How do you get work as a musician in your area? Every town and music scene is different. A great starting place would be finding out what's going on in your area already. Clubs? Band jam sessions? School, community bands or jazz bands? Private party functions like weddings, birthday parties or company parties?
Every area has some type of musician need and every musician must get out and figure out how to be the answer to that need. The concept is simple. Define the need, understand the job description to fulfill that need, and build your skills to be the obvious response to that need.
As with any destination oriented career question, one must define the goal destination and the starting location. MapQuest asks for the same information. You can't get directions without answering 2 questions. Where are you now, and where are you going.
There are 2 sides to this struggle for musicians. One is business oriented and one is musical. You might have a great business sense, see opportunity and move on every lead. You might have great people skills in dealing with musicians and non-music people. Or, you might be the best guitar player in town but be a recluse. The goal is to improve on the things you do well and the things that aren't very natural for you, or partner with people that do well with the business stuff and work on your music.
A bandleader must have good people skills and a business sense. If you fall in this category you might explore taking on booking to create work for yourself. A sideman needs to have good musician hang skills and be able to really play well.
To be a freelance musician you need to get real about your skills and work on developing a network of friends that play well so you can be considered for work. We can only call the phone numbers in our phone book. If I need a bass player I start calling my friends that play bass. This is why they say, "It's all who you know." Get out and meet the players that you might want to work with. And be ready to impress.
This is where the skill comes in. A great guy might get the opportunity to sit in with the cool band in town, one night; but you want to sound good so you might get the invitation again. I have been at a thousand gigs that someone has sat in. Often, a real talent is discovered and phone numbers are exchanged. But, more often, the band spends the next 6 minutes trying to do damage control and that singer will never be heard again in that club.
As a sax player, I learned long ago to make the band sound better because I was playing. What bandleader doesn't want to look good? If you make a career out of making people look good, you will be requested over and over again.
I learned this from a wise old man. He told me, when he first moved to LA, he became the number one 2nd alto player in town overnight. All he did was make sure he was making the lead alto player look good and they wanted him back for every gig after that. I have made a career out of it too. I always try and make the band sound better and practice as much as I can to do so.
If there is anything you can do to prepare for a gig, do it. Listen, practice, and be on your game as much as you can. Your phone will ring more as more people hear you. The best form of networking is the sound of your instrument! Now you just need to get to work!
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Los Angeles based freelance saxophonist Greg Vail is among the most versatile woodwind players on the west coast. His work in jazz, pop and contemporary gospel music spans over 30-years. Greg maintains an active digital presence at www.gregvail.com.
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