Even if you’re locked away in a basement for eight hours a day with a metronome and a torturous practice book that is equal parts Mel Bay/Guantanomo Bay, you’re still not assured of transcendent six-string skills. Sure, you may get stenographer-like dexterity and harmonic book-smarts up the f-hole, but playing soul-shaking music often requires a more diverse skill set. But this doesn’t mean that attaining the level of expression produced by someone like Jeff Beck necessitates a life of guitar monk-dom.
First, don’t worry about the transcendent and unattainable talent of Jeff Beck. That’s just silly. What you need to do is ensure that whatever you play makes the hair on your arms stand up and quiver with bliss and excitement.
Here at Guitar Player, we figure that if you’re going to expand and maximize your talents, you may as well learn from the best. So we offer these 25 tips from cats who know their stuff—from rock royalty to jazz patriarchs to any-and-all top-of-their-game bad-asses.
Hopefully, you’ll find something in these cosmic, practical, and musical nuggets of wisdom that will kick that rut-raddled mind of yours into higher gears of inspiration.
1. Joe Satriani
“Moving into uncharted territory is a key ingredient to making your practice sessions a success. Playing the same stuff over and over will only take you so far. Introduce a new set of chord voicings, tunings, or scale patterns to your routine every week. It’s not necessary to know how to implement the stuff right away, just make your fingers go to new places, and let the musicality follow naturally.”
2. Carlos Santana
“A good way to crave your individuality is to get a tape recorder and get into a room that’s kind of dark—where you don’t have interruptions—and then just play with a rhythm machine. After a while, it’s like a deck of cards on the table, and you can begin to see the riffs that came from this guy, the riffs that came from that guy, and then the two or three riffs that are yours. Then you start concentrating on your riffs until you develop an individual sound.”
3. Steve Lukather
“The most important thing to remember when you’re attempting to increase your speed is to relax. Don’t push your muscles beyond what they can give. Practice for about a half hour, and then take a break. You can always resume after a few minutes. This is especially important when you’re trying to get seriously twisted patterns under your fingers. I used to sit in from of the TV when I was a kid, and alternate-pick scales very lightly. I wasn’t really paying attention, and it actually helped that I wasn’t concentrating so much, because I stayed relaxed, and yet I was able to build up my technique and stamina. But never keep playing if you start to feel pain. Ever. Tendonitis is no joke.”
4. Jerry Garcia
“To work on picking dynamics, plug into a practice amp and turn your guitar all the way up. Then play arpeggios—very quietly at the beginning, and then gradually louder by adjusting your touch. The goal is to vary your dynamics, but not change the position of your hands. Many guitarists change the way they hold their hands when changing dynamics. As a result, they end up with a ‘light-touch’ group of licks—the very fast stuff—but they don’t develop any power. What you want to achieve is continually making those conversions back and forth from quiet to loud picking.”
5. Rusty Cooley
“Wherever your guitar is when you’re sitting and practicing is where it should be when you’re standing. I discovered this the hard way. Years ago, I’d practice my solos sitting down—and I’d nail them—only to go to rehearsal and blow it because my right- and left-hand positioning was completely different when I stood up. Now, most players think it looks uncool to wear your guitar up high, but I think it’s cooler to sound kick ass than it is to look cool and suck! Zakk Wylde slings his Les Paul really low, but as soon as a solo comes up, he’ll put his foot on a stage monitor to raise his guitar up. Hell, Tom Morello wears his guitar so high that he says it sometimes hits him in the chin. So, for the sake of killer guitar playing, raise ’em up!”
6. Barney Kessel
“Keep your guitar out of the case and handy. Practice short periods—anywhere from five to 45 minutes—many times throughout the day, rather than for one prolonged period. Often times, five minutes is enough time to work on a technique or musical passage. The whole idea of practice is to get your reflexes working like a gunfighter’s, so you can pull out that gun and be instantly hot.”
7. Nels Cline
“Don’t listen to unimaginative naysayers when it comes to personal creative expression. At some point, there will no doubt emerge a conflict between the rules of instrumental mastery, and the need to follow one’s own intuition. Be strong! The only so-called advancements in art—forget about commerce—have come about when someone has either boldly modified or completely disregarded the norm. Those who deviate must stay true to themselves.”
8. Dave Wronski Pickup Balance
“To balance your pickups, plug your guitar into something with level meters, such as a 4-track recorder. Play each string individually, and adjust the pickup height until the level of each string hits the same point on the meters. Typically, you’ll have to lower the bass side of the pickup. If your guitar’s overall output is quieter than what you had, simply turn up your amp to compensate. The benefit here is string-to-string clarity.”
9. Jimmy Page Room Miking
“There’s a very old recording maxim that goes, ‘Distance makes depth.’ I’ve used that a hell of a lot—whether it’s tracking guitars or the whole band. People are used to close-miking amps, but I’d have a mic out around the back, as well, and then balance the two. Also, you shouldn’t have to use EQ in the studio if the instruments sound right. You should be able to get the right tones simply with the science of microphone placement.”
10. James Hetfield
“For heavy rhythm, it has to be downpicking. It’s absolutely key. It’s tighter sounding, and a lot chunkier.”
11. Oz Noy
Moving In Stereo
“Try using two amps and some stereo effects to get a bigger sound onstage. A ping-pong delay sounds huge when you stand between both amps, and any type of stereo chorus, flanger, phaser, or, in my case, a Leslie simulator, creates the illusion of an even wider sound. Panning your signal from side-to-side is a cool effect. I do it using a stereo Ernie Ball volume pedal. I like the amps to be almost identical, while others—including Stevie Ray Vaughan—prefer two amps that have different sounds that compensate for each other. Finally, it’s important to understand that unless both of your amps are miked, and panned left and right in the house, nobody except you will hear the stereo effect.”
12. Jeff Beck
“Over-indulgence in anything is wrong—whether it’s practicing 50 hours a day, or eating too much food. There’s a balance with me, as there should be with everything and everybody. I’ve tried to keep it so that I’m able to execute the ideas that come out, but practicing too much depresses me. I get good speed, but then I start playing nonsense because I’m not thinking. A good layoff makes me think a lot. It helps me get both things together—the creativity and the speed.”
13. Al Di Meola
“A good way to work on alternate picking is to choose three or four notes, and work on those. Too often, players who are trying to improve their right hand dexterity get hung up by trying to play too many notes with the left hand. I hear a lot of players running whole scales from the sixth string to the first, and playing them really sloppy. Keeping it very basic—using only a few notes—and playing slowly with perfect rhythm is a task in itself.”
14. Marty Stuart
“The greatest musicians are knowledgeable about music’s roots. Experience provides authenticity for the music we create. Eric Clapton and Keith Richards can teach you a mess of blues, but it’s good to find out about the original artists whose tunes they covered, such as Robert Johnson. It’s like the old saying: ‘How can you know where you are going, if you don’t understand where you’ve been?’”
15. Deke Dickerson
“Use your pinkie! When I first started playing, an older country musician told me to keep practicing with my left-hand pinkie—even though it felt awkward—until it was second nature. That was the best advice I ever got. You were born with five fingers—don’t forget to use ’em all!”
16. Stevie Ray Vaughan
“Use big strings. I like a set with a .013 E string, but I’ve gone as high as a .018-.074 set. They’ll eat your hands, your tuning pegs, and your amp, but they sound great.”
17. Wes Montgomery
Hang in There
“It takes time to develop every aspect of your technique. A lot of people don’t realize the crises you’ve got to go through. I used to get headaches when I started doing the octave thing, but, over time, I was fine. All it takes is to hear a little improvement in your playing, and that little bit of inspiration is often enough to push you even further.”
18. Eric Johnson
“Remind yourself that you’re free to feel great instead of reserved or insecure. When you’re feeling good, you’re more apt to take chances onstage, and if you make a bunch of mistakes, it won’t matter. It’s almost like you’re the instrument, and the music is flowing through you like electricity. Like John Coltrane said—the paramount aspect of being a musician is to try to get more in touch and in tune with yourself. When you do that, its like returning to the center and everything emanates from there. You automatically become a better musician in becoming a more aware individual.”
19. Dickey Betts
“Learn to damp notes to control feedback and noise when playing slide at high volumes. Many people play slide with a pick, and then use the heel of the hand or something to control the sound. The style I got from Duane Allman is to use the thumb and the first two fingers without a pick. If you have glass or steel on your left hand, and a plastic pick in your right, you are completely isolated from your instrument. What you have to learn to do is to strike a note, then stop the note with the fingers before you strike another one, so only one note sounds at a time. It works kind of like a damper pedal on a piano.”
20. Joe Pass
“Practicing eighth-note lines with a triplet feel is very helpful for improving one’s rhythmic feel for jazz. Of course, the best way to get a jazz feel is to play with records or with a group. It’s something you’ve got to inherently feel. A lot of rock players have such a straight-eight feel that they can’t play jazz. They’re too stiff.”
21. Steve Vai
“Try to separate yourself from what your fingers are doing and listen to the amp.”
22. Allan Holdsworth
“When playing legato, try to make all of the notes come out at a consistent volume. To achieve even more control, practice accenting the notes that aren’t picked.”
23. Pete Townshend
“For an electric guitarist to solo effectively on an acoustic guitar you need to develop tricks to avoid the expectation of sustain that comes from playing electrics. Try cascades, for example. Drop arpeggios over open strings, and let the open strings sing as you pick with your fingers. It’s kind of a country style of playing, but it works very well in-between heavily strummed parts and fingered lead lines.”
24. David Gilmour
“A bit of delay can smooth out the unpleasant, raw frequencies you get from a fuzz box. I have two units, and I have different echo settings on both. There are times when I have both running at the same time for certain effects. During solos, I usually try to set the delays to have some rhythmic time signature in common with the tune. I usually set them to a triplet—the notes all intertwine, so it doesn’t really matter anyway, but I find that a triplet delay is very melodic.”
25. Eric Clapton
“Don’t play every lick you know before the end of the set, because then you’re screwed. You’ll just end up repeating yourself. But it’s a very youthful thing to jam—it’s like sowing wild oats. But as grow older, you become interested in doing something more lasting. You have to settle down and make everything count—make sure what you do is worthy of being heard again. I’ve become more devoted to the song, and I feel that jamming, unless it has a goal at the end of it, is pretty much a waste of time.”
Peter Hodgson of gibson.com thinks so. Here’s his article, “From Zakk to Jimmy Page: A Study in Strap Length”
We guitarists reveal ourselves to the world in a lot of different ways. Our note choices, the tones we choose, the notes we avoid, styles we gravitate to. Playing music is a very personal form of communication, unique to every individual, yet it’s also a universal language with enough common information to be understood by anyone. And just as with verbal communication, body language is crucial when it comes to guitar. You can tell a lot about a guitarist by how they wear their instrument. And that is the crux of our hypothesis today: that strap length is directly related to personality and musical style. This is merely a hypothesis, one of many possible interpretations of the strapular-guitaristic-personality matrix.
There are six main guitar strap length personality types: Low-precise, Low-relaxed, Mid-precise, Mid-relaxed, High-precise and High-relaxed. There are very, very few exceptions – for example, those who exclusively play sitting down, or who have an entirely unorthodox technique like WWIII guitarist Chet Thompson, whose party trick is playing the guitar upside down with the body on his shoulder and the headstock between his legs, with both hands on the fretboard.
Zakk Wylde is capable of incredibly nimble feats of guitar daring. The speedy ascending licks in the “No More Tears” solo, the epic harmonics of “Harvester Of Pain,” and of course nailing the neoclassical fury of Randy Rhoads nightly on stage with Ozzy Osbourne – all are indicative of Zakk’s technical command of the instrument. But watch Zakk in concert and you’ll see that the guitar itself is part of the performance, not simply an instrument to perform upon. Zakk wears his guitar low and if that’s the perfect position from which to blast out a fast alternate-picked chugging riff like “Parade Of The Dead,” so be it. But when it comes to laying into those precise solos, Zakk typically hoists his Les Paul into a much more shred-friendly position. Whatever it takes to do the job, Zakk is able to do it while simultaneously stalking the stage like a heavy metal viking god.
In the studio, Jimmy Page is a sonic explorer, a brilliant arranger and producer, and a man who can craft three-dimensional musical experiences seemingly as easily as breathing. But on stage an entirely different side of Page’s musicality comes out. The studio craftsman is pushed aside by a swaggering rock god, the ultimate guitar hero, with exaggerated gestures and sure, the occasional gloriously sloppy note. Page’s onstage blues-meets-prototypical-metal style doesn’t just work better with a low-slung Les Paul: it practically demands it.
Joe Bonamassa is that rare kind of player who lives in the moment yet never seems to lose control of what they’re expressing at the same time. He has the ability to see in between each beat, each note, and pull out the most perfectly phrased licks and melodies time and time again from his Les Pauls (such as the Gibson Custom Joe Bonamassa Les Paul and the Gibson USA Joe Bonamassa Les Paul Studio). If you watch his hands while he’s playing, there isn’t a single muscle twitch that seems to be out of his control, yet the musical results are always human, never mechanical.
Paul Gilbert is still a very precise axeman – that’s why this category called Mid-relaxed instead of Mid-sloppy – but he’s the perfect example of a player who wears their guitar mostly around the mid level (around tummy-height rather than sub-belt or encroaching-on-chest) and who employs their whole body in playing guitar. In clinics and lessons Gilbert is fond of expressing the importance of using ones’ picking hand as a type of metronome, letting it travel far away from the strings before crashing right back down on the perfect beat. It’s the same type of approach used by great funk guitarists like Nile Rogers, whose pioneering rhythm style is dependent on the physical manifestation of rhythm.
The electric riffs Tom Morello has pumped out with Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and Street Sweeper Social Club are deceptively nuanced and intricate. Just listen to the fine details in the rhythm guitar work of “Killing In The Name” by RATM or Audioslave’s “Revelations” – surely Morello wouldn’t be able to rock out that hard or play such sensitive arpeggios if he was slinging his strap down at Johnny Ramone levels.
Albert Hammond Jr.
One half of the guitar team from The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr. is instantly recognizable even in silhouette: his distinctive ‘just out of bed’ hairstyle and high-slung guitar are very identifiable. Hammond regularly employs a very loose picking technique that appears to originate from his elbow rather than the wrist, and his guitars are worn at precisely the right height for maximum efficiency and attack. And if you listen closely to The Strokes in headphone it becomes immediately apparent who is doing what. Nick Valensi handles more of the lead and single note work, while Hammond’s insistent, consistent strumming technique makes him a rhythm guitarist in the truest sense of the word.
As we get older, there are more and more responsibilities that get in the way of practicing. For most adults, the 10-hour days spent glued to your instrument are long gone. I’ve encountered the same issue and have thus tried to really streamline my practice. In doing so, I’ve found (or have been shown) some really great methods to maximize efficiency in the practice room.
Note that many of these tips will be twice as effective if you’re also working with a private instructor. If you can’t afford it, there are many organizations that offer scholarships to those who want a tutor. I highly recommend trying to find a way to get lessons.
1. Go into it with an actual plan
No matter what the subject is, having a plan of action is the key to efficient progress and productivity. Practicing an instrument is no different.
Keep a record of what the weak areas of your playing are. (If you’re unsure about where you’re weak, see my second point.) Your primary focus should be on addressing these weak areas until they’re no longer weaker. That’s improvement, right? But take it a step beyond that. If you know what you need to work on, keep a list of the songs and exercises that are going to help you the most, and make a detailed plan every day about what specifically you’ll be doing.
As far as your practicing goes, try to have both long-term and short-term plans. First, set your ultimate goals. Where do you want to be a year from now? Five years? From there, you can make weekly or monthly goals that will serve as stepping stones to reach your primary goal. Then, set daily goals to help you reach those weekly/monthly goals. Even if you aren’t able to do as much as is on your plan, as long as you’re taking steps towards your goals every day, you’ll reach them.
2. Record yourself
The microphone tells no lies. Recording your practice is essential, as it allows you to see and hear any weak spots in your playing loud and clear. It’s especially essential if you aren’t studying with and getting feedback from a private teacher, as this will basically let you see yourself from an outside perspective.
Recording yourself is also a wonderful way to keep track of your progress. I tend to record the things that I’m working on once a week, so that I can see the progress I’ve made over the week and adjust my goals for the following week. After a while, you’ll have long log of practice time, and going back to listen to old recordings can be very inspiring, as you’ll get to see just how far you’ve come.
While audio is great, video is even better. If you have a webcam on your computer, this whole process can be quite easy. Taking video will allow you to hear and see any issues with your technique. Try it out!
3. Keep a consistent time frame
Consistency is the key to lasting progress. It’s much more effective to practice 30 minutes every day rather than 2 hours every other day. This consistency will not only allow you to retain information better, but will also keep your technique from dropping below its full potential.
Again, I can’t stress enough that consistency is the key. Let me run you through a few scenarios: First, say you have 30 minutes to practice during the week, but two hours on the weekends. Even if that’s the case, stick to 30 minutes. Rapidly increasing your practice time, especially by that large of an amount at once, will put a ton of stress on your body and could lead to performance injury. Your mind also won’t be used to focusing for that long, and you’ll probably have trouble keeping up that high focus for very much of that time period.
Second, let’s imagine that you’re sticking to 30 minutes a day, every day. However, on Tuesday, you only end up practicing 15 minutes, and decide to add that onto Wednesday’s practice. But then, you miss practice altogether on Wednesday, and decide to add that time onto Thursday for a total of 75 minutes. Practicing this way is a straight path to performance injury, and I absolutely advocate against it. Life happens, and if you have to miss a day of practice, then you have to miss a day. Oh well. But if you find yourself consistently missing practice days, you may have a daily goal that’s too ambitious, and you might need to reduce your daily practice time to better suit your schedule.
4. Warm up
If you aren’t warming up, you’re missing out. Many players reach a point where they choose to forgo warming up. However, just like even professional athletes take time to stretch, it’s essential that you give you hands a stretch prior to heavy activity.
If you don’t typically warm up before you practice, try it out for a week. Even something as simple as running a couple of scales to a metronome will do the trick. I assure you that will be playing better, simply because your hands have woken up.
5. Use a mirror
This is one of the easiest ways to be your own private teacher. A mirror is instant visual feedback and will allow you to check on your practice posture and see any glaring issues in your technique. If you don’t have the means to take video recordings of yourself or aren’t recording yourself every day, then practicing in front of a mirror will do the job.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a mirror, as long as it shows you a reflection. I’ve used large, reflective screens and webcams in a pinch. Give it a shot, and see if you notice any technical issues in your posture or playing.
6. Apply concepts to songs
If you aren’t applying concepts to real world scenarios, you aren’t going to be able to retain or use the information. As soon as you have that new scale, chord voicing, or lead lick in your fingers, pick a song and start using it. Sometimes when I learn a new chord, I’ll try to play an entire song using only variations on the shape I’m working on. Or I’ll work with a backing track to practice exercises, or improvisation using the scale that I just learned.
This is also a great way to learn new songs. Once you know a song well enough, try to pick something new to apply concepts to. This will allow you to get to know the song at a pretty deep level, and once you do, you can move onto more tunes.
Rehearsals are great places to try out new concepts (unless you’re involved in an important/big budget production where mistakes could cost you your job), as you’ll be able to see if you know them well enough to apply them on the fly. If the rehearsal is casual enough, you can also ask your bandmates for feedback regarding your new technique. They may even want to learn it from you!
7. Practice mentally in between sessions
In addition to my regular practice routine, I’ve recently started practicing through visualization as well. I often find myself with idle moments during the day when waiting for the bus or friends or sitting between classes. I’ve been taking this time to mentally run through new songs or run over new concepts in my mind. (It may sound crazy, but it’s been scientifically proven that mental practice is actually extremely effective, and really does make you better!) This is also a good time to run through music theory concepts; reciting the circle of fifths or spelling chords in your head is a great way to check your comprehension. You have to have a pretty vivid imagination to make this work, but I encourage you to give it a try!
8. Slow (way) down
If you take nothing else from this article, this is the big point I want to drive home: slow down! It’s far more difficult to play slowly than it is to play fast, and practicing things slowly will really drive in the information and muscle memory, thus allowing you to play quickly, but also accurately. Did I just tell you to practice slowly if you want to play fast? You bet I did.
Establish your “perfect tempo.” This is the speed at which you can play what you’re working on cleanly without mistakes. If you can’t do so, then you’re going too fast. The more you play slowly, the better your time feel will get, and the more precision you’ll develop. And it’s precision, rather than speed, that will typically get you hired.
Dylan Welsh is a freelance musician and music journalist, based in Seattle, WA. He currently plays in multiple Seattle bands, interns at Mirror Sound Studio, and writes for the Sonicbids blog. Visit his website for more information.
After almost five years, lots of speculation and a few Nick Littlemore disappearances, in March local titans Empire of the Sun announced they were coming back with a new record. The long-awaited second album Ice on the Dune wouldn’t be here until June 4, but the boys did have one sneak peek planned: Empire would make their live return at Sydney’s Opera House, as part of the 2013 Vivid Live line-up. They’d play two dates – both of which would end up selling out – and preview material from the new album as well as working through hits from their ARIA-sweeping, platinum selling debut.
It was an important couple of shows for the duo – by their own account, the live show is a vital part of the new Empire story. “It’s mainly a similar story to what we set out writing the record about,” frontman Luke Steele dead-panned to inthemix. “My head piece creates dreams of the world and animals are born. They get stolen by the King of Shadows and there is corruption so we have to set out on journey to regain my head piece to restore sanity to the world.” With that, inthemix set out to catch Empire’s grand return and, just as we did at Kraftwerk, learned a few things on the way…
1. Nick Littlemore is hard to pin down
When the lights dimmed, the smoke machine kicked into gear and the music started to swell, Luke Steele was lifted onto stage on a rising podium, fist raised in salute and headdress on. Nick Littlemore, however, was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he was off writing new Pnau material. He could have been busy scoring Cirque de Soleil with Elton John. Maybe he was just at home on the couch, watching his bandmate do it for the both of them on the Vivid live stream. We can’t tell you where one half of Empire of the Sun was, but we can be sure that he wasn’t at the Opera House.
It’s not the first time Littlemore’s been conspicuously absent, either. “It was kind of heartbreaking at first, I was like…you’re not going to come on the road?,” Steele told Pedestrian about his bandmate’s absence from the Parklife ’09 tour. “But we’re in the same band! Then he just said to me, “when there’s real money on the table give me a call”. And I was like “I don’t know real money you’re talking about, if a million dollars for five shows isn’t real money, then I don’t know what is”. So I was like, okay, I’ll go tour it.”
2. Back-up dancers and costume changes aren’t just for pop stars
How many costume changes does it take to put on an Empire of the Sun live show? About 10, apparently. Throughout the 70-minute set, Luke Steele and his small army of very flexible back-up dancers proved they’ve mastered the art of slipping backstage for the blink-and-you’ll- miss-it costume change. Luke swapped headdress and cloak a couple of times before winding up in a gold lamé number for the big encore, while the dancers worked through a string of skin-tight bodysuits adorned, variously, by fluoro pink guitars, red tutus around the neck, mounds of white fluff on their shoulders and other feats of design I can’t adequately describe. Step aside, Katy Perry.
3. People like the new stuff
Second album Ice on the Dune might not be out yet, but that didn’t stop the crowd enjoying it just as much as that platinum-selling debut album (even if sing-a-longs weren’t on the cards). We Are The People and Walking on a Dream were obvious standouts, but the biggest moment of the night was reserved for the encore of new single Alive. So if the Opera House audience is any gauge, Ice on the Dune is going to fare alright.
4. Just because it’s a seated event, doesn’t mean people are going to sit down
It was bad news for lazy types who were looking forward to sitting down for the show (yes, that’d be me) because midway through the third song, Luke Steele commanded everyone to stand up. Unfortunately the Opera House isn’t really made for dancing, instead permitting only an awkward shuffle in the metre square you’ve been allocated. But that didn’t bother the crowd, who by and large seemed to relish the chance to throw in the odd fist pump.
Besides, sit down and the rows of bodies in front of you will block the theatrics happening on stage – which, really, is as integral to the show as the songs. “It’s pretty much as important as the music,” Steele told inthemix before the show. “It’s like the colour of the skin of the music or the blood or the hair. It’s all encapsulated. Like Chad Atkins said “people hear with their eyes”. That’s the quote I always use.” So there you go.
5. The days of smashing a guitar on stage aren’t over
Dance music audiences aren’t often treated to the unpredictable on stage element live music has. Sure, there was that time Skream unplugged his mixer and handed it to someone in the crowd (“I was clearly smashed,” he later admitted) but for the most part, DJs are usually pretty well behaved on stage. So when Luke Steele ended the show by smashing his guitar on stage with no shortage of force, it was hard not to enjoy the spectacle. Was it all a bit over the top? Sure, but that’s Empire.
What does it take to get bookings as a wedding DJ? What is it that brides (who we all know call the shots at weddings!) are really looking for when considering someone to book? How can you make sure you do the best job, and so impress brides-to-be who happen to be in attendance, who’ll then remember you when it’s their turn to get married? Here are the qualities you should work on as a DJ that’ll help you get the bookings…
The six qualities…
1. Wedding gig experience
Experience is a top priority, with most opting for someone who has extensive experience within the wedding industry. A wedding is unlike any other party, and the DJ plays an important role in setting the tone for the evening. If you’re a DJ without much wedding experience, start building your portfolio as soon as possible – even if it means making slightly less money in the interim. The wider your portfolio, the more likely you’ll be able to secure the next wedding gig you pitch your services for.
Brides look for an organized DJ with solid planning skills who come prepared. How will you get ready for their party? Do you have any music-related questionnaires for them to fill in? What do you need to know about the venue and equipment set-up in case the bride and groom ask? The more information you can provide them when you first meet to discuss their big event, the more likely it is that they’ll pick you.
3. A positive personality
At any wedding, the DJ will spend lots of time interacting with the crowd, taking requests, and entertaining guests – and that means everyone from children to the elderly. Your personality is important to the bride, and she’ll be looking for someone friendly, fun, and confident behind the decks to ensure her guests get the most from the evening’s entertainment. You’ll also want to look your best, so come in attire appropriate for the evening and always have a smile on your face. No frowning the entire night!
4. A truly diverse music collection
The bride and groom are likely to have different musical preferences, as would their guests. It’s extremely important for the DJ to have a diverse music collection spanning decades as well as genres. The bride and groom will also have specific songs they’d like to be played in addition to their first dance, and it’s your job to find out what these are before the day itself so you can prepare.
6. Listening skills
Above all else, a bride needs a DJ that will listen to them. Couples tend to have a very firm idea about what they’d like their big day (and night) to be like, and they need to work with people who will listen and understand their vision to help them create the wedding they really want.
These wedding DJ qualities are just the tip of the iceberg because every potential wedding gig will always be unique, but they’re a great place to start if you want to build your reputation as a professional. If you’re serious about doing it, you might also consider the Digital DJ Tips Complete 21st Wedding DJ guide, that has helped hundreds of wedding DJs get started.
In short though, just remember you’re providing an entertainment service, and the bride and groom are your bosses for the evening, so learn how to truly listen to what they need of you, and then over-deliver and exceed their expectations.
• This is a guest post by Barney from Party Events Unlimited, a DJ and wedding entertainment service based in London, UK that has provided DJ services across Europe.
Kickstarter has lead the way with nearly $120 million going to successful music projects. IndieGoGo is a close second and, unlike Kickstarter, allows creators to keep the money even if a project is unsuccessful (if the creator chose “flexible funding”). The most successful music crowd funding project is of course Amanda Palmer’s project which raised $1.2 million for her album. But there have been over 18,000 successful Kickstarter music projects (mostly funding albums) ranging from $1,000 to $1.2 million. Crowdfunding has been a great way for indie artists to bankroll their albums and tours without a label or investor.
And the newest of the crowdfunding bunch is Patreon. I call it Crowdfunding 2.0. Creators on Patreon ask their fans for continued financial support (patronage). Most patrons pledge $1-5 per piece of content released (music video, song, blog post, podcast, whatever) But some have pledged upwards of $1,000 PER PIECE OF CONTENT, because they can afford it and they really love the artist. Patreon launched in 2013 and is now paying out over $1 million per month to creators. This model embraces the new philosophy of asking your fans for support, not forcing them to buy. Because album sales are in a free fall, this is the next best solution for independent musicians with a highly engaged audience.
Some people lump PledgeMusic in with Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. I don’t. PledgeMusic is different. It has changed the way the modern album campaign works. The pre-order on PledgeMusic is much more than just an advanced purchase of the album. Running a PledgeMusic campaign invites the fans into the entire album making process from start to finish. Some bands literally live stream from the studio to their backers. Many large bands who don’t need the money still run PledgeMusic campaigns (without the crowdfunding element) because it increases fan engagement and opening week sales. Artists like 311, Ben Folds Five, Imogen Heap, Howie Day, Korn (with the backwards R) and Lucinda Williams have all run campaigns. Many actually charted on Billboard in the opening week (all pre-order PledgeMusic sales are reported to Soundscan for chart placement).
3) Self Managed Digital Download Stores
BandCamp has been the most successful artist-managed music store (no labels allowed) and currently pays out over $3 million a month to independent artists. Their “name your price” model has personally allowed one of my fans to pay me $200 for my new album and another fan paid $20 for a single. BandCamp is moving to a Patreon-esque subscription service in 2015. CD Baby, Loudr and Tuneport also offer self-managed download stores that have become increasingly popular amongst the indie music community.
4) BandPage Experiences
BandPage started as a Facebook app to allow bands to post music to their Pages. It has evolved into a musician-fan experience haven. Artists offer “experiences” like meet and greets, soundcheck access, pre-show ping pong challenges, pre-show guitar lessons, green room hangs and anything else you can think of. These experiences have brought in additional income for bands on tour above the standard ticket/merch income.
5) YouTube Ad Revenue and Sponsorships
Companies like Audiam, INDMusic, Fullscreen, Maker Studios, ONErpm, AdRev, Believe and Rumblefish collect YouTube ad revenue for artists and labels. Multi Channel Networks like Fullscreen and Maker also act as agents for their creators and negotiate high paying sponsorships for their videos and YouTube channels.
6) Online concerts
StageIt and Concert Window are leading the way in the online concert world. Most shows are “pay what you want” and encourage tipping. I’ve played a few StageIt shows and have averaged about $5 a head for a “pay what you want” concert (from tipping and tickets). Not bad for playing songs from my living room.
7) Gig Masters
This is like an online event planning company. I’ve never tried it out, but I have a few friends who get booked for weddings and corporate parties all the time through the site. Customers leave reviews of the artists and the artists’ ranking rises the more positive reviews they receive. Gig Masters costs $200-400 for the annual membership, but one booking will typically pay for that.
8) SoundBetter & AirGigs
Mixing and mastering engineers, producers, instrumentalists, singers, and full demo production studios get hired through these sites by artists for their recordings. Live in a remote village in Tanzania and want your epic 127 track production mixed by a Grammy winning mixing engineer? Done! Well, if you can pay their rate of course. This has been a great way for freelance artists with home studios to get extra work – especially if they aren’t plugged into an active music town.
SoundBetter just implemented a search by location feature so if you want to find recording studios or live sound engineers in your town, you can find them here as well.
9) YouTube tips
This is a new feature just rolled out this year by YouTube (to compete with Patreon). It’s not available to all YouTube users yet (you have to apply), but it’s a great way for fans to pay artists directly through YouTube – without having to leave the site.
10) Licensing Companies
Traditionally, licensing departments were a division within publishing companies. But with more and more demand for independent music on TV shows, commercials, movies and trailers, licensing companies have been popping up every day to connect indie artists with music supervisors. Some of the biggest have been doing it for 5-10 years now and have built up pretty solid relationships. Music supervisors love discovering new music to place in their projects, however, with so much music out there they typically only accept music from sources they trust: labels, publishers, artists who they have build relationships with, and now licensing companies. In addition to these more traditional licensing companies that pitch music directly to music supervisors with big budgets, many companies like, Triple Scoop Music, The Music Bed and Audiosocket, clear music with the artists in advance and put the songs up on their site for a set fee to be used, non-exclusively, by photographers and indie film makers. Passive income baby!
For all the doom and gloom discussions within the music industry right now, hopefully these 10 avenues shed some light onto how you can diversify your income stream and make a solid living as a musician.
Photo is by Earl McGehee from Flickr and used with the Creative Commons License
A recent change in the law will allow musicians to exchange free beer, buffet food and ‘exposure’ for petrol, rent and guitar strings. Under the new legislation, it will be possible to pay for studio time or even a mortgage, by mentioning the ‘really big gig’ you performed at last week for no money, especially if there were celebs at it.
A bass player from Manchester said:
“This is really good news for bands and musicians. I’m looking forward to buying a new bass with the sausage rolls and four pints of Strongbow I was promised for doing a wedding last week. At last, the government are doing something to support working musicians,”
Under the old law, it was impossible to pay for any kind of goods or service with the bullshit idea that you are ‘getting your name out there’ by entertaining a bored crowd that have never heard of you, trying their hardest to get legless and cop off with each other at a badly organised event. But this new legislation paves the way for people that don’t want to pay for bands to hire bands, and for musicians to pay their mortgages with plastic glasses of warm ale and vague promises of future paid work.
“I was offered an unpaid spot at a posh wedding, on the promise that there were influential people among the guests that might help my career. I’m looking forward to name-dropping some B-list celebs and people off the telly at my building society, and getting a third off my mortgage this month,”
Said a professional flute player from Southampton.
“I’ve been a professional musician for fifteen years, and I normally feel like telling people to fuck off when they ask me to do stuff like that. But now I can finally afford to live on the total twaddle of some tight fisted bugger that wants me to do them a favour and doesn’t want to pay me,”
Why does music bring us pleasure? Well, the simple answer is that it changes our brain chemistry… literally. Music triggers the parts of our brain associated with reward, motivation, and emotion, which causes the feelings of pleasure that we get when we put our headphones on.
So even though we can’t necessarily pinpoint exactly what it is about music that excites us, we know it happens. We are lucky enough to have the opportunities to see our favorite groups and listen to them at home, at work, or on-the-go. For the longest time, music has been an important part of everyday life, and defines decades and generations.
And yet, all along, our brains are behind it all.
Robert J. Zatorre, Professor of Neuroscience at McGill University, and Valorie N. Salimpoor, a Postdoctoral Neuroscientist at Rotman Research Institute, have been researching the relationship between our brains and music. If you’ve ever felt a rush hearing the climax of a song or the sudden shift in cadence in another, you aren’t alone. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released, which usually occurs in response to positive stimuli like food or sex. According to neuroscientists, however, dopamine is released right before that favorite part too. In a study of brain function and music, scientists found that the more neural activity and dopamine released, the more money the listener was willing to spend to purchase said music.
But the relationship between our brains and music doesn’t stop there. The auditory cortex actually allows us to recall music and experience it again, even if it’s not playing. For musicians, the auditory cortex just might be the most important part. The ability to create music and re-arrange music in our heads starts there as well. We can even pick out wrong notes and incorrect changes in sound.
All of this brain function leads to music being an important part of our lives. Whether you’re listening to your favorite record at home or watching a live show, music undoubtedly changes the way we feel. So next time you hear a song and feel a sudden pulse, remember that your brain is feeling it too.
Have you ever wondered why guitarists seem so laid back and loose on stage? Some shredders even appear to be immortal, like the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards. Maybe they just have access to really good doctors, but here’s another potential explanation: The axe might be as powerful as anything inside the medicine cabinet. Strapping on a Fender could boost your brainpower, sex life, six-pack, and more:
1. Feel Serious Pleasure
Simply plugging in your guitar, playing it, and listening to the music you’re creating can make you feel good—orgasmically so. According to a neuroscientific study from McGill University, hearing music triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, the same chemical that’s released during sex.
2. Wave Away Stress
Whether it’s your boss or bills that give you anguish, grabbing your guitar can help zap stress. A dual study from the Mind-Body Wellness Center and Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Applied Biosystems found that stress can be reduced on a genomic level by playing an instrument. Rocking out actually reverses your body’s response system to pressure.
3. Send Pain Packing
Forget popping pills: If you live with chronic pain, reach for a pick. According to a study from the University of Utah’s Pain Research Center, listening to music—and in this case, your own sweet licks—can take your mind off, and thereby reduce, pain.
4. Sharpen Your Mind
Did Einstein secretly shred? A new Scottish study says if you play the guitar—or any musical instrument, for that matter—you’re more likely to have sharper brain function, which can help guard against mental decline in the future. Open a songbook and study up.
5. Toughen Your Ticker
Rockers have killer chops—and cardiovascular systems: Researchers from the Netherlands found that patients who practiced music for more than 100 minutes a day showed a significant drop in blood pressure and a lower heart rate than those who didn’t. Three of the test subjects? Guitarists. 6. Seduce Total Strangers
Can’t wail yet? Don’t worry. Just carrying a guitar case can seriously boost the odds of women wanting you—even if they’re total strangers, finds recent research in Psychology of Music. How come? Studies show women associate musical ability with intelligence, commitment, hard work, and physical prowess—and ladies associate all those qualities with your ability to earn money, the researchers say.
7. Woo More Women
More proof you don’t need actual skills to score chicks: Israeli researchers recently sent friendship requests from a good-looking guy to 100 attractive, single women. In half the requests, the guy was holding a guitar. In the other half, he wasn’t. Only 5 of 50 women accepted a friendship request from the guitar-less guy, while the man with the axe scored 14 attractive new “friends,” according to the study. The reason: Musical ability is linked to manliness.
8. Strike It Rich
You might not make it in the music biz, but your guitar could still help you earn the big bucks: Researchers from Michigan State University found that musicians who picked up an instrument at an early age and continued nurturing their craft throughout adulthood had a better chance of launching successful invention—logging patents, building businesses, and publishing pieces. 9. Build More Brainpower
Stuck at work without your six-string? You’re still giving your brain a workout: According to a Cambridge University study, musicians continue being creative even when they’re not playing their instruments. Researchers found that performers visualize music in terms of its shape, and then process that as a form of practice. Most don’t see it as such, but it’s a highly creative way of learning.
10. Record Yourself, Reward Yourself
Oftentimes, guitarists will record their sessions or demo songs; that way, they can go back and practice them. But bring your recordings to the gym and you might see a physical benefit: Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences found that music doesn’t just make for solid background noise while working out—it actually made exercising less exhausting for study participants.
With album sales nowhere near what they used to be (unless your name is Taylor Swift, who probably doesn’t frequent indie artist advice columns), and streaming not yet a truly viable source of income for musicians, a lot of artists are looking for new ways to distribute their work that will both reach their fans and result in some remuneration.
Three such methods that are gaining in popularity are the new fan-funding site Patreon, the concept of artist-run subscriptions, and going old school with special cassette releases. What all three of these methods of distribution have in common is that they give fans something exclusive, and they create a unique connection between the artist and the fan. Here’s what else you need to know about distro’s newest stars.
Do you use Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or PledgeMusic but hate having to constantly launch new campaigns, and re-ask all your fans for support? Patreon has found a way to streamline the process.
Patreon was created by Jack Conte, who is one half of the musical duo Pomplamoose, when he noticed his YouTube views weren’t doing as much for his bottom line as he’d hoped. Rather than a one-time campaign, Patreon is a platform where fans contribute a set amount per project. For example, a fan can decide to pledge $1 per song for an artist, and that artist will get $1 every time he or she creates a song.
According to Patreon’s Head of Marketing and Special Projects, Erica Costello, this cuts out quite a few, oftentimes unnecessary, people. “Literal middlemen have come between artists and their supporters for way too long,” she explains. “Artists and supporters belong together!”
A few big names have been using Patreon, including the queen of crowdfunding Amanda Palmer and Ryan Leslie. That said, Costello notes artists of that notoriety aren’t necessarily who Patreon is focused on. “We’re super stoked to host Amanda Palmer and Ryan [Leslie],” she says, “but we take pride in serving the creative middle class. Patreon is the primary source of income for so many singer-songwriters who were struggling to pay rent and eat food, even though millions of people watched and loved their creations on ad-based platforms like YouTube.”
Patreon, at its essence, is a modern day, more advanced version of a fan club. Pentatonix, the a cappella supergroup known for their tight relationship with their fans, uses the service, and according to the group’s Scott Hoying, “A fan club is a perfect title for it. There’s more of a sense of a community, though, because it’s all digital.”
Ari Herstand, who’s a musician but uses Patreon to support his music business blog, adds, “Fans crave a closer engagement and exclusive content from their favorite artists.” He notes Patreon “gives fans a [nearly] direct line to support their favorite independent artists more than just paying for a download, which has turned into a cold, detached, digital transaction, quite different from the feeling fans would get visiting a record store and buying their favorite artist’s record.”
With constant access to your fans’ bank accounts, however, how does an artist make sure that their relationship with their fans stays a happy one? According to Hoying, “Putting out good content and staying interactive with the patrons will keep all parties happy.” Herstand seconds this, saying, “If the artist continues to show their fans that they actually care about them, and continues to be authentic and honest, the fans will stay loyal.”
2. Artist-run subscriptions
Magazines have been published for hundreds of years, and for hundreds of years people have subscribed to the magazines which featured topics in which they were interested. Some indie musicians are looking to use that ideology as a way to sell their music.
Coole High, a hip-hop and smooth jazz artist, remembers first hearing about the artist subscription concept in 2009, when he met Tim Sweeney, who ran a music strategy conference in LA. “He had this brilliant idea of independent artists having their own subscription models to sell their music, merch, etc.” The comparison made at the time was Netflix versus Blockbuster.
In 2009, however, the tech wasn’t quite there yet to make it happen. Now it is, which is why Coole High recently launched a way for fans to subscribe to his work for $20 a year. That subscription includes his extensive back catalog, any new releases that come out in the next year, discounts on tickets and merch, and subscription exclusives in the form of videos and concert streams.
Dance pop artist HoneyChrome has also launched a subscription format, noting “it’s like the fan pays the artist to be an artist, not pay the record label to manufacture one release.”
They key to making this form of distribution work, according to Coole High, is in the connection an artist has with his or her fans. “It’s really about creating a new and more intimate but effective way to connect with the people who really appreciate what you do, who you are, and what you’re about.” He adds, “A lot of my fans can’t make it from France to see me do a gig in NYC, so now with the subscription they’d have access to live streaming of select concerts or performances from virtually any location I can access WiFi.”
Yes, you read that right. There are artists and labels going back in time and releasing albums via cassette tape. Some artists are doing cassette-only exclusives, while indie labels like Burger Records boast a giant catalog of cassette releases. (And when we say “giant,” we mean it. Their site features over 200 albums available on cassette.)
Most music fans aren’t about to add a tape deck to their lives, but many still have them in their cars and others have older boomboxes that have the ability to play tapes. You’re definitely targeting a very specific audience with a release on cassette, but when done correctly, it can reap some pretty impressive rewards.
For his most recent tour, Stones Throw Records artist Homeboy Sandman had a tour-exclusive cassette release, meaning the only way to get it was to buy it at one of his tour dates. “Everybody’s hyped over it,” he says of the cassette release, which he credits Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf for coming up with. “I sell it more than any other piece of merch. More than vinyl, hats, or CDs.”
Homeboy Sandman feels that the exclusive nature of the release, which makes the album a collectible, is partly what inspires so many people to purchase it. “Nobody’s like, ‘Oh, I’ll just get it online, so I don’t have to carry it home.’”
From an artist’s standpoint, he notes that the cassette tape is a format that is more challenging to rip and put online, so a cassette release will likely have to be bought if someone wants to hear it.
The positive reaction he’s received from his first cassette release has Homeboy Sandman thinking of future uses for the format. As he says, “If I had some of my actual albums available on cassette, it seems like they would sell, too.”
Which one of these burgeoning forms of distribution is right for you? We don’t know, but we can give you three words of advice regarding this: know your audience. If you have an older crowd that grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and is prone to long car trips, a cassette release may be right up their alley. If your fans have fervently supported every one of your releases, perhaps you may want to try one of the subscription ideas.
There are a lot of ways to get your music out there, and as HoneyChrome notes, they all have the same ultimate goal. “I think we are just trying to get back to making everyone happy, fans and artists.”
Adam Bernard is a music industry veteran who has been working in media since 2000. If you live in the NYC area, you’ve probably seen him at a show. He prefers his venues intimate, his whiskey on the rocks, and his baseball played without the DH. Follow him at @adamsworldblog.