10 Rules Musicians Should Live By

There are a lot of misunderstandings about what it might be like to be a gigging musician.  Many people assume that musicians are ego-driven and disorganized.  That might be mostly true :). However, a good musician SHOULD be pretty disciplined.  

After thousands of gigs, I’ve learned to work hard, keep my skills tight and have fun – all at the same time.  Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about being a musician and this article presents a collection of my most valuable discoveries about the lifestyle of a musician – how to cultivate it and how to enjoy it…

Rhythm is More Important Than ANYTHING!

You might think playing the right notes, being in key or having your instrument tuned would be more important… But, I promise you that you’d be dead wrong.  This is one conviction that has grown more and more certain with every gig – you can play anything (in time) and it will *work*.

Be Prepared and Know Your Set

When you’re playing music, you are a powerful force and you have a responsibility to do a good job.  So, don’t get on stage hoping to phone it in – it’ll be bad for everybody.  Know your set and prepare to play like your life depends on it.  If you get lazy then you fail (no matter how well you play).  It is never that hard to be prepared and it could be the worst mistake you ever make.

Cultivate a Good Mood

Yep, that’s right.  Don’t be a sass or a bummer on stage.  Be grateful and cheerful.  Learn to laugh at yourself and help everyone remember how awesome music is.  Being in a good mood will (I promise) help you play better.

Listen More, Play Less

It isn’t really about you – no matter what instrument you play.  Think of yourself more like the mortar between the bricks… everyone is counting on you, but don’t expect to be the star all the time.  Doing your best and playing your best starts with keeping your ears wide open and listening to what is happening around you.  Only then can you know what is needed.  If your lucky, you’ll be prepared enough to answer the call!

Don’t Be Afraid… The Audience Trusts You

When you’re on stage, it’s easy to start dwelling on small mistakes and second-guess your performance.  But, know this: the audience doesn’t know (or want to know) that anything went wrong.  In fact, the audience assumes that you’re doing it right.  They have no doubt in their mind that any weirdness was more likely your amazing idea (rather than a moment of carelessness).  Believe in yourself the same way the audience does.  Have faith in that, for sure!

Set Up and Break Down Quickly

As the old saying goes… “The Show Must Go On!”.  That’s why a musician should always be optimized to hit the stage ASAFP and get setup without a bunch of hassle.  Likewise, when the time comes to leave the heat of the lights, let it go and make room for the next act.  Everyone will appreciate it – the bands, the sound engineer and the audience.  

Don’t Hate on ANY Music

This is really, really important.  If a musician develops the belief that certain styles of music are intrinsically better than other styles, they are buying themselves a one-way ticket to a short career.  First, it is impractical to try to survive in music, professionally, with this attitude.  Secondly, it robs a musician of one of the few great pleasures of music – it brings people together.  So, celebrate diversity and learn from it.  Don’t play blues? Get over it and start playing blues jams until you *get* it.  Don’t listen to Hip Hop?  You should.  Don’t like Techno?  That’s most likely because you don’t understand Techno.  Get on it, open your mind and become an ambassador, rather than a downer.

Accept Criticism and Praise With Grace

I know I love it when people compliment me on my performance, but in truth most compliments come from the uninformed.  Granted, if Eddie Van Halen complimented me on my guitar solo, I’d be thrilled, but when a guy in the bar compliments me it is a different matter.  Entirely.  Remember that most people are simply not in a position to judge your music.  Play like it is the most important thing in your life and ignore criticisms and praise equally.

Share the Stage

Sure, you’ll have moments to shine.  However you want to be remembered by the audience, don’t forget how you’ll be remembered by the band as well :). If you insist on elbowing your bandmates (or supporting players) out of the spotlight, you’ll likely find yourself exactly where you want to be… alone on stage.

Have Fun and BE Fun!

Making Music is an honor.  I’m grateful for every moment that I’ve had the opportunity to play music, whether it was on stage or off.  Don’t ever forget how music came to you – it was a gift.  Sure, you can earn your skills and I say musicians should fully enjoy the satisfaction that comes with developing one’s musicianship.  But, once you get your game together, don’t forget to have a good time.  Music is fun and the audience will have a better time if that’s what you’re doing, right?  Be fun.  Show ’em what that looks like and *feel* it.