I have been quite fortunate in my musical career in that the majority of musicians I have met have been friendly and willing to help out by offering a support slot at one of their gigs. However I have heard stories about some musicians, and even met a few myself who are egotistical, jealous, underhanded and downright fuckwits.
I began to perform live when I was introduced to an ‘open jam’ at a pub that used to be owned by a friend of mine. For those who don’t know, an open jam is where musicians can simply just mess around together playing all sorts of music. All musicians can dip in and out of whatever is being played and it is usually a laid back affair. There is always an overabundance of guitar players and singers so unless you play bass, drums, keyboard or any other instrument that isn’t as popular as the guitar, your time performing will be limited…unless you’re kick-ass of course.
I learnt a lot from these early sessions and the more experienced musicians were patient and kind, and wanted me to jam with them so that I might better improve my own musical prowess. However I have also been to open jams that are geared solely towards guitarists and the session quickly turns into a “Let’s play a 12-bar blues in A and all fifty of us guitarists can do a ten minute solo”.
The bass player, drummer, and everyone else for that matter, get bored with this very quickly. Don’t get me wrong. I like a good blues solo as much as the next person but not everyone enjoys playing or hearing blues. There are many other genres out there eagerly waiting their turn to be heard. For me, and I might be wrong, these sessions simply stroke the egos of the soloists as they are playing for themselves and not for anyone else.
When I moved to Canada, I found that many of the musicians I met were also friendly and supportive of each other. I was invited to play support slots around the various local pubs and I returned the favour when I had secured my own gigs. Most musicians I know, if they are not performing themselves or have other engagements, will gladly accept a support set for two reasons. Firstly they enjoy the thrill of playing, us musicians are narcissistic after all, and secondly because it may help them secure a gig of their own.
On the flip side I have also met musicians who covet their ‘territory’ greedily. I have offered a myriad of bands and artists my services as a support act and received no reply. I would even approach musicians at their gigs and ask if I can play a few songs during their breaks. This apparently is quite a controversial thing to do. Several times I was told no because “If you’re better than me then you might move in on my territory”. They didn’t actually say that but that was the general meaning of it. The way I see it if you are that insecure about your own ability then practice and get better, or at least offer something unique as a musician.
I understand that people are wary of strangers touching their instruments. Firstly they might be drunk and damage the equipment, so talk to them, if they are drunk then say no. Secondly they may be rubbish, so let them do two songs and explain to the audience what’s happening. Five minutes won’t kill them. Thirdly, they might be better than me. So what? Are you on the verge of a recording contract? Hell no! You’re playing in a bar dipshit. What you don’t want to get is a reputation as someone who doesn’t help support local musicians. After all one day you may need a little support too.
When I book gigs I always like to have a support act but not because it makes me feel superior. I offer a slot for three reasons. Firstly because I like hearing them perform, secondly because it gives less experienced musicians the chance to play live and get their name about and thirdly, I freely admit this, they hopefully will bring extra bodies to the show. Yes it really is a case of bums on seats. After all it is a business and you need to keep the landlord or bar owner happy with how much money is going behind the bar.
Personally I believe there is an etiquette to be abided by as a support act. I believe they should turn up at least thirty minutes before the gig to help with soundcheck (Especially if supporting a solo artist). They should help promote the event with as much vigour as they would promote their own, and I believe that once they have played their set then they should stick around for as long as they can (hopefully until the end). Unfortunately, I have seen some support acts turn up five minutes before their support slot, play and then bugger off. The same bugs me for open mic nights too. Musicians who play their set and then bugger off straight away need a good, sound slap.
With open mic nights I go by the rule that you should stay for at least two more acts after your set. This usually takes no more than half an hour of your time.
Below you will find links to several bands/artists who I have met over the years and who are not only awesome musically but have been supportive of other musicians and have helped promote the live music scene.
Finally I offer this last bit of advice to those egotistical, selfish musicians out there on the local music scene…You are playing in a fucking bar!!! You are not playing the Royal Albert Hall. Pull your head out of your arse! You’re not as good as you think you are.
What have your experiences of other musicians been? I am eager to hear some of your stories.
And my own websites of course:
Don’t forget to check out my other related posts: Part 2: Dealing with the Audience and Part 4: Is it Harder for Women in the Musical World?