Even If You’re a Professional Musician, You Should Consider Taking Lessons

[Editors Note: This was written by Hugh McIntyre. Hugh writes about music and the music industry and regularly contributes to Forbes, Sonicbids, and more.]

 

When most musicians first jump into the business and try to make a go at superstardom (or even just surviving, which is difficult enough), they are only good enough to get by. It’s fine to begin writing, creating, and recording music while you’re still something of a beginner, and you shouldn’t let technical skills get in the way of you indulging your creative nature and exploring what kind of artist you’d like to be.

It’s fine when you first start to be, well, okay—in fact, “okay” is better than a lot of those just launching what could become careers, take it from someone who has heard from a lot of those bands and artists—but please know that your limited skill set will only be acceptable for a short period of time.

If you really want to be a full-time professional musician, let alone one who makes it big and tops the charts, you are going to need to not only take lessons of one kind or another, but you will likely need to continue to re-up your knowledge and continue your education for years to come. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is, but nobody said being a professional musician was going to be easy.

There are many instances of musicians being interesting enough, compelling enough, proficient enough, or even just lucky enough to sign record deals and make a living with even just a beginner’s musical education, but it’s the ones who don’t just tour and create music, but who work on their craft and stay focused on always wanting to be better than the day before who end up making not just the biggest splash, but who splash for many years.

Think of it like this: Many musicians choose not to go to college for their art, and while that isn’t necessarily a decision I’d endorse, I understand the logic and the reasoning. It is extremely difficult to get a job in that field after school ends, and it’s even tougher with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt hanging over one’s head that needs to be paid off.

While that may be somewhat acceptable in music, especially popular music, almost every other industry in the world requires at least one college degree, if not two. Even those who earn those certificates end up taking classes of going through trainings at the jobs they choose later on.

For many musicians, the equivalent of going to a university is touring, practicing, and definitely taking lessons. If you’re not going to be sitting in a classroom for four years (or hell, even if you are!), you should be spending that much time in lessons, classes, practices and so on throughout your career. You might not need to spend quite as much money, but it’s an important thing to invest in.

It’s also important to note that taking lessons doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bad, or that you still have a long way to go. You can be a working, professional musician with a wonderful body of work and plenty of critical acclaim and still learn something new. Even the biggest and best of the bunch work with other acts, teachers, voice coaches and the like to improve, tone, and work on perfecting their art.

As you progress in your career (or perhaps it’s not a career just yet), you will need to hire teachers and instructors that are more and more advanced. In the beginning, it will be all about mastering the basics, but as time goes on and you become a better musician, you may want to take that next step and pick up a new instrument, or perhaps it’s time you learned to sing. These skills will help you become better overall, and that’s the goal, isn’t it?

If music truly is your number one passion and the thing you most want to dedicate your life to (which it better be if you’re going to try and make a living in this nearly impossible industry), you won’t even mind going back to a coach or a teacher, because improving, learning, studying, and proving to yourself that you can always do better should be a joy.

Have fun with it, don’t worry about being perfect, and work extremely hard, and you might just have a chance at going down as one of the greats.

Five Tips To Increase Your Value as a Performer

By Mason Hoberg

 

Contrary to what you may believe, learning to play an instrument well is only the first step in becoming a musician who is commercially valuable. To really be an asset to labels, or even just other musicians in your scene, you need to constantly be improving your skills and marketability.

The five tips below are a great place to start, but don’t stop there. If you really want to make it, you need to be constantly increasing not just your musical abilities but your worth as well. After all, everyone wants to be a rockstar: but few are willing to put in the work to get there.

1. Learn Another Instrument

Learning another instrument opens a world of opportunities. Different scenes tend to have different populations of musicians, though most are pretty guitarist-heavy. Knowing how to play the bass in addition to the guitar (or, if you really want to gig a lot, the drums) for example gives you access to the opportunities available to both guitarists and bassists in your area.

Even better, if you’ve already learned one instrument you’ve got a huge head start when you go to learn another one.

2. Build a Resume of Performance

A resume of performance is a document which shows where you’ve performed. It also contains the contact information of the owner at the various venues you’ve played. This alone isn’t going to land you any gigs, it just makes you look more professional.

A harsh reality of any creative industry is that there are thousands of people who are amazing at what they do, all of whom are looking for work. And you’re probably not the best out of them. If anything, you’re lucky if you’re in the top 70%.

This is something I personally struggled with a lot while I was getting my writing career off the ground. There were all these people who were so much better than me (and still are), so I had a really hard time finding work.

A huge part of why I succeeded at being a writer is that I worked at it and got better, but the majority of the success I’ve had is because I pretend I’m a professional. Seriously. I’m just some guy who writes, and in all honesty I’m not awesome at it. But it pays my bills, because I’m willing to market myself as a professional. Thankfully, I don’t have to dress like a professional because I work at home (I’m writing this whole thing in just my boxers and fuzzy socks).

3. Launch a YouTube Channel (A Musician’s Portfolio)

In addition to being a musician, I’m also a freelance writer. Part of how I get new gigs as a writer is that I keep a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of a person’s work, whether that’s music, art, or in my case writing.

In addition to showing off your work, your portfolio also shows how you approach your work. It shows your voice as a musician, your work ethic (shown by how much you post), and your creativity. A portfolio is a must-have tool for anyone in a creative industry.

In addition to showing off your work and how you approach it, a YouTube channel/portfolio also shows off how well you can build an audience. Having a loyal YouTube following shows that people like your music, which in turn shows venue owners and members of the industry that you have commercial potential.

4. Be Nice

Would you rather work with a musical savant who’s a jerk, or a mediocre musician who’s personable and reliable? When looking at it this way, just about anyone would say that they’d rather work with the person who’s not a drag to be around.

If you aren’t friendly to your fellow musicians, or are dismissive of the abilities of musicians in your scene, you’re going to get a reputation for being a jerk. So instead, just be nice. While it might be really cathartic to lay into someone you don’t like, or tell your friends how much you hate a local band, always remember that you’re a brand and you should represent yourself as such.

You want to be seen as the fun, friendly, and talented musician; not the jerk with an over-inflated ego.

5. Learn To Play Different Genres

Even if you’d never dream of stepping outside of your preferred genre, you’d be surprised at just how much overlap there is between the different genres that make up Western music. For example, sweep picking is used extensively in both Metal and Gypsy Jazz (Gypsy Jazz uses a picking style similar to sweep picking, even if it’s not strictly sweep picking).

These techniques are used differently in different genres, so seeing how other guitarists outside of your preferred genre implement them can help to boost your own creativity. You may also find that once you start getting into these genres you actually like them. It may even turn out that you get into the genre to the point where you join a band focused around it, which will give you even more opportunities to find gigs.

Wrapping It All Up

Music is a business, and if you want to make a living at it you’ve got to play the game. While it can be hard to transform yourself into a marketable musician, you’ll find that the effort you put in will pay off in spades.

“Ahh, It’ll Be Fine!”

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Gabe Anderson, a TuneCore Artist and blogger. Check out his thoughts and perspective on music and the industry over at his site, Gabe The Bass Player!]

 

When you show up and the stage is a weird size or shape: Here’s what most likely happened…

…A few hours earlier when the people were done setting it up, they had a back and forth conversation with each other about whether or not they should make the stage less weird, because they kinda had a feeling it was a little off. But that conversation that ultimately ended with, “…ahh, it’ll be fine.”

But now you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences of “It’ll be fine.”

When the venue decides to use other green room for extra beer storage and cleaning supplies…can’t you just hear that conversation?! Also a conversation that ended with “…ahh, it’ll be fine.”

And now all 3 bands and crews, roughly a bazillion people, have to mash into a room designed for 8.

When the designated merch area is located far far away from the main entrance/exit of the venue…”…the people who want merch will still find the march table…it’ll be fine,” said the person who had to make the decision but was not well informed enough to make a good one.

But you and I both know the location of merchandise at the venue swings merch sales by a million percent.

“It’ll be fine” in so many cases usually means, “This decision works for me right now. I don’t want to work harder to figure out a better solution and I won’t have to personally deal with the consequences, so for me it really will be fine.”

Musicians and artists find themselves on the receiving end of “it’ll be fine” conversations and consequences all the time, especially on the road. And the truth is these little wrinkles in the day can literally make the whole thing crumble in an instant. I know you’ve been there, the rock in your shoe that keeps on stinging.

So per the situations above: after someone has left you with one of these “ahh, it’ll be fine” situations…you’re still the one left with a weird stage, a crammed green room and poorly located merch.

What are you suppose to do with this blatant injustice?

Well the first thing is just that…ARE you going to do anything at all?

Hold on…first things first…take a few minutes and get it out. Vent it. Because you’re right…what on God’s green earth were they thinking doing it that way? You’re right, you could have done a better job and you don’t even run a venue for a living. You’re right, the shouldn’t get to screw up while the consequences get placed upon your shoulders.

Let it out baby, I understand, it’s warranted.

Now then…If all you’re going to DO is complain, take your two minutes of rage and then shut up about it. If you’re not going to DO anything, let it go, make the most of it, move the conversation and your brain onto something else.

If you decide you are going to try and improve the situation, be realistic about the possible outcomes. You know how venue managers are notorious for being a ball of laughs and extremely helpful to artists.

But just to emphasize the idea of being realistic with improving the situations…let’s keep going with the examples from above:

  • You’re probably not going to get them to re-do the stage, it’ll just piss them off if you ask because to them it’s way too much work to pull off in a short amount of time. But you might ask to make more room on stage by putting the amps off stage, or putting the drum kit a little to the left so the keys player can squeeze in back there too as oppose to being up front.
  • You’re probably not going to get them to clear out the beer and cleaning supplies from the other green room. Don’t ask. They just did the awful work of getting all that crap in there. But you could make a deal with the other acts that each band gets the green room to themselves the 30mins before their set time.
  • You can probably move the merch wherever you want as long as YOU are willing to move it and it doesn’t violate fire code or access to the bar.

So I’ll leave you with two things to close:

When you find yourself about to utter the words “Ahh, it’ll be fine…”, remember how much it can put others in a pinch.

When you have to shoulder the consequences of “Ahh, it’ll be fine…”, as quickly as possible, decide whether or not you’re going to DO anything about it. If not, move on. If so, fight to employ a realistic approach on your part.

p.s. This could be fun: In what ways have you been on the receiving end of the “Ahh, it’ll be fine” mentality? Let us know in the comments!

5 Tips For Quality Home Recordings

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Joey StrugisProducer, mixer, recording engineer, programmer, writer, performer – Sturgis is multi-talented, and for a full decade he has brought these powers to bear on nouveau strains of metalcore, post-hardcore, electronicore, and more, shaping a revolutionary new wave of hard music.]

1. Fix your listening space

Recording, mixing, and producing all comes down to one centralized focus, a great listening environment. If you don’t know what you’re hearing, you don’t know what you’re mixing or creating. I can’t stress this enough, make sure your room doesn’t have bad reflections, weird resonating frequencies, or distracting acoustical properties. If you encounter any of these problems, use the internet to help you solve them. A great resource for something like this is TapeOp’s Acoustics category.

2. Reference everything

Want to sound like the pros? Listen to the pros, and compare your work to theirs. Don’t be biased and be honest with yourself. Does your mix cut like theirs? If not, be willing to go back to the drawing board time and time again. Just be careful not to pigeon hole yourself into being a copycat. Use this tip as a technique for improvement rather than a guide for ripping off success.

3. Great sound isn’t by magic

You don’t need quirky plugins, cool trendy techniques, or even magic tricks sold by thousands on the web to get a great sound. Mixing is fundamentally just dynamics and tone, and you can accomplish all of that with just Volume, Pan, EQ, and compression. Master those four things, and you’ll be on your way to unlocking great sounding work in no time. Add on the extra layers of sauce later!

4. Don’t focus on the small stuff

Don’t forget that 99% of a great song is actually just the song itself. All that time you wasted on getting your snare to sound like x could have been spent worrying about better vocal melodies or even better vocal performances. Don’t get so caught up in the small stuff; nine times out of ten the small tweaks don’t resonate with people as much as the actual song itself does. Present it well, that’s the main point!

5. Take your time

Don’t rush to the finish line! Sure, the more time you spend on a song, the more it rots. Alternatively, the less time you spend on a song, the worse it gets. Be careful about the balance here, and try to find the sweet spot that matches your creative flow. Spend too long on a track, and you’ll massage it to the death. Spend too short of time on a track, and you’ll experience negative feedback. If you’re in a hurry, slow it down. Take your time to hear the song a few days after not hearing it to return with a fresh perspective.


Joey Sturgis 33Joey Sturgis has racked up a massive list of credits for a who’s who of modern cutting edge metal, channeling the raw power of bands like Asking Alexandria, Attack Attack!, Born of Osiris, Of Mice & Men, Attila, We Came As Romans, Blessthefall, I See Stars, and many more. Follow his podcast here.

4 Reasons Why All Musicians Should Know Basic Recording and Mixing Techniques

[Editors Note: This is article is by Belinda Huang and it originally appeared on the Sonicbids Blog. On top of being a contributing writer for Sonicbids and The Berklee Groove, Belinda is also a production & engineering major at Berklee College of Music.]

The process of recording music can seem quite daunting, and in many ways it is, but it’s also a powerful way to take your musicianship up a notch. Even if you aren’t a producer and have no interest in engineering, having basic recording skills will go a long way and pay itself off.

I started a little home studio from scratch years ago for the sole purpose of having a way to record my music as a singer-songwriter. Along the way, however, I’ve learned a surprising amount about music – arranging, creating grooves and beats, writing harmonies and counterpoint melodies, balancing levels, etc. It’s definitely to your advantage in many ways to have a basic understanding of the recording process, and here we’ll explore some of the major benefits.

1. Technology is a powerful tool for expressing your creativity

We all know by now that technology is as powerful as you make it. Knowing how to utilize your computer, an audio interface, and a microphone will provide you with the fundamental resources for a home studio and a basic understanding of how the recording process works. From setting up a microphone to setting levels on a mic preamp to operating a DAW (digital audio workstation) – you’ll be equipped with skills that will give you greater command over your creative process. You’ll be able to lay down ideas right on your computer, experiment by overdubbing parts or harmonies, mock up arrangements for your songs – basically, you can be as infinitely creative as you choose to be once you have the tech side down.

2. You can whip up your own demos (and do it your way)

Let’s face it, we all need demos, and we’ll never stop needing demos. Whether it’s a demo to pitch to publishers, a demo to send a barebones idea to a producer, or a demo to send to your band, they’re crucial, and sometimes voice memos on your phone just don’t cut it. Having recording basics under your belt will ensure that whenever you need a demo, you’ll be able to create one without the hassle of finding someone else to do it for you. I also find that when I track on my own, I sound better because I’m not under any pressure. I can take my time and do as many takes as I want to get it just how I like it. I’m also in a familiar space where I’m comfortable creating, so I’m naturally more expressive.

3. You’ll improve your communication with producers

Knowledge is power, and the better you understand how sound works, the more you’ll be able to command just how you want things to sound . If you’re working with a producer, one of the most crucial elements is communication. I fiddled around with a little recording rig for years doing tons of little projects with my songs and arranging parts for them. When I finally started working with a producer, I was able to say things like, “I want the high-pass filter to open up more slowly so that washing effect doesn’t sound so drastic,” or, “Let’s try a reverb with a faster decay time so it doesn’t sound like I’m in a giant concert hall,” instead of being completely unaware of what was happening to my music.

4. You’ll gain transferable skills

The fundamentals behind the technology we use for music, whether in the studio or on stage, is the same. For example, you’ll want to know the difference between a TS cable and a TRS cable (which look nearly the same) because that can mean the difference between your signal coming through or not coming through. Knowing that you need a DI box for your acoustic guitar in order to plug into an XLR input is crucial both in the studio and on the road. Technology can be your best friend or bite you in the butt, so again, the more you know what you’re doing and how it works, the more control you will have in all situations in the studio and beyond.

The takeaways from getting your feet wet in the recording side of music are vast and as infinite as you choose to delve in and experiment. I think all artists and musicians should have some basic understanding of the process, and the more technology advances as the years go by, the more crucial it will be to ensure success and longevity in this business.


 Get a free PDF of The Indie Musician’s Ultimate Guide to Booking Great Gigs by Sonicbids, featuring pro tips and advice from musicians, venue owners, and talent buyers.

How To Balance Your Day Job With Your Music Career

[Editor’s Note: This article is written by Farah Joan Fard and it originally appeared on the Sonicbids Blog. Great advice for so many independent artists juggling jobs with their passion while building their music careers!]

Does going to your 9-5 and then playing a gig that night ever make you feel like a Clark Kent/Superman combo? Do you feel like there’s not enough time in the day for both your full-time job and your musical duties? You’re not alone. Balancing a day job with a music career can be tricky on so many levels, especially when you’re so serious about your music – you want to be dedicating 100 percent of your time to it, but you need some way to pay the bills until you can get there.

We know what a massive struggle it can be, so we’re here to help you through it! You’ve likely encountered (or will soon encounter) the challenges below, so read on to learn how to handle each one without jeopardizing your day job or your music career.

1. DIY doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself

If you’re in a band, it can be helpful to divvy up responsibilities between bandmates and work schedules so that you’re not digging into either role with the other. For instance, if one of your bandmates has a job that is more flexible with email, that person can reach out to venues or musicians during their break. If another bandmate gets out of work earlier, they can help with posters. If another has a car, maybe moving equipment is their job. You get the idea. (Note: A band agreement may help you out here.)

Or, if you’re solo (or you and your bandmates all have hectic schedules), a manager can definitely help you get there. They will only take a cut when you make money, so you’re in it together for the same end goal.

2. Don’t use your music income for non-music expenses

Oh, boy. Whatever happened to my band fund from high school? Last I saw it was under our bass player’s bed, circa 2005. This is a great example of how not to manage your funds.

However, it’s on the right track in some way: It’s a good idea to separate your band money from your other accounts. This way you can limit music expenses, plan for them, and budget well in advance. Sites like Mint or even a Google Spreadsheet can come in handy for this.

3. Somebody’s watching me?

You’ve definitely heard that employers will Google you, but your social media settings are pretty private, and you don’t Tweet about your 9-5 or anything. What could go wrong?

Part of being an artist is self-expression, social movement, and sometimes ruffling some feathers. However, what if your boss came across an image or video that puts you in a different light? What if you work for a daily paper and your songs show a political slant? What if you’re a teacher and there are themes in your music that the PTA might grumble at? (Case in point: A substitute teacher in Massachusetts was fired recently because of his music video.) You have to accept the fact that whatever you put out there is available to anyone who is looking.

Of course, you can also use this to your benefit. I know a music teacher who was hired without having to perform during her interview, because her employer had looked her up and seen that she could sing and play well through her live performance videos. You can let employers see the ambitious and creative side of you.

The takeaway here is that if there could be a conflict of interest between your day job and your music career, be cautious of what you share online. If you ask yourself, “Would I want my boss to see this?” and the answer is no, don’t take the risk – you still need a way to pay those bills before you can solely rely on your music income!

4. Prepare in advance for weekday gigs

Often, when a venue wants to get used to your sound and audience pull, they’ll want to try you out on a weekday first. This might mean a long night ahead of an early morning.

If a weekday gig is your only option, there are a number of things you can do to make it as painless as possible. For instance, maybe book with a band you know personally so you can coordinate time and equipment to make loading out faster. Drink plenty of water so you don’t feel sick in the morning. Plan your (and your instruments’) ride home in advance. Face the fact that you might be grabbing breakfast at a cafe instead of at home. Plan your next day’s work outfit in advance, and anything else you’ll need for the day. And if you need to leave work at 5 p.m. on the dot for your gig, have your meetings and deadlines sorted ahead of time so your coworkers don’t feel abandoned.

5. Don’t become a procrastination station at work to get ahead with your music

Hopefully you have a 9-5 (or 9-6, 10-6, whichever) that you enjoy. I’ve often found that my day job has me surrounded by coworkers who are also artists, actors, musicians, and writers, so everyone is aware of balancing our office creativity with our activities outside of work. Even if that’s the case, though, remember not to let one bleed too much into the other!

These days, when our smartphones have us pegged to email and social media, it can be easy to blur the lines between personal and professional. But think of it this way: You wouldn’t want to be emailing clients or vendors in the midst of your band’s set, right? So taking phone calls to set up gigs or reaching out to music blogs during office hours is probably not a good idea, unless it’s during your break.

On the other hand, using your phone to record ideas while you’re walking to work or at lunch, or jotting down a quick note for later can help you remember a great idea when it strikes! These apps may help you kick it up a notch in the notes and organization realm.

Even if your day job isn’t related to music or the arts, it’s still a symbiotic relationship. Your job can help fuel your music career with income, networking, and motivation. And perhaps your musical aspirations help you in the workplace (music helping you with the day to day – now there’s a whole other topic!). Keep it balanced, and it will keep rolling like a river.