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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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About jam nights and why every session musician should go to them

I’ve been talking a lot recently about my experience of how I got into working as a session musician – I think it’s something that should be talked about more openly and hopefully there is some useful advice in there for people who are considering leaving their well paid jobs to live the dream.

This might be my last advicey blog for a while as I want to steer things a little more towards nerdy bass gear talk (at least for the next few posts). But before taking it there, I thought I would talk about a topic I’m sure every working musician has an opinion on – Jam nights!!

Some of the most common advice I was given as a young buck wanting to head out into the glamour of session musician-ing was, “go to Jam nights”. Probably the most vague bit of advice going, so here are my reasons on why I think every musician should go to Jam nights and what you can expect.

  1. Make some mates and play with new musicians
    I briefly mentioned this point in my last blog post about how to promote yourself as a session musician and get gigs. Having friends in this industry is one of the most valuable assets (that is, friends, not just contacts), not only do mates want to work with mates – but actually the importance of having someone to depend on for advice and encouragement has been crucial for me to keep believing in myself and being persistent.I can’t stress this point enough here – don’t go to jam nights thinking that Gary Barlow is going to see you, be totally blown away by your playing and flock to you with his phone number begging you to play for him. When you say it like that it sounds stupid (Ok, I exhaggertaed little), but this was my mentality at first, and I’m sure it’s the mentality of a lot of other people that have been given the advice, “go to jam nights” when asking, “how do I get a gig”. Infact, I would say the opposite, don’t go to jam nights expecting a gig at all – you will be seriously dissapointed. Instead, go to be socialable and enjoy playing with other great musicians. Once you’ve had a play, chat with the people you played with, get numbers, go for some food after (there is a great little Italian takeaway place opposite Ronnies), nerd out over gear – basically, be normal! Your goal isn’t to use people to get gigs, it’s to get to know other, like-minded musicians.
  2. Build your confidence
    I remember the first jam night I went to – it was at the Troy bar and the level of musicianship was so incredible (pretty sure it was Rick Leon James on bass…if you know, you know!) that I decided I never wanted to play bass again! Twenty minutes later, I decided that was a stupid thought and that I had just wasted a great oppurtunity to better myself by being too scared to play.I started going down to jam nights a couple of times a week and, in a similar way in which I imagine Bear Grylls forces down a goats testicle, I would force myself, against every part of me that wanted to just go home and have a qiuet night, to get up and play. Actually, non-surprisingly, there’s not really anything too it – it’s always that first step that takes the most confidence. I used to think of it as “faking confidence”. I think it’s a key skill to have though as a musician, it translates to more than just getting up on a jam night to play to having the confidence to walk into a last minute gig, or having the confidence to sugest an arrangment in rehearsals, or having the confidence to audition under pressure – think of it as a training ground to build up your confidence in your own ability.
  3. Grow your repertoire
    Having a good repertoire is a big weapon to have in your arsenal. It means not only can you jump on any song at a jam night, but you can also hop on function gigs easily with very little preparation, or join in when the whole band decide to soundcheck by playing superstition (*cringe*).Seriously though, repertoire is a big advantage for jam nights and for your musical career in general, so to help out I’ve made a Spotify playlist of songs that quite often pop up at jam nights – but also that I think are just good to know!Disclaimer – I’m sure everyone and their dog will have songs to add to this list – it’s not a definitive list. Feel free to leave comments about what songs you think are good function/jam night standards though.

    https://open.spotify.com/user/skirrow/playlist/5XbQJybmLGJeaQ8ZA42XT1

  4. Show your face
    Again, this was a point I made in a previous post, but showing your face regularly is a great way to stay on people’s mind, and a great way to build relationships with people. The more you go to jam nights, the more you will be recognised and eventually you’ll be asked to come up on stage to play rather than having to ask. So be a regular, on jam night will not land you all the gigs…which leads me on to my final point of why you should go to jam nights.
  5. Get all the gigs
    OK, this is not actually the point at all, infact, I think it’s fair to say that in about 7 years of going to jam nights, i’ve never been given a gig…perhaps that says more about me now I think about it!But here is the thing that has definetly been true for me; good relationships, self confidence, a large repertoire (and a good ear) and regular catch ups with other musicians will eventually lead to getting you gigs – and these are all skills that you can learn and develop whilst at jam nights.

Where are the jam nights?

There are so many jam nights that happen in London, some better than others and sometimes the good ones will have a hen night going on in the same room and end up with a bunch of drunken middle aged women who don’t play instruments getting up and giving it a good go anyway…true story. But here are some that I’ve definetly frequented in the past:

Ronnie Scotts

  • Ruby Sings – every Tuesday, £8 on the door (or email rubysings@ronniescotts.co.uk to get on the guest list for £6 – limited places available)
  • W3 Jam Sessions – this is a great jam night by the way and will be packed out! Every Thursday, £6 – £8 (depending on what time you arrive).

Troy Bar

The Troy bar actually do music most nights, but I think the best ones are:

  • Spirit & Soul – every Tuesday – this is more of an open mic night, so good for vocalists
  • Fusion Jazz Jam – this is my FAVE. If you want to see amazing musicianship, and get up to play and really push yourself, this is the one. Every Friday night

Marmelade Jam

Disclaimer – i’ve never actually been to this one (yet) but my friend Chelsea who is well cool runs it so it must be good!! Plus, it has it’s own website – http://www.musicmarmalade.co.uk/. Every Wednesday night…Chelsea, I’m coming down I swear 😉

Ciros – Music Box Live Jam

My experience of Ciros has been limited but great – the first time I may have had a bit too much to drink, stormed up on stage like a bull in a china shop and i’m pretty sure I played awesome…but that last bit might be open to interpretation (the picture for this post is from that night…photo cred to my mate Loucas Hajiantoni…superb keys player, and not so great photographer). The second time I burst through the door and knocked the bouncer over who then kicked me out…so that night wasn’t great. It’s brilliant musicians though and a great intimate vibe. Every other Monday (I think) – it’s a bit vague, but it’s called the music box jam, so if you search that you will find a post on facebook from someone, somewhere about it!!

For most Jam nights, I would aim to get there for about 11pm…any earlier and you’ll be that nerdy guy who get’s everywhere too early. Just kidding, punctuality is well cool. But they run late, so get yourself a nap in the evening and expect a long (and thoroughly enjoyable) night.

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, my hope with this post is to make jam nights seem less pressured and daunting to people who have been told they should go, but don’t really know why!

I’ve been talking a lot recently about my experience of how I got into working as a session musician – I think it’s something that should be talked about more openly and hopefully there is some useful advice in there for people who are considering leaving their well paid jobs […]

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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 booking.com 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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