Becoming a touring guitarist is a dream for many musicians. Being able to travel the world, perform on stage, and make a living out of your passion is an incredible opportunity. Anyone who’s considering pursuing this dream must know that it’s not an easy path and requires a lot of hard work, dedication time, and talent.
However, it’s not impossible to achieve. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at what it takes to become a touring guitarist, from honing your skills to securing gigs and building a fanbase.
1. Develop your guitar skills
The first step to becoming a touring guitarist is to become a master of your instrument. This means putting in the hours of practice and studying the styles of the greats.
- Educate yourself in the techniques of your favorite guitarists.
- Learn how to play in the style of whoever you want to go on tour with.
There are a lot of amazing players out there, often with more experience than you, but here’s the good news: you don’t need to be the best guitarist in the world to get a gig as a touring guitarist.
While becoming an advanced and well-rounded guitarist is key, many touring guitarists are selected because they specialize in a particular style of guitar. Dive deep into your favorite style of choice, and make sure the world knows about it.
This brings us to our next point.
2. Network, network, network!
Ever hear the cliché ‘Your network is your net worth’? It’s true. Networking is crucial for any musician. It’s rare that a touring guitarist gig just falls into your lap. If you ask most touring guitarists how they got picked up to go on tour, 99% of the time it’s because someone they know in the music industry recommended them for the gig.
This might be disheartening at first, but in-person and online networking is achievable for everyone – even introverted players. In today’s digital world, most players network via social media because it allows you to connect with musicians all over the world. However, don’t underestimate the power of a handshake. Expanding your network in the real world is often more powerful than sending some messages back and forth online.
Here are some ideas for local networking opportunities:
- Attend local concerts
- Participate in different open mics in your area
- Seek out local musicians online and meet up with them for in-person jams
These connections could lead to future collaborations and touring opportunities. In the music industry, the line between friend and musical business partner is often blurry – those who can make friends easily often succeed in the music industry. Relationships go a long way, and one chance meeting could change everything – look what happened with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
3. Learn music theory (enough to communicate)
Music theory is the backbone of all musical composition, and a strong understanding of it will help you to become a better guitarist. Study the fundamentals of music theory, including scales, chords, and harmony. Well rounded knowledge of these concepts will help you to improvise, write original music and collaborate with other players.
It’s rare that you’ll need to know advanced theory to become a touring guitarist. Nine times out of 10, you won’t be asked to sight read music or analyze music on the spot. However, you should know how to:
- Communicate using the number system
- Transpose songs to a different key
- Play licks by ear
- Find the key of a song and improvise to it by ear
4. Build a strong online presence
In today’s digital age, it’s essential to have a strong online presence. This means having:
- Active social media accounts
- A website or place to display a digital portfolio of your work.
Share your music, videos, and photos regularly, and engage with your followers. You don’t need one million followers to get a gig, but you can’t deny the social proof of having a strong digital presence. Building a strong online following will help you to reach a wider audience and potentially secure more gigs.
5. Play live and collaborate as much as possible
One frustration of trying to become a touring guitarist is that, getting a gig is often out of your control. Focus on creating and playing the type of music you want to play on tour, and people will take notice.
Playing live is one of the best ways to build your reputation. Start by playing at local venues, and gradually work your way up to larger shows.
Collaborating with other musicians is a great way to learn, grow and build your reputation. Join a band, or work with other musicians on projects, to develop your skills and reach new audiences. If you’re starting from scratch, it will likely take years before you get a call for a tour. Keep your head down, and keep working on your craft.
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6. Learn additional band skills
At minimum as a touring guitarist, you should know how to sing harmonies. If you’re not a singer, don’t be scared! With consistent practice, almost anyone can develop an ear for harmonies. You don’t have to be a great singer – you just have to learn how to sing with accurate pitch (which, yes, everyone can do) and blend your voice with others to support a lead singer.
Knowing how to play synth, run backing tracks on Ableton, and other instruments will all give you a leg up if you’re in the running for a touring gig. While you should lie and say you can play the saxophone if you’ve never picked one up before, you don’t have to be a master of these skills – usually, you’ll be able to get by with an intermediate level of skill on auxiliary instruments.
7. Invest in quality equipment
Having quality equipment is crucial, so invest in a good guitar, amp, and pedals, and make sure that your equipment is reliable and in good working order. Often, you’ll need to craft your guitar tone to match a part on an artists record. A multi-FX pedal goes a long way for this, as it saves you from having to invest in expensive pedals.
8. Learn how to think on your feet
As a touring guitarist, your job is to be a seamless cog in the musical machine that supports the rest of the band. Things tend to go wrong in a live setting – like technical issues and miscommunications. If you can think fast under pressure and make your band feel supported, you’ll solidify your worth and place on tour. For example, let’s say the lead singer’s mic goes out, and the band needs to buy some time. You better be ready to tastefully improvise with the rest of the band while keeping a smile on your face until the problem is solved.
9. Learn to play with ‘tude
As a touring guitarist, you’re stepping into the world of showbiz. Think your hot licks alone are enough to get the gig? You’ll be surprised when the guy with half of your guitar talent wins your seat on tour because he can jump around and bang his head to the beat of the song while looking like he’s having the time of his life. Before auditioning with a band, watch their live performance and match your stage presence to theirs.
10. Be professional, reliable, and a good hang
It's essential to be professional and reliable in everything you do. This means showing up to gigs, and having everything ready to go. If you break a string onstage and do not have a replacement string, that may be your final gig! Finally, don’t forget that a massive part of touring involves hanging out together. If the band who’s considering you doesn’t think they can spend 10 hours on a tour bus with you, it doesn’t really matter how talented of a guitarist you are.
In conclusion, becoming a touring guitarist is a challenging but rewarding journey. By honing your skills, building a strong online presence, playing live, collaborating with other musicians, and staying organized and positive, you can reach your goal and become successful. Remember, success takes time, patience and perseverance, so stay focused on your guitar goals and never give up on your dreams.
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