Becoming An Excellent Sideman

danny2final_0I love reading Danny Barnes’ essays. He packs a lot of wisdom earned from years of experience into them, and not one word gets wasted. And Danny doesn’t provide any dramatic revelations about music or the music business. It’s just all common sense.

His article on playing in someone else’s band is an outstanding example of applying common sense to musicianship. To begin with, he points out that you’re not the star of the show. You have an obligation to remember that “your number one job above all else is to make the leader sound good, look good and feel good.” In exchange for following what he calls “the rule,” you get money, an education, and valuable network contacts. Not a bad deal.

The rest is pretty easy. Just remember who the leader is (or “the dude,” who is probably not you, Danny says) and keep him happy. What follows is a litany of what it takes to be a sideman extraordinaire. A few things you need to remember are as follows:

  • Don’t worry about money or business arrangements. You’ll get paid if the leader has something good going, and business arrangements aren’t your concern.
  • Don’t self-promote your CD or band. It’s bad business, and it doesn’t keep the dude happy.
  • If you’re on tour, stick to buisness. You’re at work, not on vacation. Sightsee another time, unless you have a couple of days free.
  • Try to be the easiest person the leader has ever dealt with. No one likes a jerk, and you can be replaced.
  • Travel light, and be courteous while doing it. Have your tickets, boarding passes, and passport handy. You don’t need to check a bunch of stuff on the plane. If you drive, offer to pump gas and check the oil.
  • If you charge something to your hotel room, pay for it. Small tours generally can’t splurge for room service or mini bars. Pony up.

Now it’s your turn. What advice about being a good sideman would you offer to someone just starting out?

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Of the Music Business

TOp3z2BP4D0buTIBWRlyKiAVv-pjEEuIygLDG9XMwqo,M7PkHcgnFPUw_Q5AHpOtJP_oBaDtUKm8uMUp-KNlhtQI had a conversation with another musician the other day. He was grousing to me about how hard it was to get a gig in this town. I hadn’t had that problem, so I asked what he meant by that.

“It’s obvious!” he began. “These club owners expect you to bring your own following to the gig!” He waited a bit, apparently expecting some sort of condolence from me. When he got none, he went on.

“I mean, nobody in our age group goes out anymore. Nobody has the time! Nobody has the money! I mean, I don’t go out unless I’m playing.”

I was about to say something to all of that. I wanted to tell him that of course the owner expects you to bring a following, that people in his age group (mine as well) do go out, and shame on him for being part of the problem: not going out and supporting other musicians. I changed my mind, though. I realized whatever I said would make no sense to someone who actually believed the world owed him a living, a club owed him a place to play, and that he didn’t have to lift a finger to draw a crowd. The crowd would be there, waiting on him, chanting his name, and waving the Zippos in the air.

The Ugly

Unfortunately, there are more musicians out there just like him who believe that if a club owner could only hear how good they are they would land the gig. Here it is, the ugly truth: the person who books your band does not really care if you are any good! Being good is a perk. He or she expects the booking to put butts in seats, sell food and drink, and make money. In the case of a club, the owner that pays your band $800 expects to earn at least four times that amount because you’re there. He has overhead in his lease, his insurance, his staff, and his product, plus he has to make a profit. If you’re not bringing in fresh faces, it’s only good business if he replaces you.

250878012_55b96c985cAnd the club owner isn’t the only one interested in your money-making potential. If you have an agent, he wants a cut, too. Same with your publicist, your merchandise company, and your CD distributor. Don’t forget: you are the product, not your music. You may be the best act out there, but that title means nothing without fans.

So the next thing you have to consider is why you don’t have a following.

The Bad

If you’re not doing what you can to market your band, then stop wondering where your friends are and start telling them. Send out emails letting them know where you’ll be next, and when. Put that information on Twitter and Facebook. Create a group of contacts in your smartphone and text them a couple of hours before the show. Make up some flyers with upcoming show dates and contact information: put these on tables at your gigs. Take pictures at the show and put them on your website and Instagram. And don’t expect the club to do any marketing for you.

But if you’re doing all of that and you still have empty seats out in front of you, then you don’t have a following because no one likes your music. Period. The tribe has spoken.

Your friends may listen to a track you uploaded to Reverb Nation and become fans; they may like you on Facebook and hang out with you on Google+; they may even tell you that they’ll make it to one of your shows. But if they haven’t shown up in 3 months, then you either need new friends, or you can assume the old ones are just not into your music. And that isn’t the club’s fault, either.

The Good

So what can you do if you this article hits close to home? Plenty. First, determine why you’re not getting gigs or why the ones you do get have low attendance. Then do one (or both) of the following:

  • Work at your craft until you’re ready to perform. Get good here. Go back to the basics of scales, modes, and arpeggios. Study. Take lessons. Listen to lots of different music, both inside and outside your genre, and learn how to play it. Read a wide variety of poetry to help you with your lyrics. Go out and listen to other musicians.
  • Work on your business chops. Get good here, too. Read all you can about the business of music. Get some networking skills and use them when you go out to listen to other musicians. Learn as much as you can about social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. You don’t need them all; learn which ones are best for you.

Notice the first word in those points: work. Like the musician at the beginning of this article, you can grouse all you want to, but it won’t solve anything. It won’t make you a better musician. All it will do is alienate you from those working hard on their own careers and who have no time to listen to someone else complain.

So if you’re not getting the bookings you want, take charge of your career and figure out why. Assess your music honestly and be willing to make changes. And don’t waste time and energy blaming others: you are the master of your fate.

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Image credits: Top – the author; Bottom – Chad Miller

Jay -Z and the Holy Grail

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Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

Hailed by some as a masterstroke of marketing, Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail is nothing more than a blatant ploy to acquire the holy grail of big data from those who download the app from Samsung.

Why does Jay need your GPS location? Your contacts? Phone records? Network access? Really! Forget Ed Snowden and the NSA. Americans are a greater risk to themselves from themselves if they grant this app full permissions.

And shame on Jay for selling out in such a major way. There isn’t one other rapper who has done anything like this. In fact, no other artist in any other genre has gone after so much personal information so unashamedly. And the punch line is that if this works, it’ll be the new business model.

Fight the future. Don’t open this Pandora’s box.

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Image source: http://www.gawker.com