I 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?