When I moved to Bristol from Exeter I effectively hit the reset button on the amount of work I became asked to do locally for a while. I found that while I was still involved in all the long term projects I was before, (they have always been more spread out geographically anyway), I definitely miss the enjoyment of being a part of the scene where I actually live too. Moving to a different area of the country means I need to work from the ground up to get involved in a new place. Obviously this isn’t something that happens by magic and as this isn’t an uncommon situation I thought I’d share my thoughts on how I would tackle it as if I were giving advice to someone else.. I still find I need a pep talk too from time to time!
So, having moved to a new area, how do you get involved? Quite understandably people probably don’t know, or care, who you are and there are plenty of players already covering the existing scene.
A strategy that ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT WORK (but I’ve come across many players relying on) is to sit at home practicing and waiting for their reputation to make phone to ring. No one owes us a living. There’s a whole real-world social network alongside ability (and experience) that needs attention too.
It’s important to ask yourself some relevant questions :
Do people know you exist? Have they heard you play? Do you get on well with people? Are you getting involved whenever possible? Are you prepared to provide opportunities as well as take them? Have you checked out the other players on your instrument who ARE getting the gigs?
It’s very important to be as objective and honest with yourself as possible about all of this. Consider why strategies have or haven’t worked and persist, adapt or revise as you go along but try not to get caught up in failure. People who focus on providing reasons why things aren’t happening for them tend not to get anywhere. Concentrate on what you would like to achieve first then “How can I?” rather than “I haven’t/can’t because..”
Go to jam sessions. There are many different factors involved in turning up to these but the immediate benefit is that it’s an opportunity to meet some other musicians in a context where you get to play. Take advantage of the opportunity to hang out and chat. If you disappear as soon as your tunes are over that sends quite a negative message about what you’re after from the situation. While you’re unlikely to meet many of the busiest working musicians in the area (except when they’re in the house band) you will meet a variety of musicians of different standards, attitudes and interests. It’s an obvious point but getting to know as many people as possible is an essential part of fitting in. I’ll discuss more of the pros and cons of this situation in a different article as it’s a really big topic all of its own.
Go to other people’s gigs. If you don’t take an interest in the musicians around you how can you expect them to take an interest in you or even know who you are. It’s a two way street. While attempting to hustle other players’ gigs is not cool, and will get you a bad reputation, deps do come up. I’ve had a lot of work come in over the years by going to gigs I’ve wanted to see anyway and taking the time to get to know and chat to the musicians while I’m there.
Don’t be afraid to suggest getting together for a jam with players you run into. If you enjoyed their playing or have a project you think might interest them then take the opportunity to suggest it. People rarely say no although it might take some chasing on your part to actually get it to happen.
Get a good general grasp of what’s happening on the scene. What’s already going on that you would like to join in with? What do you perceive as missing that you could add? Where you choose to go or not go will slowly be, at least subliminally, noticed and have an effect on the context that people associate you with. If you never turn up to certain situations it’s very unlikely that you are going to get called for a gig in that area.
Although it can, and will, get you down at times try not to slip into a ‘networking to get work’ mindset. Things can start to feel bleak when you do. There’s no guaranteed route or time scale on becoming an accepted and regular part of a scene. What makes musicians fun and exciting to be around is when they are doing the thing they’re into. If you aren’t into it don’t try and fake it. It comes across and you won’t get work anyway. When you are into it people will notice that too and opportunities are more likely to come your way. If the music you want to make isn’t happening then find ways make it yourself. Keep going to events and talking to people until you find kindred spirits to make it with. They are out there somewhere but it will probably take some trial and error to find them. When those things eventually pay off you’ll remember exactly why you put all that effort in.
Remember that social media is a good ‘bonus tool’ to your real world activities. It’s no replacement for showing up in person but it can help you stay in contact with people you meet and organise things remotely. Obviously it’s a great source of information for what and where things are going on but it’s also an opportunity to show what you can contribute. Are there places people can hear recordings or watch videos of you? Are you finding interesting ways to let people know what you’re up to? Do you take part in discussions when they arise? How present are you? You can’t force people to take an interest in you but you can provide regular opportunities for them to do so. Share content and opinions that reflect who you are. This is your digital equivalent of showing up to gigs and jams.
Finally – be patient and persistent. Listen to advice when it’s given, even if you decide not to take it. Use the time you aren’t employed by someone else to maximise your abilities for when opportunities do arise. You’re going to need a thick skin but the only person who will really be in your way in the long run is you. You can do it if you try though.