Finding Gigs

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One of the things I wondered when I got to Nashville after college was “how in the world do you get a gig?” I spent weeks e-mailing everyone that had a public e-mail listed online. I responded to every Craigslist “music community” post looking for a guitarist or bassist. I made a website and listed all of my accomplishments (including all of the recording software I was proficient with). I even set up daily meetings at Starbucks with people I would run into at Guitar Center or at church.

It took about 3 months to realize that I was living a life that wasn’t sustainable. Not just in the sense that I was running myself ragged, but also in the sense that I was constantly in a state of stress. I got a lot of chances to play through that season of “hustle”, but they were also pretty poorly paying gigs and weren’t really moving me to a place I wanted to be in my career as a musician. I decided that something had to change.

One of the first changes I made was to make community a priority. I felt so isolated even though I was meeting a lot of people. Almost immediately after I started being intentional to build into particular friendships I found that I was feeling a lot better about life as a whole. I have a tendency to overachieve, but my friends kept me rooted in the fact that I didn’t need to have it all together to be worthy of friendship.

With community as the first change, I decided to start only playing music that I believed in. I know that sounds idealistic, counter-intuitive, and SO millennial of me, but I think it’s something that shaped my career more than anything else. When I wasn’t taking just any gig, I could concentrate on playing music that I really thought meant something. Worship music isn’t always the most creative, but I honestly loved watching how people were truly impacted by it. I figured that even if I didn’t write, or to be honest, even enjoy the music, I could get behind the message and how it affected people (including myself.)

The last thing that I did that really made a huge difference was consolidating my “resume”. I play a number of instruments fairly well, and I like recording/producing music, and I also dabble in graphic design, web design, marketing, consulting, and I have a business Master’s degree and… etc. etc. etc. I found that while people were impressed with me as a person, they wouldn’t hire me because they didn’t know what I did well and what I just dabbled in. I decided to change my twitter and instagram bios to “I’m a professional musician in Nashville and I play bass for (insert your name here)”. I made a website called “jesseplaysbass.com” and just started telling people I played bass for a living. This was one of the most impactful changes on my career because people would have me in their minds whenever they were looking for a bass player. Sure I might have left a few guitar gigs on the table, but it’s well worth the investment to be one of the first people to come to mind when people think “bass player”. 

So… where does this leave you? How do you find gigs? Here are a few practical steps to pair with my experience from above.

1) Getting gigs and touring isn’t a magical process that you suddenly find yourself in.

Finding a gig looks a lot like being plugged into a community of people and playing with them as they build their careers. Certainly you can find auditions and open calls to play with artists, but most likely you’ll find your best gigs (and even a lot of auditions!) through the friend group you’re in. Find a group of friends, root for their success even if it doesn’t include you, and make yourself available to them if they’re in need. Run their merch table if they don’t need a player just yet. Just make sure you don’t make friends just to use them for music. That’s super lame and won’t get you anywhere. 

2) Treat every opportunity like it’s playing for U2 in a huge arena.

I guarantee you if U2 were to ask you to play, there would be no song they’ve done left uncharted and practiced a thousand times. You would step into that first rehearsal ready to play every lick they’ve ever recorded. While playing for a 50 students at a youth worship night might not be as glamorous, come just as prepared as you would for much bigger opportunities. This does 2 things: shows honor to the person asking you to play and sets you apart from other people. I truly believe that the separation of good to great musicians is in the preparation. Set up each gig like it’s a big deal. You’ll get callbacks when you’re the one people are looking to for the right chords in rehearsal.

3) Make yourself available and be diligent to grow your craft.

These seem like two different things, but they go hand in hand. When opportunity comes, you better be good at your craft or you won’t get asked back next time. It’s about WAY more than just playing, but an artist won’t trust their reputation with you as a player if you don’t come through. One way to do this is to set up a practice routine and take videos or pictures each time you practice to put online. Don’t just do it for “the gram”, but legitimately practice and show others how you’re improving and growing your craft. So many professional musicians don’t grow because they’ve reached a stage of “good enough” to coast. Set yourself apart in practice and people will know they can count on you.

4) Be a good person to be around.

People will always hire the guy that’s a good hang. You don’t have to be a party person or a super witty guy to be a good hang. If you care about people, genuinely want everyone in the band to succeed, and are willing to work hard you will be a great person to be around. 95% of touring is off-stage. Whether traveling, waiting in green rooms, loading in/out, etc. most of your time spent with others will be off-stage. That’s a huge factor in why certain people get gigs and keep them!

All in all, everyone’s path is different, but these are some ways to find gigs and have gigs find you. And with that, U2 just came on inside of the Einstein Bagel’s shop I’m typing this up in. I’m gonna go stop typing now and listen to this goodness. Thanks for reading. :)

Dear Teenage Self... (4 Things I Would Tell Teenage-Jesse About Music Careers)

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Do you ever look back to High School and wonder how much time you spent doing ridiculous things? I’ve probably amassed literal days of crafting the perfect AOL Instant Messenger “away status” or walking around video rental stores looking at the covers of DVDs I would never watch (although, I still do this with Netflix…).

In the midst of all of the ridiculous posts on xanga.com and youth group movie nights I remember developing a very serious passion for music. There was a lot of stuff to navigate and I wish I could go back and encourage my teenage self with a few things about my “future career". I figured I’d list them here in case any of you could use some encouragement as well!

  1. Music as a career is possible, but it looks different than everyone thinks. Not everyone who makes at a living doing music will be a household name. So many of the people I admire now are people who do their work behind the scenes and crush it.
     
  2. Find good community and dig in with them. The “staying power” I have in music now is directly proportional to the community that I’m in and the woman I am married to. Without their continued encouragement and support to pursue it, I would’ve stopped a long time ago. Find those people who will push you and keep you lifted.
     
  3. Being the best musician in the room is neither important or possible. Everyone has something different to bring to the table. Just because you study for 4-6 hours each day, know your modes, and how to construct atonal matrixes doesn’t make you the best musician in the room. Sometimes people without a formal education in music can hear things that you can’t because you have “rules” so deeply ingrained into you. (*Note: music theory and practicing your chops is great, but the importance of that has rarely ever shown itself in my career thus far.)
     
  4. Gear is cool, but don’t let envy of other people’s gear consume you. Seeing friends with pedalboards filled with $400 Strymon reverbs and delays, hundreds of dollars of overdrives, and every mod available is certainly something to want, but find what sounds great and don’t worry about having everything. You’ll never be satisfied with your pedalboard when you’re constantly trying to innovate and create different sounds.

I’m sure I can think of hundreds of other things to tell the teenage version of myself, but I’ll start with those 4. What would you tell the teenage version of yourself? What is some advice that you’ve been given that’s been helpful to you?

Musicians Vs. Taxes

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It's that time of year again... every commercial on TV is for tax software, every artist you played with last year is reaching out for a W9, and every expense receipt you have is being tracked down. Taxes are not sexy, but I had a couple of thoughts I figured I'd share to help out my friends who constantly struggle with tax season.

1) What should you write off?
When I first came to Nashville in 2011 I was told to save every receipt and write off anything I could possibly write off: car trips to coffee meet ups, snacks from the road, instrument purchases, etc. This helps alleviate some of the tax burden for the year but could actually be hurting you if you're looking to get a loan in the next couple of years (house loan, car loan, business loan). Whatever you write off comes out of your "provable income", so if you're asking a bank for a house loan and you've written off half of the $40,000 you made last year with things like guitars, gas reimbursement, coffee, etc. then you'll look like you make a lot less each year than you actually do. If you're not looking at taking out a loan for a few years, write off as much as you can, but just tuck that nugget away for when you start to look at a business or home loan.

2) Stay organized for next year
Although filing taxes for this year is still happening, it's important that you start keeping records for next year to make the process less painful! Go out and get a binder with some dividers and keep a log of your miles, tuck away your expense receipts (including the receipt for buying the binder), and track your income as well. If you do this for every gig this year, next years taxes are going to be a breeze. You don't have to write off everything, but it's a lot easier to choose what to write off than to wish you had kept a receipt for something.

3) Know what you need to charge
Being a full-time musician is tough because so much of the industry is based on verbal agreements and going with the flow. But something that I've found very useful is deciding what you need to charge in order to make a gig possible. It doesn't have to be extravagant, but know your minimum threshold for being asked to play a gig. It might hurt to say no to something that pays $50 when you're hurting for cash, but if it's going to require you to drive your own car and potentially get a flat tire on the way, you'll wind up saving money in the long run.
For the married folks, talk with your spouse and see what that number might look like. It could be playing for free for someone you really want to get connected with, but just know what you're willing to accept in order to sacrifice that time at home with family.

Money conversations can be weird, but for the sake of your future self it's good to start thinking about how to handle it now. Taxes might be daunting, but they don't have to be that way next year. And if you need help, I'm happy to talk through stuff with you (for a fee... wink wink).

If you want more tips about money in the music industry (and 9 other topics), I still have a free eBook that's available! Check it out: http://jesseplaysbass.com/free-ebook/

Thanks for reading!

Coffeeshop Musicians

Nashville is littered with musicians. Your barista is a songwriter. Your Uber driver is on the radio. Your waitress probably won The Voice three years ago. There is certainly no shortage of skinny jean-wearing, essential oil-sniffing, kombucha-drinking musicians in this city.

Something that was staggering to me when I first moved here is just how many of them there are hanging out in coffee shops all day. It can be hard at 10:40am to find a seat in some of these places. My first thought was "why are all these people here?" and then it hit me that I was there for the same reason: e-mails and coffee.

The coffee shop is the millennial office space. Wifi? Caffeine? Semi-clean bathrooms? It's a perfect environment to think up Instagram posts to look busier than you actually are. "It's my 5th latte this week, so I'm obviously pretty well off... right?"

I released an eBook last Friday called "100 Tips For Session & Touring Musicians" that was basically aimed at the 2011 version of myself because I was a little intimidated by the coffee shop musicians. Everyone seemed to be doing something, everyone seemed to know everyone else, and everyone seemed to have enough money to buy crazy expensive drinks. I realize now that many of those people felt the same way I did and didn't have a clue of how to start off their music careers. The eBook is kind of a way for me to help out fellow musicians who might feel the same way now that I did then.

Here are 3 of the 100 tips in the book:

Tip 58: Download the Right Apps To Get Paid - When you do get a gig, make it easy for people to pay you. Cash App, Venmo, and PayPal are 3 quick apps that many people use to pay their players.

Tip 77: E-mails & Coffee -  E-mailing can be extremely frustrating, but it’s something to develop as a skill. Find people you want to work with and contact them. See if they’re available for coffee or to hang out and then BUY THEM COFFEE. 

Tip 28: Learn from the Producers & Engineers - This was one of the hardest things for me to get used to. Producers and engineers have a wealth of knowledge that they can share with you to make you better at your craft so take notes!

For those of you who make the coffee shop your office, I do have one tip that wasn't in the book. This is super practical and may hurt a little, but: get a Starbucks gift card and start working towards a gold membership. If you schedule your meetings at Starbucks, they have free refills for gold members (maybe even green members) so you can stay and just refill your coffee before your next meeting. I used to line up 3-4 different meetings on a $2.50 cup of coffee (+ tips...). "Meetings" can be expensive and this can be a great way to save some money and still be able to buy coffee for those you're asking to meet with.

If you're at a coffee shop right now and want to read the eBook click here. Or you could just text me and we could meet in person like people used to do in the 90's (or so I hear).