Sure, we work in the music business. Sure, it’s art, and art can’t be defined, but if you’re serious about having a career in the music business, you have to treat it the same way someone who wears a business suit to work treats their job. Here are five things that are absolutely essential if you want to be viewed as and treated like a real pro.
1. BE ON TIME. This is the big one. Don’t ever be late to anything, ever. Leave your house an hour early if you have to. Whatever you need to do to make sure you’re where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, do it. No one wants to hear your excuses, and I’ve seen people lose their gigs over punctuality issues. Even if it’s a small gig at the local pub with your friends, or a relaxed rehearsal, show up early. Everyone will appreciate it. And if you’re the ONLY early one… keep it up! It’ll only help you in the long run.
2. HAVE PRO GEAR, IN GOOD CONDITION. Make sure you have the highest quality equipment that you can afford. You want gear that is durable, time-tested, made by trustworthy brands, and most of all, sounds great.
Is your pedal board covered in dirt and sticky, dried up spilled booze? Or is it clean and organized? Are your cables neatly wrapped, or are they a tangled mess? Are your drum heads dented or cymbals cracked? These things ALL matter. It’s absolutely essential to keep your gear clean, organized, and in good working condition at all times. You should have backup supplies (cables, batteries, picks, sticks, etc) on hand. You should have a back-up plan for when something inevitably DOES go wrong when it counts.
When you’re walking into an audition, one of the first things they’ll notice is your equipment. If it doesn’t scream “pro,” it’s screaming “amateur.” Get some road cases and keep your gear in good shape. Your career will thank you.
3. STAY SOBER. You knew this would come up eventually. You may be on stage and the crowd keeps feeding you shots or beers. You might think it’s rude to pass. But you should, and here’s why; simply put, being intoxicated on stage, or at rehearsal, makes you look like an amateur. You’ve probably heard people say things like “oh I can still perform just fine when I’m drunk,” but the cold hard truth is that they simply can’t. It may embarrass your band mates, it could upset the venue owner (who is expecting you to deliver a quality performance), and the audience will think you’re just another washed-up wannabe. Yes, that’s harsh, but it’s the truth. Keep a clear head until the job is done. Doing this will not only make you a better performer, but you’ll gain the respect of the other players, and that’s something you should be glad to earn.
4. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Exercise, diet, and rest. Repeat. When on stage, keeping up the energy is essential to putting on a good performance. In Nashville, lots of people play 4 hour sets downtown. Long sets like that are hard on your body and voice, so when you’re off stage, take the steps to keep yourself healthy and in shape. That way, you can rock out for a few hours and barely even break a sweat!
5. BE PREPARED. Don’t just learn the couple songs they asked you to learn. Learn the whole catalogue if you can! Don’t just learn your parts, learn the other parts, too! Practice until it’s second nature. Write out charts if you need to. Learn the lyrics. If you come to rehearsal or the show and you’re the most prepared one, you’ll be the one who gets more calls in the future. If you’re auditioning for an artist, learn as much of their material as possible in case they throw you a curveball. Copy the guitar tones, the drumming style, or the vocal style. All of these things will set you apart from the rest, and you’ll have a lot more luck landing the “dream gig.”
I could make a list of a million things, but to me, these are the top five.