How to Be a Musician in LA While Remaining Dry and Fed
To be clear, I’m not talking about becoming the next Justin Bieber, because if I knew how, I wouldn’t tell you. Your soul will thank me later. I’m talking about sideman or “hired gun” work.
1. Show up on time.
Before you say, “duh” and go onto the next article (it’s about a blind Korean war veteran’s summer romance with a Portuguese Man o’ war and it’s beautiful), hear me out, ‘cause a lot of you are stepping in this one (author included). If you’re hired for a gig, there’s an excellent chance that the artist is paying for rehearsal time. If you show up late, the artist is wasting money on the rehearsal space and on your ass. Respect their time. If the rehearsal begins at 8, plan to be set up by 8.
On time is late.
Most people will avoid conflict at all costs (author included), so your apology for being late will likely be met with a sympathetic, “no worries.” You’ll only find out it was a factor when you start receiving Facebook invites to gigs you’re not on.
And if you’re late to the gig, I will personally sell your instruments on craigslist and use your picture for all my freaky posts in the “casual encounter” section.
2. There will always be somebody better than you. Befriend these people.
If they’re that good, they work a lot. At some point they’ll need a sub. In general it’s a good idea to be friendly (if not full-on bowling-partner, ass-grabbin’, use-the-C-word-in-front-of-their-grandparents close) with everyone on the scene (this includes promoters, unfortunately). It’s a dizzyingly small world. One douchey outing could erase years of showing up on time.
3. If you’re not prepared for an audition, reschedule.
Being prepared seems obvious, right? In my experience it’s on par with making sure complete strangers get their oil changed regularly. I can’t tell you how many auditions I’ve sat through in which the “player” had only listened to the material once, during which time he was legally dead. Or he only learned two of the four songs he was sent when Dennis Hastert was Speaker of the House. And, of course, he “learned” the songs as much as I “own” a Tasmanian devil.
If you are any kind of player, learning four songs should not be hard for you. Unless you’re auditioning for The Mars Volta, but they split up so you have no excuses!
And NEVER suggest that we “jam” in an audition. Do not use the words “let’s,” “just” or “jam” in any order, unless you brought every band member a jar of jam, in which case, say “preserves.” Oh, you can play Giant Steps in all twelve keys at the same time? I can Google a 10-hour video of paint drying before you get through one chorus.
You’re lazy and you don’t practice, why would I want to jam with you? That’s like
having sex with a virgin letting you drive me home after you failed your permit test because you were drunk.
Can you imagine Bryan Cranston auditioning for the role of Walter White this way? “So, I didn’t prepare the material you sent over so wha’d’ya say we play some freeze tag? Oh, by the way, do you validate?”
4. Be fun. And if you’re not fun, try not to be completely unpleasant.
Think about it from a the band’s perspective. Yes, you can play, but we have to spend time with you. And if it’s a tour, we’ll be spending a lot of time with you. If you’re prone to fits of do-you-know-who-I-am? egomania, we will gladly take the slightly weaker player who can help us with our Foosball game and won’t blame the music when he makes a mistake.
5. It’s okay to work for free, if you enjoy the music.
You’ll be paid to play plenty of shitty music, don’t do it for free. But if the music-to-budget ratio leans heavily on the side of “music,” what else will you be doing that night? Reading Pop & Scotch I imagine. Do this math: If you like the music enough to show up pro bono, there’s a good chance other people enjoy the music as well, and will be more likely to drop $10 at the Troubadour at 11pm on a Tuesday to see the show. There’s a good chance the door money won’t find its way into your pocket, but having shown up (on time) shows that you have character and people with money will want to work with you. You put the shred before the bread.
6. Listen to jazz, but not too much.
The best musicians I know have at least dabbled in this alchemy. Spending quality time in this idiom will improve your time, open up your ears and class up your vocabulary. Just don’t become a full-time jazz player.
Imagine having this profound understanding of music, to the point where you can listen to Sun Ra and understand what’s going on and “Bitches Brew” is unironically your favorite record. Every time Taylor Swift gets piped into Macy’s you’ll want to drive a crocheting needle into your temple (more so than the rest of us). You won’t be able to leave the house (well, shitty apartment, you’re a jazzer now, after all) with a suitcase full of blunt objects.
7. Just play the damn parts.
Granted, with every new player, the sound of a band will inevitably change. You can leave your stank on the sheets, just don’t leave lipstick on the collar.