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by Vanessa McGowan

Road Rules: 5 Ways To Make The Most Of A Gig-Free Year

by Vanessa McGowan

Road Rules: 5 Ways To Make The Most Of A Gig-Free Year

You could look at 2020 as a terrible time to think about your music career. Tours are cancelled and venues either shut down completely or operating precariously between open and closed depending on local Covid numbers. Musicians are either unemployed or working in other fields, earning money however they can to get by. It would be easy to think this is the worst time to be thinking about your performing career. So why is this actually a great time to think about your music career? Because this year is so completely unusual and unprecedented. There’s never a time we would collectively choose to cancel live music, and the fact that it has happened gives us a rare opportunity to evaluate, up-skill, diversify, and prepare. You can put music on the back-burner if you want, and check-in with it again when the live music world resumes to normal, or you could use this time to grow your career in a new way. Here are five ways to make the most of a gig-free year:

If you’re ready to dive into the possibilities, follow these steps:

1. Evaluate

This is a great time to do some soul searching and think about if you were really happy in your music career pre-Covid.

Get out a pen and paper, and meditate on these questions:

  • Pre-Covid were you gigging less than you wanted?
  • Were you gigging too much?
  • Were you doing the kind of gigs you wanted?
  • Did you feel like you were growing as a musician, or stagnating?
  • Was music and gigging making you happy, or something you’d just become accustomed to doing?
  • Was being a musician something you still actually wanted, or do you just feel like you don’t know how to do anything else?

2. Up-Skill

If you figure out through the evaluation step that you want something different out of your music career, now is the time to up-skill. 

Make A Genre Shift

If you decide you want to move into another genre create a practice plan to improve your knowledge and skill in that area: 

  • Start by thinking about the particular sounds or feels needed in this new genre (examples: walking bass line, second line drum feel, guitar tapping).
  • Create a list
  • Gather resources for each item: recordings, online lessons, books
  • Decide how much time you can allocate to practice each day or week
  • Create a calendar and plan out what exactly you’ll practice in each session so you can jump in with a solid plan, clear goals, and easily track your progress

Find A Teacher

If you realise you haven’t really been improving much as a performer, find a new teacher and take some online or social distanced lessons to jump start and focus your home practice regime: 

  • Think about the exact thing you would like to learn (examples: bowing technique, advanced vocal technique to expand your range, improvisation)
  • Research players who have these skills and reach out to them. They might not teach in normal times, but you might get a one on one with the player of your dreams this year because they’re also sitting around at home without much to do. It doesn’t matter if they’re even in the same country as you because the lessons can be on Zoom.
  • Research teachers who teach the exact thing you want. If you’re looking for bowing technique you could find a great classical teacher, even if your chosen style of music is folk. Drilling down to the exact technique you want to work on means you can probably take fewer lessons and see improvement more quickly because you’re working on something so specific

Improve What You’re Already Doing

Isolate areas in your current skill set that need work and really put some time and energy into improving them. Maybe you sing backups, but could do some work on your breath control and range. Maybe you are a multi-instrumentalist but only feel totally comfortable on 3 of the 4 instruments you gig on. Be really honest with yourself about where your weaknesses are and use this time to bring them up to par with the rest of your skills. 

If you run out of ideas, check out our piece on practising at home for ideas on things you can improve on from the comfort of your home practice space.

3. Diversify

Perhaps through the evaluation step you’ve realised that actually gigging wasn’t making you all that happy.

If You’d Rather Be Teaching

You could list your services online through a platform like Thumbtack and pay them a cut when you get a new student, or you could set up your own teaching website and build it from scratch yourself. This option will take longer, but you’ll get 100% of the profit. 

A good way to promote your teaching services is to post short lesson videos on Youtube to attract students. Your lighting and sound set up is important here, people will judge the quality of your teaching based on the quality of your videos. This article is a great overview of how to record high-quality video at home.

If You’d Rather Be Recording

If you realise it’s recording you love the most, learn how to build a home studio and reach out to colleagues to collaborate on some tracks so you can gain experience and build your recording resume. Once you have some momentum and feel confident about the sounds you’re creating at home you could list your services on a website like AirGigs: a platform for hiring professional session musicians, vocalists and audio engineers online. 

4. Create Content

If you realised you really do love performing live, and you just want to get better gigs in the future, this is a great time to work on your online presence, create good content and build your profile. 

Like it or not, your online presence is your music resume. Your website, social media profiles, and anything you’ve been tagged in are what new friends and potential colleagues will check out when they want to get a gauge on your skill and career success. You don’t need to post every day and become an ‘influencer’, but you should think about what your online presence is, and how people would perceive you based on that alone.

Website

Do you have one? Is it updated? For the cost of a couple of beers a month a basic Squarespace website is a great option and comes with a free domain. It’s simple to use and very easy to update. You can make it as complex as you want, but the essentials you should include are:

Essentials

  • A short bio
  • Live performance video
  • A few good, high res photos
  • Links to albums you’ve played on
  • Contact info

Things To Avoid

  • Don’t add a gig calendar unless you intend to keep it up to date and you have enough gigs for it not to look sad.
  • Don’t put a 4-page ‘about’ section – no one will read it and it just looks like amateur hour. Just include the highlights and the most significant achievements or awards. If someone is doing an in-depth biography on you, they can ask for more information.

Tips

Unless you’re a graphic designer, don’t over-complicate your website with lots of colours and fonts. Use a palette generator to find a simple colour combination you like, and choose headline and body copy fonts using sample font combinations. Then just keep it simple. 

Pro tip: white font on a dark background is really hard to read. Using a light background and simple dark coloured font is popular for a reason – don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Advanced

Want to get fancy? Here are some advanced ideas for how to make your website work harder for you:

  • Create a mailing list. You’ll be surprised how many people want to hear from you and a mailing list is a great thing to start building before you have big news about releases or tours
  • Add a promotional pop-up with a newsletter sign up form to turn casual visitors into mailing list members
  • Offer a lead magnet as an incentive for signing up to the newsletter. An infographic or ebook are great text options, or if you have recorded music you could simply offer people a free song download in return for signing up.

Social Media

Posting live photos and videos is the easiest way to create on-brand music content for your social media profiles, but that is obviously tough right now. Your social media profiles are the first (and often, also last) place people will visit to check you out, so it’s important to keep your profiles mostly dedicated to music, or you can create ‘business’ profiles to promote your music and keep your personal pages separate (and private). 

Make sure you have a link to your website listed on your music profiles and a short bio that quickly explains who you are and what you do.

Social Media Content Ideas For No-Gig Times

  • Selfies of you and your axe in your home practice environment
  • Throw-backs: this is a great time to dig out old live pics and videos and reminisce with fans and friends
  • Videos demonstrating a new technique you’re working on
  • Videos playing along with recordings (warning: sometimes these are flagged for copyright infringement because of the use of a registered song)
  • Videos of new song composition fragments
  • Blog posts with thoughts about music or career

5. Prepare 

When we’re touring and gigging we often find ourselves with not enough time. Too busy to practice, write, record, or do much of anything but learn the songs for the next show and pack a bag for the next van or bus call. Use this time away from performing to do all the things you never have time for. To really get your musical toolkit updated and upgraded.

Live music will return, and when it does you’ll be ready.

 

Vanessa McGowan is a Fender and Aguilar endorsee originally from New Zealand, currently based in Nashville, TN. She plays bass and sings backing vocals for a wide range of touring artists including Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles, Brandy Clark and Tattletale Saints, and is the founder of promusicguide.com – empowering aspiring professional musicians to step into the spotlight and build a successful career in music.