Hey guys and gals. I was browsing through some of the Jazz Guitar groups – Jazz Guitar Society – I belong to on Facebook and came across this post by a fellow Jazz Guitarist by the name of Alex D’Önofrio.
I had never chatted with Alex before, nor were we Facebook friends -apart from being members of the same FB group – but I liked his message and asked for permission to reprint it here, which Alex graciously agreed to.
Now, keep in mind that this is Alex’s own opinion and what works for him specifically may or may not work for everyone else generally. However, his six points will no doubt resonate with you all, especially if you are a working musician or considering going down that road at some point.
So…without further adieu, here’s Alex!
I have been super lucky as to have found success working as a professional musician. There is so much I have learned and I have met a lot of really awesome, and inspiring people. I wanted to put down the lessons I have learned.
Here are my 6 points to be a successful working musician…in order!
1. Have a great attitude. Do not vibe people out for not knowing something you do know. Be thankful to anyone you play with and let them know you appreciate playing with them. Do not be afraid to try something new, or play something you are unfamiliar with. Get out of your comfort zone as often as possible. Do not let yourself be intimidated by other musicians. Support every other musician who takes music seriously and encourage hobbyists. Don’t make it all about money (but don’t let yourself be taken advantage of). Find something to enjoy in everything you play and share the energy with people you are playing with. Don’t complain and don’t explain. Don’t do too many gigs that crush your soul. Don’t adopt the negative traits of great musicians (if you really admire someone’s playing, but they are an ego maniac, take their licks, not their ego). Lastly be humble and appreciative for everything. There is no “i” in team.
2. Be a great player. This does not mean, pretend you know everything. Being a great player means that you are always hungry to learn more than you knew yesterday. Constantly practice (with occasional breaks so you don’t get burned out). Be able to play as many genres of music as possible as well as you can. You are never “too good” to take a lesson. Have doubles (secondary instruments). Do a ton of listening! Listen to records and listen on the band stand. React and pay attention to what the musicians around you are doing. Figure out when you need to take a leadership role or when you need to follow someone else’s idea. Don’t be afraid to take charge if you are the experienced player. Be able read, have a great concept of time, know theory/harmony, and have a good amount of songs memorized. Also carry around some notebooks with the tunes you have played charted out. Never play “too loud!” Don’t play with too much ego and know when to lay out. Use just best jazz guitar amplifiers when you are playing. Lastly, put your own personality in your playing. Make an artistic statement with whatever you play.
3. Go out and hear/see live music! Listen to and be seen! Do the hang every night! If you are not gigging or working on something for another gig, you are out supporting someone else’s gig. Watch players, study them. Learn what they do and what works. Clap after solos, hang out with the band on breaks. Let them know you are there to see them and you dig what they do. Give out business cards and get phone numbers. Let musicians know what you do. Sit in whenever possible. Tip the band, and try to throw at least a five if you can afford it! You want to have your face in the minds of players. If you are a bassist and you come sit in on my gig and I see you a few times a week, you are much more likely to get the call when my bass player double books himself than the guy who is sitting at home on Facebook not hanging out with me.
4. Make relationships, not contacts. Lots of times you will meet a great musician, exchange cards, and nothing ever comes of it. The key is to follow up. If someone gives you a card, call them! Make plans to jam, hang out, smoke weed, drink beer, talk shit or go see other musicians. Hang out and hang out often! Be more than a random cat who plays well and has a Facebook account. Be a person who people like being around when they aren’t on the bandstand. If there are 20,000 great trombone players in the city I live in, I am not going to call the ones I don’t know and I am not going to call the ones I don’t like. Be the guy people like and know well.
5. Be professional! Be on time. Dress well. Don’t get drunk or high on gigs where it’s not appropriate. Don’t mouth off to club owners, drunks, or other musicians. Don’t start conflicts. Don’t be a slob. Be polite. Be mindful of how you look when you are taking a break and how loud you are talking and what about. Promote your best self. Be approachable, cool and friendly. Don’t noodle like an idiot before sets and between songs. Make sure you always have all your gear in good working order and have some back up stuff, just in case. There is no such thing as a small gig, give everything your %100. If you are a band leader, don’t put forth unrealistic expectations for rehearsals (if you think you will find professional musicians who are willing to rehearse for 6 months to go play a blues gig at a local pub for 30 bucks a man you are mistaken), or exclusivity of band members. (If your regular guy can’t show up to your weekly $50 dollar gig this Friday cause he has an out of town gig, don’t get mad, get a sub!). If you need someone to do a freebie, let them know ahead of time. Finally, if you are a band leader and running a rehearsal, be efficient! If you are seeking to collaborate with musicians, let them know ahead of time, otherwise have an idea of what you want to work on ahead of time and have it charted out if at all possible!
6. Say yes to gigs. Every opportunity to play, take. If it means learning 45 songs in 4 days…make it happen. If the pay is not so great, but you don’t have another gig at the same time. Go! Every gig is an opportunity for exposure. You could be busking in the street and get your big break or you could be playing a big festival. You never know when someone is gonna be out, happen to see you and think “that cat should be the one I hire for my next tour!” The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you will have an opportunity.
Alex D’Onofrio is a New Orleans based guitar player with a background in Jazz, RnB, Blues, Pop, Hip Hop, Rock, Funk, and Soul. He has released two albums with his original project “The Power Squids” and has a long resume of people he plays with including The Brass-a-holics, The Abney Effect, Bayou St. Funk, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Jack Wilkins, Jason “Mallet Man” Taylor, Bucky Pizzarelli, The R and R band, Beyond this Point, and many others.