Top 10 Things Every Serious Musician Needs
Let's be explicit: having none of the qualities listed below doesn't diminish your musical prowess. However, if you're hungry for growth, consider this checklist. It's not tailored for beginners but for seasoned musicians aiming for the next level. Take a moment to reflect and assess your journey. Where do you stand on this checklist?
Imagine this scenario: you've honed your skills playing in various settings, from bands to church services and gigs as a freelance musician. Finally, the call you've been eagerly anticipating arrives – you've been offered a significant opportunity. You're well-versed in the music, and to top it off, it was a friend who recommended you for this gig. Everything seems perfect until the manager drops the bombshell: the first tour date is overseas.
Suddenly, your dreams are dashed because the artist doesn't have the luxury of waiting for the three months it takes for you to acquire your passport. It's disheartening to realize that a seemingly simple task can stand between you and your dream opportunity. The good news? Obtaining a passport is one of the most straightforward items on this checklist, and once acquired, it's valid for a decade!
2. Own a vehicle
Why is owning a vehicle crucial for serious musicians? It's a question often posed by those who don't own cars, but let us, fellow musicians with wheels, enlighten you. Having to rely on others for rides is far from ideal. If you were offered six gigs this month, chances are you missed out on at least four simply because you lack transportation. Don't let non-musical factors like this hinder your opportunities.
Consider this: how comfortable are you relying on someone else to get to a rehearsal or a gig? Needing a ride is one thing; showing up late for your lift is an entirely different issue. Frankly, musicians who require a ride and then delay or take an eternity to join said ride should be paid less for the gig. While this topic can be explored further, we address this character concern later in this article.
If you don't think having your own vehicle is a big deal, congratulations – you might be a talented musician or simply fortunate and indifferent. However, once you have your own wheels, you'll realize the incredible world of opportunities that opens up to you.
3. Own full gear
If you find this topic perplexing, chances are you don't own complete gear. How can you truly discover your unique sound if you're always relying on someone else's equipment whenever you perform? Just like you can differentiate between the voices of Marvin Gaye and Al Green, your sound should stand out distinctly, surpassing mere technical skill. Elevate your musicianship by investing in your sound.
Guitarists should possess a practice amp, pedals if that's their preference, and gear for live performances. Bass players should own a bass cabinet and a bass head. Drummers should invest in a full drum set, and so on. Having your own equipment allows you to explore your musical identity and reach new heights in your musical journey.
4. Paid gigs
Understand your value; when others recognize your worth, they compensate you accordingly for your time and skills. It's crucial to be aware of the true value of your abilities and confidently set a price that reflects it. Many musicians might state their rates, like $300 for a Sunday service plus $50 per rehearsal, but the question is, do you actually receive that compensation? Have you ever been paid according to your worth? Furthermore, if you are getting paid for your gigs, what is the ratio in comparison to the value you bring to the table? Recognizing your worth empowers you to command fair compensation for your talent and effort.
5. Audio resume
You've secured paid gigs, quality gear, own a car, and even possess a passport - all great achievements. But here's the real test: can you showcase your style without an audition? Do you have instrumental tracks that truly capture your essence, where it's not you contributing to someone else's album? I'm curious to hear your solo work, your take on funk, R&B, rock, and Latin genres. Can you send me a file in 30 minutes featuring these diverse styles? If not, it's time to fire up GarageBand and start recording.
6. Social media presence
When researching an artist who has approached you to collaborate, the common approach is to unleash your search engine skills, checking YouTube clips, Instagram, Twitter followers, and the like. But have you ever considered what your own social media presence conveys about you? Imagine someone scrolling through your social media feed, including Facebook—would they instantly recognize you as a dedicated musician?
While selfies and sharing culinary adventures are enjoyable, for serious musicians, producers, or artists, social media acts as their resume. It's imperative to maintain a clean and relevant online presence that clearly reflects your passion and dedication to your craft.
7. Own/Play multiple instruments
This task is quite straightforward. Consider your most significant musical influence, and I assure you, they not only own multiple instruments but also delve into and appreciate instruments beyond their primary one to refine their unique sound. From my observations, the most exceptional musicians are proficient in playing multiple instruments. I'm not suggesting you reach the level of versatility displayed by Prince, but as a bass player, mastering keys for playing key bass, or as a drummer, acquiring percussion skills, can significantly enhance your musical repertoire. Similarly, a keyboardist who can handle the complexity of the organ (which is more challenging than it appears, especially without transpose functions) would broaden their musical horizons.
8. Musician friends
It might astonish you to know that many musicians struggle to assemble their own band for a performance. Picture this: an artist or a contact approaches you for a gig and is willing to pay you to put together a house band. Who do you reach out to? If you don't have a network of reliable musicians at your disposal, it's time to expand your circle. Having exceptional skills is essential, but if most of your musical connections are limited to YouTube video clips, you're severely limiting your opportunities, regardless of how polished your guitar sweeping technique may be.
9. Reading skills
Many musicians possess the talent to play by ear, yet true mastery of your instrument requires learning how to read music. This skill becomes invaluable when you're tasked with learning multiple songs. Imagine being an actor who must memorize lines solely by hearing them read aloud, complete with all the pauses and transitions. That would be quite challenging, right? It's far easier to read the lines, practice, and commit them to memory. Now, envision having a safety net: if you forget a line, all you need to do is glance at cue cards to get back on track. The same principle applies to reading music. If you forget the starting key, a break, or a particular riff, you can simply look up and read the "cue cards."
Moreover, knowing how to read music opens the door to more opportunities. Want to secure a regular gig where they frequently switch up the repertoire? My friend, you need to learn how to read.
In conclusion, having a passport, car, quality gear, and the ability to play multiple instruments are valuable assets, but poor character can hinder your progress. Anyone can play a few notes, but what happens after the gig? Are you a pleasant person to be around, or do you become a liability, especially when alcohol is involved? Can you be trusted? Do you have a habit of being late, even for rides that are arranged for you? Rest assured, these traits do not go unnoticed. Many opportunities slip through the cracks because of character concerns.
If you find yourself criticizing other musicians on stage, questioning their authenticity, or feeling competitive, it's essential to reflect on your own behavior. Sometimes, it's not about your skills, but how you carry yourself. Experienced touring musicians will attest that your character can propel you much further than sheer technical prowess in the music industry. Unless you're a true prodigy, there will always be someone technically better than you on your instrument. The key is to embrace your uniqueness and authenticity, as those qualities can be replicated and are what truly sell in the industry.