Vagabonding as a rock musician: a step by step guide. Post #1: how to get started

This article is the first in a series of posts explaining how to bring your music on the road and get to travel with it (Read the series’ introduction)

To be able to travel with your music, and I mean being able to get paid – even a tiny bit – to play, one of the basic requirements is to have some good music to “sell”. It needs to be original, your own. Too many artists around the world fail to overcome their insecurity, consequently failing to create original music. However, you should also consider the reality: it is highly improbable that a promoter would book a cover band for an European tour.

Therefore, the first thing you have to consider is yourself: what does your band have that others have not? Sometimes it is just matter of finding a shade of color in a genre, in any niche, to be able to get incredible results.  It is really impossible to suggest some general lines about what a band should do to be better, as there would be a million different answers. The best lies always within yourself and your current capabilities. Once you know what you want to play, you have a definite lyrical idea, a concept, and you have some songs, half of the job is done. The other half is keeping at honing your craft and play live shows.

In fact, the biggest mistake many musicians commit is thinking that they have to wait before they can perform in front of a public. This ideas leads, most of the times, to the band’s break up after a very few shows, and does not add much to the experience of a musician. I personally found that playing as many shows as possible was the best way to improve my self esteem, write better music, and become a better performer. Nowadays, as there is an infinite number of independent bands out there, it is also true that such an infinity does not generally stand out. You have to find the positive aspect/s in your group, and make it/them show.

Again, playing live shows is the key: because you will get to travel ONLY if you become an experienced touring band. Of course, at the beginning, every band has to pay its dues and bite the dust… it’s all part of the game. After a few months, or years, you will find out that the number of contacts you gathered this way will be well worth the effort. I had to work hard myself for 5 years, playing countless shows in Europe, before I could embark on an American tour organized by a respectable local promoter. We toured 13 states for three weeks, played around 20 shows in 20 different cities, and  managed to pay all expenses (including an international flight) with a total loss of around 800 US $ to be split among four.  Not that bad, isn’t it?

In a nutshell, in order to get started, you need to focus on your own peculiarity as a band – sound, appearance, and lyrical content – and start to create original music. The second step will be playing local shows. A great tip for this is to “exchange” shows with bands you know from different cities: play host first organizing a gig, then you will be their guest. If you could talk a club promoter into giving you some space to book shows, you would be a few steps ahead of everyone else already. Making contacts to play shows is also another key aspect of your successful start up.

Has anyone tried to establish as an independent musician before? How do you think playing many shows can build up your touring career? I would not be surprised to receive totally antithetic comments, as such is the nature of the music business.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | March 22, 2012
Category: On The Road, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Life

One Response to “Vagabonding as a rock musician: a step by step guide. Post #1: how to get started”

  1. Josh Says:

    Good post Marco.

    I traveled for 7 years as a musician. In that time we hit more than 30 states. At the time we were so concerned with “making it” that we didn’t realize what a privilege it was to get paid to travel. Now that I’ve been out of it for a couple years, and have had to pay for all my travel out of pocket, all I can think about is getting another band put together to do it all again.

    While we never traveled out of the US as a band, I personally left the country on a couple occasions. Having a guitar with me was a great asset for building relationships.

    Musicians need to keep in mind that bands aren’t all that “cool” anymore. Myspace more or less turned us all into telemarketers and frankly we’re an annoyance to a lot of people. The key to doing it well is to focus on our audience. We’re nothing without one. Give the audience what they want and they’ll keep you on the road for a long long time.