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How Solo Artists Can Find Backing Musicians for Live Shows

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When it's time to move past the solo open mic acoustic performances onto the stage at nightclubs and concert venues, an artist must evaluate options to construct a solid and dependable backing band. 

As a solo singer/songwriter you have the additional challenge of finding players who will fully back your music, rather than want collaborate to write originals with you. 

Finding players who will practice for free with the possibility of pay from performances in the future is challenging, especially when they can find gigs that pay immediately.

Music is a business and with that comes investment as you grow as an artist. Solo musicians have multiple ways to find musicians to back them, the choice usually being influenced by industry knowledge and financial backing.

Difference Between Bandmates & Backing Musicians

It's rare that you can front a band and find musicians who will back you without wanting to add their own ideas, as well as practice and perform for free. 

For solo musicians who want to get a band on stage sooner rather than later, working with free musicians will often lead to frustration as it can be highly time consuming and difficult to find and motive members who aren't being paid.

Below are comparative lists of pros and cons of working with a standard band as opposed to hiring professional backing musicians.

Putting Together a Band

Pros

  • No rates to pay
  • Veteran players may feel personally invested, and more likely to promote you

Cons

  • May take a substantial amount of time to find the right players
  • May take months of practice to be ready for performance
  • Players can quit at anytime
  • Players may not act professionally

Hiring Experienced Professional Backing Musicians

Pros

  • Can be easy to find
  • Can be ready to perform in 1-2 practices
  • Act professionally according to your contract
  • Less likely to break the contract and quit the project

Cons

  • May require a substantial investment to pay rehearsal and performance time for multiple musicians and shows
  • Popular professionals may not be available all dates in your calendar, leaving you to find multiple players you can hire for backups
  • Busy experienced pros have less personal investment, so they may be less likely to help promote

Hiring a Professional Backing Musician

You have a few resources to help you find professional backing musicians including using free classifieds like Craigslist, or websites like SoundBetter which is a directory of professionals you can hire.

Additionally you can search Google to find players and contact them via their website, or you can network to players offline in your community by simply asking around at places like live shows, guitar stores and music schools.

Professional backing musicians will expect to be paid for rehearsals as well as performances. The difference here is that a session player can learn all of your songs before they arrive to practice, and will likely only need 1-2 practices to be ready to play a gig. 

Pros typically package their practice and performance rates together and many will offer deals when you book more than one performance with them. Some pros may charge a travel fee so take into consideration where your performance will be before shopping for players.

Compare these facts to free players who may take months to learn your songs, and consider how quickly you want to start gigging to help you decide if the investment in professional musicians is a good choice for your project.

Hiring College Students

An affordable option for hiring professional backing musicians is to hire students from your local universities and institutions. 

Students will usually be very enthusiastic at the opportunity, not only to put the gig on their resume, but also to make some hard earned money even entry-level rates.

The best way to approach students is to contact their music department. Some colleges may detail the process by which to hire their students on the music department section of their website. 

If you don't find specific information on the website call the department directly and ask if they will post your requirements to their communications with students.

Find Musicians at Open Mics

You can find professional backing musicians at open mics although not as easily as you can find premier musicians. 

Some open mics have a house band, which is usually comprised of players who are seasoned and ready to be hired, or they may know someone who would be a good player to recommend. 

Some audience members and performers may also be professionals. If you still are not at the place where you can hire musicians, an open mic is a great place to pick up musicians who will work for free as well.  

Other Ways to Find Backing Musicians 

Music Teachers—Contact instrument instructors to see if they are available to perform themselves or if they can recommend one of their students to you.

Musical Instrument Retail Stores—Drop in and ask the staff they know of any players, chances are one of them already works as a backing musician or knows some players who you could consult with. Ask if you can leave your card or if they have a bulletin board where you can post an ad seeking players.

Social Media—Use all of your social media to post, tweet, and share the fact that you are seeking paid qualified musicians to back you. Musician-specific networks like ReverbNation allows you to network as an artist to find other players to work with.

Writing Contracts

Writing a contract that spells out exactly what is expected of the hired musicians will help you avoid any potential problems or misunderstandings in the future. Some items you want to touch on in your contract include:

  • Date and time of gig
  • Agreed rate of pay
  • Hold harmless in case of Force Majeure
  • Provisions supplied the players (examples: drinks, food, parking spaces, etc.)
  • Conduct expected (examples:  no drinking during performance, must wear specific clothing, etc.)

Conclusion

In this tutorial I've given you a number of ideas and ways of finding backing musicians to help you perform at gigs.

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