Getting Noticed – Part 3: Working Your Local Music Scene

Bass player wanted sign

Editor’s note: Damian wraps up his series on Getting Noticed Out There with some advice on connecting with your local music scene. Check out Part 1: Your Demo and Part 2: Social Media.

Q: I’ve reached the point where I know I need to meet new people to get my career up to the next level, but I don’t know where to start. What do you think makes effective networking in the context of being a musician as opposed to an artist who has written songs? How do you know the right person to speak to and what in your experience is the best approach?

A: In this third installment, I’d like to focus on the “local scene”.

While getting our fantastic demo and connecting with others online is a great start to getting out there with our music, there’s nothing like playing locally. Here are just some of the benefits:

  1. Honing your abilities and improving your playing
  2. Meeting other musicians
  3. Helping spread the word about the incredible job you do, and your “A-list” professionalism
  4. Making some money so you can devote more time to shedding and self-promotion

Just as you must be both present and personable to make an impression in the greater online music community, you must be present and personable in your local scene as well. And remember, local doesn’t just mean your town. “Local” can encompass your region of the country (for me, that means the greater Northwest area of the US).

So it is one thing for you to make a name for yourself in your home town. But it’ll add up to a whole lot more in those income and branding categories if your geographic footprint is bigger than that. Being willing to put in some miles can really help to spread the word about you as the guy to call, for many more people.

But take it one town at a time.

First things first: your town…

If the musicians in your town aren’t talking about you, then it’s your responsibility to get out there and make sure everyone hears you. Make sure you’re ready for this though… first impressions and all. Don’t overstep or overstate your abilities. If your playing is worth talking about, the word will spread.

So participate: jazz jams, blues jams, rock jams… whatever. Hit every one of them that’ll serve as a good showcase for your playing. A good bassist is worth his or her weight in gold. Band leaders know that the key to a good band is a great rhythm section. Thankfully for us – with this instrument – the pool is shallower than say good guitarists. There are simply fewer of us, which makes our mission that much easier.

Get heard!

Be willing to bite it and work for crumbs at first. It pays off more in the end if you can get your name out there. Don’t let those low paying gigs go on for too long though, and don’t let anyone take advantage of your good nature. Know that you’ll have to pay some dues but also never forget your value.

For me, when I was coming up I had a rule. It was this: Say yes to every gig if it meets one of these criteria:

  1. Musically and artistically satisfying
  2. Good money
  3. Good exposure
  4. A chance to learn

More than one? Bonus.

Basically, while I was trying to make a name for myself, it either had to pay, get me heard by people I wanted to hear me or, at the very least, be a lot of fun or challenging in some way that tipped the scales.

Be careful though, and don’t work yourself to death. Be patient too, because you don’t get to be “in demand” right away. That takes time to get that top pay and per-diems and all the rest. Be willing to work for it for a while.

Go to the shows and meet the other musicians with which you hope to be associated too. If you want to get “in” with the jazz guys in town, you should start going to their gigs. Meet them, compliment them, mention how you play as well and have been hoping to meet some more players in town. Ask – politely – if you might be able to sit in if the environment is casual and the vibe is right. Sometimes, it might just make more sense to wait and be asked.

Good musicians are always on the lookout for other good musicians, and most of them are pretty good at reading people. Don’t just start talking about how great you are. Good musicians tend to have finely tuned BS meters, and one thing you’ll notice is that the greats never need to talk about how great they are. It’s usually the “wannabe’s” who can’t stop bragging about themselves.

In other words, be cool and be social. Don’t go into overdrive with your sales pitch. Just hang, listen, appreciate and converse when the opportunity arises. Tell them about yourself and definitely answer all their questions, but also be interested in them and the group. Don’t be that person who’s just obviously trying to schmooze.

Before you go to a gig to watch and network, here’s a tip: Try and find charts online (or even email the artist and ask if you could check out some charts). Then show up to a gig and, while talking to one of the guys on the break, mention how you know “X” tune and would love to play it with the band sometime. They very well may let you up there to do just that! That’s a great way to get “in”.

Be sure you’re ready. You’d better both play the heck out of the tune and simultaneously enhance the musical experience of the group. Don’t just take it as a chance to blow every chop you’ve ever developed while you’ve got the chance. That’ll just bug everyone and that’ll be the last time you sit in with them. Respect the music and be the best team player you can.

If they trust you and your respect for the music, maybe they’ll toss you a solo, maybe not. Don’t sweat it. Just play as well as you can and do your job as well as you can. Play like the guy they will want to hire for another gig on another night! Even fantastic players don’t get called if they can’t stop showboating. Play beautiful music when you finally get their ear. Maybe you can wind up filling in as a sub for the normal guy!

As with most things, be seen, be heard and be cool. If you have developed your craft and can play well (not flashy or “incredible”), you will get called and start to get more and more gigs.

And as you are passing out those demos, lighting up the local scene with everybody in town, creating quality YouTube videos and widening your network online, you may very well wake up one morning and think, “Holy cow… I think I’m doing it!”

Share your ideas, complaints and concepts on this series in the comments. I love hearing your take!

Photo by brainflakes.

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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