About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Getting Gigs

I started playing guitar in 2003…really more like 2004, since I received my first guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even when I was learning my first chords, the fire to become a performing musician once again was rekindled. By 2007, I had enough of a repertoire that I could start playing in places and looking for groups to play in. For the most part, I played in retirement homes and coffee shops for free. Since then, my total number of gigs each year has grown gradually but steadily. This year, for the first time, every single Friday and Saturday in December is booked, and I have a few weekday gigs lined up, too. All of these except one are paid gigs. The way things are going, I'm confident that in another few years, I'll continue to be booked, and that the quality of my gigs (in other words, pay) will increase.

So how do you get gigs? For me, it's a little tricky, because my style of playing is especially well suited for background music. When you're playing background music, you don't necessarily want to wow the crowd, because that's not your job. On the other hand, you do want to be remembered by the client or someone else from the event so that they will hire or recommend you in the future.

So here are my suggestions for getting gigs. This is what's been working for me. There's nothing here that I haven't read or heard somewhere else. This kind of advice is all over the place, but I'm surprised at the number of musicians who don't do many of these things.
  1. Have something to offer. You need to have a repertoire, and you need to be playing something that people want to hear. You don't need to be a virtuoso. I'm certainly not, and I'm not the kind of guitar slinger to can play all styles convincingly. I have a repertoire of solo guitar arrangements of classic jazz songs, mostly from the '30s and '40s. I have a pleasant voice and a guitar style that's easy on the ears. This combination lends itself well to background music.
  2. Be clear what you offer. On my website and on my Gig Salad profile, I make it pretty clear that I'm a good background musician.
  3. And did I just mention my website? Yes, I did. You must have a web presence. You can start your own page on Facebook and tweet on Twitter to your heart's content, but you really need to have your own website, where you control the content and the look. When someone emails you for more information about your music, it looks very professional when you can send them a link to your site. Also, you will eventually start getting gigs because people come across your website. Most of my upcoming gigs have come as a result of someone finding me through an online search. I also landed a spot in a quartet through my website. They were in need of a new guitar player. The drummer found my site, heard my music, and contacted me. Next thing you know, I'm playing with a group that gigs on a regular basis. This has not happened overnight. I've had my website up for a few years now, but it's only been recently that new clients have been finding me through my site. Just stick with it and maintain an online presence.
  4. Stay busy. One of the best ways to get gigs is to have gigs. This is a conundrum when you're just starting, because you don't have any gigs yet! So, you need to find opportunities to play in public and be seen. I did this mostly through playing at retirement homes, coffee shops, and open mics. Even if you're just playing for tips at first, it's good to have some performance dates on your calendar that you can point to. It's also a good way to practice performing in public. And you just never know who's listening. Someone picked up my business card at a coffee shop a few years ago and waited until a couple months ago to contact me about playing a wedding. So, if you don't have any paid gigs, or you don't have many, it doesn't hurt to play somewhere for tips. I look at "for tips" gigs as advertising.
  5. Have a business card. This is crucial for any musician, but I think it goes double for background musicians. Wherever I play, I bring a stack of cards. If it's okay with the client, I'll distribute a few cards to each table, in hopes that a few people will take my card home with them. At the very least, I'll keep a small stack of cards near me so that anyone who wanders my way can pick one up. I always make sure to give a card to my client at the end of the gig, even if they already have my contact information. The next time they're looking to book music for a party, seeing my card in their card collection could make the difference between being hired or being forgotten.
  6. Act like a pro. Be courteous and professional in your emails or phone conversations. Dress appropriately for the gig. Show up early. Stick to non-alcholic beverages on your break. I've often had clients tell me that I'm very easy to deal with. I may not be a virtuoso, but courtesy and professionalism can take you a long way.
No doubt there are other good ideas for getting gigs, but these basics have worked for me: have something to offer, make it clear to your potential clients what it is that you offer, maintain a website, stay active publicly, have a business card, and behave like a pro.

If anyone else has their own suggestions for getting gigs, please add them to the comments section. I'm always ready to pick up another hot tip!

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