This is part two in my post of That Time I Was A ... Musician, to read Part I click here
How to become a musician
This is perhaps the easiest decision, but requires the most work. If you’re at the stage where you’ve decided you want to play music, or be in a band, then you likely have a good idea of what you’d like to play. Whether it be a guitar, drums, piano, strings or singing – or a combination of all of them – I can’t tell you what you should play, but I CAN tell you that whatever you choose, it’ll be worth it.
Don’t be afraid to try and fail. Learning any instrument is hard and takes hours of practice. Perhaps most importantly is to remember that the more you learn, the more you’ll realize you don’t know.
Neil Peart, Rush’s long-time drummer and lyricist, continued to take lessons and hone is skills on the drums right up until his retirement at age 64. Music is a life-long endeavour. I don’t say this to overwhelm you, in fact I say it to excite you. Within a relatively short time you will be able to play your instrument, but finding new ways to play it, new sounds, new melodies and new people to share that experience with is one of the most fun things about being a musician.
So how do you become a musician?
You just start playing. Pick up that guitar, start pounding away on those drums or piano keys. Take lessons, join other people just starting out, learn to play along with favourite songs or albums and just have fun!
How to make money being a musician
Once you have picked up your instrument and started learning it, you’ll likely get to a point where you’d like to perform in front of people. If you don’t ever want to do that, that’s OK too.
As I stated in my opening of Part I, making money as a musician is hard. Really hard. If you’re thinking of getting into music because you want to be rich and famous, like the Justin Biebers of the world, then you need to realize that for every Justin Bieber there are literally THOUSANDS of artists struggling to make a living.
First and foremost, you need talent. You can be as hard a worker and have the best of intentions, but people need to want to hear your songs. You can’t hide a lack of talent. Period.
Secondly, whether embarking on a solo career, or trying to start a band you should surround yourself with like-minded individuals. You can’t do it alone, and you need to be with people who will work as hard as you will to achieve whatever goals you’ve set for yourself.
Once you have done that – which is no small feat – I recommend setting up a regular practice schedule. As I mentioned in Part I, it was with my time in TBM that I learned the value of this. We practiced three days a week – every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday – as a band, while honing and writing songs on our own time as well. Regular practice gets you in sync with your band mates, and allows you to learn your songs so that you can play them in your sleep. This is important. When you get on stage, guitar strings can break, drum sticks can break, amps can stop working, PA systems can cut out. If you know your songs front to back, you can be guaranteed that despite any hiccup you will still put on an amazing show.
Once you have a set list of songs down, don’t forget to work on your stage presence. Too many bands forget this. Music is an auditory endeavor, but during live shows people also have to stare at you for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour or longer. Don’t make that boring for them. Have your singer, or if you are the singer, work on their presence. Practice singing to different sides of the stage, and getting used to what it feels like to move around. If your band is the type that likes to jump around, or head-bang, practice that. Believe it or not, you can’t just do that and have it look natural. Also practice on your transitions from song to song. Are you going to talk to the crowd, dedicate the song to someone, or tell a story? Or will you just jump right into another song? Nothing is worse than a band standing around all looking at each other as the crowd wonders what they’re doing for two minutes.
Once you have all of this down, start playing some shows. If you’re over the age of majority in your province/state, look for bars that host open mic nights, or local bands. Get out to shows and start chatting with other bands and musicians. The greatest way to get shows is to approach a bar or club with another band that you can show will bring in customers to that venue.
Marketing your band is a great way to get attention, and is now easier than ever. Post videos with song clips, create social media accounts, and interact with fans and other bands online to grow your following.
As your fan base grows, start extending your reach outside of your own city. Look for festival shows, and other touring bands that would allow you to join their tours. Attend conferences like National Music Week, and do your best to be included in band showcases. These showcases are attended by music label reps and can be a springboard to a career.
As I said, it’s hard to make money. It includes a lot of hard work. But if you’re talented, surrounded by the right people and willing to stick with it, good things will happen.
For more information, I recommend checking out local shows. If you live in Calgary, check out the National Music Centre, The Blind Beggar’s open mic night, and shows at Dicken’s, Vern’s and many other venues across the city.
Have a question or comment? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!