Most serious guitarists know they need to practice, practice, practice to even have a shot at making it in the music world. Most also understand that even the utmost talent combined with practice, practice, practice isn’t always enough. Stage presence and others’ impressions of you as an overall person (as opposed to their opinion of you strictly from a talent and ability standpoint) matter, too. Here are a few things too many aspiring musicians seem to forget, or maybe never learned.
Since so much of a musician’s life happens offstage, it’s important that your fellow musicians, club managers, promoters, and all of the other people who have a hand in helping you earn a paycheck actually like hanging out with you. Or at least don’t hate it. Never forget that the relationships you build are the key to steady work. Show up on time, every time, and make sure you’re prepared for whatever interview or gig you have lined up. Unless and until you get to be “the boss,” go along with the bandleader. Maybe you know that there’s a better way than his way, but unless you know he’s the type who’s open to others’ opinions, just suck it up and go with the flow. There’s always another guitarist looking for work–don’t be the jerk that gets him the gig you used to have or the jerk whose calls no one returns.
Never stop learning. It’s easy enough (with enough practice, of course) to be able to read music and play anything anyone puts in front of you. What can be harder is developing your own style so that you don’t come across as sounding too much like other guitarists. Make it a habit to try and reproduce any tune you hear–TV theme show, commercial jingle, street musician’s original work, or anything else that contains notes that can be reproduced on a guitar. Working on reproducing music you hear develops your ear and makes you more able to improvise when necessary and match the styles of more musicians with whom you might work. Learning as many melodies as you can and learning to play them at more than one place on the guitar neck expands your repertoire and gives you an edge in helping to develop your own sound.
Never, ever pass up a chance to play with musicians that you know are better than you are. The very things that make them better than you are now can help you grow. Also don’t miss a chance to play with someone who’s better known, if not actually better, than you are. Being known by others who are well known can only be good for your future in the business. Networking is as critical to the music scene as it is to the corporate world.
Do all you can to understand the business side of things. Treating your career as a business or your music as a marketable product is the only way to go if you want something more than weekend gigs as a cool side hustle. Knowing the business end of things and treating interviews or negotiations as serious business dealings will let promoters, etc., know that you’re serious about what you do and make them less likely to try and take advantage of you. Show them respect, and they’ll likely return the favor.
If you do manage to “make it big,” don’t let it go to your head. Be smart with your money–sock some away for retirement, especially in case retirement comes sooner than you’d like (the music business is brutal and fickle). When people start to recognize you, keep in mind that some of them are just out to profit from your success–learn (quickly) the difference between new friends and those just looking for a day in the life. Remember where you started and do what you can to help others trying to get to where you are now. Above all, don’t be a jerk.