Beyond the Weekend Warrior

Q: I wanted to know if you have any advice for players like me who still work a full time 9-5 but want to eventually move to playing professionally. My goal is to session/sideman and teach, but opportunities are harder to come by and I’m having trouble getting my foot in the door.

A: Man, it’s a tough biz! A lot of what will follow realistically depends on your level of ability, level of dependance from other people (family, jobs, etc.), where you live, and how much sleep you need.

Even for an unemployed go-getter with all of the time in the world and who also happens to be a great player, getting into “the scene” is not easy. Word of mouth is the way most musicians find other musicians and, if you’re not working with the players, how will they ever know about you?

The best thing you can do is to really make sure your playing, reading and improvising is together, first and foremost. The top 1% of the guys always seem to have 50% of the good work (if not more) in most towns. So there’s a lot of competition, even for the worst gigs.

Here is the key: be seen and (eventually) heard!

You need to be recognized as a figure or familiar face so:

  1. Go to the gigs of the guys you aspire to play with and introduce yourself.
  2. Go to jam sessions. Many towns have a jam every night somewhere. Hit them all! Sit in. If you can play, the better players will flock to you to see who you’re playing with and if you’re available for work here and there…
  3. Have a CD to give to people you want to play with. It can be a demo or live gig recording, as long as it is good quality. Don’t worry about selling them, that’s not the point at this stage. My first CD was my “let me leave something with you that doesn’t suck…please hire me” calling card. (Shameless plug: that CD is “Trios”, available at CDBaby, on iTunes and at other fine stores ).
  4. Be cool, but be fearless. A lot of guys have gotten their break into the industry or scene by walking straight up to the guy they wanted to play with and saying, “I’m ______. I’m a great player, I’m sober and I want to play with you. Here’s a CD and my phone number, I look forward to hearing from you if you dig it.” If you don’t ask, you’ll never receive. Just don’t be weird or creepy about it.

Don’t worry about making money at first (easier to say since you have a 9-5 job, too). Take every gig you can, whether it’s going to suck or not. You never know who may walk by the bar or room and hear a great bass player and ask for a card, regardless of how good the band is, or isn’t.

In a nutshell, you need to be where the music is happening that you want to be a part of and, if you can play and aren’t completely hard to get along with, you will begin to work. It takes longer than you’d like but it will happen eventually. Tenacity is the key to all things you want in life. Practice hard, play every note like it’s the note you’ve been waiting to play all of your life and get out there and meet people. Even the super-stars are happy to meet great new players and love nothing more than to give them a shot, if they can hang!

So just get out there and make yourself known!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. John

    Damian, great advice and very timely! As a follow-up, what kind of skills should we have before stepping up to the stage and joining a jam session?

    Blues…seems fairly straightforward. Know blues patterns, and a handful of popular tunes.

    Jazz…charts? Ear?

    I realize each jam scene is a bit different, but for those of us who can’t get out a lot to scope out the scenes, it may help to get some sort of insight on what we should be looking for when we go and some sort of basic skill set we should be prepared to bring.

    Case in point: Knew a bass player who went to sit in with a worship band and got totally spanked. Not a pleasant, nor confidence-building, experience for him. Thought he was ready to go, and was not.

  2. Stan

    Great article & good comment from John- I would also add that getting your chops together is only part of this- if you work 9 to 5 chances are you have not only a steady paycheck but also health insurance, a 401K and other benefits-you will either have to find a gig that provides these or pay for them out of pocket- also, once you make the jump you will have to get used to the fact that playing music is your job and regardless of how much you like it, you will still have bad days and have to work with people that you may not neccesarily like.
    Now having said this I still encourage you to give it a try!!