Non-Classical Careers: Booking Gigs

Non-Classical Gigs Header

Are you interested in breaking into a new genre of local music but don’t know where to start? Do you want to play indie rock, country, punk, metal, blues, ska, rockabilly, folk, zydeco, Celtic, funk, bluegrass or create something new? Have you been mainly a classical player or perhaps even jazz player and want to expand? Here is a short list of ways to get started in your local scene:

1. To play shows or find band mates, you have to go to shows. 

Don’t expect good results just from answering an ad on Craigslist. You have to put yourself out there and be part of the community. You need to meet people who already play the genre you are interested in. Don’t be a wallflower! Join a jam session, talk to the bands, compliment something about their set, and casually drop into conversation that you play an instrument and what it is. You never know; one of these bands might be looking for a violin, cello or upright bass player to flush out their sound.

2.  You will not be booked just because you can play. You will be booked based on what you know, or rather who knows you. 

Even after you have people to play with, you need to continue networking within the community. Talent helps but it’s not the determining factor. Actually, I think that’s a rule for life. Make sure that you are going to at least one show a week and that you are sticking to a genre and not just going to random shows that don’t connect with your vision. If you want people to invest in you, you first have to invest in them and the community. Have a good time, make some friends, connect on social media, and don’t give up.

3. Not every non-classical musician reads music. Get comfortable with improvising.  

A lot of genres outside of classical are about improvising around the skeleton of a song idea instead of playing a part that is written down. There are other kinds of music notation; in country they have the Nashville number system, in jazz they sometimes have chord charts, and rock songs can be created in a group setting and then performed immediately. Those systems provide a guide but it is up to the players to get creative. Remember that a lot of musical styles outside of classical were created by the working class who couldn’t afford an education in classical music and theory. That folk spirit is still very much alive in these genres and you must learn to play with your ears by both listening to the music and listening to your band mates.

4. You are going to go further if you can play both acoustic and electric. 

Sure, in traditional bluegrass and Celtic music it is generally frowned up on to use an electric instrument. However, many of these traditional genres are becoming more progressive by adding electric instruments and many other genres (such as rock) almost always require electric instruments. If you have the ability to play acoustically and electrically you will have more options, especially if you want to join an indie rock band or play in a band with drums and other electric instruments.

5. When you go to shows, BRING EARPLUGS. 

I can hear you say, “But it’s a solo acoustic guitar act. It can’t be that loud.” Then you get to the show and they run that acoustic guitar through a distortion pedal with 12 loop pedals that spiral out into a deafening wash of noise that will follow you to sleep that night. If you see a drum kit or a guitar, put the earplugs in.

6. When you didn’t pay a cover fee and someone says “We are taking donations for the bands….”

Put at least $5 in. A “cover” is what a bar would charge for admittance. When you go to an independent show, there may not be a “cover” but instead a “donation.” This isn’t considered an option–this is often the only compensation a musician might receive for their performance! You could be in their shoes one day, so pay it forward.

7. Are you at least 21 years old?

This can make a big difference as a lot of places, especially in the city, only allow people over 21. If you are under 21, you will have to get creative. Trust me, there is an all-ages show somewhere out there and, more often then not, it’s happening in the basement of a church, apartment, art gallery or VFW hall. Most of these shows will not be clearly posted , so you are going to need to do some sleuthing.

If you are in a city the answer is easy: Find places where the art kids hang out and make friends. Go to an independent record store, bookstore, or coffee shop and get a job there if you can. If you can’t, then become a frequent customer. Once there, you will be able to immerse yourself in new information.

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Silvija Kristapsons

Social Media and Marketing at Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins.