How to play in a pro band

Playing in a professional band is a thrilling experience that can provide a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. As part of a professional band, you will have the opportunity to hone your craft and develop your skills as a musician. You will perform in front of large audiences, collaborate with other musicians, and write original music that can be enjoyed by the public. Being part of a professional band is a great way to express your creativity and share your music with the world. It can also provide an invaluable learning experience that can help you grow as a musician and as a person.

In this post, I will share my humble subjective experience in professional bands over the years; and requirements to be in one.

Despite the popular belief; it is not always the best instrumentalist who gets the gig. The player of choice is typically the one who…

  • … has musicianship above the expected threshold
  • … fulfills supplementary criteria the best

So; what are those supplementary criteria?

Availability. Top players usually get a lot of calls; therefore, their availability might be limited. In sake of consistency, more available players would be preferred.

Backup player. If you can provide a backup player for occasional gigs you might not attend, that would be more than welcome for everyone.

Collected attitude. If you are playing for a renown artist, you ought to act natural and comfortable around him/her. Express your admiration, but don’t act/talk like a drooling thrilled fanboy – be professional.

Confidence. During rehearsals and gigs; you need to appear confident, strong and dependable. This will make your band members feel better and contribute to the professional image of the band. An anxious player who seems to struggle is not really helpful in that sense.

Energy. Your job is not only music. The crowd comes to live shows to feel something. Your stage energy should contribute to that. A stone faced Frankenstein player or a gear-gazer might not be the best choice on most occasions. You ought to move, dance and be expressive.

Eye contact. You need to keep your head up for two purposes: Contact with the audience and contact with the band. Especially on critical points; such as syncopations, intros, modulations and finals.

Friendship. A typical gig takes about 2 hours, but you will spend much more time with your band members hanging out during preparations, transportation, flights, etc. Time spent on friendship is much more than time spent on music; so a “friend” would be the preferred player. No one prefers to deal with a miserable douchebag.

Gear. You probably can’t impress anyone with the price tag or rarity of your instrument; but you need to have functional gear without technical issues + a backup plan for live performances. Bring a second instrument + alternative DI box, for example. Your gear should enable you to do a decent sound check pretty fast as well – no one has time for audio problems (pedals are notorious for that).

Key independence. More often than not, the keys of songs will shift during the rehearsal – sometimes even right before the performance. You should be able to play in alternative keys instantly. This is a skill developed over time.

Listening. You need to listen to the entire band while playing, and shift your own lines accordingly. If you blindly play whatever you have memorized at home, you might miss the flow and possibly disrupt the overall sound.

Positive attitude. Mishaps will happen eventually – musical, logistic, financial, etc. No one is willing to endure drama, ego or whining. You ought to be chill, easy-going and agreeable on occasional problems – but preserve your self-esteem of course.

Preparation. When you go to the rehearsal, you must show up prepared. Learn the songs, work on syncopations, use iPad sheets if needed. Rehearsal isn’t the time to learn songs, it is the time to prove that the band can play everything together.

Prioritization. Most musicians play in multiple bands. However; more professional bands will expect you to prioritize them. You may send a backup player occasionally; but if you make that a habit and keep preferring other bands, you will likely be replaced.

Punctuality. Be there on time – both on rehearsals, sound-checks and gigs. If you have an unexpected delay, notify others as early as possible.

Reading. Some bands will require you to sight-read sheet music, some will accept you following written chords, and some won’t require reading skills at all. Your skills in that sense should match the demand.

Reflexes. No matter how much you rehearse, things will deviate during the gig. The singer might miss the entry point, the drummer may change the rhythm, solos may get longer, a syncopation might be skipped, etc… You should be agile enough to catch such cues and shift accordingly.

Secondary skills. If you can provide extra services, that’s usually more than welcome. Owning a car, ability to mix / master tracks, doing back vocals, a little additional stage show, tailoring, etc. will not get you into a band, but they are bonus points to remain there for sure.

Soberness. Personally; I neither drink nor smoke. But many musicians do. It is typically expected from everyone to be mostly sober – at least sober enough to perform well on stage. Addictions leading to unreliance doesn’t really help anyone.

Task orientation. You are there to fulfill your task. People are coming to see the show, not you alone as a player. Don’t be that pathetic player trying to show himself / herself off – unless it is part of the act.

Versatility. Proficiency in multiple styles of music is good to have in your musical toolbox.

Wardrobe. Your outfit should match the story of the band. Don’t exaggerate though – unless requested.

Typically; the best instrumentalist who can fulfill most of those criteria will be preferred for the band.

If you think that I missed some points; let me know!

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