Archive for the 'The Chicago Beat' Category

08 6th, 2010 Chris Morrow

Chicago Original Band Venues Part III

euphony-productions-photo-chris-morrow1Chicago Suburban Original Band Venues

For this last blog on Chicago area venues, we are going to stay in the suburbs and look at venues that book original music. Although there are far fewer original music venues than Chicago proper, there are some good spots to play.

fans-in-crowd-picture2Types of venues

Original music venues in the suburbs are similar to the city venues but share traits of the cover venues too. Some are bar/pubs that host music on the weekends, some are large theater-style venues and some are coffeehouses. Again, I’ll grade the venues, but for this list, the qualities of the bands that play are not such a large factor.  I say that because I’ve seen great bands play lousy rooms and awful bands play theaters. Because the market is so crowded, original bands will play and get booked just about anywhere they can, just like the city. The difference is that the talent buyers seem less savvy than in the city and the bands seem less talented (of course, not the bands of anybody reading this blog!!!). I also suspect that good original bands know that their market (young, hip unmarried folk) migrate to the city where the original music venues are more established and ‘cool’. I also think that original bands know that making an impact in the city is much more of an accomplishment than in the burbs given the ‘snobby’ tastes of the city crowd and the number of other original bands competing for attention. I’ll factor in the size of the venue as the main criteria for a grade. After that, I consider the venues history and the quality of the experience I’ve had playing them. Almost all the venues on this list I’ve played more than twice with different bands and styles.

band-tour-bus-picture2Gigging

Gigging at these venues share traits of both the city circuit and the suburban cover circuit. Like the city, bands play may play a 45 minute set, or may play 3 hours like cover bands (or get a friends band to split the bill with). Most of the venues consider music to be a priority so usually there aren’t any hassles like the cover circuit. Generally, I’ve found to be playing these gigs pleasant and mostly fun. Usually there’s plenty of parking (take that Chicago), you can get real drinks on the house (not just PBR!!!), the food can be really awesome at the pubs and the crowds are usually okay (but not always).

money1Money

The money situation can also be a hybrid of both the city original circuit and suburban cover circuit. Some places pay a guarantee (although much smaller than what cover bands usually get) and some pay a cut of the door charge. The clout of the band has a lot to do with money, like anywhere else.

quigleys1A Level Venues

These venues are large and usually need bands to bring a large audience with them. But I have seen touring and local bands with no draw play them as well. I’ve had good experiences at all of them.

Fitzgerald’s (Berwyn), House Café (DeKalb), Kingpin (W. Chicago) Otto’s (DeKalb), Stage 83 (Lemont), Clearwater Theatre (Dundee),

My Favs: All of them

barB Level Venues

Like the cover band circuit, these venues range from awesome to lame, but they are mostly pretty cool.

Tiger O’Stylie’s (Berwyn), Penny Road Pub (Barrington), O’Malley’s (Alsip), Chicago St. Pub (Joliet), Liquid Blues (Woodstock-awesome food too), North Beach (Lombard), Harlem Ave Lounge (Blues music-Berwyn), Lunar Brewing (St. Charles) Bungalow Joe’s (Hanover Pk.), Gus’s Roadhouse (Woodstock)

My Favs: Tiger O’Stylie’s (probably because I live 5 minuets away from it), Liquid Blues (awesome food) and Chicago St. Pub (awesome food too!)

empty-bar3C Level-All Ages Venues

These venues are places that allow kids a place for their garage bands to play out. All of them are C Level in my book. But hey, the youngsters gotta get a taste of the life at some point! Enjoy.

Swing State (Lake Villa), Nite Light (Berwyn), Ashbury Coffeehouse (Willow Springs)

My Fav: the single craziest/strangest gig I’ve ever played in my life was at the Ashbury Coffeehouse so it gets my vote for Fav!



06 17th, 2009 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.

Contact Chris



05 2nd, 2009 Chris Morrow

Chicago Original Music Venues (Part II)

euphony-productions-photo-chris-morrowOriginal Music Lives and Breathes in the Burbs

So the city is a bit too wild for you?   Are you more a suburbs kind of band? Let’s take a trip down the Chicago suburban music scene then. The burbs of Chicago is a very large area covering many different neighborhoods and venues that are home to a huge variety of music. There are original music venues, cover band venues, ‘all ages’ spots and bars/pubs that hire bands of all types. We’ll examine some of the venues and bars/pubs that hire cover bands.

fans-in-crowd-pictureThe Types of Venues Around

All the venues listed here are bar-type establishments that either feature music as a major draw or hire out bands for weekends or special engagements. Like my previous Blog, I’ll give the venues an A, B or C grade to reflect my opinion of the venue. Once again, the single biggest factor for my grading is the quality of the bands playing the venues. I also consider the area the venues can be found in, the natural draws they command, quality of the stage/sound system and experience in general that I’ve found playing there.

band-tour-bus-pictureGigging

Bands typically are hired to play for at least 3 hours and typically bar owners want cover/top-40 music the patrons are familiar with. Most of these venues have patrons that come in spite of the music but don’t get discouraged. The venue management can also have varying degrees of apathy concerning the bands. Some of the venues the production of music seriously and some of them consider them a big hassle.  If the venues only have music on the weekends and are very small then the staff might not be to happy about a bunch of musicians taking up the space where paying customers could be sitting, making noise and possibly driving off business. In those situations, bands need to be professional, courteous to the staff and make the gig as fun as possible.

money

Show Me The Money!

Because the bands are ‘hired’ the venues typically pay a flat fee somewhere between $200-$600. Very popular, established bands can command fees in the thousands and of course the number of people the band brings, the quality of the performance and size of the venue are all factors that determine this pay structure. Some venues also pay a percentage of what the bar takes in when the band is performing.

cubby-bear“A” Level Venues

Again, these are larger rooms that have serious stages, serious sound systems, and lights. Music is typically a major production at these venues so there are sometimes backstage areas, drinks and meals thrown in and a lot of other perks. These types of venues are usually booked by more established bands that draw a large crowd. These venues are often booked by booking agents that know what the bands can draw. Nice work if you can get it.   In Chicago Joey DiMarco of United Talent books a lot of the music venues.

Walter Payton’s Roundhouse (Aurora), Durty Nellie’s (Palatine), Cubby Bear (Lincolnshire), Frankie’s Blue Room (Naperville), 115 Bourbon St. (Marionette Pk.)

My favs: Frankie’s Blue room and Walter Payton’s Roundhouse

quigleys“B” level venues

The B level venues cover a wide spectrum of spots that range from large to small and awesome to lame. This seems to be where most bands compete for gigs, to get audiences, and to earn their spot in the A venues. There seem to be enough gigs to go around so don’t sweat about it just work on tuning up the machine, getting that tight sound, and picking material the crowd will like not you that is if you want to get to the “A” level venues. This list will change a lot due to venues changing names and management this is the most up to date list I have. These venues are usually booked by the bands themselves so put on your salesman cap and go for it!

Mickey Finns (Libertyville), Austin’s Fuel Room (Libertyville), Quigley’s (Naperville), Lamplighter Inn (Palatine), Lilly’s at Pheasant Run (St. Charles), Liquid Blues (Woodstock), Curly’s (Glen Ellyn), CJ Arthurs (Wilmette), Ballydoyle (Aurora and Downers Groove), Sam Maguire’s (Orland Pk.), Maple Ave Pub (Lisle), Chicago City Limits (Schaumburg), Shark City (Glendale Heights),

My favs: Curly’s and Quigley’s

johns-buffet“C” level venues

The C level venues usually aren’t all that bad to play, tend to be very small, pay smaller amounts, and book local bands that know about the area and can bring small but enthusiastic crowds. These tend to be where a lot of first-timers go to pay dues and get their acts going. Everybody’s got to start somewhere so get out there and take your lashes and earn some stripes.

Brixie’s (Brookfield), John’s Buffet (Winfield)

Contact Chris



04 22nd, 2009 Chris Morrow

Chicago Original Music Venues

euphony-productions-photo-chris-morrow1This is the first of any I will write over the next few weeks on where to play original music in downtown Chicago. “So where do you play shows at?” and “What are some places we can play?” seems to be questions I get on a daily basis from musicians, students and friends. It’s too bad there’s no simple answer. Different types of bands play different places. Since I’m playing in so many different styles and types of bands I could be anywhere at any given time. But I’ll try to break this list down into several categories.

Original Music Lives and Breathes in Chicago

downtown-chicago-pictureFor this Blog, lets focus on venues that “Original Rock Bands” would be likely to play. Chicago is such a large market that venues tend to be very genre/style/age specific and different parts of the area feature different types of music. For example, very broadly, you’ll find more original rock, jazz and blues in Chicago-proper and cover and tribute bands in the suburbs. Then you break down different neighborhoods for even more specific styles. For example, very broadly, you’ll find original Rock music on the Northside of Chicago and more Jazz and Blues on the Southside. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules that I can think of too. I’ll also keep this list targeted to places that local acts can reasonably book if they are qualified. I’ll leave out the big rooms that national touring bands tend to snatch up. If your band is at the level that can fill a place like the Vic, then your band probably has booking agents doing this kind of work for you.

Where Can You Go For Information on Venues?

new-paper-stand-photoDisclaimer: these kind of lists change on an almost yearly basis. I’ll try to stick to venues that have been around on the scene for quite a while. To do your own research, read local music periodicals like the Chicago Reader, Red Eye, Innerview and Newcity for Chicago-proper and the Illinois Entertainer and Suburban Nitelife for the surrounding suburbs. You can also find lists of venues in musician periodicals like the Musicians Atlas and the Musicians Guide to Touring and Promotion. These types of periodicals are expensive (the Atlas is $50 at the time of this writing) and covers the national scene as well. If you plan on touring, then they are great investments.

The Types of Venues Around.

picture-of-clubI’ll break the venues down into grades A-B-C reflecting my opinion of the venue. I can already hear the uproar of people that are going to disagree with my grading, but that’s okay. I have based my grades on many factors, but the single biggest factor is the quality of the bands that play there. Again, many will disagree with my opinions, but we all know that good bands bring good crowds and that gives them leverage to play better rooms. If a band can bring 150 people to the Double Door on a weekday, chances are they are a tight, entertaining and talented band. If a band is playing for years and can’t bring 5 people to the Mutiny on a weekend night, they’re doing something wrong. Say what you will about how great you think X band is, but I believe we all know a real good band and a real lame band when we hear them.

Gigging

band-tour-bus-picture2At these original venues, there are 2-4 bands performing a set apiece of about 45 minutes. Almost none of these venues have a built in crowd. The people that come do so to see the band they came to see.

Show Me The Money!!!

moneyAll these venues pay the door. In other words, people pay a cover charge to get in and the venue splits it up to the bands according to their own deals. In a sense that’s the way the music business really works. It’s capitalism pure and simple. Whoever brings in the money gets the money. However, the real problem is venue size. If you are playing small rooms, there’s a limit to how much money you can make. Plus, that’s also assuming you don’t get ripped off by the venue. Almost every gig it seems I hear something about how the venue shorting the count of people that paid cover. The only way around this is getting someone you trust to collect the door money and the A and B level venues usually don’t allow that. Most of the time the best you can do is have someone standing next to the door man double checking the count. All I can say is that you’d better not expect to get rich playing these venues. Even at major venues, I’ve seen great bands get paid peanuts.

Here are those Club Ratings I promised

(A) Level Venues

double-doorThese venues are large and in charge. The capacity tends to be counted in a hundreds or more. Since the bands have to be able to bring a crowd of that size, the bands are more demanding on the venues for extras. So these venues tend to have nice backstage areas for the bands to chill in, throw in drinks (although even that is changing in these economic times) and have professional sound systems, lights and spacious stages. You generally have to be at the venue early to set up and sound check. Even the monitors might be decent too! However, you’d better deliver a large crowd or expect to never play there again. These venues tend to take out a major chunk of the door money for their sound men and pay the bands the difference. If the venue doesn’t make enough at the door to cover their operating expenses, then you’ve probably burned that bridge. The cover charge at these venues also tends to run higher, usually $10 or so and I typically see bands make between $100 and $150. The larger rooms and higher cover charge rooms seem to favor bands making more money, but this isn’t always the case. I did see a weeknight at the Double Door where four of the best bands in the city cut up $22 between themselves. But, every time I’ve played one of these spots, I’ve been impressed with the other bands and the experience in general. The A level spots are usually worth it to play if you can qualify.

Metro, Double Door, Kinetic Playground, Martyrs, Abbey Pub, Reggie’s Rock Club
My favs: Kinetic Playground and Martyrs

(B) level venues

band-at-beat-kitchenThese venues have capacity of about 30-100 give or take. They usually have sound systems, lights and so on, but the people running them may or may not be up to the task.  I usually find the soundmen good though, although I don’t usually find the monitor mixes up to par. Sometimes national touring bands come through these joints if they don’t have a following in Chicago. The bands I’ve seen at the spots range from pretty awesome to piss poor. Cover charge is typically $5 to $10. But because the smaller size of the rooms and smaller cover charge, you should expect to make no more than $50 unless you bring some kind of a huge crowd. I typically see bands make about $20. These spots don’t have backstage areas, usually don’t throw in drinks, and generally don’t help the bands make the experience any easier. Sometimes these places can be a real joy to play, sometimes Hell on Earth to play.

Elbo Room, Cobra Lounge, Beat Kitchen (good food!), Cubby Bear, Heartland Café (good food), Alive One, McDonnas, Reggies Music Joint (not the Rock Club), Silvies Lounge, Tonic Room, Wise Fools Pub, Subterranean, The Store
My favs: Elbo Room and Reggies Music Joint (good food too!)

(C) level venues

phyllis-musical-innThese venues are the worst ones to play for my money. Almost everything about them is lame. They have no capacity for a real crowd, lame sound, small stage (if there is one), no crowd, no parking, no free drinks (a deal on Pabst Blue Ribbon seems standard at these spots for whatever reason) and the bands that play there are also usually not so hot so the people you do bring might leave before you’re set because the other bands suck so bad. Sorry if that offends anybody who plays these spots regularly, but you should set your sights a little higher if you do. Plus, I’ve never been paid at these venues! If you’re a professional musician who needs gigs to pay rent, then just say no. It’s a straight up waste of time. These kinds of venues seem to cater to first timers, amateurs and other players that money is of no concern. I guess that’s okay if that’s your thing, but be warned now. My beef with these spots is that they are so uninspiring to play. They seem to go out of their way to make the experience difficult. I once played a gig at Phyllis’s Musical Inn that was supposed to start at 9 pm. It was a night of a Cubs game and we had to sound check during the commercial breaks! The game went into extra innings and we didn’t start playing until 11:15! The game hadn’t even finished, we just started because we were so pissed and our crowd had already left by then anyways. There’s no reason for any self respecting musician to have to put up with that kind of treatment from a venue.

Mutiny, Phyllis’s Musical Inn, Cals Bar, Ronny’s, Fantasy Lounge, Red Line Tap, Lilly’s, U.S. Beer Co., Underground Lounge, the Orphanage,
My fav: Underground Lounge (a cool vibe in there I just like)

Contact Chris


04 3rd, 2009 Chris Morrow

Drumming in the Real World, Part 2

The Case For Specialization

In my previous blog, I spoke about the way that I make a living playing drums: lots of gigs with different groups that play a wide range of music styles. In my travels I encounter a lot of resistance to the idea of being so diverse (or even being a professional musician at all, but that’s for another blog). ‘Why do some musicians believe this?’ is a question I’ve often pondered. I’ve come to a few conclusions

that I’d like to share. I believe that they’re a few legitimate reasons to take this stance and a few bogus reasons. Let’s examine the case for specialization.

1. Famous Musicians are not diverse themselves. 8-O

Many people believe that “since so in so doesn’t play such-in-such, than why should I go there”. I don’t think Ozzy Osbourne ever sang a jazz standard, nor did Metallica ever cover a Johnny Cash song. I could be wrong, maybe they did. But if they did it isn’t on any popular culture radar that I know of. I call this reason the “Be true to yourself” reason. I consider this a good reason but not if you’re making a living as a musician. If you’re an amateur musician with a regular 9-5 job to support yourself with, then this reason makes perfect sense. If your next mortgage payment isn’t riding on your next gig, then you can play whatever music you want and sleep soundly. I would also say that anyone who uses this reason shouldn’t try this logic on a professional musician, it’s just condescending.

2. You have a better chance at making the biggest splash by specializing in what you’re great at!

metallica-pictureMetallica may never play “Fly Me to the Moon”, but their influence is wider and deeper than any musician playing that song in a local wine bar. However, this reason is really more about vanity than reality. All musicians that are writing and performing original material want that material to be heard and hit the lottery doing it. I call this the “Rock Star” reason, although this reason applies to musicians playing any style. I’m sure any Jazz musician would want to be the next Miles Davis or John Coltrane, any Country singer the next Shania Twain.   Again it makes sense in a logical way, but I find most musicians that use this logic don’t understand the realities about becoming a rock star. The amount of luck, hard work, networking, money needed as well as other intangible factors would blow most peoples minds. I think this is why a lot of people stay at the amateur level, never playing music full time.

3. Your Music Scene Won’t Allow You to Specialize.

There are great reasons to specialize but I believe that reason depends on your circumstances and that they do not apply universally.   I live in Chicago-area, which has a huge music scene and market. I can name many local musicians, great players that specialize in one style. They can do this because of the size of the Chicago-area market. There are enough Jazz bars to support a lot of Jazz musicians and Rock and Blues clubs and so on. These players may not make the kind of mark that Metallica may make, but they make a living playing in styles they love. I see this same principle in other large markets like New York, L.A. and so on. But if you’re living in a smaller market, then your options decline rapidly. I don’t think you could make a living playing Jazz in a town that has only 4 four Country/Western bars in it.

If You Have the Guts and an Unlimited Cash Flow Then Go for it!

kenny-eronoff-pictureIt seems to me that making a living as a specialist is a longer shot, but the rewards are great if you “make it”. But a generalist can also “make it” and probably has an easier time in the music industry while trying to “make it” because the generalist has the advantage of more gigs, networking opportunities and more outlets to “make it” in. The downside to being a generalist is the time you spend playing wedding and cover band gigs is time that could be spent making your big break happen. In that sense, I guess it’s a risk assessment. But I also know that no musician thinks that way. Most musicians tend to use their guts when trying to decide which way to go. I know I did.    One musician that comes to mind that is diverse is Kenny Ernoff He plays with John Mellencamp but has filled in for all sorts of famous musicians in his travels.  I suppose that specialization and generalization will always exist and there will always be a conflict of ideas between both groups that support their cause.  There will always be musicians that hit the lottery playing their exclusive niche,  and there will always be musicians that play in every style.   My opinion is that everybody will decide for himself or herself which path they take and no one should be judged for that decision.   I take the path of generalization because that’s the path that makes the most sense to me and I enjoy it thoroughly. I simply find it harder to make a living playing only one style. I would also probably get bored playing only one style. I understand when others don’t take that path. It is easier and it eliminates a lot of questions and time spent learning and practicing a new style or two. But I don’t understand when others frown down on others decisions to pursue different courses. When it comes to important decisions like whether to pursue a career in music and how to go about it, I believe in a ‘follow your heart’ philosophy. Really only you can answer that question for you.

Until next time just follow your heart and it will lead you to the right place for you.

Contact Chris


euphony-productions-photo-chris-morrow3

How One Drummer in Chicago Pays the Rent…

The other day while visiting a Sam Ash to replace some gear I ran into an old co-worker of mine Jim. It seems I’m always replacing one thing or another on my drum set. Anyway Jim had hired me to work for Guitar Center when I was 21, just out of college and living on my own for the first time and he was the manager of that particular location. He came up and as usual when meeting old acquaintances, asked where I was working and what I was up to. It was with quite a bit of satisfaction that I told him I was working for myself. I can still hardly believe it every time I say it even though it’s been 4 successful (at least by my way of thinking) years. Don’t get me wrong I worked for that G.C. for just over 2 years and I loved it. I’ll always be grateful that he took a chance on a clueless kid with no sales experience and a music performance degree. Now Jim was working for the rival music store. Anyway the next question Jim asked was as predictable as the first, Jim said “Really, he said so you make enough money to do that? How?” I gave him the only answer I know.

I Live by the Art of Diversity

In all my experiences with other musicians of all types, it never ceases to amaze me how few musicians really understand or apply the advice of becoming diverse. In today’s economic climate musicians should be ready to exploit every possible opportunity. If you want more gigs, then you better be ready to say yes to whatever might come along. In the last three months, I’ve played Jazz, Blues, Rock, Fusion and Punk gigs. And that’s only three months. In the last 2 years, I could add Heavy Metal, Country, Gospel and Latin/World music to that list. I know it’s easy for musicians to focus on a handful of styles they like, everyone does it naturally, but if you consider your professional career, then it pays (literally) to look beyond to find work opportunities.

You Have Better be Ready to do Your Home Work

Of course, if you want to sustain a career playing a lot of different styles then you need to learn them and well. You’d better be ready to put in all the necessary time practicing and studying. Find a good teacher, crack a book or watch an instructional video. All the information is out there, you just need to take the time to find it and absorb it.

So How Does One Become Diversified?

It might be a good idea to start with styles that are close to your heart. Start with different genres that commonly get mixed with the ones you like. For example, if you’re a Rock drummer at heart, then you could get in to Punk, Blues or Country. Those styles have a lot in common from a drummers stand point. On a Country gig, you’ll play Blues tunes naturally because so many Country tunes are built on Blues structures. If you like the heavier side of Rock, then start exploring Metal and its off shoot styles. Blues musicians could make the transition to R&B easily. We know all these styles crossover in pop music all the time, there’s no law against working musicians crossing over either.

Get Your Name Out There Too!!

Blogging and Internet Marketing are great ways to get the word out about who you are and it can make you some money too. You also have to let go of the notion that you should stick to one style and just play no no matter the style. I’d offer it for your consideration that a lot of the great players we admire cross genre lines all the time. I also think a lot of the greatest players like Hendrix, Clapton, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie were great because they ignored genres. Herbie Hancocks Grammy winning album “River: the Joni Letters” is a brilliant mix of Jazz and Folk Rock.

So What Else Can a Chicago Musician do?

Studio sessions have been a steady source of work for me. But the studio scene has changed a lot. Nowadays musicians do a lot of home and internet-based recording. This means that you could set up your own studio through your computer and trade files online. This requires knowledge of DAW’s and studio hardware. If you have knowledge of many styles, then the number of sessions and musicians you can record with multiplies.

Giving Music Lessons is Always Another Answer.

Finally, I do a lot of teaching. This is another area that benefits form being diverse. If you know a lot of styles, then you can teach a wide variety of students. For example, if you know Jazz, then you can get into teaching students in school jazz programs. The best thing I can say to anyone who is going for a career in music is this: don’t say no to anything unless it’s obviously a waste of time. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find, who’ll you’ll meet and what you’ll learn. A lot of this diatribe right now has to do with your skills and your mindset to applying those skills. There are other skills you need to make a living playing an instrument: Good networking skills to get yourself in touch with people that want to hire you, good people skills to interact with those you do gig with so you get called back and an open mind to be ready for anything. Let’s get into that later. Till then, keep groovin’ and I’ll see ya out there.

Written by: Chris Morrow

Contact Chris


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