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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 askjeeves.com 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 starnow.com. 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 starnow.com (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 emma@skizzar.com 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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