One of the biggest dreams that young shredders have is being able to earn a living by playing their instrument. Well, folks, I'm here to tell you: it's possible! And, furthermore, I'm here to tell you: its hard! Really hard! But, thankfully, there are things you can do to help your chances, and keep you on the stage, instead of in the want ads.
Just a note: this article is designed for freelance musicians, that is, musicians that are not affiliated with any band or other group. However, a lot of these trips will work for your band, so please read on.
1. At least in the beginning, you will need a day job: This is the part that nobody likes, so I'm gonna get it out of the way first. At least when you're first starting out, you just will not be able to support yourself by playing music. And its got nothing to do with your abilities as a musician. The thing about the music business is that it really is all about who you know. Its such a tight-knit, close community, and a lot of your credibility will come from people you know and reccomendations from your peers and other clients. So, when you're first starting out, you have none of that credit, and therefore, you are not going to be called about very many gigs. You will have to solicit yourself to play for things, not the other way around. Until you catch a couple breaks, the money is just not going to be around for you to make a full-time living doing this. But, fear not, eventually, you might be able to do pretty well.
2. Make yourself marketable: As odd as it sounds, you are a product that your clients have to buy. Just like an advertising campaign makes a certain product stick in the minds of consumers, so too do you have to work to stick in the minds of your potential clients. And the best way to do that is not through crazy costumes and ridiculous stage antics. Make business cards (you can do this at home with Microsoft Office and other programs) and hand them out any time you get a gig. That way, your name will always be available when people ask for a guitarist. Make sure people know that you're available and ready and willing to play gigs. Be polite, be reliable, and work hard. And for more about that...
3. Professionalism, professionalism, professionalism!: This may be the most important aspect that will help your career. Just like with any other job, you will not be hired again if you make the experience an unpleasant one for your employer, nor will you be recommended for any other job. But, make it a happy, comfortable experience, and you have a shot at more gigs. Always be on time, be early if you can help it. Always have everything you'll need for that day of playing. Always have your parts learned. If, for some reason, there is a part you can't play at the first rehearsal, make sure that it's flawless by the next rehearsal. This is the "job" part of being a musician. You have to have your parts down, or what's the point of hiring you? Take criticism, don't ever lose your temper, and always be the kind of person that people want to work with. Is it a pain in the butt? You betcha, but, it's really not that much of a change to keep getting checks, is it? Another thing you want to think of is how you visually present yourself. Sadly, performing musicians, guitarists especially, have sort of a bad reputation. And showing up looking dirty, with a bunch of piercings and oddly colored hair isn't going to do much to change that reputation. I'm not trying to make you sell out or be somebody you don't want to be, I just want to make sure you're aware that looks do matter, and first impressions are everything. I personally reccomend that you show up looking clean and conservatively dressed. It just makes things easier.
4. Never, ever complain about the check: This isn't the marketplace. You don't get to haggle. What you get paid is what you get paid. If you don't think it's fair, then just don't take gigs from that person anymore. But, making a scene burns a bridge, and someday, you might need that bridge to get jobs. Now, if somebody says they're going to pay you x amount, and then the check comes and you get shorted or not payed at all, then you have every right to (politely) discuss the discrepency. But, remember, never, ever lose your temper. People are always watching...
5. Be versatile: You might love to play metal, but, if you can play rock, country, and jazz, too, you've got a much better shot at getting gigs. Drummers, you should really consider learning some non drumset percussion, such as snare drum, keyboard percussion, timpani, world percussion, etc. The more things you can do, the more jobs you're going to get. And never turn down a gig ecause it isn't your kind of style. When you're making the big bucks, you can be as picky as you want. I don't know about you, but three or four hundred dollars is an awful lot to turn down because you don't like reggae.
6. Be musically educated: Because some of your clients will be. And when they tell you to lay down a I-IV-V-I progression in F major, you better know what they're talking about. You must, must, MUST be able to read music, and not just lead sheet, but full musical manuscript. Remember, Every Good Boy Does Fine.
7. Be proactive: If you hear about a gig, pursue it. It is perfectly acceptable to call somebody and say "Hey, I heard you might need a guitar player on such and such a date. Well, my name is such and such, I'm very capable, and if you need somebody, here's my number." It can't hurt, as long as you're polite and professional.
8. Understand the environment: Freelancing is as much about your people skills as your guitar skills. Understand and feed into the chemistry of the group you are performing with. If everybody is loose and having a good time, then of course you can have a good time as well. Tell a few jokes, have some fun. But, if the group is very professional and doesn't fool around, then you shouldn't either. And, nothing you do should ever affect your playing abilities.
9. Plan your time: This sort of goes along with being professional, but don't ever let yourself forget a gig or rehearsal. Get a planner, and make sure you don't doublebook yourself. I had a friend that doublebooked himself once, and now, he can't buy a job within 30 miles of where he blew somebody off. You need to stay on top of the game.
10. Don't give up: Even if you can't make a full-time job out of being a musician, continue to take gigs and put yourself out there. You never know which gig could be the break you've been looking for.
These ten tips are for the most part very simple. However, if you follow them, you'll be well on your way to being a successful freelance musician.
Go get yourself some gigs!