Get a Gig: Work Opportunities for Guitar Players | Hub Guitar

Get a Gig: Work Opportunities for Guitar Players

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Studio Recordings

Studio recordings are one of the most desirable (and hard to come by) gigs for the working guitar player. A studio player is expected to be able to handle just about anything. Depending on the context, studio players can usually read music, and are versed in every popular style. If you’re hired to play in a studio situation, time is money. The goal is to produce a record as fast as possible without the luxury of a lot of takes. And everyone is being paid by the hour. That means studio musicians should be some of the fastest-thinking and most versatile hired guns there are.

Studio work is highly competitive and very unforgiving. It can make or break a musician. Sometimes the sessions are easy, and sometimes you get hired because a producer knows you own a gut string guitar and can hammer out some bossa nova interpretations of techno-pop songs. — Word Strickland, Guitar Player, Nashville, TN

Cruise Ship Work

On the face of it, working on a cruise ship sounds rather appealing. Travel the world on a boat, and get paid to play music all day. Bear in mind that cruise ship musicians are not paid a very high salary, and they are expected to operate a pretty demanding performance schedule. This is especially true of guitar players, who are often expected to pick up extra work as a solo guitar entertainer.

To work on a cruise ship, strong sight-reading, repertoire memorization, and general entertainment skills are a must. Auditions are held regularly in major cities by the major cruise lines.

Due to the difficulty of life on the sea, cruise ships have high turnover, so if your chops are together you should have a good shot at finding an opportunity.

Private Solo Entertainment

There are a number of opportunities for solo guitar players, mostly weddings and corporate functions, with the odd birthday or bar mitzvah thrown in. To succeed in this space, you’ll need to have solid marketing skills to get yourself booked, either by reputation and word of mouth, or some other means. You’ll also want at least enough memorized solo guitar repertoire to last for about two hours, with a backup plan taking you to about 4 hours.

  • Expect constant requests (and get used to politely turning them down)
  • Guests can be quite chatty. Learn to read the situation and decide when it’s OK to chat.
  • Unless the booking person was specific, people don’t care that much what you play. A mix of popular tunes and standards is usually well-received.
  • Keep your best 2-3 repertoire pieces up your sleeve. Most of the time nobody will listen to you. But you may be put on the “spotlight”, especially after a toast or similar. It would be a shame if this happened and you had already played your best tunes.

Teaching

Teaching is a unique option because it’s not centered around performance. Teaching can be very demanding. The most in-demand teachers often see students back-to-back, sometimes 14 or more with no break. This constant revolving door puts a pressure on the teacher to use lesson time productively and make sure everybody is getting what they’ve paid for.

As with most opportunities, the hardest part will not be doing the work, but finding it.

Good teachers need to be patient, focus on the needs of their students, willing (and honored) to teach. It helps to have an outgoing personality as introverted people may find it exhausting to spend the whole day focused on someone else.

Teaching can pay fairly well, especially for in-demand teachers in metropolitan areas. And it is one of the more stable sources of income for musicians.

Theme Park Entertainment

There are a number of theme parks in the US which employ musicians regularly. This work can be very seasonal and demand long hours, but there is usually a housing and living expenses allowance.

You need to have the right attitude to do this work, as you will be put in the role of an entertainer. You may be asked to read lines, act in skits, or do whatever else the director of entertainment dreams up.

I worked as a drummer/performer at Hershey Park during the summer of 2008. I do feel it was very competitive [to get the gig]. The schedule was very intense. We performed our 30 min set five times a day, six days a week. All of the performers lived in the same apartment/condo area close to the park. Our housing was set up by Hershey Park, and our rent was deducted from our pay automatically. For a summer job, this was extremely reliable [...] The pay was excellent, I was performing all summer long and was able to make new musical contacts. — Steph Barker, Professional Drummer.

Pit Orchestra

Musical theater tours with a pit orchestra that backs up the players on the stage.

Sight reading skills are highly valued. This is the type of job that could demand some travel, and be transient/seasonal. It’s also important to learn and memorize the repertoire.

General Business / Cover Bands

Cover bands work in a business environment similar to that of solo guitar players. Cover bands are also expected to have a broad repertoire. Some of them specialize in a particular style or era, even going so far as to wear elaborate uniforms. Others do more general work. Pay is not usually remarkable, but some bands do well.

To succeed in a cover band, you need to connect with bands that are already getting paid to play. Expect to memorize a lot of material. Most of the tunes played by cover bands are fairly straightforward to learn and memorize.

I believe this type of work has become very competitive in the last 20 years or so. I remember back in the 70-80’s there was a lot of work in both Function Halls and Clubs. There were many clubs that ran live music 5-6 nights per week and it was not unheard of for General Business groups to do 2-4 weddings a weekend! But I think because of the rise in popularity of DJ’s and the shutting down of many clubs in the new millennium, It has made it much more difficult. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of work out there, but it is much more difficult and competitive and only the bands that are talented, tight and committed to growing, showcasing and staying current with their repertoire and marketing materials are getting the work. — Sal DiFusco, Professor, Berklee College of Music and manager of Radiance band.

Restaurants and Bars

This might be one of the worst gigs. Increasingly restaurant owners are inviting bands to play, to be paid in “exposure”. An exception might be solo guitar at a high-end restaurant. The repertoire would most likely be classical or jazz standards.

Another way to make this pay off is to do solo performances with a loop pedal. While paying 5 musicians $200 each for a short set is not appealing to most restauranteurs, many could afford to hire one.

Armed Forces Bands

The armed forces employ a number of professional musician-soldiers. All musicians in the armed forces work for the federal government, are subject to strict military rules and regulations (including a system of justice entirely separate from the civilian one) and may be deployed at any time including in a combat role. Do not believe anybody who tells you the musicians in the military are “special”, they are like anybody else in the military and the same rules apply to them.

The Armed Forces offer great opportunities to musicians, but it comes with the same sacrifice any soldier must be prepared to make.

Do not join the Armed Forces just for the sake of a gig. Join only if you’ve always wanted to serve.

Busking and Street Performance

While some of the best street performers are able to earn money doing this, it’s most often a source of income for the transient, vagrant, desperate or young. Many cities require a license to busk, although enforcement is usually lax.

Music in Media

Although not specifically for guitar players, there is a demand for music in various media including YouTube videos, advertisements, iPhone games, and more. As with all music careers, finding the work is often the hard part.

Research, Technology and Other Miscellaneous

There are many miscellaneous professional opportunities where musical skills can boost your chances of employment or promotion. Working for an organization that puts music as a central part of its core mission is one example. There are many music organizations that employ administrators, and they naturally prefer to have musicians among the ranks of their workforce.

For those in academia, there are a broad range of research possibilities studying music and technology, learning, medicine, the human mind, and many more.

For those in technical professions, there are a number of opportunities to work on software or hardware projects related to music.

Still others may find their musical experience serves useful in finding employment with instrument or recording equipment manufacturers.

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