Touring musician Andrew "Blaze" Thomas believes musicians must adapt to downtime the pandemic has forced upon them.
The Bloomington-based drummer who tours the world with some of the biggest blues acts in the country offers some advice in his new book “You Got the Gig, Here's How to Keep It.”
He concedes the book can be read as a confessional.
“Oh yeah, I wanted to be really vulnerable with this book. I decided to open up and use my own mistakes as an example of what not to do in this business,” admitted Thomas.
The book has been a two-year project for Thomas. And though most of it was written pre-Covid, he has advice for musicians sidelined since March and who likely won’t be on any stage in the coming months.
“I look at it like this. It depends on if you have completed your 10,000 hours of practicing your craft,” Thomas began. “There's a book by Robert Greene, the author of ‘48 Laws of Power.’ He wrote this book called ‘Mastery.’ He said you want to practice your craft a total of 10,000 hours to be considered a master. If you're a writer, you should be writing. But if you are past your 10,000 hours of practice and you are a veteran musician, then you should be taking this time to broaden your career. So, if you always wanted to start up that YouTube channel, or if you want to maybe start teaching or doing some things in the business that you haven't started doing yet, right now is your time.”
Much of Thomas' advice probably reads like common sense to non-musicians. Thomas exhorts musicians to be kind, to be giving, to take care of themselves and to know their place within any band they’ve been hired to play in. Yet that can be very difficult, especially for those on the road. Thomas said these seemingly simple concepts can be difficult for some because of the allure of rock ‘n roll fantasy.
“And we think that abusing drugs and partying is our right. As a musician, we believe that before we get into the business, we believe that just having a good time and traveling the road is what it's all about. And a lot of us … we miss the big picture on how to make this a business and how to get longevity out of it,” said Thomas.
That big picture is broken into many small practical points in the book, including the importance of understanding the money side of music.
“A lot of times, we don't understand what good pay is, or we don't understand that your pay may not be the same as the other bandmates around you,” said Thomas. “A lot of times, we don't negotiate well. We just make a lot of little mistakes that especially rookie musicians make not understanding the business.
Thomas said he didn’t understand his worth as a sideman until he started getting the calls to play out of the country consistently.
“I've been fortunate enough to stay in-demand during my career. But the more in demand I became, the more the gigs will start to overlap. And once I start to realize that I'm able to turn some things down, and the same artist that I turned down will call me back in the future, then I know that I'm worth something,” said Thomas.
He also offers advice to especially newer touring musicians who will likely return to their hometown between stints and feel a letdown when they realize they need to play club dates for extra money.
“Treat the club gigs like you're already on the big stage,” said Thomas. “Act as if you're playing in front of 10,000. Even if you play in front of 25 people. Get in your head that this is the biggest thing in the world. And dress like it. My dad used to tell me you want to dress for the job you want not the job you have. When you have the small gig, play the music just like you play in front of 100,000 until one day you will.”
Many musicians are comfortable playing within a band that doesn’t sport their name. The time, stress, and pressure of being the front person doesn’t suit everyone. But for those who have those aspirations, Thomas recommends playing with a leader who was a side musician first.
“Because they understand the position of side musicians and they seem to be better bosses to work for. I believe that if you are side musician and you want to start your own band, you want to ask as many questions from the bands that you work for as possible, Find out how they got their start. You want to emulate what they do. If they're great at their job, you want to start picking up some of those same habits and work ethic,” said Thomas.
He also encourages musicians to write original music and save money.
“So, once you get a couple dollars saved up you can hire your friends and you can start working on some of those compositions that you have,” he said.
He added one aspect that rarely gets talked about with musicians is how to handle getting fired, which he said is the nature of being a sideman.
“There's a popular saying in this business, you're not in the business until you get fired,” said Thomas. “A good thing about getting fired is the opportunity to turn that situation into one where that same person hires you over and over again. Also, the importance of practice and preparation for touring. That is key to keeping the gig for a long time.”
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