These days it’s increasingly hard firstly to find a gig, and secondly to keep it.
Over many years as a working guitarist in Europe and the US, my one consistent thought has been, It’s not about you! (Unless, of course, you are a highly successful solo artist, and even then it’s something worth thinking about!)
‘It’s not about you!’
So here we go with 10 tips on how to make a good first impression and increase your chances of retaining a gig once hired. They may seem like common sense, but I have seen many guitarists stumble over these points to their detriment.
1. Show Up on Time
Sounds obvious, but you need to be seen as reliable. Punctuality is the first good impression you can make. Be sure you know the address where the gig or rehearsal will take place, and the expected downtime. Plan your route and leave time for traffic and unexpected delays. Arriving late and then cramming to set your gear up is not cool, raises your anxiety levels, and does not create a good first impression.
‘Arriving late … is not cool … and does not create a good first impression.’
2. Know What You Are Being Hired For
Clarify if you being hired as a single guitarist, or one of several. Are you to play rhythm, lead or both, acoustic or electric? Be sure to bring the right gear; if in doubt, ask, and then plan accordingly.
3. Do Your Homework
Most bands today are able to provide copies of their material, either on MP3 or YouTube. If you are lucky, some may have chord charts, or, if you are really lucky, written charts. To learn new material, I use transcription software, such as Transcribe or Riffstation, to slow songs down, transpose, and loop sections to pull out the parts.
Also, it is important to know if you will play any solos. If so, do they need to be note for note, or can they can be open to interpretation? Thinking you can blow a solo and then arriving to find that you need to be note-perfect will not put you in a good place. Trust me!
4. Control Your Volume
With venues trending toward keeping stage volume down, you must be able to control your volume. Medium to large venues are moving towards amps being offstage, and using monitors or in-ear monitors (IEs) to keep stage volume down. Smaller venues still tend to keep amps as part of the backline.
Volume leveling with monitors and IEs is relatively easy, as each band member is able to control the volume they are hearing from each instrument. If your amp is part of the backline, play to a volume where you can hear the other instruments. In the case where you need to “step out” for a solo, you should still be able to hear your bandmates.
5. Know Your Gear
Another obvious one, but make sure you know your way around your equipment. As part of doing your homework (see #3), know the sounds you will need and dial them in as best you can beforehand. A new gig is not the time to try out your newest piece of equipment. Looking quizzically at your amp and pedalboard and making random adjustments does nothing to inspire confidence in you from your bandmates.
‘A new gig is not the time to try out your newest piece of equipment.’
6. Have and Use a Good Tuner
This one stands on its own to reinforce the point. You need a good tuner and to be able to mute the signal of your guitar while tuning. iPhone and Android app tuners are not good enough for the working guitarist. Do NOT tune up so that everyone can hear you, and do NOT ask your bandmates to “be quiet” while you tune up. I have seen gigs lost by this single action alone.
7. Spares, or Your Safety Net
Have at least one spare set of cables. In the event of a cable being faulty, being able to simply and quickly swap and replace it looks professional and reduces stress. The same goes for straps and picks. Be sure to have a spare strap for each guitar you use, and several spare picks.
8. Step up, Not Over
Be flexible and open to making adjustments on the fly. If you are asked to switch from electric to acoustic, from lead to rhythm, then do so with grace. Remember that you are there to add to the overall sound, not to stake your impression on it.
Again, it’s not about you! If you have suggestions, find the best time to make them, and then give them in a professional way as a contributor.
‘If you are asked to switch … then do so with grace.’
9. Be a Good Mixer
Away from your guitar, be a good mixer. Join in conversations, be pleasant, don’t keep to yourself. You are part of the band. Equally, don’t be too opinionated. Socially as well as musically, you need to be able to contribute and find your place.
10. Have Some Business Cards
Business cards are easy to make and very affordable. If you Google ‘business cards’, you’ll find many options for creating cards online. Pulling out a business card is much more professional than looking for a piece of paper to write down your contact details.
So there you have it. Is this a definitive list or a recipe for success? No! However, following these tips has allowed me to stay working, keep gigs and be offered new ones … and avoid some stumbling blocks along the way.
Until next time …
David Minns – Orange County, California–based professional guitarist & instructor; MI Honors Graduate in 1992. Read more at virtualosoguitar.com.