The interaction of the crowd, along with the overall enjoyment everyone felt as they played was fantastic. Calmness set in, I felt I had found my calling I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
The Work Begins
I started playing guitar, while learning from records (yes actual records) and from my friend who was currently enjoying the fruits of his labor playing skating rinks and house parties. At the ripe old age of fifteen I joined my first band. We played the senior prom and a few backyard parties that year. I can’t recall the name of the band but, we enjoyed all the benefits of being young and clueless. Determined to “make it,” I moved to Atlanta when I was 21 and got a new band together. I had been writing songs since high school and decided it was time to record first album. We played around town promoting the songs, pushing for air time, generally just trying to get the name out. This period was very educational and key to learning how to sustain a working band, dealing with fellow band members, and trying to unravel the mysteries of the music biz. In the midst of all this, I realized how much I enjoyed playing music for a living. As a “semi-single man” chasing a dream, I took any opportunity to travel. I relocated to different areas in hopes that it may help my career. In hindsight, I was acquiring invaluable information during these free wheeling years that later served as the seeds for this article.
20 Years Later
I still consider myself a student, learning everyday a little more about life and music. Two decades and countless gigs later, I still get the same enjoyment from performing today as I did when I first started. I hope through this article you can take some of these experiences and use them for yourself. I hope these ideas and suggestions will serve you well, as you begin to play out and perform as a working musician.
The following sections will include the process, from beginning to end, to becoming a working musician. This will be a step by step guide explaining everything you need to know from your initial promotional package to your first performance.
A promo or promotional package is essential for any musician getting started. The promotional package serves as a business card. The basic idea can be broken down into three points:
1. Your Demo CD/MP3’s: the songs that best represent you or your band
2. A set list: the songs that you or your band will perform live
3. You’re Contact Info: anyway that you wish to be reached via phone, business card, email
1. Recording Your CD
The quality of the CD is what is important here. I can’t stress this enough. You may have a great song but if the sound quality is bad, this is the only thing the listener will notice. Remember, most bar mangers/owners are not musicians, so feel free to keep it simple. A nice tone in conjunction with a good performance is a double threat. Years ago I took what I considered to be my most universally appealing songs and recorded them. I took the time to get the feel of each song and tried to imagine myself as a listener hearing it for the first time; after all, if it doesn’t move you it won’t move others. Mixing original songs and cover songs is perfectly acceptable. There is nothing wrong promoting yourself with a CD that has two originals and one cover or vise versa. As a basic rule of thumb the CD or MP3 if should have no more than three or four songs and each song should be less than five minutes. Your band may do a great rendition of Led Zeppelin’s live 25 minute “Dazed and Confused” (violin bow included), but save it for the encore. The songs do not have to showcase you or your band but the singing should be in key and the playing should be in time and in tune. In most situations, the manager/owner is likely to listen to a minute of each song and then skip to the next one. With this in mind concentrate more on the overall quality of your demo.
- For those who are unfamiliar with the recording process, any small home studio will be more than enough. Every promotional demo I have used was recorded with my portable digital studio in my home. It’s all about quality and clarity. One guitar and one voice is more than enough to get the point across. For more information regarding the technical aspects of home recording contact any local music store or the internet for a source of options.
2. Set List
The set list that you decide on really depends on you. Okay, what the hell does that mean? Good question, what do you personally like to play and sing? Keep in mind, the more familiar songs you play, the easier you are to hire. The reasoning is simple, most people enjoy listening to songs they know. Finding a nice balance between what you enjoy playing and songs that will keep you working is a good starting point. Every musician is different. Try to understand what works for you and choose your set list accordingly. When I first started as an acoustic solo musician I deliberately chose songs that were easy for me to sing and play. I still feel this is a good approach for anyone starting out. As you became more comfortable performing, add songs to make your set list more diverse and universally appealing.
Hitting the Stage- but for how long?
- A musician can put together a set list of forty or fifty songs and play almost anywhere. The basic rule for a set is forty five on and fifteen off; forty-five minutes of actual playing time and fifteen minutes of down time, also known as a “set-break.” The average venue will usually ask for three or four sets which is approximately 3 to 4 hours of forty five on and fifteen off. As I say this, understand these facts are not set in stone. Everyone I know approaches their show a little different. Much of this depends on the crowd and the venue. Some of my friends prefer to play over an hour the first set, resulting in a smaller third or fourth set. Use your best judgment, if the crowd is into it and people are dancing its only practical to continue playing. As a performer, momentum is a great advantage to have on your side. People feel less intimidated if everyone else is already on the dance floor. Performing two or three crowd friendly songs back to back is a great way to break the ice and time goes a lot faster when everyone is having fun.
3. Contact Information
This step is self explanatory, a simple business card with your name, phone number or email will be fine. The card may also show links to your FaceBook page or any other web sites that you want to be associated with. A typical card that I have used in the past is as follows:
E-mail – [email protected]
Once your CD, set list, and business cards are finished, you are ready to hand out your promotional package. A 9” x 12” envelope is a nice medium to distribute your talents to the world. You can always update your promo by recording new songs adding photos, including a short biography, and any venues you are currently playing.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of Kurt's Article on Getting a Job as a working musician....
About the Author
Kurt Lanham has been a working musician for 20 years, playing in a touring band from 1991–2001. His experience as songwriter, musician, booking agent, and producer has paved the way to the information in this article. Kurt has since been performing as a solo acoustic artist and continues to write songs and jingles in addition to playing in several different musical projects. In July 2011 NASA’s “Wakeup the Crew” songwriting contest recently announced Kurt’s self pinned “Just Another Day In Space” as number 5 out of the 1400 entries, where he has performed live on several of the Southeast TV and radio stations.