How to be a Professional Guitarist
You may have wondered how to be a professional guitarist?
I’ve spent the last 14 years playing guitar professionally and managing to earn a good living playing the guitar.
When I started learning the guitar I assumed you had to know every scale, chord and hottest lick to even be considered a professional guitar player.
Although this helps it certainly isn’t what is needed to get paid as a working musician.
In fact knowing how to be a professional guitarist is about knowing the business as well as knowing how to play. You will need to know about running yourself as a business, networking and exploring more than one income stream.
Identify What You Are best At
Are your rhythm chops on the money? Or do you have a knack of playing the right solo at the tight time? Whatever you are good at, make a feature of it.
Just check out Nile Rodgers rhythm style on his countless hit records. Then you have Mark Knopfler who kills it with mixing finger-style picking on an electric guitar – just check out the riff on ‘Money for Nothing’ to see what I mean. Then you have guys like Joe Satriani who owns the legato technique and knows his modes inside out.
Point being most professional guitarists can’t do everything really well, they just do what is needed well enough and make it work for them.
Over time you will be able add and improve your guitar skills but ultimately to start getting out there and earning some cash you need to just cover the basics well.
So What Do I Need To Do Well?
Most of us start out playing in cover bands. This is where you earn your stripes as a guitarist. To be able to make this happen you need to be able to learn, remember and perform songs. Now believe it or not most popular songs are no more than a few chords! Which means you can be up and running quicker than you think.
To do this you have to have a basic knowledge of chords. This means open chords, barre chords and a selection of handy chord inversions which is enough to tackle most popular songs.
The next thing you need is to have a “good ear”. This means that you can listen to a song and work out the parts on your own without any aid.
Of course you can look up ‘how to play’ videos on the web but having a “good ear”, along with some basic music theory, means you can work out things quicker and understand what you are playing.
Are You Experienced?
Playing live is where you get gig fit. Getting as many gigs under your belt as you can is the best way to sharpen your performance and get good at thinking on your feet.
Also make sure you have reliable, decent gear that is adequate for what you need to do. I found that a simpler set-up will cover the most popular styles and try not to mask your playing with lots of effects. Remember it is you that makes you sound like you not the gear you are using. I have seen good guitarists make a bashed up old acoustic sound good!
One thing to note is how you come across as a guitarist. Are you prepared? Did you learn the tracks properly? Do you have a good attitude? Are you on time? It sounds obvious but you would be amazed out how many people are not prepared properly and miss out on great opportunities.
Networking – Who Do You Know?
It is so important to have a healthy network as it can generate great connections and also build your reputation as a guitarist.
It might be a jam night, dep gig you played or even someone you just got talking to at a bar. The more people you know the better your chances are at finding more work. If you read stories of successful musicians you find they often mention a ‘chance’ meeting or opportunity that led them to where they are now.
A good chunk of my work has come through knowing the right people. Last minute gigs, recording sessions and touring have all happened because of networking. In fact one particular meeting was in a bar where the person I was talking to turned out to be a singer. This single chance meeting spawned gigs, album recordings and a bunch of original songs.
So don’t be shy get out there and make yourself known!
Learn How To Write
This is a vital string to your musical bow. Knowing how to write music and understand music theory will enable you to earn money and also allow you be creative.
It takes time to get good at writing good songs. So don’t worry if your first attempt flops! The more regularly you write the better you become and always study other hit songs to see how they are written and learn from them.
You can co-write with other songwriters with the aim of producing an album to sell at gigs or as downloads. It can only take a simple riff or idea that might get you heard and then makes money if you market yourself well enough.
One of the most lucrative ways is to write music for production libraries. You can potentially earn anywhere from between £50 – £15000+ from one licence! This is slightly different from writing songs as the music is often designed to go behind a narrative or to enhance a scene in TV or film. The best way to understand what sort of music is used just watch a few TV episodes and films but take note of the music in the background – you will be surprised at how simple it can be!
Play With People Better Than You
A great way to learn is to try and get yourself in with musicians who are better than you. You can learn some valuable tips and also make some useful connections.
Some of the best ways of doing this is attending open mic nights. Most you can turn up and play or some you may have to register your interest beforehand. Social Media is a great place to start looking and ask around at local venues too. Be prepared as you may have to travel outside your home town, especially if it doesn’t have a good music scene.
If you know some professional musicians you can always ask about any open mic nights they attend and maybe go along with them. You can ask to ‘sit in’ with them which gives you a chance to showcase your playing.
If you think about yourself as a business you need to promote it. There is no excuse to not have some sort of online presence to market yourself these days. You can easily get a few videos made which demo showcases you skills and personality. It makes sense to have a website which you can post your best live photos, videos, biography and what you have achieved. Think of it like an online musical CV. It makes it much easier for someone to get a good first impression of you.