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Thread: Making A Living In The Music Business

  1. #1
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    Making A Living In The Music Business

    Hey everyone,
    Im Sean and new to this site, I wondered out of interest how many guitar players on here are making a successful career in session work/performing/recording etc and if anybody could share their experiences of working in these areas to help players such as myself understand the business better. Also if anyone could put some input into how they got into the business and the ways in doing it that would be great.

    Cheers,
    Sean

  2. #2
    Registered User SkinnyDevil's Avatar
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    Yes, there are quite a few full-time professional musicians here. Most mix many elements of the biz rather than focusing exclusively on one (it's more challenging and interesting, plus it makes it easier to pay the bills).

    Advice:

    1) Get your chops down.

    2) Have solid understanding of concepts.

    3) Good communication skills & a great attitude (especially under pressure).

    4) Be easy to work with and ALWAYS go the extra mile.

    5) Never stop learning.

    6) Be willing to share what you've learned.

    Remember that unless your on MTV/CMT & the like making a zillion bucks a year, you're doing a wide variety of gigs - some to huge audiences and the next night in front of a group of 15 at the corner pub. Case in point, I did a radio/TV show last month backing a quasi-famous artist to a listening/viewing audience that numbers in the millions worldwide, the next day I was teaching 30 or so students, the next day doing demos (composing & recording) of new music for a fitness web-site, another coupla days of teaching, & that weekend I was performing with my duo in a coffee shop in front of about 35-40 people.

    Every week is like that, which can be a blast, but the chaos is not somethig everyone likes. But I like it, It's fast-paced, challenging, rewarding, huge fun, & it never gets boring! Oh...and it pays the bills (which always helps!).

    I'm sure dozens of others here could outline a similar week of live work, teaching, studio work, and the like.

    Hope that helps.
    --
    David M. McLean
    Skinny Devil Music Lab
    www.skinnydevil.com

    "...embrace your fear..."

  3. #3
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    wow thanks for you input david! really great advice! I am just very conscious about the possibilities of getting work soon as university (mine included) teaches you about music, but not how to establish a successful career. There are so many questions I have that university cant answer (probably because most lecturers went straight into teaching) that Its made me feel skeptical about how to make it into the business, but this has helped!

    btw, great website! very inspiring for me!

  4. #4
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    first post

    I just joined, and I'm looking forward to learning, and contributing where I can

    I don't play full-time anymore, but did for many years. I don't know what style you play (acoustic, electric, fingerstyle, etc), but SkinnyDevil gives some great advice.

    One thing that helped me make a living over the years was having a repertoire for seasonal gigs that come around every year in the area.

    For example, I used to earn a good amount every Christmas fingerpicking Christmas songs while strolling in malls. We have a Rodeo Week here in Edmonton (Canadian Finals Rodeo), and I had a repertoire for that. I also learned to back up fiddlers, so got lots of work backing them up at different rodeo events through the summer. We also had a summer exhibition with a dixieland connection, so I put together a repertoire for that.

    The cool thing about these gigs was they were almost all day gigs, which meant I could still work nights in clubs playing electric in blues & R&B bands.

    Session work is tough here, but I still got some with new artists looking for backing tracks. The better paying gigs were dominated by a handfull of players who did them all - the same people have been doing them for decades here.

    If you can sing and play, you'll get a ton more opportunities, so I encourage you to try!

    To reinforce SkinnyDevil's point above - be easy to deal with and work with. Be the solution, not the problem. I still get calls from touring bands looking for a sub, because their guitar player, often someone much better than me, is hard to deal with or undependable. Get a reputation for being professional. Show up early, be prepared, dress for the gig, and do everything you can to make the bandleader look good.

    Stay away from booze and drugs while working! It seems obvious, but I wish it wasn't a common problem that's destroyed many a promising career.

    Get business cards and a website, and build your contact database (names, numbers, email).

    Hope some of this helps - Jim
    Last edited by jimmygster; 03-30-2009 at 04:00 AM.

  5. #5
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkinnyDevil
    Advice:

    1) Get your chops down.

    2) Have solid understanding of concepts.

    3) Good communication skills & a great attitude (especially under pressure).

    4) Be easy to work with and ALWAYS go the extra mile.

    5) Never stop learning.

    6) Be willing to share what you've learned.
    Great advise for any musician - pro, amateur or hobbyist alike.

  6. #6
    Registered User Los_Boleros's Avatar
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    The real deal

    Quote Originally Posted by SeanUK
    Hey everyone,
    Im Sean and new to this site, I wondered out of interest how many guitar players on here are making a successful career in session work/performing/recording etc and if anybody could share their experiences of working in these areas to help players such as myself understand the business better. Also if anyone could put some input into how they got into the business and the ways in doing it that would be great.

    Cheers,
    Sean
    Because of the nature of the question, am assuming that you are already of professional experience and now looking for work?

    The secret is promote, promote, promote. It does no good to have something to share with the world if knowbody knows about it. You must promote everyday of your life with every sentence you say and with every post you make. Paid advervisements can work but you need to really study your key-words in order to not waste much money. Put your best samples into a video and send it everywhere every day. Include it in your signature. Promote it on Youtube. Build a website that is jam packed with the right keywords. Compare your site to the most popular sites on the net.


    This actually sounds easier than it is. If you start now, you will see results in a few years. It took me three years to get on the first page of a google search with my desired key-words and if I don't stay on top of it, I get bumped to the second page real quick. Big difference! On the first page, you exist, on the second page, you don't.

    Ok, thats enough of my secrets.

    -Rudy
    Last edited by Los_Boleros; 03-30-2009 at 05:01 PM.

  7. #7
    IbreatheMusic Author ChrisJ's Avatar
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    There has been a lot of changes in the music business the last ten years. Both good and bad I suppose but in some ways more opportunities. I have been making a living at it for 25 years now, so in both the "old" music business and "new" and this is how it has changed for me:

    1. Recording - In the old days, you got a call and went down to the studio, read through the chart, played a solo and were expected to be done in an hour or two. So you had to be fast. Meaning reading through the chart without screwing up, coming up with a good part, playing an exciting solo. But now most recording work is done at home so it usually works this way: get an email from somebody you never me in a far away place. They ask you to record for them and ask your rate (per song). They send you an mp3 and you record your part and upload the wav file for them. So you see, the big difference is time. Where time was a major issue years ago it means nothing these days. You could spend a week on the solo alone, edit the best parts or each take together, etc. So these days it is more important to have a handle on technology (pro-tools) and be able to come up with a good track. Being able to site read is becoming less important. Not to say that reading altogether is unimportant, being able to read somewhat is a no-brainer but site reading is less of an issue, at least for recording. So learn protools and learn how to get a great recording tone. I have half a dozen of these projects going on anytime.

    2. Teaching has not changed very much. There is always a need for good teachers and this is a great way to get a steady income and connections.

    3. Recording yourself is a breeze but more so than that, marketing and selling is a lot easier than it was.

    There are plenty of ways to make a living these days. One thing I do think however is that the age of millionaire rock stars is over and the era of middle class musicians has begun. More people making a living and the money divided more evenly.

    I recently published a book on this whole thing.

    -CJ

  8. #8
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    This is really great advice from everyone! cheers! I suppose I should give a bit of background on myself because my questions may seem a bit vague otherwise...

    I started playing electric guitar at the age of 14 (currenly nearly 20) learning popular rock + punk songs....and then later found greater interest in metal + shred music. I am now at a University in Manchester, England studying music after deciding that i want it to be my future career. I want to take my career seriously than i feel some of my peers do, and want to clearly map out now what I am going to do after my degree. I don't want to work in one particular field solely but ideally want to do a bit of everything such as session work, typical gigging with projects, composing for TV & advertising, teaching guitar etc...I am starting to get better at sight reading (typical problem from guitarists) but I can play in a lot of styles and have a fairly decent understanding of theory at this stage. I guess I wanted to weigh up the chances of making a decent wage in music & to be speaking too people who are actually 'out there doing it' as opposed to probably the vast majority of teachers (no disrespect to them).

    Also interesting post CJ! that if definitely something I want to do and its funny you said that about the importance of sight reading declining due to the industry changes of recent, because my guitar teacher swears by sight reading to getting work from music haha

    I appreciate everyones input and advice! I am definately considering putting up my own website and starting some promoting,

    Aside from the topic, does anyone have any recommendations on decent heads & cabs? Im after something extremely versatile for both clean & distorted playing (currently looking at the hughes & Kettner switchblade head & a 2nd hand Mesa boogie Dual Rectifier) I currently have a spider II 212, but need to update to better quality gear.

  9. #9
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    also good advice about learning to sing Jim!

  10. #10
    IbreatheMusic Author ChrisJ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SeanUK

    Also interesting post CJ! that if definitely something I want to do and its funny you said that about the importance of sight reading declining due to the industry changes of recent, because my guitar teacher swears by sight reading to getting work from music haha
    Don't get me wrong, reading is a no brainer. It may not be as important as it was for recording but on a gig, you may have to read well. Most of the time I get the charts right on the gig and hate being panicked because I think I'm going to struggle or mess something up. Recording has changed though and I find myself going less and less to recording studios. Be careful because in college they probably have you reading classical music which is written for guitar but most of the music you get on a gig is not written for guitar, it is simply written for treble clef instruments which means that you have to read it an octave up. So you might want to get used to that.

    Being well rounded and being a great player goes without saying but you really have to get your network going to get yourself gigs. School is great for that because of the number of students you study with. You never know how many of them will go on to good gigs. Also be sure to make friends with your fellow guitar students because they might pass their gigs on to you when they move on to better gigs. I'm in Tokyo now and had to pass my Sunday gig on to a friend. When you pass your gigs around, they get passed on to you as well.

    Make sure you are writing because passive income is great. If I wasn't getting royalties, I'd be in trouble. It is pretty steady and you never know when one of your songs might get used somewhere that could really generate performance royalties, like TV for example.

  11. #11
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    How do you know you will get royalties? Is there some kind of agreement you have to make online? also what recording set-up would you recommend for this type of recording/session work? something like guitar rig 3 & cubase? or better equipment? Sorry about all the questions

  12. #12
    realizing dreams
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    Quote Originally Posted by SeanUK
    How do you know you will get royalties? Is there some kind of agreement you have to make online?
    If you join PPL and PRS then you'll receive royalties every time your song is played in public. As soon as you start writing songs for commercial use you should join these organisations.

  13. #13
    IbreatheMusic Author ChrisJ's Avatar
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    There are different types of royalties:

    1. Performance Royalties: This is a royalty paid out to a composer when the music gets played on TV, a movie, radio, etc. How much depends on what, where, when, how long, etc. But lets just say if your song gets played on primetime TV, you would be very happy, especially if it was the theme song that gets used every week. The royalty is broken in halves, the composer's share and the publisher's. How do you know you get royalties? Well, when it gets decided that the song is going to get used somewhere, you have to register the song with ascap, bmi. I forgot what the European company is.

    2. Mechanical Royalties: For the composer when a song gets used on a CD. This has nothing to do with the artist singing or playing the song, just the composer. Maybe about 10 cents a song again half for the composer, half for the publisher. Maybe 80 cents a CD if you wrote everything and then split with the publisher. If you are your own publisher, you get the whole 80 cents.

    3. Recording Royalties: This is what artists get per CD. It is generally about a dollar and change but you have to split it with your band mates, in what pecentages, is decided by you and your lawyer. Also, you are not allowed to collect it until you have paid back production costs, your advance, video and promotion costs. So it takes a long time and might never happen unless your CD flirts with gold status.

    4. Sync Fee: not really a royalty I suppose but this is a fee someone pays you for the use of your song. Unlike performance royalties, which how much you get is decided by law, there is nothing to determine how much a sync fee for the use of you song is. Maybe 0, or maybe $1,000,000 if your song was well known. I heard the the Doors got offered millions for the use of their song "Break on Through," more than they ever made off the record and they declined, not wanting their song used commercially. Talk about integrity.

    There are other things too, like sheet music, etc.

    Most colleges don't offer a course on this type of thing, which always surprises me.

    Recording: Well, guitar rig is ok for some things but I generally mike my amp and record using pro-tools. Recording a band is a different thing though. The only time I go direct is when the music doesn't call for something real earthy but a 57 on a celestion is the best sound really.

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    cheers for the advice guys! how do you find these types of people who are after session/recording guys? just through networking?

  15. #15
    Registered User Los_Boleros's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SeanUK
    cheers for the advice guys! how do you find these types of people who are after session/recording guys? just through networking?
    Its all about networking. Networking is an easy word to say but how you can go about doing it is endless. You obviously need a reputation but how do you get the word out there?

    Here are some ideas:
    Write a book. Become involved with forums. Know your target customer and advertise. Offer your services for free at first to get a few radio or TV commercials under your belt. When you promote your concerts, ask the local paper to do an interview. Learn how to market online.

    Probably not much more tha you already know.

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