I've been meaning to have my friend and drummer Ben Jackson guest post about his thoughts on building a music career, and we finally came into synchronous orbit this week.
Ben has built an amazing career in Nashville over the last 8 years, running an amazing recording studio from his home, building Ableton rigs for bands around town, and touring with everyone from Joe Nichols to Sister Hazel. If anyone knows how to build a music career, it's Ben.
Ben will be posting a follow up blog to this in the next week on blog at www.benjacksonmusic.com/blog. We both agree this is a super deep topic, and we'll be exploring it more in the coming weeks. Now, on to the blog:
I frequently get asked “How did you get into all this?,” meaning, how did I build a career as a freelance musician in Nashville. The answer to this question is surprisingly simple, and could really be broken down into 2 points: Be Really Good At What You Do, and Be Someone People Like. Of course, there’s more depth to it than that, so here are my first 5 tips on building a career as a freelance musician.
1. FOCUSED GOALS
In order to achieve anything worth doing, you need to set both long and short term goals. For example, the Long Term Goal might be to become a professional freelance musician in Nashville. That was my goal.
The steps you need to take to achieve that goal are what make up your short term goals.
When I was nearing the end of college, my goal was to move to an “Industry Town,” and become a touring/session musician. Once I had chosen Nashville as my target city, I zeroed in on the styles of music happening in the scene and the players making that music. Then, I designed my practicing and weighted gigs I took around helping me prepare to be a musician in Nashville.
2. BE GOOD AT WHAT YOU DO
This seems obvious, but it’s too often glossed over by younger musicians. How do you know if you’re good? One good way is to listen to the guys who have the gigs you would like to have, and be able to honestly (and accurately) assess whether your playing is up to that level. If not, then you still need to work on it. I don’t know a single one of my colleagues or peers that don’t still practice this method to this day.
Do you want to tour with a major country act? Then you need to live in Nashville. No one is going to hold auditions in Rhode Island for a national touring country act.
Do you want to write or produce Top 40 pop hits? Then you need to live in L.A.
Do you want to play a variety of music, teach lessons, and not travel, then cities like Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta could be a great choice.
Understanding WHERE your chosen goals are attainable will go a long way toward helping you set and achieve them.
4. MAKING FRIENDS (NO NETWORKING)
Especially when you’re new to a scene, it’s paramount that you make friends and develop real relationships with the musicians you would like to work with. No one likes being “networked” in music.
This is a social art, and people call their friends to work with them. Being a “good hang” can be the difference in having a career or not. The “hang” is equally important (often more so) in helping people determine who gets a gig.
Think about it. Do you want to be on a bus for 23 hours or in a studio for 15 hours with a great player you can’t stand to be around, or would you take the guy/girl that’s almost as good and fun to be around?
Be real. Be humble. Be nice. And take Samuel L. Jackson’s advice…be cool.
5. CONFIDENCE AND SEIZING OPPORTUNITY
Practicing this step has benefited me greatly in my career. 6 months after I moving to Nashville, I got called to audition for a major label country artist named Aaron Tippin. During the audition, I was informed that a requirement for the gig was setting up and running backing tracks.. I had no idea how to do that at the time, but I knew someone who did and I was good with computers, so I told them “Absolutely, no problem.”
After eagerly accepting the gig, I got on the phone to my friend and said, “Hey man, so where do I learn how to do that?” Not only did I keep the gig (b/c I did my homework and learned how to do tracks), but I now set up tracks for a multitude of artists and tours every year.
Years later, I was asked to fill in periodically in the rock band Sister Hazel. My first show was still several months out when I got a call that there had been an issue and was asked if I could I get on a bus that night and do three shows in a row.
With my first show still being months out, I hadn’t prepared AT ALL. I could have easily passed, worrying that the lack of preparation would make me look bad and I wouldn’t be asked back. Instead, I dropped what I was doing and started charting. I charted until I had to get on the bus, and then again the next day, something like 40 tunes in total. I showed up to sound check, ran a couple songs, then played the gig that night. It went great and I’ve played the gig many times since because I was able to help them when they needed it and make them all comfortable on stage.
for the follow up blog to this one, check out http://www.benjacksonmusic.com/5-more-tips-for-building-a-career-in-music-part-2/