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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Attributes Of A Touring Musician

I have a number of books that are being released at the upcoming Winter NAMM 2011 show in Anaheim in mid-January. One is called The Touring Musician's Handbook, which is a natural follow-up to The Studio Musician's Handbook that was released last year.

The Touring Musician's Handbook isn't so much about touring with your band as it is getting a gig as a sideman with a somewhat established artist. It covers things like preping your gear and personal items before a tour, proper tour etiquette, and finding the right tech, among many other things.

Here's a brief excerpt from Chapter 3 regarding the attributes of the typical touring musician.

Every touring musician has mostly the same attributes. They’re demanded by the nature of the gig.
Your Chops
Despite what you may think, the typical touring sideman is not all about chops. Sure they’re important, but your ability to learn and retain the music is much more significant than your technical chops. Can you learn a body of work quickly, play it really well, and not forget anything from show to show? Can you play with confidence under unpredictable conditions? You can have the best chops in the world, but without those other traits, you’ll find yourself soon sitting in the audience instead of on stage.
Most of what we do has very little to do with playing, but has everything to do with entertainment. If most musicians could keep the entertainment and sales side of the business on their minds, they would work more and they would probably do a better job in most situations.
Sax player Ed Wynne
Of course you need a minimum amount of proficiency on your instrument, but that limit is dictated by the type of music and the role you’re asked to fill. The demands for a bass player playing with jazz fusion keyboardist George Duke are a lot different from what folk balladeer Leonard Cohen would require. Playing rhythm guitar behind country music star Reba McEntire requires a whole different skill set than playing guitar behind alt-rocker Billy Corgan. Some rolls require a precise technician with superior physical dexterity while others need you to be solid in the pocket pushing the rhythm and nothing more. But whatever the role, you have to do it to the satisfaction of the artist, and do it so well that your performance is never a concern. Part of the reason that you’re hired is for the security of knowing that your parts will always be played just as the artist needs and wants.
Your Personality
Your reputation among other musicians and people within the touring industry is what gets you hired and keeps you working, so if other artists, musicians, producers and engineers like you as a person, like how you play, and like the feeling you bring to a rehearsal and tour, then you’re more likely to get calls for work. If you were cooped up in a submarine for a while, you’d sure want to get along with the other people there with you. Obviously, touring conditions aren’t even close to that in most ways (although a bus is a little like a submarine in terms of how intimate the quarters are), but the fact that you are working very closely with other players, crew, production, artists, label and agency people and who knows who else, usually means that the easier you are to work with, the more likely you’ll get asked back the next time, or referred for another gig. 
Playing comes first and it always will, but if you make the people paying your check uncomfortable in even the slightest way, it will come back to haunt you. Smiles and a pleasant, accommodating attitude, as well as superb personal hygiene (that’s so important!) and an appropriate sense of style go really far in the touring business. There are a lot of great players available and unless you’re something unbelievably special, the people paying your check will always take the player easiest to work with, all things being equal. No back-talk, no sass, no snide remarks, nothing other than a wide smile and a “Tell me what you want,” and “No Problem!” attitude is what the people with the ability to hire you are looking for.
If you’re too much of a personality yourself, you might have difficulties. That’s just purely from a support musician’s standpoint. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have your own personality or opinions or wants and desires, but you have to be flexible and easy going enough to understand that it’s not about you. It’s just about creating a vibe and the individual doesn’t matter so much.
Violist Heather Lockie
How amicable are you? Can you get along with everyone else in the band? That’s important, but not essential. Are you able to detach from everybody and not worry whether you’re getting along or not? That position works too. If you’re a pro, you’re always all about the music, so there’s never an issue about getting along. You never have a bad word to say about anybody and you avoid drama at all costs. If there’s ever an argument, you know enough not to get involved or take sides. 
When you’re playing a gig at the bar on weekends, you’re might not get along with another player or crew but you know that you’ll be going home right afterwards so it’s easy to tolerate someone. When you’re on tour, you have to live with your co-workers in very close-quarters. You’re room mates because of the close nature of the tour bus, so you have to have the ability to get along with others comfortably with no problems.
Your Onstage Demeanor
Do you have the appropriate on-stage personality for the artist? A lot of players get gigs because their physicality on stage is the right fit. It’s not only how you look physically, but how you look when you’re playing the music. Are you active on stage? Are you a showman? That may not work for an artist who requires that you just stand there and play, but they still might want you to be passionate about the music if you can restrain yourself from not jumping around like Pete Townsend. Do you know your place on stage, and are you able to tailor your demeanor to the client? Well cover this more in Chapter 5.
Your Gear
We’ll go over this in detail in Chapter 7, but whatever gear you bring must be not only be in excellent working order, but will be dictated by the type of music and the type of tour that you’re doing. If storage space is limited (like when you’re flying), then you might only bring your main axe, (if you’re a guitar or bass player) and a backup and backline will be supplied by the promoter. Likewise, drums and keyboards will be provided by the promoter at the venue. If you’re on a bus tour and you have more room, you’ll bring your instrument plus whatever you need as a backup, but almost always, weight and space is an issue so the less you need to bring, the better (unless you’re with a superstar). Regardless of how much or how little gear you bring on the road, it all has to sound great and work flawlessly every time.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ROCK & ROLL!!!!!


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