Working as a Musician: 5 Things That You Must Do (but have very little to do with playing)

If there is one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s that at the end of the day, the ability to get and hold a gig, has very little to do with playing. There are tons of people out there (just look online) who can out-shred, out-comp, out-pretty-much-everything-with-regard-to-playing, many of the players that I see out there working. There is always someone better. The pro-level playing is purely the price of admission to the show (or the catalyst to get a foot in the door). Want to actually stay for the show and be able to come back? Much, much more is required. Don’t misunderstand me, the expectation for having and maintaining pro-level musicianship is and should always be there. Again, that is the basic side of things. I can’t tell you how many musicians that I run across who are technically phenomenal but are virtually unhirable. Reasons range from inflexibility to poor communication to complete inability to prepare. Whatever the reason, it is extremely important to understand that musicianship isn’t the only thing that is required, especially for up-and-coming folks. Check out these 5 tips:


  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: This is the only item remotely related to playing/performance. Your preparedness as a musician is not only with regard to learning the tunes/show but also preparing your rig, if needed. Patches, tone, levels, etc all come into play. The more you can set a baseline for yourself, the better off you will be when you get into rehearsal as there may be adjustments. Slight rant alert: Guitarists, I’m looking at you. Learn the part, build the sound, play it like you mean it. I’ve seen “pro-level” folks phone in this stuff and it’s just depressing. Serve the music and do the time. Ultimately, that goes for any instrument.
  2. Don’t tell someone about your communication, show them: I love hearing people tell me how good they are at communication and then utterly fail to communicate. Talk is cheap, folks. Don’t just say that you’re a good communicator, be it. Respond to emails, texts, and phone calls. If someone asks you a question, answer. If you don’t have an answer yet, then still respond saying that you’ll find out. Good communication fosters peace of mind and sets folks at ease. When your name and “ease” are in the same thought bubble in a client’s mind, then you have it made.
  3. Be prompt: Don’t make someone wait days on end for a reply, specifically with important questions. Yep, we all know you’re busy. News flash: we are ALL busy. If you’re working in the industry, then you are busy. It’s good to be busy because it means that hopefully, you’re working enough to keep your lights on. If you wish to remain busy, then take two seconds to reply even if it’s that you’re looking into it and will get an answer (see #2).
  4. Check your verbiage: This will be fairly broad as every environment is different but be mindful of how you say certain things. If you are about to say something in a rehearsal that could be construed a few different ways, then maybe pass on saying it or at least put yourself in the other person’s shoes before letting fly. Somethings need to be said, others don’t.
  5. Don’t assume, ask: Never assume anything, always ask. If you can’t ask the person who hired you (or it would be weird to ask, specifically in the case of a bigger artist), then ask management or a band mate on typical protocol for your specific inquiry. Wardrobe, payment policy, rehearsal policies, etc. Hopefully, in a pro-level situation, they will provide you with every bit of info you need so you can implement as necessary and focus on the performance. However, if you didn’t get the info you need, then ask for it.

Aaron Kusterer is a musician, producer, tour manager, and composer based out of Long Beach, CA. He has performed with artists such as Eddie Money, Juanes, Mitch Malloy, and Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson) to name a few. He has also performed across the globe during a 10-year stint with the United States Air Force Band, 6 years of which was spent as a music director and tour manager. In addition, he owns and operates Advantage Tour Management. For more information on him, check out:


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