- Avoid people who don't show up on time.
Ted Neeley's bus driver on Jesus Christ Superstar used to say "Early is on time and on time is late". Unless you are Axl Rose, nobody is going to sit in The Tranzac for 45 minutes waiting for your band of unknown people playing music they've never heard.
- Avoid drunks like the goddamn plague.
This one probably explains itself. People that drink heavily at every gig and treat it like a party are going nowhere and you don't need your name associated with theirs.
- When you show up to sub for a gig or a rehearsal, dress appropriately.
Look professional. Don't show up to the gig in a red wife beater with hair that hasn't been washed in a week and don't send anyone you know to sub for you that would do that. Get a suit, nice shirt and a few ties, which leads to the next point.
- Learn how to tie a double windsor knot.
- Watch your mouth.
Everything you say can and will be used against you. Musicians are a tightly knit group and trashing people or other groups in front of a band of five people is almost the same as yelling it into a bullhorn at Yonge/Dundas Square. Word travels quick. Freedom of speech may save you from government persecution but it does nothing to stop individual people from hating on you. I once mentioned that I really don't care for The Beatles and I think they were one of the first "boy bands" to a bunch of musicians and you would've thought I just denied the Holocaust!
- Play with older musicians whenever possible.
They have great stories and damn good advice. TWICE (2009 and 2010) I was taken into secondary inspection at Pearson Airport before getting my P2 Visa stamp to work in the United States. Border guards are assholes and will treat you like shit even if you give them no reason. A Sax player named James Warburton told me that whenever he crosses the border he dresses as well as possible and has no problem. Considering I was wearing a Hendrix shirt, had an unkempt beard and long hair I was probably asking for it.
- Prepare to be poor.
In the last ten years I have taught thousands of lessons, traveled the U.S and Canada playing in some of the most prestigious theatres to thousands of people, had bar tabs in the hundreds of dollars, seen the beaches of Hawaii with a guitar strapped across my back and had articles published in magazines, but couldn't afford a box of Kraft Dinner a couple weeks ago. It happens. You know what else happens? Getting boatloads of money for playing guitar. It's ups and downs that make life interesting.
-Play with older musicians whenever possible.
I can't stress this enough. If some opportunity came up with a band and your guitarist buddy who is your age (and just as hungry) heard about it first, do you think he'll tell you? Fat chance. At some point the greed and need of young players trumps helping others. Older players are more seasoned and probably busy in their own right. They have no problem helping out a young player trying to make it. It's very rare that a young player helps another young player. Take a look at some of the bands in the city, ever notice how a lot of them are the same people? There's a reason for that, and here it is.
-Nobody gives a shit how good of a player you are.
They would just as soon hire their friend to play in a band then hire Eric Johnson. This is a little like the high school popularity contest. It never really ends.
- Happiness can make you lazy.
I struggled harder to get work and make a living when I was new to the city, didn't know anyone and was miserable. Good times. No seriously. I got more accomplished.
- Don't date someone that can't hold down a job, doesn't support you one hundred percent or is a musician.
That last one is open to debate but it directly relates to the first point. You're going to go through periods where you don't make money. It happens, deal with it. If you are in a relationship with someone who doesn't have your back you are fucked. You'll get kicked to the curb in those bad times.
- Carry extra strings, side cutters and a string winder with you.
Twice I've been at someones else's gig and they popped a string on their only guitar, and once I lent my guitar to them while I changed their string for them. Oddly enough, I have only broken two strings at gigs in the last ten years. Once in Picton at a bar and during the opening night show of Cats. <-- That one sucked. I had to read an 8va part without a high E string, plus I was nervous. Luckily, I used to practice this.
- Practice "disadvantage exercises".
If you break a string on your guitar, leave it off and pick up some music to read through or practice songs your band plays without that string. What if you were about to go into "Sweet Child of Mine" at some packed bar in Oshawa at 1:30 am and you didn't have a high E string? Do you think the dance floor will understand your predicament? The last couple times I broke a string, nobody noticed until the end of the set or act.
- Get a copy of "How To Win Friends And Influence People". Read it. Read it again.
- Save money for retirement.
Get a copy of "The Wealthy Barber". Read it three times. Open an RRSP or a TFSA depending on which one works best for you. This could be the most important tip in this article and should be studied as meticulously as possible. Read books, ask older people like those guys you should be gigging with whenever you can.
- For the guys, think with your brain not your dick.
Don't follow your penis around like a divining rod. Paying child support to a woman you can't stand who is raising your kid to hate you can't be fun. I'm not in this boat, but I know some who are.
- Be able to authentically reproduce any genre and tone associated with it.
As much as we strive to have our own sound and be unique, being able to mimic other players is an ability that can make you useful in studio and teaching settings.
- Learn how to defend yourself.
A few months of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai can make you ready for just about any drunk asshole who wants to prove his manliness at 3 am in Belleville.
-Drugs, drugs, drugs. Which are good? Which are bad?
When I was a kid I was shocked to find out who was smoking weed, as I got older I was more shocked by finding out who DIDN'T. Whatever, it doesn't work for me. I can tell you this much, you may think you sound awesome when you're baked, that you're tapping into this other dimension of creativity but ninety percent of the time you sound like shit to the sober people in the room. Put down the bong, pick up a book instead.
-True expression starts on the inside and works its way out.
Not the other way around. Dressing like you are in a Rockabilly band doesn't make you a good rockabilly musician.
-Never underestimate the power of music.
We live in an age where you can hear whatever you want whenever you want for pretty much no cost. It can, and it has cheapened music in a way. Fortunately the ones hit hardest by the changing "paradigm" (remember when that was the hot buzzword of the year?) were the ones that deserved it. Shitty, formulaic products have been pumped out of studios in New York, L.A and Nashville for decades just to make money with little regard of the musical content. It can make one cynical and jaded pretty fast. But there are moments where you hear something that catches your attention. Not just for the length of a single but the whole fucking album. There are moments when you go to a venue and a guitarist plays things that sound like absolute magic. These moments are few and far between, but they are the ones that matter.