Real Talk

Musicians – do you have The Fear?

This should be a pretty short post – it’s just a thought that came into my head the other day so I thought I would share it.

I was out in the French alps last month snowboarding – me and Emma love a good bit of boarding. We went away with 2 other couples, both of whom have little kids (around 9 months old) and we have Maisie who turned 1 back in December. So it’s not your typical lads out on the raz snowboarding holiday – in fact, it was pretty much in bed by 10 vibes…to my shame! Anyway – my bed time has no relevance to this post at all.

A few days in, me and Emma went to the top of a pretty long run. The run was in the shade still so very icy, it was pretty damn steep in parts and in other parts was narrow – but it was bloody fun! Emma was ahead of me for the run, and as I was coming down behind her, I noticed she was struggling a little bit, (I haven’t mentioned to her that I’m writing this, so I’m anticipating some sort of telling off later), she was taking a fair amount of knocks and falls – which on ice is pretty nasty. Don’t get me wrong, Emma is a naturally gifted boarder and normally so relaxed you would think she’s taking a standing nap, so it was pretty strange to see her struggling.

Me being a super helpful, understanding and encouraging husband decided the best way to help Emma get back into her stride was to bomb it past her and shout “don’t get The Fear”. Obviously, I now know that was not even a remotely helpful thing to say to someone considering walking down the mountain.

My point is this though, when you are gifted at something, and you’re rehearsed and well practiced there is only one thing that stops you performing well – you!

I had a great chat with a really well respected sports psychologist last year, she told me that in athletics, generally speaking, there is very little physical difference between the top athletes. Imagine for a minute that in a 10 meter race, every runner has the exact same physical build, skill, speed and technique as Usain Bolt – no difference at all, just a carbon copy – who would win that race? You could argue that they would all come joint first position, but I would argue that the person with the strongest mental ability would win. The one who doesn’t crumble under pressure, or doubt his ability, or question if he is good enough, or become intimidated by the people he is running with – the person who doesn’t have the fear will win the race.

What I love about watching Usain Bolt is not the actual race, but his entire presence before, during and after the race – the guy dominates in every way! I think I’d forget how to even walk if I was stood next to him in an arena!

The same scenario is 100% true of being a musician. There are hundreds of times when we need to demonstrate our ability in order to get a job, and a lot of the time we are compared to or competing with others who want the same job – they might even be better musicians technically or more experienced on paper. So how do you overcome this? Don’t get the fear!

I’m really into looking after my mental wellbeing at the minute and so overcoming this internal dialogue that will tell me I’m no good, or that others are better than me or that I’m going to tarnish my reputation is something I’m really keen on sharing my experience on. This sabotaging dialogue can be crippling and I swear has led to a lot of my friends throwing in the towel.

So here are a few things that I constantly remind myself, on a daily basis, to combat the fear.

  • Don’t treat your job as a competition
    It is true that many people want your job when you are on a gig, and it’s also true that the music industry is a very competitive industry. However, if you view what you are doing as a competition, where you need to get as far ahead of others as you can, then you will spend your career constantly worrying about who is doing better than you.Don’t view what you do as a competition, get into the habit of celebrating the success of other musicians. Support musicians when they are struggling, or if they put themselves out on there. Why? Because nothing bad can come from having this approach. Being a positive and uplifting person goes against the grain of being competitive, and the less you view this industry as a competition, the better peace of mind you will have.
  • Remind yourself what you’ve done and where you’ve come from
    It’s easy to forget how far you’ve come, especially if you’re sat at home with no gigs. But we all have some sort of credit to our name, no matter how small it might sound to others, you will have an achievement you are proud of. Remind yourself of these things, they will make you feel like you have something valid and substantial to bring to a session.
  • Practice…lots
    This one is obvious right? Practice, practice, practice – always be on your game, because when you get called in last minute for something, you want to be ready. I always feel great walking into a session when I know I’ve been consistently practicing, because confidence in my ability gives me mental confidence too. I love this saying;

    Always be ready, so you don’t have to get ready

  • “Fonfidence”
    Fonfidence is a made up word (whaaaa!?). It means Fake Confidence…get it! Sounds really lame now I’ve written it down, but I’m going to stick with it. There are a lot of times when I’ve had to really put myself out there. I’m good at faking confidence – that is, forcing myself to walk up to people and strike up a conversation, or forcing myself to walk up on stage at a jam night and start playing, or forcing myself to be in playing situations that really push me. Faking confidence has been a really big part of becoming a session musician, because in actual fact, I only really fake the first 10 seconds – once I’ve pushed myself into these situations I find that I am actually confident and had just built up a bunch of crap in my head about what could go wrong…I had the fear!

Right, this post has become something much longer than intended, but I really love to talk about my mindset and what has and continues to work for me as a session musician. We’re always encouraged to look after our physical health, but it’s so important to look for a good life balance and look after your mental (and spiritual) health too…and on that note I’m going to go and listen to some whale noises, light up some incense and meditate! Actually that’s not true, i’m going to sit and watch Big Bang Theory.

Let me know what you think – always love hearing from you guys.

This should be a pretty short post – it’s just a thought that came into my head the other day so I thought I would share it. I was out in the French alps last month snowboarding – me and Emma love a good bit of boarding. We went away […]

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How to make money all year round as a session musician

This post is inspired by a video that popped up on my Facebook timeline today by a guy called Damian Keyes – who I’ve just Googled and turns out is pretty big in the game (he has his own Wikipedia page!). Anyway, that aside, Damian puts out some amazing videos with advice and insight on the music industry – check them out here:

In the video I watched today, Damian spoke about how, on his posts and vlogs, he gets a handful of comments from people who have sipped on a little bit too much hater-aid. In my short career as a blogger, I’ve also received a handful of non-helpful comments and so was interested to hear what D-dog had to say. In the words of Mary J, Don’t need no hateration…thanks Mary.

Damian was preaching about how the music industry is evolving, it’s not what it used to be 15-20 years ago, and as working musicians we have a choice – get angry, resent those who are succeeding and making it work, or, get over it and embrace the evolution/changes/current state/direction things are heading in…however you want to refer to it. Probably to no surprise at all, he said that those who were trolling his posts tended to fall into the former mindset.

Whilst watching Dizzle Kizzle’s video, it bought to mind some advice I was given very early on in my career.

You’re not justpop musician, you’re a musician

Sounds cryptic right! But what my friend meant was that it’s important to utilise our entire skill set as musicians and not fall into the trap of just being a (or striving to be a) “pop musician”…for example. So I want to talk about being proactive as a musician, trying to find ways to monetise every aspect of your creative ability – so that when you’re not on a pop tour – you’re still earning money, and therefore, still able to move forward in your career – it’s hard to further your career if you’re working on a farm part time mucking out stables…trust me, I know!

So here are some ways in which I (or people I know) are making money, by being musicians, all year round.

Turn your Private teaching into Skype lessons/Online lessons

Teaching is not a new idea. I imagine most people who are reading this, have at some point taught music lessons – and possibly still do. The thing I found difficult about private teaching is that you can end up letting your students down an awful lot if you have to go away on tour.

The way I got around this was by setting up Skype lessons – it might sound risky, but actually it works really well – you just need a laptop, a good set of headphones and a decent internet connection. If you have these things, there is no reason why you can’t teach from a hotel room, sat in your boxers.

Another thing I’ve seen, which is even more intuitive, is online courses/subscription websites. The advantage of this is that once you have made your content, your work is done – you only need to focus on selling it – it means you could sell the same, 1 hour lesson to 100 people and it wouldn’t take up 100 hours of time. The only downside to this model is advertising and the initial cost of setting up a platform to sell it from.

Turn your function band into an agency

Everyone plays in a function band right?! Again, nothing new about playing functions, but what I see a lot of more and more is the agency model. Say you start up a function band called “Funktion M8” (because all function bands spell function with a k…like funk…and numbers are dope), you get some gigs, which is great, so you play, get paid and go to bed (at like 4am).

What a lot of my friends do (and really well too), is to take several bookings on the same day, and, instead of advertising Funktion M8 as a set band, they draw from a pool of musicians and put out several bands under the same name – you take a cut from each gig and now all of a sudden you have an agency.

The way to make this work is through a solid online presence. A decent website, solid branding/pictures/videos – no cheap nastiness, invest in good advertisement and SEO, get down to wedding fares – employ someone to do your sales if you’re not great at talking – don’t cut corners and this will really work – but expect to put in the hard graft in the early stages. I don’t do this myself, but my friends who are successful in it have worked themselves to the bone and invested everything they have into making it work – so it’s not an easy ride…but then no business pursuit is.

Step that up to take on some contracts at holiday parks, cruise ships and hotels/resorts and you could bring home a tidy little pay slip each month – all while your sat in your room…in your boxers, obvs.

Sell your Production/Sync Tracks

If you are sitting at home making beats, you should think about monetising that. There are so many ways you can do this, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s about getting your track picked up for some big named pop artist.

Sync tracks (tracks for adverts, films, media projects etc…) can fetch up a good amount of money, there are plenty of places you can post your tracks too – like audio jungle or pond5 for example. The advantage of doing this is that they have a ready made audience who will look to buy your tracks, the downside is that these companies tend to take a rather hefty percentage (like 50% +) – but, once your track(s) are uploaded, you can just sit back, in your boxers and let the money come to you.

A really inspiring friend of mine, Kaz Rodriguez has carved out an amazing niche for himself – he makes super complex, drum-less backing tracks for drummers to shred over and for normal humans to try and dance to. Seriously though, I can’t explain how amazing this guy is at drumming, but also at making incredible shed tracks – if you are a drummer, you really should have these in your iTunes – get them now – Pitching aside, this is a really intuitive way to make extra money if you have the skills.

Gear Repairs/Mods

Part of the way I funded my music college education was building effects pedals and selling them on eBay. Although I haven’t done this in years now, it’s something that, if I had time, I’d probably get back into. But more to the point, if you are handy in anyway at all with gear, then you should consider lending your technical skills for gear repairs, mods, building/refinishing guitars etc.

Again, stuff like this really comes down to advertising, and reputation, but once people know you are doing it, you will probably see a good income stream. The downside of this is it’s not such a portable skill set – so if you were out on tour, production would have to stop…unless you outsourced…just saying!

Start Blogging/Vlogging

The last 10 or so years has seen a massive emergence of blogs, and more commonly, vlogs (video-blogs for those over 40). Obviously, this is a blog (whaaaat?!) – it’s something I’ve only started doing for the last few months.

Here’s the big question about blogging/vlogging that I think a lot of people have…why!?

The truth about blogging, and indeed vlogging, which i’m going to stop typing now because I don’t even like the word, is that it doesn’t really bring any income. Sure you can put some Google adverts on there and get a few pence a month, or you could get into ghost writing for other people, but, realistically, it’s only the big bloggers who have been around for a while who are bringing in the big p.

So why do it? Well, for a lot of people it’s a nice hobby. But if you want to be purely business minded about it, what you can become is rich in assets (because people will often send you things for review or to be posted about – my sister is a great example of this, getting sent free baby stuff all the time), or more so, rich in influence. Once you build up a captive audience, it’s then easier to launch something like online lessons, or advertise a master class/clinic.

I’m not saying that everyone blogs so they can get noticed and then exploit their readers for money – at it’s core, I think bloggers (myself included) really do it to for the enjoyment of writing and sharing knowledge/experience. But a side effect of making your thoughts public will be an audience who are interested in you and that does put you in a position to better advertise your skills to a targeted market.


It’s important for any self employed person to look good online, since so many business transactions take place on the old www. So if you have the skills to help people with this, then it can be seriously lucrative.

At the start of my career, I subsidised periods of time with no gigs by making websites for people. The advantage being that as long as I had my laptop, I could build a site anywhere. Long story short, I decided to create a side business from this called Skizzar – a website builder specifically marketed towards creatives and this is now run by my wife, Emma, who has been able to quit her full time job and work from home whilst looking after our 1 year old…this is my favourite achievement to date!

Skizzar is due to launch to the public in a few weeks time which is super exciting for us. But my main point is, if you have the skills, then let them pay your bills – it beats sitting watching Jeremy Kyle every day wishing you had gigs!

For me, I struggled a lot with the thought of being part musician, part web designer. I used to feel like I was copping out or creating a backup plan. But now I’m super proud of it, because I’ve put to use the whole of my skill set, not just playing bass, but graphic design and web design – something I can do from anywhere.

Let me put things this way to finish off my post. It’s easy to look at people in stable, “real” jobs and crave a regular stable income. I read a stat not so long ago that said the average person, if they were to be laid off from their job, would have enough money to survive for 19 days. 19 DAYS!!! So if I have enough money to survive 20 days, in my bank, i’m doing better than the average person. The reason I say this is because I don’t crave a regular salary anymore, in fact, I would find it too restrictive – as self employed people, we have the amazing opportunity to earn as little or as much as we want each month. Last December, I earnt more in one month then I did for my entire previous year – why, because I created good opportunities and I worked my bloody arse off – it just comes down to using your whole set of skills, making it something portable and not just sitting back waiting for the big phone call to come through – because by that time, you might find it’s too late and you’re stuck in your stable job, with your stable salary.

Really hope this post is helpful. As I said at the beginning, the music industry has evolved from what it was 20 years ago and it’s necessary to be resourceful and think more laterally if you want to earn consistently, all year round, from being a musician.

Give us your thoughts and comments – always love to hear from you guys. Don’t need no hateration though am I right Mary?!

…oh, here is the video from Damian Keyes that inspired the whole post in the first place:


This post is inspired by a video that popped up on my Facebook timeline today by a guy called Damian Keyes – who I’ve just Googled and turns out is pretty big in the game (he has his own Wikipedia page!). Anyway, that aside, Damian puts out some amazing videos […]

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How to nail an audition every time

Here’s a word that surely strikes fear into the heart of every musician – audition!

I hate auditioning. I know musicians who refuse to audition – I was almost one of them. Although I’m really glad I didn’t adopt that mindset, I totally get why some people would just not want to put themselves through the most unnatural musical environment imaginable. If you’re anything like me, during an audition you’ll experience every emotion from, “I’m awesome on my instrument, totally got this” through to, “I shouldn’t even be allowed to touch a bass”.

I have auditioned around 10 times over the past 5 or 6 years, and I’ve only ever got 1…and that was the last one I did! Although a 10% success rate isn’t great, I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy and I like to think of it as 9 auditions where I learnt how to become better. So this post is my way of sharing those things I learnt from my ‘failures’ in a hope that it will help people prepare better for auditioning.

It’s not about playing all your licks

I struggled with this one for ages. I like a good lick (lol), I love being expressive when I play and being responsive to vibe and atmosphere. I love music to sound “live” and for a band to be energetic, and I LOVE a good arrangement! On top of that, you want to go into and audition and stand out, right? So if you whip out some badass licks, or some crazy chords or chops, then you will be remembered and will get hired.

Not true. At least not for the auditions I’ve done. One of my first auditions I thought to myself, “I’m going to go in a shred all over this”. The artist was auditioning for a whole band, so we were placed in bands at random and told to play the track. I remember the guys in my band that day, they were sick! It was an amazing group of musicians, but things got out of hand! The drummer did a chop, I felt like I had to match it so I did a chop, the guitarist turned up, the keys player started putting in passing chords. To me, it sounded amazing and was incredibly fun (a rare feeling in an audition), I remember coming away from that audition thinking to myself, “If we don’t all get that gig I don’t know who will”. Plot twist (or not), none of us got the gig! So why not? Aside from being incredibly arrogant, the reason I didn’t get the gig was because, in that room, I thought that the audition was all about me and my superb ability.

Auditioning is not about you – it’s about the artist and their music! Here’s a fact for you, there will always be someone better than you. Cold, right! But seriously, if you want the best bassist in the world, why not get in Anthony Jackson, or Victor Wooten or *insert famous musician name here*. Obviously, I’m talking in extremes to make a point, but the thing is, an audition isn’t a competition to show that you are the best technical musician in the room, it’s about getting the artist excited about hearing their song, and their arrangements and their finely crafted sounds, that they have spent weeks and months and thousands of pounds recording, live. If you want to show off your licks, film it in your bedroom and stick it on youtube – don’t bring them into an audition.

Prepare musically

I’m sure this one goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you are not fully prepared musically for your audition, then you may as well not show up. Just so we’re clear, when I go into and audition (or rehearsals, or gigs, or studio sessions, or whatever), I know the tracks inside out and backwards, I know when the drum pattern changes or when the guitar part comes in, I know my part on bass and on synth, I could play with a plectrum on a 4 string or 5 string. I know where I could fill if I was asked to open up a bit in the song – I’ll even have arrangement ideas, in case I’m asked. Don’t just learn your part, learn the song!

Make sure your gear is right for the gig too. If the song calls for a 4 string p-bass, don’t rock up with your 6-string ken smith. Get you patches and sounds right, and if you’re going to be using a keyboard that has been brought in, make sure you know your way around it (I go down to a music shop and have a play down there if it’s a board I’ve never used before).

really think it goes without saying, but you can’t over prepare for an audition, and I don’t understand why anyone would just rock up and wing it – it shows that you don’t really care, and it’s cool to care…right!?

Prepare physically

An audition isn’t just about your ability. An artist (and moreover, a label and management) wants to see how you look on stage, how you fit in with the look of a band and how you perform. So think about your appearance. What are you going to wear? Get yourself a haircut. Practice standing up and performing the song. I really like the saying, “dress for the job you want”, it stops me getting into the habit of thinking that my ability alone is what will carry me – it’s the way you present yourself both physically and socially that also carries you.

Prepare mentally

I feel like this point is massively overlooked on so many levels. When you go to an audition, do you know what it’s actually going to be like? If you’ve done a lot, then probably yes – although saying that, almost all of my auditions have been very different.

This story will haunt me forever. I remember auditioning a couple of years ago for a very well known artist. I got the audition date and couldn’t make it, so I phoned the MD and told him. The MD was adamant that he wanted me to audition so they moved the whole thing so that I could make it. At that point, I felt like a pretty big deal! Cutting a long story short, I got to the audition room and it was utterly vibeless – if there is such a thing as anti-vibe, or some sort of vibe-vacuum, it was present in that room!

The set up was a (really awful) bass amp in the middle of the stage and a laptop. In the room was the MD, management, the artist, some next-guy filming and a seriously awkward silence. I got up on stage, plugged in and the MD hit play on the laptop, at which point I became super aware of how exposed I was and played like my hands had been stuck on backwards. Some people would probably argue that I should be able to play along to a laptop on my own – and that is true, I do it all the time at home. But there was something about standing there, with a whole room watching, trying to catch a vibe with a CD that got in my head and made me totally unable to play.

Something got in my head. My thoughts would sabotage me, I would think that I was no good, or not able to prove my ability or that I would tarnish my reputation that had got me the audition in the first place. Whatever it was, it stayed with me for months afterwards too – I really struggled to believe in my ability and for the longest time I hated playing music. All because I hadn’t mentally considered what the audition scenario could be like.

So what can you do? Well, this is where things might get a bit freaky-deaky for some people, but I believe that for as much as you can prepare musically for something, and prepare physically, you can also prepare mentally. About a week before my last audition I made a list of negative, sabotaging thoughts that have a tendency to creep into my thinking. Things like, “You’re not good enough”, or, “You’re going to ruin your reputation”, or, “You’re going to mess it up” (I actually went into more detail than this when I wrote it down). Then, on the other side of the page I would write down what I know to be true as a counter to these thoughts; “I’ve worked for x, y, z and been playing professionally for x years”, or, “I got called for this because someone had heard about my great reputation”, or, “I have the ability, experience and expertise to demonstrate that I’m a great bassist”. Again, I would write in a bit more detail, but it was based on facts rather than irrational thoughts. Every day I would focus on this positive affirmation so that when I enter a room where I would normally think negative thoughts, I have trained myself to think positively about myself.

Like I say, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in terms of walking into a room and being able to lay it down under pressure – this kind of preparation has become invaluable for me. Try it!

Be you

This is my last point, and for me, this is what means that I will forever nail every audition I do. When I got called for my last audition, I was asked to prepare the tracks on synth, using Ableton to create the sounds. My Ableton knowledge (at the time) was pretty limited, but I started looking through tutorials and working away at building the right sounds. After a couple of days of struggling through, I had an epiphany, if I got the gig I would be forever struggling to figure out how to use Ableton to make the sounds and patches for each song. So I decided to change my approach to be something more true to myself – 2 bass synths, a bass and a big ass amp!

This change in mindset, I think, is the key to auditioning well. I walked into the room and demonstrated what I could bring to the gig. I had programmed up my 2 synths, hired an Ampeg 8×10 and decided to bring in live bass at the end of the track (with a tiny fill) to give it a boost. I’ll be honest, the playing wasn’t perfect, my gear failed a bit and the amp didn’t sound that great…which goes against my other point, but, when I left the room I knew that I had shown them exactly what I do and what I could bring to the gig. I knew that if I didn’t get the gig it was because I wasn’t the right fit, not because I didn’t have the ability.

Coincidentally, this is the only audition I have ever got!

I genuinely think that when it comes to auditioning, it’s important to be level-headed and not hold it tightly – the goal isn’t to get the gig, it’s to do your best and show what you can bring to a gig. If you have this mindset, then whether you get the gig or not, you have nailed the audition.

Hope this was helpful. It’s taken me a lot of trial and error (mainly error) to get to this conclusion, so hopefully, it saves people having to go through the same number of knockbacks! I think there should be more discussion and emphasis on the mental strain musicians (and self-employed people in general) put themselves under, it’s something I’m really passionate about talking about so you’ll probably hear more from me on that over the next few months!

Let me know what you think, give us a share and subscribe if you want to be notified of when I post again,

Here’s a word that surely strikes fear into the heart of every musician – audition! I hate auditioning. I know musicians who refuse to audition – I was almost one of them. Although I’m really glad I didn’t adopt that mindset, I totally get why some people would just not want to […]

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Effectively dealing with frustration in the music industry

Emo warning – this is going to be a mildly personal post….it won’t be a long one though!

In a slightly different vein to my last few posts, this is less about becoming a session musician, and more about making note of something I’ve recently realised. Since I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of guy, I thought I’d share my thoughts as a record of my current journey (not just my past one!) and hope that it helps other musicians too.

Possibly slightly on the controversial side, but I want to talk about how bloody frustrating the music industry can be sometimes. Before I start though, I should point out that this isn’t a rant, and it’s not some sort of sub-contextual, subtly pointing the finger at someone post either – i’m just not that socially complex (ask my wife), this nothing more than sharing a recent change in perspective.

I used to think, for years, that I was the only one who would get called for a gig and then a few weeks before it was due to start I’d find out that someone else had been called for it instead, or that I was the only one who would be hanging around with A-listers in rooftop bars in LA one week – and then working on a building site to pay my bills the next, or even that I was the only one who had to explain to people looking to hire me why “experience” wouldn’t put food on my table (all true stories). Well, if you ever feel like that or have felt like that in the past, then at least now you know you’re not the only one! Actually, the more I chat to musicians who on the outside look like they have it all together, the more I realise that we all feel the same (at least for the company I hold anyway) – frustrated! Fortunate and #blessed (obvs), but also, at times, very frustrated!

This industry can come across as brutally cold at times and that leads to feeling kicked to the side, like you’re not really getting anywhere and like everyone else is progressing ahead of you. Even just the feeling of coming off tour and going back to normal life can feel like the brakes have slammed on so hard that you start thinking you’ve got no future in music – I felt like that just a few weeks ago, it was only 2 days after coming back from a tour in Japan that I found myself telling Emma how I’m ready to call it quits and I don’t feel like i’m getting anywhere…2 DAYS!!!!

It’s a slippery slope thinking these kind of thoughts, you can get in your own head and believe things that really aren’t true – you start comparing yourself to others (or what you see of others) and get that feeling of being at the bottom of the class, or being slowest in the race. Speaking from my own experience, these thoughts seriously inhibit my ability, my social life, my home life and most of all, my inner contentment. So here are a couple of things that I’ve started doing or training myself to think in order to combat this frustration of feeling like you’re trying to run through treacle!

Don’t check your socials to start your day

I got myself into a really bad habit of waking up, grabbing my phone and checking my instagram and facebook feeds to see what’s going on with the world. I’m sure I’m not alone, and I’m fully aware of the fact that I spend way too much time staring at a screen in general anyway! In particular though, I think it’s a really bad way to start the day – essentially I’m looking at what other people are doing, and whether I’m consciously thinking it or not, I’m comparing myself to them – this is how I’ve chosen to start my day, to see if my life compares well to what my friends or colleagues are doing.

It sounds like a really small change, but in order to keep control over your thoughts it’s really not a good idea to start your day in this way. So I’ve made a rule for myself, first thing I do is ignore my phone and go and make a coffee – have a chat with my wife, chuck socks at my daughters head (or some other sort of gesture to show her who is the boss in the house…since i’m outnumbered!), have a shower and think about the day ahead and what I want to achieve…then, I’ll check my socials. I mean, I’m trying to keep this routine, but it’s surprising how it’s become second nature to just pick up my phone and mindlessly scroll!

For me it’s been a great way to cementing what is really important and lasting, rather than to eye up where I think I fall on the scale of success…which doesn’t even exist!

Get some perspective

It’s really easy to loose a bit of perspective when you spend all your day in the thick of it. This story is a bit vague and possibly embellished since I can’t remember all the details…but it is still true!! 3 of my best friends are doctors, I remember one of my friends, on her first shift as a doctor was rushed off her feet and at least one of her patients died…or got very sick…like I said, can’t remember the details, but I do remember the sense of perspective it gave me. Let’s say you make a bum note on a live broadcast…well, nobody died. Or you learnt the wrong version of a song for a first dance and there is no signal to download the right version…nobody dies – you get the gist! Perspective is a great way of realising that the world won’t end if you don’t manage to do something.

I really enjoy mountain climbing – so I always make a point to go away and climb, or swim in a lake, or do something outdoors that makes me realise that the world won’t end because of my problems…no one will die.

Stop chasing ghosts – pursue things that are real

Recently I’ve used the phrase “chasing a ghost” probably about 4 times a week…i’ve never really used it before, but all of a sudden it seems really fitting for my current mindset. What I mean by it is, are you chasing something that is even real? Think about what you are aiming for – is it fame? popularity? to be the best bassist in the world? To be rich? All of these have popped into my head at some point as something I want to achieve, but here’s the thing – none of those things are real, tangible things – you’ll never reach the end of those goals, it’s like trying to reach the end of a rainbow, and this for me is where a lot of my frustration with being in the music industry comes from – it’s not actually the industry, it’s me! I’m the one setting goals that can’t ever be reached…not because they’re too ambitious, but because there is no endpoint or way of knowing when I’ve reached them.

Although I have been really conscious to make goals this year that are actually measurable – I know that I also strive for things that will never be attained – and it’s important to cut yourself away from this way of thinking. It’s not a bad thing to say you want to be the best at your craft – but it’s such a vague goal that if you don’t have a way of measuring it you’ll get frustrated. Set goals that can be measured – you want to play on a number one album – that would show you’re pretty damn good at your craft, or you want to start doing drum clinics and get booked for one per month – again, that would suggest you’re well on the way to being the best at your craft. I don’t necessarily agree with the goal of being the best at something, partly because it’s so vague, but you see my point – make tangible goals that you could tick off a list once it’s done rather than chasing things that aren’t real!

Know what defines you

Here’s a very honest fact about me – I like being seen to do well. It makes me feel good when people look at my instagram and leave fire emojis, or comment that I’m smashing life. I think to an extent we all do. My problem is that I have recently let that define me, and as a result I became very frustrated when I’m not getting fire emojis or comments on how well I’m doing. So what’s the solution – put up more pics, record more videos? Nope, it’s to change perspective – I guess this point is similar to my last, but chasing after status is not a real thing.

Last year I had a gig with an amazing artist called Matt Wills – check out his music, he’s incredibly talented. The gig isn’t a situation – it’s got a rocky/electro edge to it, plectrum vibes, solid grooves, that kind of gig (picture for this post is from that gig FYI). We played an amazing headline show and afterwards a younger guy came up to me and said, “you’re Sam Skirrow right” (feeling great about myself) I said yes and asked how he found the show, he replied “it was good…you didn’t really go in as much as I was expecting you to…”. Ouch…that comment stung my pride a bit! May as well said that I sucked – although that wasn’t the tone of the comment at all – that’s what I heard! But here is the thing – I was doing my job, and I played what was right for the gig – blazing all over it would have made me look great, but made the gig sound crap. But since I love it when people see how good am – all it takes is a comment like that to make me feel like I’ll never be a good musician, why? Because I was defining myself by what other people thought of me, not what I thought of me – which is that I had done a great job!

So, although it’s a bit of a deep topic for a Sunday evening, I think this is a personal question most creatives should ask themselves – what are you chasing after and what defines you. Be honest too – don’t be ashamed of what you find out about yourself, because ultimately, confronting the answer to this, making sure you are chasing after something tangible and you are defined by solid facts rather than fleeting comments will make you a better player and make you more employable.

I know the tone of this post is a lot deeper than what I’d usually chat about – mainly it’s because I want to make a not of what I’ve been thinking recently and also because it’s my blog so I’ll write what I want. Would love to hear people’s thoughts – I know i’m not the only frustrated musician in the world so let’s get a conversation going!

Until next time!!

Emo warning – this is going to be a mildly personal post….it won’t be a long one though! In a slightly different vein to my last few posts, this is less about becoming a session musician, and more about making note of something I’ve recently realised. Since I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve […]

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How to get experience when you have no experience

So you’ve finished music college, you’ve got your music degree and you’ve decided to grab life by the balls and go for it – you’re going to be a session musician! Good for you. I remember the day I left my job as a teacher with this dream, and how cunning I felt when I opened my laptop, went to and typed in “Jeeves, how do I find a job now I’m a musician” (because back in the day of Ask Jeeves you would always phrase what you were searching for as an actual question) – “a sure fire way to get all the gigs” is what I thought to myself (if Jeeves doesn’t have gigs then who does, right!?).

My cunning efforts led me to a casting site called I would spend hours a day, trawling through pages and pages of job adverts for bass players – most of them were nothing to get too excited about – local bands, tribute acts, recording sessions for “up and coming artists”…advertised by themselves of course – it was slim pickings for someone looking to get on the next big pop gig 2k12. But every now and then I would find an advert for something that looked promising, however, without fail, they would always be looking for a musician with experience. Which leads me to my point, the biggest catch 22 in the music industry –

how do you get experience when all the gigs that would give you experience require you to already have it?

Recently someone asked me how they pad out their CV so it looks like they have more experience…but without lying! So this post is my attempt to answer the question of how to pimp your CV and get experience when you don’t have any.

Make your CV and photos look good

You will get asked for your CV and photos a lot! Sometimes I get asked for my picture without ever being asked to demonstrate my playing (always found that amusing…and slightly tragic). But just because you don’t have pages and pages of awesome playing credits, doesn’t mean you can’t hand over a good looking CV.

People will make a judgement about you based on the presentation of what you send to them, so if your head shots are just a couple of low-light bathroom selfies and your CV is just an almost blank document written in Times New Roman then you’re already on the back foot and you’re not helping yourself make a lasting impression.

When I was doing my teaching qualifications I had to submit a video recording of myself teaching a one-on-one lesson, a group lesson and a performance on bass. I didn’t just film it, I filmed the crap out of it! We’re talking multiple angles, HD resolution (this was back in like 2007 btw), a custom DVD menu, a DVD cover and printed DVDs with my logo on it…and also several sleepless nights – I mean, I really went to town on it. As a result, I was the first person in the history of the course to be awarded distinction. You see, the quality of the content wasn’t any different from anyone else on the course, but the presentation was miles better – and that speaks much louder than the content.

So my point is this – invest in good head shots, design a great looking CV, get yourself a decent website* (which is pretty much an online CV), make yourself an email signature and you’ll probably find that not having loads of experience isn’t such a massive issue. I’m not one for clichés, but, first bite really is with the eye.

Ask for work experience

Shortly after realising that Jeeves did not hold the key to all the gigs, I decided to turn to contacts I already had in my phone book/email contacts/facebook friends. Bear in mind, I had just left full time work – I didn’t really have many contacts, but, I decided to send an email out to the handful that I did have asking for work experience.

I was trying to dig out the original email just now but I can’t find it – shame, always like to demonstrate how clueless I was back then! Anyway, the general idea was to offer my services as a musician for free to gain work experience. A quick note on this – it’s really important not to come across like you are trying to undercut people who are already working – don’t be that guy, think about how you word these emails and make it clear that the reason behind it is that you want work experience.

Off the back of these emails that I sent out, I picked up a week stint on a cruise ship (which led on to a further 4 week stint), a dep job for a panto in Oxford (about 15 shows) and a couple of function gigs, plus, even though I offered to work for free, I was paid for it all – I think, generally speaking, if you show willingness to work for experience, most people will want to pay you at least something. Funnily enough, for my cruise ship job I ended up being cheeky and negotiating a higher wage…probably shouldn’t have been that ballsy in hindsight, but it worked out and I ended up being the highest paid musician on the ship (aside from the MD).

Combine this technique with doing a great job, being likeable and working hard, and you’ll probably find that your working life as a musician gets off to a pretty good start.

Get your socials in order

Putting forward a professional front is really key to making yourself hireable – especially if you don’t have much experience to put on the old CV. Expect people to have a nosey through your socials to get an idea of what you’re like before deciding if they want to hire you or not – therefore, make your socials look professional. Don’t put up videos of you riding the conveyor belt at an airport with the lads (I did this, and was pretty sternly told to take it down by the MD I was working for…I was kind of annoyed at the time, but looking back on the situation, he was just helping me be more hireable).

Also, make sure the media you post is a good quality – there’s no point in putting up some crumby video where you can hear the washing machine in the background, or some blurry pictures of you playing with a weird bass face.

Honestly, the way you present yourself is so key to getting work and it’s really something to be mindful about when you post online – think about the impression it gives to someone who might want to work with you or hire you.

Pick up some dep work

When I first started out, I thought to myself, “I won’t bother getting to know bass players because they will be going for the same jobs as me” – such an idiot Skirrow!

First of all, I really don’t see other musicians as competition any more – we’re all in the same boat, we all have times when we’re struggling, and we all have times when we’re doing well – I’ve found it far better to celebrate the success of my mates rather than resent it.

Tangent aside, it’s also a really stupid thought since bass players will pass on the work they can’t do to other bass players, also known as dep work…and there is plenty of it too! It might not be the most glamorous, the odd function gig or theatre gig here and there – but, it all counts as experience and it will introduce you to other musicians who will get to hang out with you and hear you play – which will lead to more work.

Consider doing a contract

When I used to spend my days looking up and down the listings on (or any other job listing site), I saw countless contracts on cruise ships, ski resorts, hotels and holiday resorts. I have done a short stint on a cruise ship and also a short stint on a ski resort (which was dead good for learning how to snowboard!). This work is not really my cup of tea personally, however, it is a great way to earn money playing music, use your spare time to practice and to beef up your CV a little bit. The downside for me is this; contracts tend to be quite long (generally 3 months minimum) and that is 3 months where you may be out of the country, but definitely will be out of the loop – it’s like being in a bit of a bubble and the danger is that you could end up only getting called for these gigs.

There is nothing wrong with contract gigs, for me it’s a preference and it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, so there had to be a point where I turned down contract work and stop answering those calls so I could focus on building a career in pop – it’s a tough decision because it’s saying no to a good bulk of secure work, but for me it was worth turning down (although I’m still thankful I was given the opportunity).

So that’s my thoughts on the matter, the more I write these blogs the more I realise I’m pretty much saying the same thing in different ways – be professional, be friendly and work hard. Make it so when people meet you, regardless of what gigs you have done, they feel like they have to have you on their team!

Leave your comments below and subscribe on the right to get an email when I publish new posts. If you’re feeling really generous, give us a share on the old book-face.

P.S. picture is a throwback to when I was a drummer – not sure it’s fully relevant, but it’s cool right!! I haven’t put this skill on my cv – but I might!


*Shameless plug – my wife is a great web designer who runs a company called Skizzar – a website builder specifically for musicians and creatives. It’s a subscription service but you can choose how much you want to pay per month for it (mental right!) – if you get in touch and mention you saw this blog post then she’ll be happy to build the site for free and then you can sign up and pay what you want each month. Worth taking a look if you’re looking to get yourself a kick ass website – her email is or you can get in touch through the website.

So you’ve finished music college, you’ve got your music degree and you’ve decided to grab life by the balls and go for it – you’re going to be a session musician! Good for you. I remember the day I left my job as a teacher with this dream, and how cunning […]

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How to get Endorsements and free gear as a musician

There is so much I want to say on this topic it’s almost hard to know where to begin! In honesty, I wanted to put out other blog posts before this one, but this subject keeps popping back into my head as one I wanted to put my thoughts out on…so let’s get it out the way!

Let me start by saying this, there is no such thing as free gear! If you are lucky enough to have been given something by a company at a discounted price (including 100% discounted), you will have had to work bloody hard to earn it, and will have to keep working hard to say thanks for it! So, why do we strive for it? And is it worth it? And how do we get endorsed? It makes sense to answer each of these questions individually I reckon, so here goes…

Why do you want to be endorsed?

May as well be honest, it sounds pretty cool to be able to say you’re endorsed – and if you’re endorsed then you must be really busy, right? Or really good, right?

My first endorsement was back in 2011 with an amazing amp company called EA Amps (check them out actually, they’re insanely good!) – I had the iAmp Pro and it was like owning a space ship! – here’s my (first ever) endorsement pic *cringe*

…I’d never seen an endorsement pose with someone holding the amp above their head before, so I thought I was king of the hipsters doing this.

Anyway, to make this point more embaressing for me, here is the email I sent to get this endorsement, which led to this pic:

Hi Barry,

I left you a message on your UK mobile earlier this morning, not sure if you’ll pick it up so thought I’d drop you an email too. I’m a UK bass player currently playing for Mica Paris, I wondered if we might be able to discuss the possibility of becoming an endorsee for EA amps.
Sam Skirrow
The worst thing about this email is not how ridiculously vague it is, but that it wasn’t actually true, I wasn’t (and have never been) the bass player for Mica Paris – actually, I was called to dep once and it never happened. Shame on me right!! Well, in all seriousness it’s people like Sam king-of-the-hipsters Skirrow who are making it really hard to build trusting relationships with companies these days, I was so caught up with my own agenda of looking cool (fail), looking busy and not paying full whack for good gear that actually I lied about what I was doing and probably made it harder for genuine working musicians to get gear from EA in the future.
So here is what I would say to my past self, and anyone else who is starting to think about endorsements – why do you want it? Is it to look cool, or to look like you’re really busy? If so, then sriously, don’t bother – look at that picture of me, do I look either cool or busy?
The reason you should want an endorsement is because you couldn’t possibly live without the company whose gear you use or want to use. You’ll use the gear everyday and in most cases, exclusively, you’ll defend the gear when people use other stuff, you nerd out over the gear and stick their logo over the apple logo on your macbook…it’s basically like having a wife, just way cooler (that comment is a test to see if my wife reads this blog!)…so if you’re ready for marriage, then you’re ready for an endorsement – ok, perhaps I took the metaphor a bit far, but you get the idea, endorsements are for the commited.

Are endorsements worth it?

Obviously, getting a discount on your gear is great. But what is the cost beyond money? Well, here is typically what might be expected from you when you sign an endorsement deal (all of these things I’ve encountered personally but it’s not necessarily true of all companies).

  • Exclusivity – you can only use this brand of gear, and that includes abroad dates where you may be hiring in gear (so you will need to make sure your bespoke, handwired amp is readily available in Moscow…for example)
  • A certain amount of professionalism and credit on your socials. Yep, your socials are no longr your own, instead, every instagram post, tweet, status, snap…whatever, will from now on be followed by a list of @’s and #’s – and you’ll probably want to stop putting up posts about your cat – from now on, you post about your gear.
  • The logo on your gear must be visible to an audience/camera
  • Loan gear is often free, but you will probably have to rent a flightcase for it (which can add up to the same price as just buying the gear!)
  • You may get called up to write articles/play on advertising stands at expos
  • If your company don’t think you’re working hard enough, or representing them well enough, your gear might get called back (harsh, right!!)

…ok, these are by no means meant to seem like an excessive amount of work or a downer on the generosity of the company endorsing you, but it’s worth considering that having an endorsement does come at a cost and you will have to show what you can give back to the company in return for their gear. Remember, there is no such thing as free gear!

It’s also worth checking if an endorsement is actually financially beneficial. A classic deal might be 40% off, I was offered this not so long ago with a company, but when I lookd at the details, I realisd it was 40% RRP (which is typically 20% more expensive than in the stores), then there was 20% tax stuck on top, then import tax (varies, but could be up to another 25%), then there was shipping…*wipes sweat from forehead* – in the end I went to my local music shop and bought the product outright and saved myself nearly £300!

So there are 2 things you want to ask yourself, is it financial worth it and is it worth it in relation to your time and effort.

If you’ve made it this far, then it’s time for the big question everyone’s been waiting for!

How do you get endorsed?

Getting an endorsement is actually dead easy if you follow this simple guideline – put your money where your mouth is!

Let me explain. If you really love a company and you respect their craftsmanship so much that you want to shout about them all over your socials and put their sticker on your laptop, then the only way to truley demonstrate how into them you are is to buy their gear! At that point, you are in the position where you can say, from experience and with evidence how much you love their gear and how much you’d like to represent the company when you perform.

For me, endorsements are all about building a relationship with companies who build, in my opinion, the best gear – and you don’t start a good relationship by asking these companies to lower the price of the gear which they have slaved over building and the profits from it puts food on their tables. As with everything in this industry, good relationships are the most valuable thing you can have.

All the gear I play I have (at some point) paid for the first of it’s kind in full, and have subsequently built a good relationship with the companies who are kind enough to endorse me. So before you write that bolshie email talking about how great you are and what you have done, get yourself down to your music shop and buy the gear you’re trying to beg for free – then email them and tell them how great their gear is. Trust me, having done it both ways, this is far better recieved and leads to much longer term relationships.

Then, once you have your endorsement you can start working on your super cool, hipster endorsement pose 😉

Hope you find this helpful, would love to hear people’s expriences with being endorsed or trying to get endorsed – leave your commnts below, giv us a like on facebook for updates and subscribe by email on the right if you want to be notified whenever I post!

P.S. The “e” key on my laptop is broke (apple…if you’re listening), which is pretty unfortunate given the amount of e’s in this post! I’ve tried to catch them all, apologies if I’ve dropped a few!

There is so much I want to say on this topic it’s almost hard to know where to begin! In honesty, I wanted to put out other blog posts before this one, but this subject keeps popping back into my head as one I wanted to put my thoughts out […]

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Musicians – Dream big and write down your goals

It’s only a few days away from 2017 and as I scroll through my socials I’m seeing a lot of statuses to the tune of, “Gonna smash it next year” and, “Next year is the year”. I love to dream big, and I also love people who like to dream big too – but what are your big dreams? One thing I’ve noticed about super achievers is that they don’t just coast along through life hoping things work out, instead, they have a very clear idea of what they want. You could ask these people what their goals are and they would be able to tell you in specific detail.

There are two mindsets i’ve been guilty of entertaining in the past, and I think they can be really damaging to musicians (or anyone self employed really) who want to live the dream.

  1. Caring too much about what other people think or what your circumstances are
    I used to teach music before I was a rockstar. One of the questions I asked pretty much every single student I had was,

    “If money wasn’t a factor, or location and no-one had an opinion on what you do, what would you be doing?”.

    When I was in year 2 I was fully convinced that I would be an astronaut when I grew up – I very vividly remember the day I announced this in school only to be mocked by my classmates who had more normal dreams of being vets and doctors. Probably, if that day hadn’t happened, I’d be writing this post from the moon. My point is, I think a lot of us care too much about what other people think about our career choice and the life decisions we make and therefore we decided to take the more well-respected, safe road. Well, since it’s a new year, now would be a good time to encourage you to say eff you safe-road and do what deep down you’ve always wanted to do.Asking this question to my students is ultimately what led me to leave my comfortable teaching job and pursue a career as a musician. It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t have any savings, I wasn’t gigging at all, I didn’t really have that many contacts either – but I knew it was what I wanted to do and I knew there would never be a right time – so I just went for it.So my point is this – don’t shrink your dreams just because you think they are unrealistic, cost too much money or people might think you’re a dumbass.

  2. Not having specific goals
    When I first started out working as a sessioner, my dream was basically to survive and not starve to death. I think I just wanted to be a working musician – thing is, there are so many facets to being a musician that it’s actually possible to make a living from music and not feel like you’re living the dream. So that’s why it’s important to be specific, and then let your specific goals guide the decisions you make.A couple of years ago I read an almost interesting article which gave statistics about people who wrote down their goals and the success of achieving them, versus those who didn’t write them down. Here’s the facts (I found them on the internet, so you know they’re true):

    Committing goals to paper and reviewing them regularly gives you a 95% higher chance of achieving your desired outcomes.

    Ok, honesty time – I’ve just been on about 6 different sites looking for the original “fact” and they all say something slightly different – so either the percentage is getting less as more people write down their goals and don’t achieve them (lol), or the numbers are just made up. However, I still think the point is valid since I tried it for the first time this year and have been able to tick off all but one goal on my list.

    It sounds a bit namsey-pamsey, like a teenage girl writing in a diary – but it’s way more than saying, “Dear diary, when I grow up I want to play guitar”, it’s setting a focus for your year which allows you to measure your progress and give you something to aim for. It also acts as a filter for what work you take on and what you don’t, for example, if you want to be a pop musician and someone offers you an 18 month cruise contract, since it’s not inline with your goals then you can feel justified in turning it down.

    I think it’s important also to actually physically write this down, not just think about it. Writing it down sets it in stone, it’s something you can show to people or refer back to – it’s black and white, whereas in your head, you can blur the lines.

So as we step into the new year, and we’re all starting to think about how much we want to step up next year, I’d really encourage writing down your goals and dreaming big…I mean, the internet says you’re more likely to achieve them if they’re written down, so you may as well throw in a few ridiculous goals…right!?

Since I’m talking the talk, I thought I’d share with you all my goals for 2017 – then we can see what I can tick off this time next year:

Sam Skirrow – Goals for 2017

  1. Play bass on a headline arena tour
  2. Play on Jools Holland
  3. Play on an American talk show
  4. Spend more time working in America and build up a network of musicians
  5. Buy a new Sadowsky bass
  6. Buy some land
  7. Get 100+ visits per day on my blog
  8. Generate a minimum of £1500 per month of static income
  9. Find this lake (it’s in Kyrgyzstan):
  10. …Go to space 😉

That’s about all I want to squeeze in next year!! Would love to hear people’s thoughts, comments and dreams – leave a comment below and give us a share!!

Hope you’ve all had a great Christmas and Happy New Year!!

It’s only a few days away from 2017 and as I scroll through my socials I’m seeing a lot of statuses to the tune of, “Gonna smash it next year” and, “Next year is the year”. I love to dream big, and I also love people who like to dream […]

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How to promote yourself and get gigs when you’re a session musician

Following such a positive response to last week’s post – Can be be a UK session musician and not live in London, I thought I would talk about that thing that comes before getting work, something that I feel doesn’t really get taught enough in music colleges or spoken about in general…self promotion!

I should probably mention before we start, this is my limited experience from the last 6 years or so, and in particular I’m talking about promoting yourself for pop gigs.

Definitely the most common question I get asked about my job is “how do you get gigs”. If I’m honest, I don’t really know the answer – there really isn’t any formula for getting gigs, but I know that I didn’t just wake one day and have them. So the question really is, how do you get noticed?

Well, here are a few things a friend of mine called Spam Spirrow found out didn’t work:

  1. Posting a phone with your phone number on it and a post-it note saying “Call Me” to the head of a major label company…nope, doesn’t work.
  2. Stalking up and coming artists in their home town to just so happen to  bump into them and mention you’re a bassist and you’d love to work with them…nope, that’s both creepy and unproductive.
  3. Emailing an MD everyday for 30 days straight for a gig…yeah, also doesn’t work

Plot twist, Spam Spirrow is actually me, Sam Skirrow. Yeah, pretty embarrassing right – I mean, most of these things were nearly 10 years ago now, but I wish I had a blog about promoting yourself to read before I went ahead and did them!

So I think it’s fair to assume most people reading this will have a much more rational head on them and NOT do anything stupid like the above, so if you’re wondering what has actually helped me pick up gigs (and now you know i’ve tried more or less everything!!) then here’s my advice.

  1. Be excellent, all the time
    To be honest, I could stop writing this post now! As this really is what it all hangs on, whatever size gig or crowd, or whoever is in the band, always bring your A-game. Practice for those function gigs just as you would for those arena gigs, and respect the gig while you are on them. Why, because you never know who is watching and you never know who will call you.

    I remember being in a rehearsal for a gig a few years back that was paying very little (it was a agreed fee for 5 weeks of work – and it probably worked out at about £30 a day). But I played for my life during those rehearsals, in the middle of it, a guy came in from the studio next door, stopping our rehearsal and asked to get my number. From then on he started calling me for work which I’m still doing to this day!

    Don’t play to the size of the gig, play to the size of your potential <- sick quote I just made up!

  2. Use social media…but don’t spam people
    I probably don’t need to mention how good social media is for promoting yourself, put up videos of you playing, do the whole Facebook live thing and Instagram about what you are doing – it’s a great way to show people who you are and what you can do. I think there is a bit of an unspoken etiquette (at least, I think there is) when it comes to how you present yourself on your socials.

    Here’s what I think the unspoken rules are:
    – Don’t tag the whole world and their dogs in your videos!! Ok, every now and then it’s cool to tag people in your super sick drum video – but don’t do it ALL the time because people will get sick of you. Plus, let’s be honest, there are only so many drum fills or bass chops we can all take right?! Sometimes it’s nice just to have a bit of 2 and 4!
    – Don’t pretend to be on gigs you’re not, or endorsed by people you’re not…no one does that right 😉
    – Don’t troll on other musicians – these are your potential colleagues, if you’re going to gossip or hate on people you are burning bridges….basically don’t hype!

    Put out good quality videos and Instagrams and Facebook live’s and fan art till you’re blue in the face, but do it in moderation – be real and be humble.

  3. Don’t network – make friends
    I’ve always hated the word Network – it feels really cold and non-relational. One thing I’ve learnt in this industry is that you need friends not just a collection of phone numbers. Aside from the fact that people want to work with their mates and so you’re going to get called by people you get on with, it’s far more valuable to have people that you can call up for advise or encouragement when you most need it.So how do you make friends? I started meeting other musicians at jam nights (ahhhhh the dreaded J word!). I want to do another post on jam nights and what to expect at a later date, so for now my advise is this – go to them, lots of them, but don’t go expecting to get gigs. Instead, go to enjoy playing with other great musicians and meet people who are doing, or trying to do what you want to do.

    If you just want to go and show off your latest lick then no-one will care! Talk to people, buy them drinks, enjoy making music with them and keep in touch with them – it’s kind of like dating!

  4. Be friendly
    This point probably doesn’t need to much explanation. But I’ve found that just by being mildly sociable and texting or phoning people regularly you stay in the loop a little better and develop greater friendships.

    I don’t want to be patronising about how to be friendly so I won’t go into any more detail here – treat musicians as friends rather than potential leads to work!

  5. Develop your own musical identity
    This is a point I preach a lot, especially to musicians who are in, or have come up through music college. I feel like the music education system teaches us to try and be good at everything – I think that’s rubbish! I am never going to be really great at playing Latin music because it’s not in my culture or my upbringing, and also I’m just not that into Latin music! So why should I try and get good at it when I have other things that I’m naturally good at and that I enjoy.

    Know your musical identity because that is essentially what you will get hired for. I have always been very focussed on the style of playing I like and practice, even to the extent of turning down some great gigs because it’s not the route I want to go down. I remember a great friend of mine and utterly brilliant bassist called Si Francis passing on this advice to me – he was doing the whole 5-string bass, RnB/soul playing thing but felt like it wasn’t really him, so he sold his bass and embraced what he loved, great bass tone, 4 strings (although I swear I’ve seen him on the occasional 5 😉 ) and incredible skills at making sounds with effects pedals (and also smashing up Ableton and synth sounds too), and that is what got him called for the Ellie Goulding gig. The moral of the story, people will call you for what you bring to a gig – so find your sound and what you enjoy and master it.

Essentially, I’m sad to report, there isn’t a rule for getting work – everyone has a different story behind how they got their first pop gig. But I genuinely believe that hard work and determination don’t go unnoticed. If you work diligently, make friends and keep cool, you will (eventually) get work!

Would love to hear your thoughts on my thoughts – how did you get your first gig, or are you feeling like you’ve tried everything and not getting anywhere? Is there anything that has worked well for you or would recommend to other musicians? Leave us a comment below and give us a share on the old book-face.

Lots of love.

Following such a positive response to last week’s post – Can be be a UK session musician and not live in London, I thought I would talk about that thing that comes before getting work, something that I feel doesn’t really get taught enough in music colleges or spoken about in general…self promotion! […]

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Can you be a UK session musician and NOT live in London?

As a non-Londoner, this topic is pretty close to my heart and one that I really wanted to air my thoughts and first hand experience on.

I’m definitely that guy who, if you say to me “you can’t do such and such” I will want to do it more! So when I started out as a session musician 5 years ago, and everyone’s advice was “you need to move to London”, instinctively I felt the need to absolutely not move to London. Not because I don’t like taking advise, but because for me, it never made sense that where I live should affect where I work (within reason, obviously) – afterall, I do have a car…and a sleeping bag!

I should probably say at this point that I don’t have any hate towards London, I actually love it – but I enjoy my space, and the outdoors and London really isn’t where I want to live…I think this could be the same case for a lot of people who have also been told you need to live in London to work as a musician – hense why I want to write this post to share my experience and advise.

Plenty of successful working session musicians live outside of the M25, so it’s definetly possible, but how do you make it work? Here’s a few things that have worked for me (and also not worked for me) in the past.

  1. Have a plan. Be organised, punctual and mobile
    The biggest thing you will need to prove if you are going to commute to London for work is that you are reliable and that your home location doesn’t affect your work. So have a plan – do you drive? If so, how long would it take you to get into central London for 10am…with time to spare…because traffic…and coffee! If you don’t drive, how reliable are the trains and buses around you? What will you do about your gear (I store mine in London and get a cab to drop it off to wherever I’m working). What will you do with your gear after a show if your lockup is closed?

    You really can’t afford to be a liability on a gig when you’re from out of town, so being organised like this will mean that other people don’t have to spend their time worrying about how to get you from A to B, or how to ship your gear about, or even whether you’re going to be able to make it to your gig!

  2. Budget your own travel expenses
    I never expect to be paid my travel expenses. Since it’s my choice to live outside of London, I don’t expect to be put up in a swanky hotel or have my train fares paid. Having said that, thankfully, the people I work with respect that I don’t live locally and are happy, most of the time, to pay my expenses or put me up in a hotel (although, I often miss a couple of petrol receipts or train fares off my invoices). It has to be said though that I have spent many a night in a shared dorm in a five-pound-a-night hostel in London…hugging my bass for dear life! Or top and tailing with other band members, or sitting in a bus stop until the first train back home…I’ve done it all!

    Here’s my top tip though if you’re on a budget and you need a hotel, go on really really late on the day you want a room – like 10/11pm – I’ve never paid over £30 for a 3* in central London…in this case, lack of organisation actually pays off!

  3. Embrace the fact you live outside of London
    OK, honesty time. When I first started out, I remember thinking it would be a great idea to just pretend to live in London when people asked…at the time I thought I was as cunning as bloody Jonathan Creek, now I look back on that I realise it was a dumb idea which didn’t actually land me any more gigs than when I just said where I lived for reals!I did live in London for a few months (had to try it) and in honesty, I didn’t get more gigs just because I had a London postcode…all that really happened is I spent loads more money!! Ironically, the day after I moved back to the Midlands, I got a call for the biggest pop gig I had done at the time.

    But here’s what I learnt from all that – Not all music work comes from London! Everywhere has local function bands that you could get involved in, or pick up some students who don’t mind keeping a flexible schedule, or find a local studio and start working with a producer, or even work your way into doing remote sessions and sit in your boxers and record (not that I do that)…there is plenty of stuff you can do locally or remotely which still means you are able to earn as a session musician without being in the big smoke. These gigs are a great way of sustaining you whilst you spend your time going to London to meet other musicians, go along to jam nights and expand your network, all things that can help you work towards getting the bigger gigs that work from London.

  4. Don’t be a burden
    This point is kind of similar to my rant about not claiming expenses, but it’s something I think is really key. Remember, you chose to live out of London, so if you have to get up at 4.30am to make the start of your rehearsal, or if you have to drive for 45 minutes to get to a pickup point on the motorway so the tourbus doesn’t have to take a detour – then do it!! Don’t make other people’s lives difficult.
  5. Show your face
    The amount of times I’ve heard people ask me “You came all the way from the Midlands…” as if I live on the moon. Truthfully, it takes little over an hour for me to get to London, so there is no excuse for me not to be there whenever I have free time and show my face. By doing so, you’re letting people know that it’s not actually an issue for you to be available….plus you also get to hang with some really amazing people.

    I used to block book train tickets at the start of each month, in advance, every Wednesday – Friday, and head down to meet people for a coffee and make my way to jam nights to meet other musicians. I’d sleep on couches, hostels and train stations, but it meant that people became familiar with who I was and that I could start making friends with people doing the same thing I wanted to do.

I think in reality, the whole living outside of London thing will always be something that initially makes people who want to hire you wonder if you are going to be reliable – which is fully understandable. If you’re going to do it (and it’s 100% possible), expect it to take that little bit more work and determination and a few more redbull-fueled late night drives than if you did live in London.

Would love to hear people’s thoughts on this, is anyone feeling like they are expected to live in London to work as a musician? Or did anyone make that move already? For me, where I live has always been my first priority and work second, so this is my experience in trying to achieve that balance.

As a non-Londoner, this topic is pretty close to my heart and one that I really wanted to air my thoughts and first hand experience on. I’m definitely that guy who, if you say to me “you can’t do such and such” I will want to do it more! So when […]

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