is your definition of a successful guitarist?
I would answer, one who plays for life. If you
love music, and love playing the guitar, wouldn't
it be great to play for a living your whole life?
I'm still relatively young by most standards and
I've done okay so far. Even though the average
guy on the street doesn't know my name, I've managed
to survive as a guitarist and I'm going to tell
you how I've done it up to this point. How I satisfy
both my financial and artistic needs and how you
the difference between an artist and a musician?
The Artist - I'll start with the artist.
The artist plays for himself for the most part.
His objective as a guitarist is to please his
own artistic hunger. He strives for artistic
elegance. Don't get me wrong, this is not necessarily
a bad thing for me and you. It's great. Artists
make life for the rest of us better. Artists
create art and art is beautiful. I have Picasso
hanging on my wall, not something a graphic
designer drew that I found in a magazine. The
problem with being an artist is that it's rough
to make ends meet. Artists are generally only
brilliant at their own music or when working
with artists that fall into the same category
as themselves. Artists study art rather than
demographics. That's the reason it's hard to
make a living. The artist is always striving
to create better art and because of that, he
runs the risk of creating art with such high
standards, that the average Joe may have a hard
time understanding it. The artist may get so
involved in his music that in the process he
may end up creating a gap between himself and
the masses, and that's not good for his financial
health. I'm not saying all artists are broke
but it's a gamble.
Musician - The musician is a different animal
all together. The musician is a hired gun. Although
he may have musical preferences, he isn't picky
about what he plays to pay the rent. While the
artist may be particular about what he has to
play to get paid, the musician will play anything.
He is well versed in all styles and can mimic
various players. These types of players make
good studio musicians, session players and teachers.
They usually do all these things. Like the artist,
the musician is always working on learning new
skills. The only problem with the musician is
that he tends to find himself artistically frustrated.
Let's face it, deep down inside, we all really
want to be the artist. We want our music to
live on after we're gone. We want someone, after
we die, to send one of our CDs off into deep
space so some alien can find it in a million
years and say; "them earthlings wrote the
most glorious music in the galaxy."
- Which would you rather be, the artist or the
musician? Remember the phrases; "the starving
artist" and "the struggling musician."
I personally would rather struggle as a musician
while I commit myself to creating art. I think
the best way to live a satisfying life as a
guitarist is do dedicate your life to both of
these ambitions. Most guitarists get themselves
in trouble by focusing on only one of the two.
Most of the money I have made in the business
as a player came from playing other peoples
tunes, not from my own CD sales. But to be honest,
releasing my own CDs is way more rewarding (mentally,
not financially). Doing both makes my career
well balanced. One feeds the other.
The rules of making a living as a guitarist
of more than you can chew (almost) - Never
turn down a gig. There are two ways to look
at doing a gig; first, a way to pay the rent,
second, a chance to learn something. The worst
mistake you can make as a guitarist is to turn
down work because you think you not good enough
yet or you don't have much experience playing
that style. When I was in my twenties, I got
a call to do a country gig for about twenty
bucks. I had never played country before and
I was tempted to tell the guy on the other end
of the phone that I was busy on that night.
In the end I couldn't break my own rule so I
took the gig. I got the charts and the music,
worked out all the tunes, borrowed my roommate's
Telecaster and had one of the best learning
experiences I have ever had. Was I scared? You
bet I was. That's exactly what helped me work
the tunes out in time, good old fashioned fear.
I, of course have my own musical preferences,
but I rather play guitar for an hour at a wedding,
learn some new tunes in the process and get
paid fifty or a hundred bucks than to work at
Burger King for minimum wage. My students get
to see me real angry when they tell me they
turned down a gig for some trivial reason.
bug anyone - Simplicity will keep you out
of trouble. When you're at home practicing,
reach for the unreachable. When you're on the
gig, know your limits. My experience as a studio
player has taught me to focus on every single
note I play. When you're recording for another
artist, on somebody else's time, you have to
play everything perfect. For every mistake you
make, you have to punch-in the part again. The
tape rolls and after you record your part, you
go back into the room where the engineer and
the producer are mixing the recording. They
turn down the other parts to check out what
you played. Your guitar is really loud in the
mix. There is no escape. It's like looking in
the mirror. Every time you play something a
little out of time or a little sharp or flat
it makes you cringe. My first experience in
the studio taught me to listen to every single
note I play, all the time, even when I'm not
recording. It taught me to know my limits whenever
I play, and to stretch those limits by good
practice. While in the studio, I try to get
the track done on the first or second take with
no punch-ins. Next time you are on a gig, or
rehearsal pretend you're in the studio recording
for Michael Jackson. See how long you can play
without making even a tiny mistake. Let this
become a habit.
your enemies - When I was learning guitar
as a kid, I wanted to crush the neighborhood
guitar kids like grapes with my technique! Competitiveness
is important; the need to be the best is what
drives people to be just that. But don't let
it blind you. Every time Mike Stern or Scott
Henderson are in town, I dread going to hear
them play. It always depresses me. It forces
me to compare myself with them and to truly
see what kind of player I am in a true light.
I could easily avoid the whole miserable thing
and stay home but I force myself to go. After
it's over, I go home, don't touch my guitar
and go to sleep. The next day I force myself
to get over it and practice like a maniac. I
have had similar experiences all my life. There
is always someone who plays better than you.
It is important to search them out, make friends
with them, pick their brains and learn. It's
okay to secretly hate their guts! Use envy and
jealousy to your advantage. The interesting
thing is that the guys that I always want to
beat in guitar wars, usually become great friends
and refer me for gigs from time to time. Players
who avoid better players are destined for mediocrity.
Listen to what your mother told you
is really important. No matter how great a player
you are, that is only half the battle in being
a successful guitarist. Here are the other things:
be late - If you show up late for studio
work, you'll never get called back. Time is
money. Get there early, set your equipment up
and be ready to go before the session is supposed
to begin. The same thing goes for auditions.
Even if you are the greatest guitarist to ever
walk the face of the earth, you'll make the
producer nervous if you show up late for an
audition. He's running a business so he is going
to figure that you're late all the time and
since he's got enough to worry about he'll pick
someone for the job who is dependable. You won't
get a call back. The same thing is true for
rehearsals. A good friend of mine has the touring
gig with a super big artist (ain't gonna tell
you who). He was telling me that one of the
guys in the band came to rehearsal and didn't
have all his stuff set up in time. He made the
artist wait about a whole minute to get the
rehearsal started. Instead of rehearsing he
got fired on the spot. He lost a $2,000 dollar
a week gig for being a minute late. Don't make
the same mistake.
count - Before you play your first notes,
the audience has already made a decision about
you by your appearance. This goes for auditions
too. First, go to the magazine stand and get
yourself a copy of the newest GQ. I'm not joking.
Check the photos and see what guys are wearing
these days. Music and fashion walk hand in hand.
Dress for success! I know tons of great players
who lose out because they wear the same stupid
T-shirt everyday. Think of Miles Davis, not
only a musical genius but a true fashion plate.
The first lesson I learned about this topic
was from a band member when I was eighteen.
He told me to get some new shoes because mine
were dirty. I had figured that nobody looks
at a guy's shoes but he was quick to point out
that when you're standing on a four foot stage,
that is the first thing the people in the first
row look at. Take pride in your appearance and
carry yourself with confidence. Charisma, charm
and style carry a lot of weight in the music
Nice - While charisma, charm, style, and
confidence are important, don't go overboard.
If you are cocky you will turn people off. There
is a very fine line between confidence and arrogance.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the greatest,
most gifted musicians (that I have met anyway)
are generally pretty decent cats. You don't
need to create a super nice alter ego but you
should at least try to be polite. On auditions,
try to mind your Ps and Qs. When it comes down
to choosing between two guitarists of equal
skill, the nice guy will always get the gig.
Nice guys also tend to get referred for gigs
more so than butt-holes.
- You'd be surprised how many musicians loose
out because they don't have an e-mail address,
business card or a cell phone. If they can't
find you to tell you that you got the gig, someone
else will get the gig within the hour. Check
your e-mail, hand out your business card and
answer you phone.
as many hats as you can - Play as many styles
as you can, this will increase the amount or
gigs you can do. Also, work on your singing
chops. Sometimes this alone will get you the
job. A lot of bands are looking for someone
who can do both. It saves them the money to
hire two guys. If you can sing harmony it's
a plus. If you can sing lead, it's even better.
This is also a good strategy for your band.
You can make way more money as a trio than a
quartet. Most gigs pay by the band regardless
of how many band members in the band.
Get an Education
an education - Just like any other kind
of job, education is important. Lessons are
great but if you have the time and money, enroll
yourself in a good music school. I spent a year
at Musician's Institute in Los Angeles where
I ended up also being a teacher for six years.
The great thing about studying at a big music
school is all the students that you also get
a chance to learn from. Schools like MI, LAMA,
or Citrus College in LA or the school that I
run in Japan are not art schools as much as
they are trade schools. They strive to teach
you how to make a living at being a guitarist
while also giving you plenty of creative support.
They don't cater to any one particular style
of music as an "art" school does.
It makes no sense to spend a hundred and fifty
thousand dollars to get an education in playing
a style of music that will only earn you twenty
dollars a night.
the right school for you - There are plenty
of good music schools and colleges or universities
that have good music programs, the problem is
how to find the one that is best for you. Even
though you can probably find a decent music
program somewhere in your general vicinity,
I would suggest you go to where the action is.
If you intend to work in the music business,
it is best to be taught by industry professionals,
and you are only going to find industry professionals
teaching at schools that are somewhere near
the entertainment industry. Beware of schools
with great programs that are in the middle of
nowhere (I won't mention their names). You won't
make any worthwhile contacts and there will
be no place to gig after you graduate if you
plan on staying around. MI and LAMA are very
guitar orientated and Citrus College offers
a great music program and really great facilities
and is also a real bargain.
you need a degree? - I have to be honest
with you here, while a good musical education
carries some weight in the business, a degree
does not. Generally the people you will be dealing
with in the music industry will be more concerned
with you technical skills and/or salability.
While the education will make you a better player,
composer and arranger, the degree will not.
However, a degree in music will open doors for
you if plan on getting into education. The older
I get, the more I realize that a degree would
give me way more options. If I had to do the
whole thing again, I would without doubt, take
a little more time and get a degree. Don't rush,
go the extra mile.
in education - A well rounded musical education
will also prepare you for education. One of
the most rewarding things I have ever done is
to get into music education. After I left MI
in 1992, I found myself in Japan as the Director
of Education at Tokyo School of Music. Teaching
will teach you more about music than studying
will. When I was teaching at MI, I found myself
teaching in the classroom next to Scott Henderson
on one side and Paul Gilbert on the other. I
would eat lunch with jazz legend Joe Diorio.
Just being in the same building as players like
these and absorbing what was going on around
me was an invaluable experience. Teaching also
forced me to organize musical concepts which
in turn helped me become a better player. If
you are fortunate to get work at a school that
also has courses in recording, you may be able
to sneak in there and learn a little about the
newest technology. One of the biggest advantages
of working at a music school is the fact that
you can network. I'm always surprised to see
how much the teachers at my school end up working
together. They refer each other to gigs as subs
and even get them on their own gigs. The great
thing about teaching is that it is usually a
day gig which doesn't interfere with your night
gig; playing. Its extra cash and it's steady.
Some advice on getting a teaching
Manner - A lot of guys ruin the whole thing
here. Here is how it usually goes; I get a call
from a guy looking for a teaching position.
I ask him to come down and he does. I talk to
him a while and decide he seems like a decent
cat. His eyes aren't red and he can carry a
concise conversation. You may think I'm joking.
You would actually be surprised how many guys
come to an interview high on something. This
is a sure way to not get the job. I don't care
what anybody does in their free time but, anyone
who comes to an interview at a school for a
teaching job stoned is probably going to come
to teach his classes stoned too. Also, like
I said before, never, ever show up late for
your interview. One of the most important things
for a teacher to be is on time.
- I also want a guy who is passionate about
teaching. Remember, a school is a business so
I want a teacher who is going to teach all the
students, not just the gifted ones. Most kids
quit school because of discrimination. Not racial,
religious or sexual, but talent discrimination.
Anyone can teach someone with a ton of talent
to be a great player. I'm looking for someone
to teach the kids who struggle with the guitar,
they are the ones who will thank you at graduation.
If you feel that filtering out the students
that are not "musically gifted" is
a teacher's job, you won't be working for me.
I want every student who enrolls in my school
to graduate. Remember that during your interview
Profile - Don't disclose the unnecessary.
You will need to give the school your profile.
Leave out anything that you may be doing that
doesn't involve music. When I look over a profile
of someone looking for a teaching position at
my school, I'm looking for someone who is a
working player. Anyone who is gigging plus,
let's say, works at the local Kmart is out.
I'm looking for guys who are going to teach
the students how to work full time as a guitarist
so they better be doing so themselves. Don't
lie, but don't disclose the unnecessary details.
Everybody has to start somewhere, and working
a part time job is nothing to be ashamed about,
but you don't need to mention it. The way the
profile is put together is also important. It
is a reflection on how organized you are. Avoid
writing your profile by hand and include a promo
shot. Don't rave about yourself too much either.
Speak softly and carry a big stick. The "stick"
is your demo.
Demo - Let's say the interview and the profile
go over. Here is the next thing that a lot of
guys screw up. They don't have anything recorded.
I want to hear them play. You'd be surprised
how many guys don't have a decent demo. I generally
don't like cassette tapes. I'm looking for a
decently recorded cd. It can be burned at home
or at a studio but it needs to showcase what
you are good at. This is also true for auditions.
A lot of times, before you even get to audition,
you first have to send your bio and demo. Be
careful not to send a demo of you playing Bebop
to a producer looking for a rock guitarist.
wait for a break - This is my advice for
those of you who want to satisfy your artistic
needs. No matter how much money you make teaching
or doing gigs as a hired gun, the truth is,
your dream since you started playing probably
has been to be rewarded for your playing and
your own music. In the past, most artists would
make a demo, and shop it around hoping that
a record label would pick them up. Those where
sad times. Artists had absolutely no power whatsoever.
Even today, there are still plenty of artists
doing the same thing; they have yet to see what
great times we live in. Because of technology
today, releasing a CD is a simple thing to do.
If you are well rehearsed, you can be in and
out of the studio in three days. That includes
the mix down. I recorded, mastered and pressed
my own CD, "Prospects" for about three-thousand
five hundred dollars. That includes the money
I paid for the studio musicians to do the session.
If you have a band with permanent members you
probably don't have to pay them, so you can
do it for less.
tips - Be totally prepared. The trick to
getting the session done inexpensively is speed.
The misconception that you need a month in the
studio to do a good recording is completely
false. If you are well rehearsed, you can knock
each song out in two takes. After that, you
decide which take you like, punch in any parts
you don't like and move on to the next tune.
The difference with my newest CD is that we
never rehearsed. I hired studio cats who just
read the charts. We ran through the tune once,
recorded two takes for each song and never did
any punch-ins. The musicians where top notch
players. If you get in the studio and start
rehearsing, you are never going to get done
the thing once you get it done - In the
old days, the only way to sell a record was
to get a contract with a record company and
a distribution deal to get the product in stores,
advertise, tour and wait for you measly royalty
check. Royalty rates vary slightly from company
to company, but I'll just tell you, you have
to sell at least a million records to be able
to pay your rent. That's the sad truth about
"a major deal". But now we live in
glorious times thanks to the internet. Once
you get your CD done you can sell it from your
web site (I'll get to that after this). You
can also send it to cdbaby.com
and/or a bunch of other sites that will sell
it for you. You just put the link for cdbaby.com
or guitar9.com on your site and they will be
directed directly to your page on those sites.
Guitar9.com, cdbaby.com and most other similar
sites such as Amazon.com will sell customers
the cds you send them by credit card and they
in turn will send you a check from time to time.
They take four or five dollars from your sales
and everyone walks away happy. You are basically
doing your own distribution. With a "major
deal" you would make about a dollar on
a CD sale, this way you make about ten dollars,
about fourteen on the ones you sell at gigs
or from your site by personal check. You only
have sell ten percent of what you would with
a "major deal" to make the same money.
But the most important thing as that you are
empowered; it's your own motivation, dedication,
footwork that moves your CD. Do it yourself
and learn a bunch in the process.
Reviews - In the mean time you can send
your CD to some different sites that will review
it for you. If you do a good job on your CD,
you should be able to get some good reviews
from sites that specialize in just that. Other
people looking for new music will go to these
sites, read your review, go to your site and
buy your CD. You can also use quotes from the
reviews to put in your "press pack"
that you send out to radio stations or to other
review sites. I used godsofmusic.com,
and some other sites.
Site - If you think putting together a site
is way more than you know how to deal with,
your wrong. Buy yourself software like Dreamweaver
for a few hundred bucks and you are on your
way. You don't have to know anything about code
to do it. It's as easy as "Word" or
"Powerpoint". It'll take you about
half an hour to install it and have your first
few pages going. The other thing you need to
do is get yourself a domain name and someone
to host it. That's easy too. Just type in "domain
names" into your favorite search engine
and you are on your way. I think mine costs
me about seven or eight bucks a month for 50MB.
I need at least 50MB because I have mp3s on
my site available for people to download. You
may or may not need that much. Once you get
your site going, have as many sites as you can
add your link and you'll start getting traffic.
Include in your site: audio files, your bio,
a cd page with links to cdbaby.com and guitar9.com,
a links page, a news page, a schedule page so
you can get people to come to your shows (and
buy your CD) and photos, etc. It's important
to do it yourself. If you don't, information
will always be slow and your site will be a
big bore. Like I said before, do it yourself
and learn something in the process. Check out
site if you have a chance. You may get some
your money - This will probably be the first
time you are going to get financial advice from
a guitarist. A lot of musicians give up playing
as a professional for money reasons. One of
the tricks in surviving in the business is to
manage your money. No matter what happens, pay
yourself first. Before you pay your rent, bills,
buy your girl a watch, pay yourself first. Whatever
you can swing is okay. Let's say, two, three,
five hundred dollars a month. No matter what
happens, every month, you put it away first
and you don't touch it. What if you can't make
ends meet? You make ends meet! If you can't
come up with the car insurance at the end of
the month, you'll work that much harder to find
a gig. If I had started doing this when I was
eighteen, I would have about a million bucks
today. I'm serious. I started doing this in
my late twenties; I put the money into a mutual
fund that earned me, on average, about twelve
percent a year. Here is a rule that you probably
never heard before. They never taught me this
formula in school:
divided by yearly interest earned on any
investment = the amount of years it takes
the investment to double
say you are eighteen and invest six thousand
dollars ($500 x 12 months) into a mutual fund
that earns you ten percent a year. 72 divided
by 10 equals 7.2 years for your six-thousand
dollars to double. It will double again in another
7.2 years. Let's just make it an even seven
years for demonstrational purposes:
You would retire with three-hundred eighty-four
thousand dollars from only one year of properly
invested savings. Figure out what you would
have if you had done this every year of your
life starting form when you where eighteen.
You would be a millionaire! You don't have to
believe me, do your own math. Go to yahoo
finance and do some mutual fund historical
a living as a guitarist has been one of the
greatest joys in my life. I hope that sharing
some of the things I learned along the way will
help you to be successful in the music business.
If you have any questions or comments please
feel free to e-mail me anytime.