Being a professional guitarist: career, knowledge and advice

Being a professional guitarist: career, knowledge and advice
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Being a professional guitarist, we all dream of living on the guitar, we think about a potential career, we acquire knowledge and ask for advice to achieve it, in this note, we see How to be a professional guitarist?

What is it to be a professional guitarist?

Being a professional guitarist can encompass many things. While we all think of rock stars like Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Andy Timmons, Joe Bonamassa or other great musicians, there are many ways to earn a living on the guitar.

Although they are obvious, besides being part of a band -very successful or not so much- like Brian May of Queen or being a soloist like John Mayer or Paul Gilbert; one can be a guitarist for a cover band and play venues in medium or small bars and theaters and make good money; also a session musician and play for others and / or also give guitar lessons.

In addition, with the development of the internet, great opportunities have also opened up for many, and guitarists are no exception. Youtube, websites and social networks are a great opportunity and source of money for those who know how to exploit it.

The “secret” of the business of middle-class guitarists

Tom Hess in his blog explains that all that “middle class” of professional guitarists is not known because:

  • The music press is not interested in writing about these people, since famous people sell more magazines; Who do people care to read the most, about John Petrucci who sells millions of records or about the guitarist who plays in bars for fewer than 100 people or a musician in a cover band?
  • Also, professional middle-class guitarists have no interest in telling the rest of the world how they make a lot of their money. This is because your product is not as closely associated with you as successful guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen are. Let’s face it, anyone can copy or do the same thing that Yngwie does, but we know that this will never put Malmsteen’s financial situation at risk. On the other hand, if you start to be the same as a middle-class guitarist, who is not so popular, it could be competition and affect your income. For this reason, nobody talks about the business of middle-class guitarists, and there is a kind of “secret”.

All these options that allow you to live off the guitar and more, we will analyze them in this note, including the secrets of the business of middle-class guitarists.

Being a professional guitarist: career, knowledge and advice

Being a successful professional guitarist

We all aim or dream of this at some point, playing our own songs in big stadiums and playing on the radio, and selling millions of records. Of course, this is the most difficult of all; One can be very virtuous with the electric guitar and know a lot about music but not reach people; one can be an instrumentalist who does not stand out from the average, but have the ability to generate something in people and be more successful. Musical instruments are forms of expression, art, and as such, it is subjective.

Even one can also depend on the band, on his bandmates. How many big name bands have sober or regular guitarists? How many bands with great guitarists but never achieving great success or popularity?

All this is to highlight the complexity of the career of a musician and especially that of a guitarist; you have to understand the diversity of issues that the guitarist must consider for his success. We should not limit ourselves to developing ourselves as artists and instrumentalists, we should also focus on seeing who we associate with, who we form a band with, understand the public, get to know each other, listen to other bands, and so we could continue with many more factors to consider.

Different levels of success as an artist

Of course, you don’t have to be part of the Heroes of Silence or Soda Stereo to consider yourself a guitarist or part of a successful band. There are many not-so-popular musicians who tour modestly but allow you to live off your own music.

The business of private parties

Many well-known bands play private parties. Both on birthdays, weddings or at the end of the year parties of private companies. Normally, they are recitals reduced in time.

Speaking with an Argentine band representative, he explained to us that except for the big bands that have too expensive a cache, most of the well-known bands play at private events.

He goes on to explain that one of his clients is a multinational company whose average age of employees is 25 years. In his end of the year parties he leads famous bands. Bands like Miranda !, Kapanga, Bahiano, Vilma Palma e Vampiros, Los Cafres, Los Tipitos, and more have played in those parties.

Being a session guitarist

There are people who do not have an artist vocation or simply do not have the “gift”, that “different” that is required to overcome the rest and reach people. However, these guitarists can be great instrumentalists, with a great command of the instrument and a great variety of theoretical and technical resources.

How to be a session guitarist

These great guitar “players” who, due to lack of ambition or that “I don’t know what” necessary for success in their own artistic career, have the option of playing for another famous person, a person who did achieve popularity.

Being a session musician is a great option to live off the guitar. Unlike the previous one, this profession does not require handling such a variety of topics, especially those not so related to the guitar.

The session guitarist is an employee, who receives a salary and what he must do is know how to play the guitar very well, be punctual and responsible. You do not have to worry about arranging with the record company, hiring a public relations or press agent, nor is it interested in having a representative.

In addition, this work can be very well paid, the more important the artist with whom you play, the more recitals you will play and the better you will get paid. Unfortunately, the downside is that everything you do is for someone else. Usually your job won’t help your personal career.

The sacrifice of the session musician

Some are lucky enough to play music closely aligned to their style and likes, and enjoy it almost as if it were their own band. But the reality is that most of the session musician sacrifice playing not only their own music, but also their own musical style.

Be a tribute or cover band guitarist

An intermediate situation to that of having a successful band -or being a successful soloist- and that of the session guitarist, is the cover or tribute band guitarist. This guitarist does not play his own songs, his own music, nor that of a third party who hires him. Typically, this musician plays songs by an artist he admires, such as the Beatles, Queen, Creedence Clearwater Revival, among many others.

In this way, the guitarist continues to play music that he enjoys and that is rewarding, even if it is not his own. On the other hand, it has many more responsibilities since the band is its own, and you have to manage it. Of course, the artistic process of composition is not necessary in this case.

There are many profitable niches. There are many tribute bands that are becoming very popular. Generally, these are tribute bands of now defunct musical groups.

Thus, this option has the advantage that although it is not your music, it is music that you normally choose, it is your musical style or an artist whom you really admire. Also, you don’t have to worry about signing with record labels. The downside is that your job usually won’t help your personal career; it does not require the artistic process of composition -although it can also be an advantage for many-; and finally you have to manage the hiring and / or hire a public relations or press agent, to get places to play.

Be a guitar teacher

Being a guitar teacher is a great profession and very rewarding. It has the advantage of being very flexible. You don’t need to be a great instrumentalist to be a great guitar teacher, as it may be required in the case of the session player. Even your didactic skills are very important to allow you to transmit your musical knowledge.

An advantage of teaching guitar is that when you get students from intermediate levels upwards, they allow and lead you to continue learning and growing in music theory.

Guitar Scales for Beginners

Online opportunities for guitarists

Guitarists Youtubers and videoblogs

YouTube is the gold mine of the internet. There are many famous musicians, guitar teachers, session guitarists who already exploit this great video site. Joe Bonamassa exploits the internet a lot, for example.

To give you a measure of the importance of YouTube, the video site that is the second most used search engine in the western world, behind Google.

How to monetize your YouTube channel?

To monetize a YouTube channel you must:

  1. Have more than 4,000 valid public watch hours in the last 12 months
  2. Have more than 1,000 subscribers
  3. Have a linked AdSense account
  4. Comply with all YouTube monetization policies
  5. Live in a country or region where the YouTube Partner Program is available

Guitarists Instagramers, videoblogs and photoblogs

Instragam is a very powerful social network. It has the ability to reach many people. However, this great strength has its cost, the public is very dynamic and the duration of its attention is limited. In addition, it does not have a monetization program. However, it works excellent for advertising directly agreed third party products or services.

Guitarists Youtubers, Instagramers and videoblogs

Instagramers agree with companies directly to use their products or advertise their brand in their photos and / or videos.

In order to develop your Instagram and / or YouTube account, you must have a good product that reaches the public: show guitars, test them, teach, and many more options; the important thing is that you show a product, new and different from the rest. That said, we clarify that YouTube is much more powerful and profitable than Instagram.

Blogs or websites

This is an excellent option for guitarists. Even the competition is not that high yet and gives very good options. Among the products that exist are:

  • Guitar Lesson Site
  • Blogs and / or forums

Guitar Lesson Site

There are very successful cases of guitar lesson sites. These sites work with prepared material such as videos, digital books and educational material, also with remote classes taking advantage of technologies such as Zoom. They usually market the courses and / or classes at a relatively cheap price.

The advantage is that they invest in preparing the content once and then they can market it infinitely. The downside is that an initial investment of time, equipment and technology know-how is required.

Guitarists YoutTubers, Instagramers, videoblogs and photoblogs

Blogs and / or forums

A simpler option than the previous one are guitar blogs and / or forums. Some offer posts on music theory and technique, that is, they are about guitar lessons, but since their format and operation is that of a blog or forum, we include it here.

There are also others that simply function as the musician’s personal blog and others that function as forums, in which the musician interacts with the followers and users. The business here is to take advantage of advertising from google and / or direct advertisers -also called sponsors- and charge memberships to users -also called supporters-.

The advantage of this type of site is that they are very inexpensive, you hire a server and a platform – which even exist for free – and do not require too much technological knowledge or prior content production as in the case of courses or YouTube.

How to live on the guitar?

As you can see there are many ways to live on the guitar, or be a professional guitarist. Although most look only to the rock star who lives off his music, selling records, touring, there are plenty of options in between before falling into the nickname of the “hungry artist.”

So, you can play for others -sessionist-, give guitar lessons, or exploit the opportunities offered by the web with YouTube, social networks or your own website.

How to be a professional guitarist: career, knowledge and advice

How to be a professional guitarist?

Being a guitarist is just another profession, it has no shortcuts, no magic. It requires dedication, effort and responsibility. So, the first step is to study, prepare, cultivate, be technically impeccable, with tempo, knowledge of harmony, and above all, broad in styles and resources.

Play for the people, for the band

David Palau explains: “There are great guitarists on the Internet, virtuous and very talented, but they have a very skewed view of music. They dedicate themselves to being great soloists, to compose their music to expose how they play, but they are incapable of accompanying an artist or making rhythm guitar. They are too closed in them. “

Rehearse, rehearse a lot and get to know each other

Ricardo Mollo from Divididos in an interview advises: “Rehearse, rehearse a lot, get to know each other.” The same David Palau explains: “My advice would be to go back to the groups, to the bars, to the jams, to play and share. That makes him grow as a musician. Your mistakes are seen on a stage, or what you thought was good, another makes it different. You learn to play by listening, there is a dialogue. “

Plan: start at the end

Tom Hess, the American Power Metal guitarist, recommends careful planning. In that sense, he proposes to commit to the race. Define one’s objective as a professional musician, and based on that see what is required, and start from where you are aiming, and see what you need to get there. Thus, you start from the goal or end and go step by step backwards until you reach today. That way, you will clearly understand what things bring you closer to your goal and what don’t. Thus, the race begins from within, from one.

A Minor Pentatonic Guitar Scales: Soleando with a telecaster.
Guitar scales: Soleando with a telecaster.

Tips to be a great professional guitarist

These are the main tips to become a successful guitarist:

  • Be a protagonist, eliminate excuses
  • Aim high, be positive, winning mentality
  • Perseverance, patience and hard work
  • Humility, respect and punctuality
  • Learn to relate, create a network of contacts
  • Get a mentor
  • Enjoy it, stay motivated

Be a protagonist, eliminate excuses

Your career depends on you, there may be supporting actors with more or less importance, but at the end of the day, the protagonist of your career as a professional guitarist is you.

Acknowledge the excuses you’ve been making to yourself. Many times you are excusing yourself without even realizing it. You can start by making a list of everything that you think is preventing you from becoming a great guitarist. Then ask yourself, how can I overcome it, many times it is simply to ask yourself a solution, or to look for a different look. You will see that 99% of the answers have a solution, therefore, they are nothing more than excuses. Learn to solve obstacles, it is a fundamental skill for a successful career.

Aim high, be positive, winning mentality

If you are not the first to believe in you, no one will. You must trust yourself, your project, your career. Set yourself high goals, always aim for the highest. Although you may not achieve it, setting yourself high goals will make you work for excellence. This will open countless alternative doors for you throughout your career.

Professional guitarists and session players

Perseverance, patience and hard work

Setting a goal and not giving up, working hard is the cornerstone of any profession, but it is especially more important for guitarists. You have to dedicate time, patience and perseverance to grow and improve day by day.

Humility, respect and punctuality

Humility will allow you to think more clearly, pride closes the roads and affects your vision of reality. Also, humble people have the ability to learn more than those who are not. Respect everyone around you, and listen to their criticism, you can learn from anyone.

Finally, the musician always lives with other musicians, nor is the soloist really a soloist when it comes to work. Punctuality is a fundamental value of seriousness and respect. Always arrive early for rehearsals, recitals and any commitment you have.

Learn to relate, create a network of contacts

Unless you’re Steve Vai, just to name a very popular guitarist, you’ll need a good network of contacts. A great network of contacts will help you solve problems, jump over obstacles and give you job opportunities.

Professional guitarists

Dedicate yourself to meeting people in the environment, to developing a relationship. A good network of contacts is an immeasurable asset. Most of the hires, approximately 70% are referenced or known. You can be very prepared, but if you live in isolation, you are missing 70% of professional opportunities.

Get a mentor

Very related to the previous point. But this person has to have more experience than you, ideally, have come your way before. Mentors save you a lot of time and mistakes that you will make due to lack of experience.

It could be a musician friend, or it could be someone you hire, like a producer or representative. The important thing is that it is clear that the road will be made much easier with someone who helps you have more successes and fewer mistakes.

Enjoy it, stay motivated

Success depends on many things, but if you do not enjoy it, if you are not motivated, you will never achieve it. When planning your goals, both final and intermediate, you must be honest with yourself and make sure that it really is what you want, that you will enjoy it. Thus, you will know that you can stay motivated to be able to give that extra that enthusiastic people give.

Being a professional guitarist: Conclusion

As you can see, to be a professional guitarist you must have habits similar to any other profession. Unlike what people believe, in the world of the guitar, you have to be dedicated and serious, put in effort and work hard.

Living from the guitar: professional career, knowledge and advice

In addition, the options for making a living from the guitar are very varied. Famous and popular guitarists are just the tip of the iceberg in the guitar market. There are other great ways, like playing for a musician who is famous and popular; give guitar lessons; exploit the internet.

What’s interesting is that some or all of these options can be combined. You can be a great successful and famous guitarist and take advantage of that fame and earn extra income from YouTube or your own website. You can also be a session musician and give guitar lessons. Don’t be afraid of “you’ll starve as a musician.”

Related Articles: Best 12 tricks to improve your tone as a guitarist.

For more information, head over to Guitar Quarter.

You can share opinions or also chat about this and more with other musicians in our comments section.

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We are a team of guitarists, bassists and ukulelist who are passionate about teaching music, testing instruments and equipment related to guitar, bass and ukulele.

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