Do It Yourself (DIY) Musician Resource Guide
by Reginald Cyntje
I’ve shared the stage with great musicians from all over the world. The greatest lesson I’ve learned was “live life then express those lessons musically.” I made a decision years ago to read bedtime stories most nights and minimize touring with bands. Because of this loving commitment, I’ve found creative ways to make a living as a musician and be a Daddy. I hope you find the information below useful in your career.
How to Listen to Music
When I first heard Jazz, I had no idea how to listen to it, but I knew I liked the way it sounded. I felt moods and saw pictures as I listened to Miles Davis playing Round Midnight. My first step was to become intimate with the music. I would listen to the album repeatedly until I could sing each song. The more I listened, the more I heard. It was like watching a good movie or reading a good book for the second or third time. I began hearing in detail as I repeatedly listened to the same track. I was intrigued by the ways in which a small group of musicians achieved such a multifaceted sound. The music grabbed a hold of me and introduced me to a deep tradition that has been around since the first musicians walked the earth.
To develop an appreciation for the complexity and depth of Jazz and other musical genres – I suggest you find an artist you would like to understand or someone whose work you enjoy. Pick a song on the album and listen. The next time you listen to that song, pick one instrument and focus on that instrument for the entire song. Repeat that process, choosing a different instrument each time until you have covered all the instruments on that track. When you listen to the track again, you should have a greater understanding of how each performer interacts and inspires the others.
How to Be a Good Performer
At a young age, I learned a simple and compelling lesson: if I practice correctly, I can achieve any musical goal. One of the most important things I learned as a kid was to listen to masters on my instrument. I listened to great musicians in a variety of genres (Afro-beat, jazz, funk, calypso, salsa, European classical, etc) who played the same instrument I did. When I researched each musician, they all had a routine. Basically, your ability to articulate music is based on a systematic approach. You will save time by practicing slowly and focusing on accuracy. A daily routine is encouraged; it will give you the discipline and structure you need. Come up with a system that improves your strengths and tackles your weaknesses. Sometimes practicing at the same time of day will help the body become comfortable with your instrument, which is, after all, a foreign object to your body. A routine will ultimately allow you to become one with your instrument. As you grow and develop your musical skills, your practice sessions will vary. Seek assistance from an expert/professional on your respective instrument. As humans, we sometimes develop habits that hinder our growth. Taking private lessons and /or seeking advice from someone more accomplished will not only help you hone your skills; it will give you a fresh perspective on your own unique style. Rumi, the famous poet, once said, “Whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred yearsfor a two day journey.”
How to Play Over Chord Changes
When I arrived at Berklee College of Music as a young 17-year-old freshman, I met many talented musicians. One in particular took me under his wing. I did not know much about playing jazz at the time and he told me that I needed to articulate the details of any given chord (at the time I missed the flat ninth of an Eb7 b9 chord). Playing changes is a personal venture. I like to equate improvisation, which might more properly be called spontaneous composition to a language. We all learn how to speak a language from our parents/guardians. As infants, we listen to the nuances of the language and then start imitating the sounds we hear until we start making sense. As we grow, we start to formulate our own ideas, using our grasp of language and vocabulary to express those ideas. We communicate our thoughts to others, exchange ideas and information and agree or disagree on various topics. The individual way each of us speak and what we say is a reflection of our own personal experiences.
A set group of chords based on a particular tune gives us a means by which to express our knowledge and learn what other musicians have to say on that same topic. All the masters of improvisation learned from a mentor on their particular instrument through transcribing and listening. They imitated that individual (licks, phrases, style, and interpretation) while developing their own voice along the way. You can hear the lineage of any master’s influences.
Find a recording of an artist you really like. Start learning simple solos from this artist. Learn the melody, chord progression, improvised solo and then try to create in that style. Your ears are your greatest asset. Transcribing improvised solos of John Coltrane, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bob Marley or Bach can be a difficult task. Learn the first phrase of the solo. If that is too hard, learn the first note then the second. Take baby steps and be patient. With time, you will be able to hear entire phrases and chord sequences.
I could write a dissertation on chord scale relationship, but music is not just theory. You hear music. As you learn to use your musical ears, reading chord changes will become easier. In many great solos, when you analyze them, you see all the theoretical stuff. Learn from the masters and you will be able to hear and see music. Pay attention to detailed nuances, no matter how subtle, when you are transcribing. Those nuances are what make the playing or singing of each particular note special. Great improvisers hear the tonality of a series of changes rather than just each individual chord. They can hear where a chord is coming from and where it is going. They can hear how the drummer or the piano player influenced the soloist to play a particular phrase. Learn from recordings! Listen, listen, listen! Take your time to understand the music. If something is puzzling you, ask questions.
Questions are important to anyone’s development. Ask someone you admire what inspires him or her to create. Find out what helped them reach their level of accomplishment. Learn the music, understand the music, and then interpret the music!
How to Start a Band
I am a trombonist who frequently works as a bandleader and as a sideman. If I can do it, so can you. First thing to remember is you are the band. Musicians – because of their busy schedule, economics, etc. – are not going to invest the time and energy that you will. I would suggest building a name for yourself as a performer before you branch out on your own as a bandleader, it will give you both credibility and valuable experience. You should, as all the masters have done, apprentice under different bandleaders to learn valuable hands-on information about the music business. There are some lessons you cannot learn in any book. Attend live concerts frequently, whether they are formal or informal. Outline the strengths and weaknesses of each group in your opinion. Think of ways your band can meet the standard or exceed it.
Once you decide to take the step to start and/or lead a band, surround yourself with people who are just as talented as, or more talented than, you to ensure that your group has the best possible sound. Pick people who have a reputation of working well together. Some musicians are gifted, but don’t work well with everyone. The wrong combination of personalities and styles can lead to disaster for your band. For example, if you have a drummer that plays freely, the bassist will probably have to be flexible in his approach. The pianist will have to leave space in his “comping” for the polyrhythmic, multidimensional patterns coming from the drums. If the bandmembers do not complement each other, the music will reflect chaos. Good musicians can adapt to different situations, but like their personalities, they all have their preferences. Figure out how you would like your band to sound, and then pursue musicians that can help you achieve your goal. Successful bands have always utilized the right combination of people.
How to Book a Gig
When you have sharpened your skills and are ready to book gigs for your band there are many options. You can perform at conventions, nightclubs, restaurants, private functions, weddings, festivals and the list goes on. Determine the type of gig you want and then begin contacting the appropriate people. It will take time and perseverance.
One of the perfect ways to meet different people and have them hear your band is in intimate settings like night clubs or restaurants, which can lead to getting booked for more lucrative functions. You need to network with area musicians, especially the ones that regularly have successful gigs, as they will be the best resource of information regarding what is going on in your local music market. Network actively – make sure you obtain phone numbers, email addresses, and any other pertinent information and ask lots of questions.
Determine how much bands are charging for a variety of gigs in your area (rates for nightclubs vs. private parties), then ask bandleaders you know if you can sit in with their band. While sitting in, give 110% percent, especially on a song you really know. On the break or at the end of the night, ask the bandleader if he or she can introduce you to the person in charge of booking (that individual might even approach you because you sounded great). While talking to the owner/manager of booking, mention that you really like their establishment and would love to have the opportunity to perform there with your band. Your appearance and attitude should be professional and courteous. Remember, this is the musician’s equivalent of a job interview.
At this point, you are probably asking yourself, “What about a demo CD?” I’ve learned from experience that these demos aren’t nearly as effective as most musicians hope they will be. Booking managers are bombarded with so many CDs on a daily basis; they have no time to evaluate them. They might only spend five seconds listening to a song on any given CD. I have watched musicians create beautiful, elaborate packages that a club owner either puts in a box or gives away to employees. Do not get me wrong, these packages have their place; for example, at festivals, certain booking agents, overseas booking, etc. Learn what is required of you in your market. Club owners do not have the time to listen to all those beautifully packaged CDs that come into their office from various musicians/bands. If you can meet them in person and sell your personality as well as your music, you have a better chance of getting the gig. The value of sitting in with a popular band performing at an establishment when management is around will be more beneficial to you than a demo CD. Some clubs are more formal, but by doing your research you will know how to get your foot in the door.
Make a chart of all the places locally you would like to perform. Look in the newspaper or other sources that list live music around town. Get the phone number of each of these venues and arrange to meet with the person in charge of booking. When you get together, use the gift of gab. If there are a limited amount of places that offer live music in your area, go to a venue that you think would be ideal for live music and convince the club owner that music would be a perfect addition to their establishment. Make sure you sell them on the advantages to them and their establishment of offering live music. These types of gigs can lead to more performance opportunities.
Pianist and guitarist can do solo gigs, which sometimes fit the budget of an establishment. But what about horn players like trumpet or bass clarinet? Actually, solo gigs can be done by anyone; it just takes a little creativity. If you are familiar with band-in-the-box, Jamey Aerbersold’s play-a-long series, or any other type of play alongs, you can also perform solo at some establishments. All you will need is a small PA system and the ability to balance your sound. Set up your gear at home initially so that you can practice performing with the recorded tracks before using the system at new gigs. Vocalists have been using this system for years and still do today. Develop a set list, program your tracks on a laptop, CD (or MP3 player) and then practice your show. If you prefer original music with specific arrangements, you might consider customizing your tracks. You can record your tracks using musicians you know – simply omit your part from the recording. You can now use this track for solo gigs. Because we are in the age of over-dubbing and pro tools, many albums are recorded this way. The solo voice/instrument is placed in a special booth and recorded separately so that it can be re-recorded if changes or corrections are needed. All you are doing is taking a process that is already utilized and making it work for you. Many musicians can be extremely creative. I have listened to a trumpet player who successfully accompanied himself on piano. Just remember, solo gigs are not just for chordal instruments. With some effort and creativity, you too can provide elegant music on your own.
No gigs? Create your own!
In the past, I sometimes created gigs by putting on self-produced concerts. I would find a location that was convenient and if the spot was an established venue, I would ask for the door and they would take the bar. Sometimes I have rented out a club/artist space for the evening. Private homes also provide a great place to perform because they present an intimacy that public venues do not have. After solidifying a spot, I would pick a date a month in advance and begin the promoting process for the upcoming event. I have also printed tickets in the past and done advance sales to ensure the musicians were paid. In addition, I hired musicians that had a following, then prepared the specific music that we were presenting at the upcoming concert.
Even when things seem rough, you have options. Do not wait for someone to hand you anything. You can create your own opportunities. Creativity and determination can often get you noticed through small or unusual venues and once you are noticed, you will quickly be able to move onto larger and more lucrative venues.
How to Be a Studio Musician
The makers of jingles, movies, TV, commercials and solo artists all use studio musicians. Envision walking into a studio and being handed music for a recording session. With no rehearsal, you are expected to perform the music like you have been practicing the charts your entire career. This is the difficult art of being a studio musician. The contractor or producer trusts you as a professional to be accurate and precise. You are expected to articulate the given style and be sensitive to the interpretation of the leader. Time is money and no one has time for your opinion or any negativity. As a studio musician, you are hired to produce. Keep your opinions to yourself and perform the music.
Performing live and performing in the studio are very different, but require some of the same disciplines. Understanding when not to talk, limiting noises, and sensitivity are needed at any session.
Have a pleasant disposition and always keep in mind that you are hired to perform. Make sure your instrument is in top working order. It is not a good idea to have rattling equipment disrupting things in the middle of a session. Believe it or not, I’ve witnessed this happen during recording sessions, and it is definitely not appreciated. Whenever you record, make sure you stay focused and have all the supplies you need plus a little extra. For example, if you are a trumpet player, bring all your mutes, just in case there is a change during the recording session.
When you do an excellent job, word of mouth will ensure that you continue getting hired for future sessions. Let the studio know that you are available for work – they are usually asked for recommendations by artists recording at their studio. Develop relationships with peers in the industry and learn from their accomplishments as well as their mistakes.
How to Utilize Your Compositional Skills
Do you have talent for creating beautiful melodies? If so, you have many possibilities in the music industry. If you are selling music online, you might already be experienced at copyrighting and publishing and belong to a performing rights organization. If not, please get copyrights and join an organization like BMI or ASCAP.
Ok, now you are ready. You and/or your group have gained popularity. The idea of the band came from your imagination and became a reality. You noticed that the audience is enjoying one of your compositions. Perhaps one tune becomes the band’s signature at performances. You have a hit! Well maybe not yet, but this song can generate more income for you.
Where do you start? Well, try to get your song played on the radio. How? Network! You don’t have to know industry executives to get your music on the air. Use charisma and socialize with on-air personalities at various radio stations. Invite them to your performances; put them on your mailing list, most of all let them hear your music. Once your music is played on the radio you will start receiving royalties. If your song is very popular in your community, it might be used for commercials, which could generate even more income. Some composers make money writing jingles, music for film, and also for video games. Examine all your options and don’t limit yourself.
How to Set Up Your Band Website
There are many online sites that offer free tutorials on how to develop a website. Take your time and read info on html codes, which will make it much easier to customize your site. You can also use a program that allows you to make designs that require little programming knowledge. Facebook, Reverbnation and other social media sites also provide user-friendly software that helps you setup a web presence. The webpage can include a calendar section, play full-length tracks of your songs, and sell your music.
You can get a web designer to build your site if you like, but that will be an expense you might not want to incur in the beginning. Your site can include your schedule, bio, pictures and music. Try to make sure all the info is clear on the front page and the site is easy to navigate.
After you have designed your site, the next step is picking a domain name (www.yourband.com) and a place to host your site. Domain names are inexpensive. Many sites have deals on web addresses. Network Solutions is probably a good place to start. Figure out a good name that will draw more people to your site. Your host is the place on the net where your website resides. Many sites offer free hosting. Things you can do on free sites concerning media are limited, but uploading a webpage with a bio, schedule, and links will not require a lot of memory. These free hosting sites will place advertisements on your web page that help to pay for the service. If you want to have music and other media on your site, your best bet is paying for hosting. Go Daddy, Netfirms and Host Baby all have good track records for hosting and offer a variety of media options.
Decide what you would like to do before purchasing your web address. If you want free hosting, purchase your domain name then learn how you can point that domain name to your free hosting site. When you purchase your domain name http://www.yourband.com, you will have to point the domain name to your free hosting address. Your domain name becomes a link to freedomainhost.com/yourband. If you choose to pay for hosting, you can sometimes get your domain name free because it is part of the package the hosting company is offering. Your site will have no advertisements and no matter what page your fans visit, it will always be at yourband.com/whatever.
How to Build a Mailing List
You are making your way around town doing gigs with different bands as well as booking gigs for your own band. Do you plan to record a CD? Do you want to have sold out concerts? Do you want a quick way to get the word out about your band? The e-mail list/newsletter is the answer.
In the past, a musician would print up flyers to hand out at various performances, record stores, music shops and any place that would allow fliers. That is the old way, but e-mail is more convenient and cost effective. How do you start an e-mail list? To build a strong following, get a notebook dedicated to emails, print out forms for people to fill out at your performances and/or have a place online where they can join your mailing list.
Promote, promote, promote! Wherever you perform, you are advertising yourself and your group. If people enjoy your artistry, they will let you know. At that point, you can ask them to join your mailing list or have a business card with your website and e-mail address on it that you can give them. At your gigs, always make sure that you have a way to collect email addresses from music lovers.
You can also have a link to your mailing list on facebook.com and any of the other social networking sites. Creating online events are cool, but nothing beats the power of email. Connect with your following and you will notice how those emails start to add up. Construct messages that are to the point and personal in nature so your audience feels connected to you. If you choose not to use an email marketing program, please be sure to place the mailing list addresses in the “BCC:” section when you send out promotions. Some of the folks on your mailing list would like their email to remain private. In the “To:” section of your email program, use your email address. When the reader opens up your email, they will only see your name and address. For more info, you can research email etiquette online.
How to Promote Your Band
You are the most effective billboard for your band. If you are confident in your band, you can do live performances at radio stations, network with people online and/or give people a memento with your band’s name/logo. Use different types of media – TV, radio, the internet and mailing lists – to promote your upcoming performances. It is important to network with people because the more they like you, the more they want to come out to see you perform.
Anytime you perform, you are advertising your band. Print up flyers that have your Band’s info and place them at a local music store. These don’t have to be elaborate or wordy, your band’s information and website or email will be fine. Send out an email to your mailing list for holidays, special announcements, etc. Pay attention to commercials. Look at how the large companies take advantage of every opportunity to sell their product. Take that same approach. Try different things, start a blog and see what gets the attention of your audience. Develop your own unique style, and promoting will become part of your daily routine.
How to Sell Your Music Online
If you are aggressive in promotion, selling your songs online will be a breeze. You can choose to sell live recordings from previous gigs or record a song and have it online in minutes. There are many portable recording devices that allow you to upload your music (i.e. the Zoom H4, Zoom H2). If you have music recorded in a professional studio, you can sell your tracks online. It is good to have a physical CD to sell at your gigs, give to booking agents, or just use for promotional purposes, but CDs/albums are not as popular as ‘impulse buys’ as they were in the past. Recently, I did a gig with a popular musician and we had a wonderful time performing together at a club. During the night, the audience was cheering because they were enjoying the music. At the end of the night, I noticed that the bandleader (the popular musician) had a bag of 15 CDs. After we were paid, I found out he had only sold one CD. That is not always the case, but people do not buy CDs the way they used to. If you are just starting out, you might not want to invest in packaging for a CD right away. Build your base audience first, then assess the situation and decide how you want to move forward. It is all in your hands.
So You are Ready to Record Your Album
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Then when you are finish, rehearse some more. The music will be tight and you can focus on making music at the recording session. Have a plan for the recording. When I recorded my first album as a bandleader, I mapped out a detailed schedule for the musicians, producer and engineer. I did not want the musicians to lose focus over the 10 hours allotted for recording. That schedule contained song list, time spent on each song, food, breaks and even a moment for musicians to clear their minds. In addition to planning the recording session, time was spent on creating a concept that was consistent with the artwork, liner notes and music. We recorded in May and I received Freedom’s Children: The Celebration in August.
How to Fund Your Recording
There are many ways to fund your recording. First, you can save your nickels and dimes. In any economy, this is hard for many musicians. A professional recording can cost at least $6,000 (not including promotional costs). Second, you and your band mates can share the expenses. With this process, each member can submit songs, share in the recording cost and everyone can receive financial benefits from sales. This is probably the best option but hard to convey to a group of musicians who only want to play and get paid. A third option for the DIY (Do-it-yourself) musician is crowd funding. I used this option when I recorded Freedom’s Children: The Celebration. There are many crowd funding sites available. The one I used is called kickstarter.com.
So here is the story…I learned about kickstarter from a friend about a year before I decided to embark on the recording journey. When I decided it was time to record, kickstarter seemed like the best option. I thought “this is the perfect opportunity to pitch the concept of the album to listeners. If they like the idea, they will donate.” With a professional video, campaign plan and social media, the financial goal was exceeded in three months. Check out my blog for the full story…
How to Promote Your Music
You are the record company! If you are like me, you don’t have employees promoting your music. Eventually, family and friends are going to get tired of sharing your songs. How do you get the word out?
Imagine that you are a billboard. When you wake up in the morning until you go to sleep at night, you are your product. I’ve sold CDs online, at gigs, in classrooms, on the streets and in the garage of my apartment building. Thank you Square!
I’ve also had family, friends and supporters who sold CDs for me. Sometimes I give away a CD (or download card) and that person recommends the album to friends.
Do interviews! I’ve done all types of interviews to include radio, blog, tv and randomly on the street when someone asked “what is that instrument you are carrying?” Download cards are great. I’ve sent download cards through email all over the world. My music is being played in areas I’ve never been to. I also utilize internet radio stations like jango.com. I’ve gained a vast amount of listeners from all over the world with Jango, WPFW and Reverbnation.
If you can afford it, higher a publicist. They have large mailing lists and can get your music in circles that you might not have access to. Another option is to have your listeners leave reviews online about your album. I’ve received great reviews from professional publications, but listener reviews have equated into repeated sales.
How to Use a Contract
Contracts are a musician’s best friend. They enable you to guarantee gigs in advance and protect your rights as a performer. If the purchaser cancels an event, you are still paid. The purchaser also has certain rights that are protected under the contract. If you show up late, you might lose money or other privileges specified in the contract. Some organizations will provide you with their own written agreement that you must sign before you are permitted to do the event. These contracts are cool, but when you can present your own, you usually have more control over the stipulations of the performance. Contracts can be used any time, but are particularly important for private functions, special events, weddings and high profile gigs. One of the benefits of a contract is the non-refundable deposit. You can state in a contract that if someone hires you or your band, they are required to send a nonrefundable deposit to ensure the groups availability. The deposit binds you and the purchaser to the agreement of the contract. This deposit can be up to half of the set fee. For example, if you were hired to perform at a convention and your Artist Fee was $1,000, you can get up to $500 as a non-refundable deposit.
The importance of the non-refundable deposit goes deeper than you being paid regardless of whether you perform or the purchaser cancels the gig. If you have a band, you are responsible for paying the musicians. When someone shows up to do a gig, he or she is counting on being paid. No musician, even your good friend, wants to wait a week or more for money from a performance. Getting a non-refundable deposit ensures that you will have the funds available to pay the musicians on the day of the performance. You will receive the balance of the money on the day of the gig; most likely in the form of a check that you have to deposit. You can request cash on the day of the performance, but some event managers might not agree. Contracts are to make sure the artist and the purchaser are in complete agreement with no misunderstandings. I have included an example of a contract that you are welcome to use. You can modify this to suit your own needs if you like.
I hope that the information in my guide will contribute to your success as a musician. I’m certain that it will give you some fresh ideas that you can use to move forward and change your life as a musician!
EXAMPLE OF CONTRACT
THIS CONTRACT is between the undersigned purchaser (herein called the
“Purchaser”) and entertainers (herein called the “Artist”).
PLACE OF ENGAGEMENT:
DATE AND TIME OF PERFORMANCE:
PURCHASER TO MAKE PAYMENT BY Cash, Certified, Company, or School check
as follows: Non-refundable deposit in the amount of ____ due immediately and
payable to: Your name/band’s name (When/if the company/school check is
invalid/returned, purchaser is responsible for all fees incurred by the Artist, and
the Artist fee is doubled.)
Remainder of fee payable to Artist day of show and in the name of: Your name/band’s name
REQUIREMENTS/SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS: Hot meals for musicians, clean area
to perform, and storage room for instrument cases.
This Agreement shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of
(insert your state here). This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the
parties relating to the subject matter thereof, and all previous understandings,
whether oral or written, have been merged herein. No alteration, amendment or
modification hereof shall be binding unless in writing signed by all of the parties.
Upon execution, the Agreement shall take effect as a sealed instrument in
accordance with the terms and provisions set forth above.
This Agreement of the Artist to perform is subject to proven detention by sickness,
adverse weather conditions, acts of God, or any other legitimate condition beyond
control for which the Artist will not be held responsible, including any loss incurred
by the Purchaser as a result thereof.
Kindly return contracts within (10) days in order to insure confirmation date.
The purchaser in signing this contract warrants that he/she is of the legal age and
has the right to enter into this contract. If you have any questions regarding this
Agreement, or if we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to call our
number. Thank you.
AGREED AND ACCEPTED