I am one of the most fortunate musicians in Los Angeles, and I am very lucky to have landed most of the gigs I’ve wanted

How to get the gig

I have been a professional musician for the past ten years, and have toured and played with a diverse group of some of the most successful artists in the business – Michelle Branch, Cher, New Radicals, Poison, Paul Stanley (Kiss) and Tal Bachman. I’ve also had the opportunity to be part of the House Band on CBS’s RockStar, and I am currently playing guitar for Avril Lavigne.

I am one of the most fortunate musicians in Los Angeles, and I am very lucky to have landed most of the gigs I’ve wanted. I am not the best singer, the best piano player or the best guitarist. What I did bring to the game was confidence, desire and preparation. Other musicians frequently ask me, “how did you get that gig?” I thought I would share a few helpful tips from my years of going on auditions.

“Maybe the most important attribute that a musician can have is the ability to realistically evaluate their abilities.”

Before I start, know that every audition is different. Therefore, you must treat each opportunity differently. No “one” way will work for every gig. An example? When I tried out for Poison, the audition consisted of me going to C.C. Deville’s house; when I got there, he called Bobby Dall on the phone and made me a sing along to a Poison record. Bobby listened from his house in Florida and they just took my word that I could play the keyboard parts. According to C.C., “when it comes to Poison keyboard parts, it’s not Rachmananoff.”

Step One – Know Yourself
Maybe the most important attribute that a musician can have is the ability to realistically evaluate their abilities. A prime example is American Idol. Obviously, there are an enormous amount of people trying out for that show just to be on television, but there are many sad souls that honestly think they are good enough to be contestants, only to be publicly humiliated and eventually hurt by their decision to “try out.” Take an unmerciful look at yourself and your talents. I’m talking everything from your chops – or lack thereof – to your look, your gear, your personality and so on. If you’re not sure, ask your friends. Hopefully if you preface it in the right way, they will tell you the truth. But be prepared for the criticism – and remember that you asked for it.

Let’s say you hear about a gig where the artist is looking for a strong lead guitar player. If you are more of a rhythm player (like me), listen to the songs in advance, if you can, and decide whether or not you can do it pro. Obviously you want nail an audition; these musical communities can be so tight knit, that if you are not prepared, it might be hard to get another chance.

Step Two – Know the Situation/Artist
Call your friends and ask around. Find out as much info about the artist, management company, tour and job as you can. Try to find out who the artist’s influences are – what bands they like and dislike. If the artist hates The Ramones, you might not want to show up to the audition with their t-shirt on. On the other hand, if you know they’re a huge Van Halen fan – break out the 5150 shirt (unless, of course they hate the Hagar days – you’ve gotta be careful with that band).

It may surprise you what some people’s influences are. In interviews, Michelle Branch lists Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell and The Beatles as influences. You may have some mutual heroes, which can always be a good way to start a conversation.

“Most musicians are sensitive to the fact that we
are all just trying to get a gig – and if they’re in
the band already, they will most likely give you
some help.”
Also, try to find out who else is in the band. Maybe you know a friend of a friend that knows one of the guys. If so, call them up and ask to buy them a beer or a coffee. Most musicians are sensitive to the fact that we are all just trying to get a gig – and if they’re in the band already, they will most likely give you some help. If they don’t, you might want to reconsider whether or not you want to be on a tour bus with this person for the next year. It never hurts to have someone give you the thumbs up as a person before you even play.

Find out if the artist is religious, if they have a problem with drinking, smoking, etc. Sometimes you are on a tour where the band members pray before every performance. Will you be cool with that? What if you’re on a tour bus with someone who has a serious drug and alcohol problem? All of these things can be useful pieces of information. I understand that it can be uncomfortable to call people and ask these questions, but if you can find out just one extra detail, it could be the “in” or the “out” that you need.

Step Three – Don’t Overplay
When listening to the record, make sure you check it out on really good speakers. Headphones are almost better sometimes, so you can hear the nuances of the parts you are learning. Nine times out of ten, people just want it to sound “like the record.” Don’t embellish or make up new parts, unless that is what is asked of you – or if you have to. Sometimes there is nothing for you to play in a song and they want to hear you play along.

My good friend Paul Mirkovich (musical director for Pink, Cher, Janet Jackson, RockStar House Band) says he looks for musicians to “play the parts.”

“So many times, people come in and try to impress you by overplaying. When I ask players to improvise, a lot of times – keyboard players especially – will play jazz chords and runs, but it’s amazing how difficult it is for some people to simply play quarter notes in time, to just play a groove.” Good advice.

Well, there is a lot more to cover on this subject, but my editors (Mom, sister Suzie and Adam from Premier Guitar) suggested that I break it up into a series of tips. They are very smart. So, until next month, get rockin’ and good luck!

Jim McGorman
Click here to visit jimmcgorman.com

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