Being Versatile as a Musician

Being versatile as a musician

Growing up taking guitar lessons, one of my teachers said something that has stuck with me for a long time “be versatile”. Those two words have resonated in my mind all these years, and they are some of the bedrock of my own teaching today. In a world where artists struggle to express themselves and considering making a living with what they have inside their hearts, versality is a good thing. The whole goal of being a musician (or artist) is to get out there and do what you do, and share it with as many people as you can. The art doesn’t begin or end with you, remember that. But each of us has something unique to share.

Learning to be versatile has enabled me to work in a number of situation. I’ve done church ministry, conferences, street dances, weddings, dinner parties, graduations, club gigs, festivals, coffee houses and many other events of all sizes; both as a soloist and as a band or ensemble. Sometimes gigging may not be dependable enough to base your entire income chances on, but it can get you some great opportunities and change your view on what to play and what’s out there. Some practical tips from my experience:

1. Expose yourself to all kinds of music, even the stuff you don’t like. Country, rock, rap, blues, Gospel, folk, funk, emo, jazz, easy listening, world music, classical and pop are all fair game. And if you’re a gigging musician, you will likely get more opportunities
2. Learn to sing. If you sing, you’ll automatically get twice as many opportunities. If you’re self-conscious about singing, take some lessons, sing in a choir and get over yourself. (grin)
3. Play more than one instrument. Learn some keyboards. Pick up the sax, violin or harmonica. If you can double on an instrument, you can fill in and add some unique color to a given situation; thereby also increasing giggage.
4. Learn how to write and arrange a little. Learn about winds and transpositions. Learn a little music theory. Knowing the language helps you converse, if you know what I mean.
5. Be willing to get out there and hit the pavement. Take some coffee house gigs. Take some opening gigs for other people.
6. Play weddings. They’re always great gigs, and they always pay. Plus, you’ll always meet great people, and learn some things.
7. Get out there and play/sing. There are always more opportunites than you think you’re aware of. Politely ask all kinds of questions of all kinds of people in all kinds of venues. We never stop learning.
8. Balance your own vision vs. what people want to hear. If you’re a cover band going after weddings and parties, don’t do originals that sound like something no one’s ever heard. The converse is also true.
9. Teach private lessons. This is a great way to share the wealth. Music is a sharing experience. Plus this is a great way to pick up some cash. You just might find that you love working with students, like I did.
10. Know your local scene. Hang out at the music stores. Find the venues, churches, parks, dances, and other places to play. Every town has these in varying amounts.

My experience is that if you cultivate some of these ideas, you’ll find plenty of places to play. You’ll soon find all kinds of experiences in your area. This will help you improve, and get your name out there, which leads to more opportunities. I get calls for lessons or gigs, every week and they basically come to me without much effort on my end. You can do it too. See ya on the road!

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