How to Become a Professional Guitarist (The Fast Way!)
If you’re looking to up your game from a guitar student or semi-professional guitarist to a full-time professional, there are a few changes you’ll need to make. And lots of new things to consider as well. Obviously there’s going to be a change in your finances, especially until you start getting bookings.
There are also plenty of other considerations you’ll need to be aware of, some involve practical issues, others are more to do with your mindset. We understand that everyone is an individual, and no two guitarists are looking for exactly the same outcome. But the key to becoming a professional guitarist starts with a few fundamentals that will apply to everyone.
There are different types of professional guitarists, earning different amounts of money, and working in totally different ways. For instance, there are;
- Session Guitarists
- Band Members
- Solo Artists
- Guitar Teachers
- Music Directors
- Music Therapists
Each of these roles requires a different skill set and different types of equipment. You need to write a list of where you visualise your professional guitarist role, and decide what route you want to take. Now let’s look at the basic standard procedures you’ll need to take.
Invest In The Correct Equipment
Different jobs require different tools, for example;
- Guitarist In An Established Band
If an established band loses their guitarist for whatever reason, the replacement will need to learn how to play in a very similar way as that original guitarist. If the band are professional musicians they’ll have a set list that will be played the same way every time. This means you’ll need to have the correct FX pedals, similar sounding amp etc.
- Session Guitarist
Session guitarists can get called on to play many different genres of music. From Jazz to classical, Punk to death metal and everything in between. That means you’re going to need at least two electric guitars, a single coil pick-up and a humbucker. Plus a multitude of FX pedals and a decent acoustic guitar.
- Solo Guitar Artists
This opens up a whole range of possibilities from classical concert type performances to recitals etc. For this you’ll need the best equipment you can afford. If you decide on flamenco, Spanish or classical guitar playing there are different types of acoustic guitar. For instance flamenco guitars have narrower bodies than Spanish guitars, some have steel strings others have nylon and so on.
- Guitarist In An Orchestra
To get a job playing guitar in an orchestra is not an easy task. You will need to have many qualifications in guitar playing and obviously know how to read music to a high level.
Whichever style or genre of guitar you plan to use/work with, it’s a good idea to get it set up by a professional luthier. Not only will the guitar sound at its best, but it will also be easier to play.
Your requirements will be various and different when it comes to amplification. You will need a different type of amp specific to the work you intend to do but whichever type it’s good practise to have your amp serviced regularly. Also consider a good quality flight case if you’re going to be gigging and touring often.
You need to look at practicalities as well, like insuring your equipment. There are numerous equipment insurance companies available for use, before buying a specific policy, check your home contents insurance, you might already have enough cover. You could also check out the Musician’s Union or if you’re living across the pond, check out the American Federation of Musicians; both of these offer a certain level of insurance included in your membership fee.
Assemble A Gig Bag
The more you play at any type of event, the more you’ll realise that things go wrong. Some things like power cuts etc are out of your control, but there are a few steps you can take to improve your success rate and lessen your failures. Assembling a gig bag full of essential spares is a good starting point.
We are aware that these essentials vary from person to person and type of guitarist etc. Let’s look at a few essential spares to get you thinking along the right lines;
- Spare Picks
- Spare Strings
- String Winder/Cutter
- Spare Leads
- Spare Batteries
- Gaffer/Duct Tape
- Any Chargers Or Adapters
Think About Joining A Private Party Band
If you want a steady weekly wage, a band catering for private parties and functions is a good way to start. Weddings, birthdays, corporate events etc all offer opportunities for party bands and because you get paid a flat fee (not percentages of ticket sales) it’s easier to negotiate a decent regular wage. With the correct marketing strategy there’s no reason why you can’t get regular weekly work in this way.
Consider Becoming A Guitar Tutor
If you are passionate about your guitar and want the easiest way to get paid for playing, you could do far worse than becoming a guitar teacher. There’s no need to become a “card in the newsagent” type tutor who teaches from their bedroom. It’s possible to rent rooms in community centres etc for relatively cheap prices especially if you can block book for regular sessions.
There’s also the possibility of enrolling in a local music college/ charity run music school to gain the necessary experience needed to strike out on your own. Business cards can be printed up online for a relatively small outlay or you can print off flyers.
It’s also possible to teach guitar via skype or even google hangouts which opens up worldwide opportunities and not just confined to your local area. You can utilise social media as a good place to advertise your services which can be tailored to your particular skill set and musical preferences.
Showcase Your Skills
Consider making a youtube channel or facebook page/instagram page etc to promote your particular skill set. Make regular videos showing various aspects of your playing. The more you are out there, the more chance you have of getting that one lucky break. We call it a lucky break, but in reality, any break only comes with hard work.
Do Some Networking
Networking is just another way of gathering contacts, this can be achieved in many ways. Get yourself known among local artists, go to open mic nights, go to as many local gigs as you can. Once you get known as a competent guitarist, opportunities often arrive like the resident band’s guitarist gets injured, if you happen to be there, you’re more likely to get the gig.
Once your name gets associated as the person that fixed a particular band’s problem, you’re more likely to get called upon to fix another band’s problem and so on. This will eventually lead on to getting asked to play regularly with an established band or a new band being set up by an established artist.
Get Work As A Stand-In
Once you become known as the go to guitarist for emergency performances, able to stand in at a moments notice, you’ll find you’ll often be in demand. You should also line up a stand in for you, in the unlikely event you can’t get to the gig, having a reliable stand in will come in very handy.
Practise Makes Perfect
You need to keep up to date with all covers that local bands play. If you do get asked to replace their guitarist at short notice, it will be an advantage if you know their set and in their key. It’s also vitally important that you’re at the top of your game at all times. This means constant, regular practise, at least four fifteen minute sessions per day, every day.
You will never know all there is to know about guitar playing so you need to continually practise new techniques to be sure you are going to be capable of fulfilling any prospective role that comes your way. You will get out what you put in – which means the more you practise, the more you perfect and the more likely you are to get noticed.
Have A Road Map And Stick To It
Once you decide on becoming a full-time professional guitarist, write a list of what you would like to actually become, whether that’s a famous rock guitarist, session musician, party band guitarist or tutor, only you can decide. Once you do decide, you will inevitably need to undertake different aspects of guitar work to pay the bills. That doesn’t mean you need to give up on your dreams, take the compromise but keep working towards your goals.
Frequently Asked Questions
For 99 out of 100 people playing the guitar is a terrible career choice. Unless you are prepared to be 100% dedicated to learning all aspects of guitar playing including theory and as many genres/styles as possible.
In Reality, guitarists are not in demand. There are approximately 100 guitarists for every guitar playing role available. Apart from bass guitarists, playing in that particular niche will be more likely to net a result.
The best way for a guitarist to make money is to become a session musician. This requires a high level of skills in all genres of guitar playing and to be successful you will need to practise until you are perfect almost every time you pick up the guitar.
Youtube guitarists make far less than you probably expect they are. Using youtube to showcase your skill set is great but it won’t make your fortune. It might help you to get discovered, but it is not a reliable way to earn vast sums of money.