The idea that you will work at a coffee shop until your band gets their big break and then you’re a rock star is laughably false. I wouldn’t even mention this if so many young musicians didn’t believe this. I know I did.
The days of the “big break” are over. A music career is now a slow, progressive upward slope. If you persevere you will eventually be able to sustain. If you’re looking for quick fame and instant success, you’re in the wrong field. There are a lot easier ways to get famous. Go make a sex tape or something.
If you want to make a living in music, you’re going to need to be comfortable doing multiple different kinds of jobs that may not fall rigidly in line with your vision as it is now.
Don’t block out opportunities even if you can’t see the benefit in them now.
My earliest gigs on the U of MN campus were at this bar called The Steak Knife (now Tony’s Diner). It became my stomping grounds. I lived just a block away and passed it every day walking back from my day job at a sub shop. There was live music every Thursday, Friday, Saturday with an open mic most Wednesdays. “Reggae Night” was every Thursday which turned into an open jam towards the end of the night. I sat in with the open jam a couple times playing trumpet. I played solo shows there often as well.
One day when I was walking back home from the sub shop, passing The Steak Knife, the sound guy ran outside and said “Ari! Good timing! This guy needs a trumpet player for his show tonight. Come in here and meet him.” I met the guy, let’s call him Ray, ran home, got my trumpet, and played the show with Ray and his band that night.
+The Sound Guy
I started playing more gigs with Ray as the trumpet player in his band.
The sax player and I became close and he checked out a few of my solo shows. He was originally from Milwaukee and helped run a side stage at Summerfest: “The World’s Largest Music Festival.” Having grown up in Wisconsin I went to Summerfest a few times and it was looked at as the holy grail for my high school band.
The sax player not only asked me to play his stage at Summerfest, but to help run it. That year, I played about 3 sets a day on the stage. The official stage manager for that stage took notice of how hard I worked and how much preparation I did for the festival that he asked me to play a bigger role for the following year.
The following summer I obtained a sponsor for the stage and booked the majority of the acts. The summer after that, I booked 100% of the acts, obtained even more sponsorships and turned what was once a little, unofficial side stage into an official stage with sponsors, program listing, website billing and marquee talent.
Booking a stage at “The World’s Largest Music Festival,” I built relationships with many top booking agents and met many talented artists from around the country (some of whom I have since toured with).
Of course, I booked myself on the stage every year. My Wisconsin fan base over the course of these three summers grew exponentially and is one of the main reasons I have such a substantial Wisconsin base.
So, when someone asks how I became so successful in Wisconsin and around the region, I tell them it’s because I said yes to a side man, trumpet gig once.