When I was asked to write this blog, I really had absolutely no idea what to say. I’ve been playing music professionally for over a decade, and there are a million things I’ve experienced and pieces of advice I could give, but what is the MOST IMPORTANT thing I’ve ever learned? Yeesh!!
So, I thought about it and thought about it, and something hit me that is one of the first things I say to anyone asking me for advice. I get a lot of work, not because I’m the best or the most professional or put on the best show. Nope. A lot of times, I get the gig because I’m easy to get along with. I’m nice and, depending on the personalities, I can be fun to hang out with and talk to. Am I trying to tell you about how much of an amazing person I am? No. But there is something to be said about fitting in with the band, and we’re not talking about the actual music.
Let me tell you two stories…
My first story is of a drummer who was a friend of a friend who got a gig and went on the road with a pretty established national act. I went to one of their shows in Baltimore, MD and got to chat with him afterwards. I asked him, “How’d you get the gig?” He went on to tell me about playing in a club in NYC where a woman came up to him and told him that she represents “so and so” and could she give him your number as he is looking for a drummer and she thought he’d be perfect. He said sure, not thinking anything would come of it. One day, he got a call from “so and so” and was invited to his place in LA. He said sure and on his way to the meet-up, he thought, “If this is one of those American Idol auditions and there’s a line of drummers waiting outside this guy’s house, I’m not doing that.” He got to the house. No group of drummers. No auditions. Just the two of them chatting it up for a couple hours about music and life. After a while, “so and so” asked him if he wanted the gig. Never heard him play or anything. He literally just wanted to know if he could hang out with this guy on a tour bus for 4 months.
My second story is of a friend who got a call to sub in for a national band through a recommendation from another musician he’d subbed for. Well, word got around (as reputations typically do) that he played fine, but off stage, he was typically drunk and super negative. The band didn’t like hanging out with him at all, and when that band needed a sub again, guess what? They didn’t call him.
Obviously, personalities are sometimes going to clash and there’s no way around some of those conflicts, but I think those stories show how important, as my bassist would say, “The Hang” is.
A few years ago, I was playing with some guys who would become some of my best friends, and we met playing in a band put together by a pop singer. She paid very well, but her gigs were terrible. Terrible venues, empty seats, long drives and to be honest, no one liked the music either, but the only reason why we kept playing with her was because she paid well and we all had “The Hang.” We would complain about the gigs and all the negative aspects, but we loved being together so much and that made up for everything.
So when students or pros alike ask me for advice, one of the first things I always say, as dumb as it sounds, is just be nice. Be cool. You can be the greatest musician of all time, but if no one can stand hanging out with you or dealing with you, you won’t get very far and good luck finding anyone who will work with you.
Matthew Berry is a Guitarist, Bassist, Vocalist, Songwriter, Producer and Teacher in Maryland. He has a degree in Jazz Studies from Shenandoah Conservatory and has played and toured with countless original and cover acts. His original, power pop band, Classified Frequency just released their third EP, “Black Eye” and he is also the lead guitarist for Country Recording Artist, devoN Nickoles who just won her region’s Nash Next Competition, headlined the 100th Ephrata Fair in Ephrata, PA and opened for Rodney Atkins and David Lee Murphy at I105’s Fall Fest in Lancaster, PA with 15,000+ in attendance. He is also the bassist for MD Top 40 rock band, Honey Extractor who was just nominated for Best Cover Band at The Maryland Music Awards and he plays lead guitar for Northern VA’s best Top 40 Country band, Delta Spur.
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