Hey there guitarist! Yes you! Beginner, intermediate or advanced player…the whole lot of you! I’ve got some beneficial tips I’d like to share with you all to help you as you drive forward in your music career journey. No matter your playing level, there is something for everyone to pick and chew here. Before we delve into these guidelines, there is a “number one” rule I’d like to instill into the back of your minds: Talent is never enough. Yes, you heard me. This is one of the worst assumptions that musicians generally have, they always assume that when they know how to play in different keys, know different styles and genre of music, know plenty of licks and sweet solos and can play faster than Sergei Putyatov, then they’re good to go. Not really dear. The ability to play the guitar only contributes a portion of the overall qualities you need to make a successful music business career. Asides talent, there is discipline, respect, creativity, patience, branding etc.…let’s take a closer look at them.
Create your own unique style
We all have our music idols, those ahead of us we would want to be like or play like. Sometimes, we even go as far as imitating their body movement, facial expression and their style of dressing while playing. I am not against all that…not completely though. Inasmuch as you want to be as successful as these people, no one likes a second best. Identify your genre of music, find your music hero(es) in that genre, take what you can from them and add your own spice to it. This is where creativity comes in to play. Pick up playing styles or skills from two or more guitarists and add your own zing to it – voila! you’ve created an entirely new style for yourself!
Everyone dislikes a bad-tempered person
I’ve often heard sad complaints about musicians from fans, fellow musicians and especially sound engineers. I don’t understand what it is with sound engineers and musicians; they seem to bear most of the brunt of all the temper tantrums and outbursts of rage thrown by musicians. I get that it can be very frustrating if you aren’t getting the kinda sound you want to hear. But why not relax and explain your concerns calmly while things are being sorted instead of throwing a fit? How about during rehearsals, when your band is not getting the intro or time signature for your guitar solo to come in? Do you drop your guitar and stomp off, yell and cuss or throw stuff at your band members? No one likes to work with an asshole!
Do you have an upcoming gig or not? Practice! You can never get ‘enough of practice’ for as long as you want to keep progressing in music. The moment you stop practicing consistently for a long period, you start to get rusty and gradually move ‘out of fashion’ in the music business. What if you get called up for a gig all of a sudden? What will you have to deliver? Whether or not you get gigs often, never stop practicing regularly; practicing widens your knowledge and brings it up-to-date, hones your skills and keeps your fingers flexible.
Brand yourself and your music
The reason many guitarists have skills but lack respect or recognition in the eyes of the music world is not only because of lack of opportunity, it is also because of the inability to properly brand themselves. Opportunities may present themselves often, but how would you even know, when you have not placed yourself in the right position to? Branding is really important; it has to do with the face of your business – promoting yourself and your music. You should have a stage name (it could be your real name, nickname, initials or whatever) – just have a name you want to be identified with, you should have social media presence; advertise and promote your music on YouTube, Instagram, Spotify etc. Get yourself out there and let people know you and what you do; that’s how to let the world recognize and appreciate your talent. Go professional – no one will be able to make a mess of you!
Take care of your gear
You play the guitar like Hendrix, you can set up your own sound and your pedalboard setup is topnotch. That is wonderful. But do you know how to take care of your gear? Or do you think that the alpha and omega of gear is just to play them nonstop and dump them afterwards? How often do you change strings? How often do you clean? How well do you keep your gear? How protected are they? Your entire gear is your money-making device, take care of them for them to live long, healthy lives and to serve you for a long period of time.
Don’t be a noisy player…or singer
Good quality cables are truly underrated! I cringe at the sound of plugging and unplugging a noisy jack, high pitched sound from an amp or microphone ‘ringing’ sounds; I know a couple of other people really hate these sounds too – although some others wouldn’t mind. When you get on stage, make sure your jack is of sound quality to avoid that ear-bleeding sound when plugging in or out, make sure your amp and guitar volume is reduced to the minimum so that even if there is a sudden outburst of noise, it would be almost inaudible. And if you’ll be playing the guitar and singing at the same time, know how to balance both volumes so that the guitar does not overshadow your voice.
Don’t be too uppity
Don’t be in a hurry to solo all the time especially if you’re playing with other musicians. When it is your turn to solo, hit it hard with all you’ve got. When it is not your turn, play the back up and let whoever’s turn it is to solo, shine through just like you also did. Don’t overplay or be too forward to show off all the skills you have in one performance. It may be too tempting especially when you see a large cheering crowd, but maintain discipline and self-control and strictly abide by what was rehearsed…except if stated otherwise.
Your attitude matters
Your attitude is how you behave around people; body language, vibe and aura are all part of it. You will spend more hours with other musicians offstage than onstage and how you make them feel lingers in their hearts for a long time, they are humans too. You cannot build relationships by being rude and nobody wants a rude person around them because rudeness stinks! If they cannot put up with you, word will spread quickly and they will have you replaced with someone else. Funny thing is that the replacement may not even be 10% as good as you are, but he has an attitude that everyone can cope with, so…off you go!
Stay away from drugs
Our renowned Jimi Hendrix was a victim of drug abuse; he didn’t maximize his life, not to talk of his music career. It may seem enticing to start taking drugs as a musician to keep you “high and alive” or to “reduce stress and tension” but drugs quickly become an addiction plus the fact that it is really bad for your health. Live up to your full musical potential or die halfway there. The choice is yours to make.
I’m very sure one or two musicians reading this particular tip must have laughed out loud in their minds. Many musicians do not see the need or importance of being early either for rehearsals or a performance. “I’m the star”, they say, “I should be waited for”, they say. Musicians have earned a slot of lateness in the professional business world; it would be a senseless argument to say that any other profession is better known for arriving late than musicians. Quite frankly, this is true and shameful as well. Whenever rehearsal time is fixed, be early. Go on time for your shows and performances. Over time, I have learned and enjoyed the benefits of being early especially to a performance; it helps you have ample time for sound check and makes you relax, maybe take a drink, change your strings (if you have to), meditate and mentally practice your lines before the event starts. But imagine going in when the show has started already and you are required to come up in the next 3 minutes upon your arrival, you just realize your last string is broken, your guitar is not in tune, pressure sets in, you start to forget your solo lines and maybe lyrics, you cannot take deep in and out breaths to help you relax because the stage is set and the people are waiting for you…major incoming flop, man!
Know your worth
Inasmuch as you try to be friendly, compassionate and understanding with everyone, know your worth and take your place. Do not let anyone trod upon you, harass or speak to you in a way that clashes with your personality. Do not make a scene or yell back, just state it simply that you do not enjoy being talked to or addressed in that manner. Raise your point, not your voice. People also try to underprice musicians; don’t be greedy, but don’t settle for less either. Weigh the cost of your logistics, hours of practice and every other thing you would put into consideration, match it against the pay you are being offered, if it is not worth it, don’t go for it. Remember, if you go below standard, your standard keeps dropping afterwards.
Don’t be an island
I know you like your space and are an introvert, but no matter how little, try to relate with other musicians, be open to cooperation every once in a while. You’ll be surprised that it is relationships like these that will get you your next gig or sign you up to your dream management company. Open up to people, make friendships and acquaintances, attend social gatherings with fellow musicians and just have fun while at it.
Have a good ear
This ‘good ear’ here refers to both musical ears and non-musical ears. When playing with other members of the band, do not play independently, like there is no one else there with you. Learn to listen to other instruments; if yours is too loud, reduce it, if it is too low, increase it. You’re in a team and should have the team spirit. If you’re going off or flat, listen and come back; if you’re out of tune, tune your instrument and fall back in line. Also learn to listen…literally. If you are being corrected or told what to do, listen. Even if you have your reservations, listen first.
One who is curious never stops learning; ask questions where you are not clear on what to do or how to go about something; never be too proud or too shy to ask questions…sensible questions please. Anyone who asks questions never misses his way.
In addition, be a person of integrity. If you promise to do something or to come at a particular time, keep to your word. Be honest; it is better to avoid talking at all than to talk and be dishonest in your speech. Sometimes, people actually know when you’re lying to them, they may decide to play along and just nod in agreement, but they know. Be reliable; be that one person that everyone can actually depend on and count on, be tolerant; learn to be patient with others and always remember that not everyone is like you, as a musician who deals with different people of different character and temperaments, be sure to meet lots of appalling ones and lastly, have a great sense of responsibility. These tips have helped me in my many years of being a guitarist and I hope they help you too.
Additional bonus for BEGINNER GUITARISTS: Avoid mistakes early! Spot them out on time! Click on this link to watch my video of ‘8 Things I Wish I Knew As A Beginner Guitarist’ https://youtu.be/c1nGwH2EuAc
Are you also a guitarist? What other tips do you have that can help us advance in our journeys? Kindly share with us in the comment section below.