Aspiring Musician Needs Help

Not me. Mrs. Rastahomie.

She has a great voice for soft jazz and soft blues, and she’d like to get a few gigs working a club. She’s not trying to break into the “biz” and make it big; just something to do for fun.

First, can you all suggest some songs that would make a good set?

Second, how long should a set be? I’m thinking 10-15 songs; about a 1 1/2 hour set.

How do you book a gig? Just call the manager and say, “Hey - can I audition?”


Joplin…specifically, Pearl. If not that, maybe some Fleetwood Mac.

Hook the Mrs. up with a bottle of Southern Comfort, a nice backbeat, maybe a sexy little saxophone, and you’re all set.


Don’t forget to add a break in every 4th or 5th song. It’s thirsty work! But the club will have its own rules for all that.

That’s exactly how. And most of 'em will say “nope”. When they do, ask about Amateur Night. Most clubs have 'em periodically. Go for Amateur Night, and if they like her, they’ll ask her back. So work the crowd and razzle-dazzle 'em.


Check out what some clubs call “jam nights,” too. She can get up & sing with the band that’s already there. Honestly, most bands actually aren’t really crazy about jam nights, but every once in a while, someone comes in that really is good, and that can lead to more work for that person.

And hour and a half’s worth of stuff is good, but it’s not enough for a whole night. Is she looking for a whole night’s gig, or does she have a band to work with, with other singers? The more people in a band that can do some lead vocals the better. Gives the primary lead singer a rest. And tell her to keep some water on stage nearby. As Soulfrost said, “it’s thirsty work!” No joke.

No, I’m not a singer. But I’m married to a musician who works in two bands. He sings some lead in one, and damn near all the lead in the other. Blues. Gritty, raspy, howlin’ blues.

And tell her she’ll sweat. Those lights are very hot. Wear a) something she won’t mind getting sweaty, or b) be prepared to pay the dry cleaning bill if she wants to wear one of those gorgeous torch-singer dresses.

Best of luck!

Something she may want to think about is joining the local musician’s union. One can make a lot of contacts that way. Of course, she should probably do some amatuer gigs first.

The union isn’t just for full time professional musicians. In fact, if she starts doing paying gigs, she could find herself unable to get jobs if the union decides to make an issue of it.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the musician’s union, but I recognize the fact that I need to be a part of it if I’m going to get any decent jobs.

Mr. K’s Link of the Month:

Why Plastic Grocery Bags Are Better Than God

How does one go about finding and contacting the local musician’s union in an area?


Look in the phonebook under “American Federation of Musicians.” It’ll be Local ####. I dunno if it’ll be helpful to her at this stage, but they’ll be happy to take her money.

Unlike the old days, when the unions actually had hiring halls and you could hang out looking for gigs, today’s union musicians are out scrounging up their own gigs and the union expects that you’ll be doing it that way. There’s never enough work for everybody and there’s never jobs going begging.

You have to make gigs yourself. The idea about open mike nights is not a bad one; don’t forget she’ll need an accompanist and/or some lead sheets, unless she’s doing standards, in which case she needs to be sure she’s singing in the commonly published keys. (You can buy a book that lists 'em in big music stores, if you’re unsure; the fake book isn’t always in the right key.)

Does she have a vocal coach? Some lessons might be helpful; it’s easy to mess up your vocal chords, especially if you’re trying to growl the blues. I wouldn’t be emulating Janis Joplin unless I knew how to be good to my vocal chords the rest of the time.

If she can put together a package deal, work up enough stuff for a good night, THEN she needs to talk to some club owners. Here’s the deal: If she can bring people in, they’re gonna be happy to see her and want to book her. Anybody with a following (that is, people that buy tickets and/or drinks and food), that’s someone a club owner is going to be interested in. The key for them folks is “what’s in it for me?” If you can bring them a consistent (thirsty) crowd, you can get your foot in the door.

10-15 songs ain’t bad, but not enough. More like 50-60. And I always throw a tiny copy of “The Real Book” in the bag just in case some tip-happy somebody wants a song I don’t know off the top of my head. Usually it’s not cool to work out of the book on a gig, but when there’s money involved, go for it!

Good luck to her, performing is what it’s all about.

your humble TubaDiva

You really have to put together a demo tape. This is not something where you sit down with your boombox and let her holler into it - you really need to rent time at a professional studio. I’m not sure how much this costs anymore, but it ain’t cheap. Other than that, you will be stuck doing the amateur night thing (which may be all she wants to do, although it can be kind of a drag). Whether she gets noticed there is basically pure luck…

Tuba is totally correct in saying that she’ll need to know 50-60 songs. The Real/Fake books are excellent.

As far as getting started: I think the best bet would be to approach an existing band and ask them if she can sing a couple songs during their set. If they like her, they might ask her to sing more or know of other musicians who are looking for a singer.

On those same lines, have her check the classifieds (usually those free weeklies) or go to a music store and check out the bulletin board. They are always packed with flyers put up by people looking for musicians.

Since most of music is practicing, and she’ll have to work through quirks with the whole band, she’ll need to go to practice every week. It isn’t realistic to get up on a stage and belt out the classics in the same boring way - it ain’t karaoke. The band needs to communicate solos and breaks and changes. Takes time and practice.

So, in a nutshell, I suggest she work on getting a band together before getting her sights set on a gig. Working with other musicians can be trying and annoying. She’ll need to feel comfortable and confident to appear well on the stage.

After the band has a good program, the demo tape comes (being replaced by the demo CD) and it’s sent to a club’s booking agent. The first time a band performs is considered the audition (usually a weeknight but bring all your friends and make them drink a lot).

Formerly unknown as “Melanie”