Jun 17th, 2009 by Chris Morrow

7 Steps To Being A Better Musician

euphony-productions-photo-chris-morrowChris Talks About Music Etiquette

In the last 4 years, I’ve played 377 gigs. I’d like to speak on the behavior that I’ve seen on and off the stage that I consider to be lame and annoying. I hear a lot from musicians I play with about how the “scene sucks” and about how hard it is to be taken seriously.     I know that the music business is tough. There are no guarantees. But I still find it irritating for musicians that make no effort to find their own faults and correct them. As the man said “the unexamined life isn’t worth living”.    So I’m going to write out a list of what I consider stupid things to do when trying to make a go of it as a musician.   Maybe those of who that are reading this don’t think this applies. That’s not the point. The real point of this list is to get you thinking about what you look like through your audience’s eyes. I consider this behavior to be self-defeating.   If you don’t make an effort to find and correct self-defeating behavior, than I have no sympathy when you don’t reach your goals. If you are serious about getting something out of your music, then you need to be serious about finding and fixing problems. For me, I consider it to be a part of my being a “professional musician” to think about where I might be going wrong, how to fix it if I am and keep it from tripping me up. Self-awareness isn’t easy, but crucial to success.

1.  Drop The Attitude

The first and most important behavior to correct is the attitude of thinking there is nothing wrong. You need to be ready and open to hear criticism. You might need to seek it out so you don’t lose your perspective. Record gigs so you can hear mistakes. Be honest about them and put in the time to fix them.

2.  Be Prepared

The second behavior to correct is not being prepared. Every gig you play you should ready to go when you hit the stage. You should gather anything you need before hand and not have to jump off stage after the first song because you need to get whatever. You should have your set lists, any music or charts, drinks, gear and anything else ready to go when you hit that first note.

3. Get To The Gig Early

You should be at the gig with enough time to get ready, warm up, tune and sound check. It seems every time someone runs into a gig with only 5 minutes till downbeat you can count on a failure of some kind.   It might be technical or mental but not getting to the gig early usually means you’re going be stressed out and not thinking about the performance.   Lack of preparation also means that there is going to be a lot of taking to band mates on stage trying to figure something out when you should be playing. And that is the biggest sin on stage: taking and not playing.

4. Key Into To The Audience

Ignoring the audience. You should try to watch your audience to see how they are responding. If everybody is ignoring you, than it’s time to change up your tunes, energy level or volume level (usually that means downward). If you are so wrapped up in your own musical world that you don’t see what’s going on around you, than you need to snap out of it and try to connect with your audience. Sometimes that means bringing the energy up to get people to bob their heads. Sometimes that means chilling out the vibe to let the audience relax and come to you, then bring the energy up once you’ve got them interested. Don’t take your audience for granted. Make them keep their ears and eyes on you and your band. You might need to get your eyes up and on the audience to make some connections. A guitar solo where the musician keeps his eyes on the floor or the axe just makes the audience bored.

5.  Have Originality With The Audience

Asking the audience “Questions”. Don’t get on stage and ask “how’s everyone doing tonight?” Nobody responds and that usually just makes the audience suddenly uncomfortable. However this is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes asking questions works, but usually only if the audience is really worked up. If the audience is quiet, than you should stick to making statements like “hope everybody is enjoying themselves and ready for some music”. If you’re on stage and the audience is quiet, than make statements about your bands website, merch or CDs for sale or email signup lists. I think the worse thing any musician can do is to single out people in the audience and try to get them to respond to a question. The performance takes on the quality of bad stand up comedy at that point.

5.  Have Your Gear Ready To Go!

Gear problems during the act. I’m going to lose my mind if I go to another gig and the guitarist pedal board doesn’t work again. This falls under preparation again. If you have gear problems, why didn’t you find out about them earlier like at sound check so you’d have time to fix them before your first note? Excessive tuning. I see this a lot too and it bugs me and I’m sure it bugs the audience. I see guitarists and bassists tuning their axe after every song. You should tune your axe before you hit the stage. If your axe is going out of tune after 5 minutes, then you need to get a new instrument or do something about the one you have. Getting a tuning pedal or system that allows you to mute the sound of the axe is crucial if you’re tuning so much.

6. Have The Right Kind Of Gear

Having too much and the wrong kind of gear. I see a lot of musicians that play tiny clubs and bars with huge speakers and amps and huge drum sets. Almost all the gigs I’ve ever played, all the guitarists and keyboardists need are combos that are of a modest size. You don’t need the volume of a half stack or the pain of transporting and carrying it around. Usually when you need that kind of huge sound, there is a sound system there to amplify it! Plus the amount of stage space large rigs take up does nothing but irritate your fellow band mates. Maybe a half stack is rock and roll, but smaller combos are easier to handle, take up less space and might even leave space in your car

7. Know How To Operate Your Gear

Not knowing how the gear even works. This rule just speaks for itself. I just love it when a guitarist doesn’t know what the “gain” knob on his amp is really for. Don’t even get me started on musicians that buy mixers. That always just ends in tears.

I guess the one thing I really want to say is that if you want to come across as a pro, than behave like one. Prepare, know your gear, know your music, get to the gig early enough and do whatever it takes to stay in positive mindset.

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