Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Eric Darken Interview

Eric Darken's percussion has been a part of hundreds of recordings over the last few decades.   A model of a successful freelance musician, the Nashville session great took a few moments recently to answer a few questions:

Mark: What is your background / training as a percussionist?

Eric: I started out playing drum set at the age of twelve. I played timpani and mallets in high school. I attended Brevard College in North Carolina and studied with Mario Gaetano who was a wonderful orchestral percussionist and educator. He really got me started into the whole orchestral percussion world. After a two year degree, I transferred to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK. There I studied with Roy Smith who was the principal percussionist for the Tulsa Philharmonic. At ORU, I was asked to be a part of the Richard Roberts "live" TV show which aired five days a week. This was a great experience because it taught me how to sightread and perform charts very quickly. We would rehearse a few songs for the show and then tape "live" an hour later. This was not only a wonderful experience, but quite an education.

How about name dropping some artists with Eric Darken percussion on their recordings?

I have had the opportunity over the years to record for a variety of artists and bands. Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Gaither Vocal Band, Taylor Swift, Bob Seger, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Bon Jovi

You've been involved in a variety of aspects of the music business. In addition to playing percussion, what else have you done in your career?

I started out years ago copying music for various music arrangers. It was a lot of hard work and long hours but I learned a lot by doing it. Over the years, I have composed music for TV and film and continue to do so as time permits. You can hear some of my music on such television shows as Dateline, 20/20, NFL Films, National Geographic, and Fox Sports.

How has your work as a percussionist changed / evolved over the course of your career?

I'm always trying to learn and grow as a musician and by doing so that includes keeping up with the electronic world as well. Years ago, I began recording projects of my own in my studio and that has moved into people sending me their tracks to play on . I'm constantly trying to stay up to date with the latest recording and software gear. I do the same with my acoustic percussion as well. My set up incorporates both acoustic and electronic options. I use samples and can create original loops in the studio as needed. On any given day or song, I can incorporate all types of percussion, some electronics and even some drum set parts if needed. By having my own studio, it forced me to not only keep up with things percussion-wise but also recording as well. There is always something to learn!

I'm sure that there are many times in the studio (or preparing for a live event) when there is no written chart. What is your method for creating a percussion part?

I don't have a formula per se when there is no written part. I try to communicate with the artist or producer on what he or she might like or what they want to accomplish with percussion. A lot of times, a producer will give specific instructions or often times, they will just tell me to "do my thing." I try to listen to the "big picture" with a track. If there is a lot of motion going on within the track then I might adjust what I do from a shaker or hand drum part. I tend to try to blend into what the drums are doing and not stick out in any way...even if there are a bunch of different parts! Ultimately, I would like to believe that what I bring to a track is inspired by God.

Eric uses Meinl Percussion, Paiste Cymbals, Mike Balter Mallets, Remo Heads, and the Trash Kat Drum from ThunderEcho Drums.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Right Threads

Your clothes talk about you before you ever open your mouth. 
What are you trying to say?

  • Wearing the right clothes can help get you hired AND keep you hired. 
  • If you are asked to meet a potential employer, dress on the "up side" for the event.  
  • Being a musician does not give you a license to wear just anything and expect to get hired just because you can shred on your instrument. 
  • Some bands are going for a "look" and doing some research can help you make the right impression.  
  • No one will accuse you of being a "sellout" for wearing decent shoes.
  • If you are told to wear something of a certain color to a gig and you don't own that, you have two choices: Buy or borrow the item   or   Turn down the gig.   Wearing the wrong thing can lead to NEVER getting hired by that person again (or being fired upon arrival).
  • If they say tux, they don't mean a black sport coat and black pants.  They mean a TUXEDO.  Get one if you are going to work in the music world where a tux is often the default choice.
  • If they say long black dress...Long means LONG.
  • Don't dress like a bum for rehearsals if you don't really (REALLY) know the situation.
  • If you are a guy, invest in a dark suit.  Sooner or later you'll need it for a gig, meeting, or funeral.
  • Before you leave for the gig, take a look in the mirror and ask if you'd hire that person.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Own Gear / Get Gigs

Investing in instruments and gear can pay off in getting engagements.  If the contractor calls with a job that requires the player to "double" on bass clarinet and you don't have access to one...goodbye to that gig!  In most cases, people want to hire players who own the instruments rather than paying for the musician AND the extra expense of renting  an instrument. 

It was great to have use of the university's piccolo while you were a student but maybe now it's time to have one of your own so that you can reply, "Sure, I have a piccolo.  What time is the rehearsal?"   If you are an electric guitarist and you do not own an acoustic...c'mon.

Remember:  There might be tax advantages to investing in a bari sax or flugelhorn...probably not with the big screen T.V.

Also, owning instruments and gear can provide an extra stream of income from renting items when you are not using them yourself.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Owes Me List

As a self employed / independent contractor / freelance musician, you prefer to get the check right after you play the last note of the gig.  That is not always the case.  Institutions (schools, churches, colleges, prisons, etc...) sometimes cannot pay until the performance is over, the paperwork is filed, and the bureaucracy cuts the check. 

It can take a while.  

You need a system in place to keep up with those jobs with the missing dollars.   Don't trust your memory.  It doesn't need to be that elaborate.   A spiral notebook dedicated to keeping a log of the unpaid work or a running list on a computer file can do the trick of managing your outstanding gig loot.  

(I call that file on my PC..."The Owes Me List."

Monday, January 30, 2012

You Need An "Act"

Early in my freelance career, I figured out that my gig-getting potential would increase if I had an "act" to sell instead of trying to find work as only a sideman---for someone else's act.  

Your act can be just you as a soloist or an ensemble that you establish and lead (chamber group, rock band, jazz combo, folk duo, etc...).  

With an act, you can contact agents, festivals, concert series, event planners, and more...rather than waiting for the sideman call.  As the leader of the act, you should pay yourself more than the sidemen.

You need an act...or more than one.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Music Think Tank & Hypebot

It's so important to keep up with trends in the music business.   Music Think Tank (www.musicthinktank.com) and Hypebot (www.hypebot.com) are two of the blogs that I follow.   Check 'em out for innovations and ideas that can help you on your "music to money" journey.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


There's a service that can pull a variety of your social media sites together into one neat package.   You can send potential clients one URL and they can view a selected video, scope out your tweets from Twitter, read your bio, click a link to your website, watch some of your You Tube videos, and more.  (It updates automatically...WOW!)

It's FREE.  (Okay, there is a upgrade available for a fee but you can get going at NO cost.)  

The service is ONESHEET. 
Check out mine at www.onesheet.com/MarkSheltonPerc

Get your own at www.onesheet.com !

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Get It In Writing

Always get the gig details in writing.  If all parties involved are real professionals, no one should object to setting the basics of the engagement in a fixed form. 
Disputes can be avoided, details clarified, and relationships maintained by making sure that presenter and performer have the same information.  

This fixed form can be be a formal contract (I use the less intimidating term, performance agreement.) or a simple email spelling out the who, what, when, where, and HOW MUCH.   In addition to those basics, you might include things such as set up time, number of breaks, and permission to sell merchandise.

Avoid too many details.  Do not overwhelm your client with minutia.  People like simple.
I have toured for over seven weeks for a well known agency with only a ONE PAGE contract.

Bring the performance agreement to the gig.

The weakest ink is better than the strongest memory. 
Chinese proverb

Monday, December 5, 2011

Music 3.0 A Survival Guide for Making Music in the Internet Age

Music 3.0  A Survival Guide for Making Music in the Internet Age rates as one of the best music industry books that I've read...EVER !

The music business has changed at a staggering rate in the last several years and continues to move and morph at an amazing pace.  Much of this is due to technology.  Bobby Owsinki explains the changes and gives practical advice on navigating and taking advantage of the changes. 

You don't have to be Radiohead to incorporate the ideas into your musical situation.  Just knowing that there's such a thing as "Economics of Free" can set your mental wheels turning on how to apply it in selling your music or growing your "tribe." (Growing your tribe is also discussed in the book.)

There's over fifty pages of interviews with people who are on the cutting edge of the music business.

Just knowing that Chapter Seven is "How To Make Money in Today's Music World" should be reason enough to include this book in your library.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Promo Video: Play Music For A Living

Video and comments from Midwestern State University after the
Play Music For A Living tm seminar

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Client List

Make sure to keep a list of clients along with contact information.   Just a simple database program works fine.

These are people who might hire you again so you want to be able to stay in contact with them.

If they liked your music, let them know when you release a new CD, DVD, or other merchandise.

Prospective clients frequently want references.  You will have plenty on that data base.

Grant applications might want a history of performances.  Easy…copy from the client list.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Coping With Change In The Music Biz

The music world changes at a pace like never before.   As I look back over my years as a freelance musician, I marvel at how technology has changed the business.  
  • Records and cassettes to compact discs to digital downloads
  • Drum machines that were once feared are now embraced
  • Hard copy press kits are going the way of the dinosaur in lieu of an electronic version
  • Sheet music can be sent by email right after you are hired for a gig
How well do you handle change?  Did your "steady gig" just get reduced to "occasional?"  Has that agency that you depended on suddenly changed direction?  Have you been asked to use a piece of gear that made you uncomfortable?

I highly recommend checking out Who Moved My Cheese? by Spenser Johnson. 

As musicians, it is important to understand that change occurs and that there are ways to anticipate, cope, and re-invent.   Who Moved My Cheese? provides great insight and suggestions about dealing with change.  

It helped my head!

One of the most challenging questions from the book is:
What would I do if I was not afraid?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Advice For Your First Recording Session

Preparation and attitude are certainly key ingredients in the professional musician world (including the recording world!).
Producer, engineer, and owner of Brilliant Recording (www.brilliantrecording.com ), Aaron Brown offers some suggestions for your first (or any) recording session:

An Engineer's Advice For Your First Studio Session
Having worked in studios for the past 15 years, I have picked up a few things that will help your very first studio session go smoothly.

1. Preparation
    Ask the producer if they have a demo of the song(s) you are going to play.  Doing some homework ahead of time shows initiative and a willingness to work hard, even if you are not extremely experienced in the studio.  Try to get a feel for the style that you will be playing so that you can make the right choices on instruments to bring.  In addition to your instruments, add these items to your list of things to bring:
    -Pencil and paper
    -In-ear monitors
2.  Arrive early to set up
    This demonstrates a professional attitude to the client from the very beginning of the session.  There is nothing like the feeling of running late, having to set up in a hurry and then trying to keep it calm, cool, and collected once the recording begins.  Avoid all of that and show up early.
3. Attitude (It's your sound, not mine)
    You will start getting callbacks the quicker you realize that you are playing on the project of someone else..and not your own.  Attitude is key.  No one wants to work with a know-it-all, no matter how talented they are.  Be there ready and willing to help them convey THEIR message in the music.
4. Simple is always better
    If you have a hard time pulling a lick off while you are practicing on your own, more than likely you will not be able to make it happen when recording it.  Stick to things you are comfortable with and if the producer wants the bombastic, he will ask.
5. Have fun
    Music is fun.  You should always try to keep the atmosphere laid-back and stress-free.  If you are having fun, more than likely everyone else in the session will as well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Working With An Agent

Developing and maintaining a good professional relationship with entertainment agents in your area can provide a boost to your bookings.  As in any business relationship, there are ethics, expectations, and etiquette that are necessary for success.  I asked Bonnie Piedmont with Incredible Productions (www.incredibleproductions.com ) to share some of her wisdom on this topic.   Bonnie sent some great advice:

 As an entertainment production company / talent agency, we would...

1.  Expect the musician or act to provide proper materials with which we can sell  them...photo, song list, bio, few clients and/or references, cd, mp3 files, etc...  Also, talent would need to provide a W-9 form for tax purposes.

2.  Expect that the musician will act professionally when on a job and serve as
a positive representative of the agency...don't eat or drink unless specifically invited at the event, deal courteously with client or  representatives’ on-site requests (if reasonable, of course), and if asked for contact information, provide that of the booking agency....not 
their personal information or that of another agency.

Musician should consider the following when dealing with an agency / production company...

1.  Expect that the agency will charge a reasonable commission (above  talent's "net" fee) and will provide all necessary paperwork (contracts  / agreements) with musician as well as with the client.   
Terms should be stated as to when payment can be expected as well as 
providing all necessary event details (on-site contact, cell number, 
exact location, directions to the venue, and what is expected of the performer.)

2.   Expect that the agency will pay in a prompt manner and for tax purposes  provide the performer with the necessary tax forms for reporting income.

3.   Expect that agency will indicate to the performer whether they consider   
them to be exclusive (“non-compete”) to their agency or if it  
is possible that talent may be represented by other agencies as well.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Large "Legit" Ensemble Part Two

As your quest for orchestra, band, and other large ensemble gigs continues, taking a lesson or two from the principal player of your instrument can be smart move.   There are the obvious benefits of getting some pointers on your tone, technique, and interpretation but there is also the networking aspect.  The principal player in a section may have some influence on who gets called for the sub / extra work (or he can put in a good word for you with the personnel manager). 

Networking with personnel managers and principal players can be beneficial outside of that particular ensemble.  These people sometimes get requests from other musical groups looking to hire for events (community theatre companies, churches, etc...).   The first orchestra gig that I played after moving to the Dallas area paved the way for the personnel manager to set me up for a run of a musical theatre production.

If you do not play a "standard orchestral instrument," (but you have good reading skills and chops) consider contacting orchestras and bands to get on their list of "specialty instruments."  
Examples include:
Keyboardists playing electronic keys, synth, organ, or celeste
Guitarists (perhaps doubling on banjo and / or mandolin)
Electric Bassists

I can think of one pit orchestra job in my career that included a harmonica player and another one with an accordionist.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Large "Legit" Ensemble Part One

With a background in classical music and experience as an "extra percussionist" in The North Carolina Symphony and The Shreveport Symphony, it seemed like a good idea to search for large "legit" ensemble gigs after my move to the Dallas area in the mid-eighties.  This was before the Internet--- but I somehow tracked down names and numbers and began my campaign. Over the years,  I played sub / extra work with a number of groups (including America's premier windband, The Dallas Wind Symphony).  Eventually, the path of phone calls led to a gig as a regular percussionist with a regional orchestra.  I played with that group for eight seasons.

The lesson:                      I called.

What if the orchestra already has their core roster set and is not holding auditions?  Ask about getting on the substitute / extra list.  There is frequently a need for subs.  Extras?  Although an orchestra usually has a core group, often pieces are programmed that require more players.   For example, a group might have three regular percussion spots but many works in the repertoire require more players.  (Six hands can only do so much.)  So...the orchestra calls people from the extra list.  You want to be on that list.

The people to contact...
the orchestra personnel manager and / or the principal player of the section in which you would fit.

More in Part Two

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Branding Yourself

Searching the bookstore shelves for information on branding, social media, and networking, I came upon one book that encompassed all those topics and MORE.   Branding Yourelf by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy has given me a wealth of ideas on developing my brand and promoting my musical services.  With
this book, you get  practical advice on using various avenues to reach people with your message, products, and skills.   The book goes far beyond the subtitle: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself.  You not only get ways to use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but there are ideas on launching your brand, old school networking (person to person), blogging, getting published, and public speaking.  Branding Yourself (Que Publishing) has the stuff you need to know as a freelance musician to position and promote yourself in the digital age.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Play Music For A Living Seminar Now Available for Fall 2011

College Music Departments:  Further Your Students' Success 

A solid music education is a great start.   You need some additional knowledge and skills to “live the freelance life.”

You’ve taught them to play beautifully.
They've learned to avoid parallel fifths in chorale writing.
Thanks to you, discussing  Beethoven’s Late Period is a breeze.
But do your students have the knowledge to play music for a living?

I can help.
After leaving the steady paycheck life (as Visiting Artist at a college) and moving to the Dallas area, I quickly realized that my idea of becoming a freelance musician was going to be more challenging than expected.  I did not give up.  
This was before cell phones and internet access.  Few people owned a fax machine.  You made a demo TAPE.  A bulletin board was...a bulletin board.  It was harder to gather and send information, but I began to read, network, and get hired.  I learned a lot by trial and error.  There was quite a bit of error ...but I emerged wiser (with some some good stories).
With over two decades of experience as a successful freelance musician and entrepreneur, l want to share my knowledge with others who have the desire to live the freelance life.
The “Play Music For A Living” seminar gives aspiring musicians practical information on such topics as:
  • Exploring Your Options
  • Working With An Agent
  • Contracting Musicians
  • Salesmanship
  • Networking
  • Ethics and Etiquette
  • Social Media and Your Web Presence
  • Branding
This fast paced, enlightening, and inspirational session provides the kind of information that aspiring musicians need to find their place in the gigging world.
To book the “Play Music For A Living” seminar, call me at 800-272-2249 or email: markshelton@verizon.net .

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Music Contractor

  • A church musical wants to hire a string section for Easter
  • A touring show is coming to town with a skeleton crew of musicians and
    needs four horn players and two percussionists
  • An event planner has a client with a request for brass fanfares for an awards ceremony
In all of these situations, the services of a music contractor will be helpful.  Early in my freelance career, I realized that there was money in taking on the responsibilities of contracting musicians.    
You need a bunch of names and numbers of good, dependable musicians.  (See the previous post!)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Names And Numbers / The Pool Book

Collect and organize names and contact information of musicians and music related services—ALL instruments / ALL styles…I have received more than one call for a BAGPIPER !  Get names of players, P.A. and backline rental companies, studios, folk music clubs, agents…
There are a number of reasons why you need this info:
  1. Contracting / hiring other musicians for projects
  2. Subbing out a gig
  3. General networking (“I can take this job if I can just get three more mikes.  Wait a second…I got that guy’s name that I met last week.  He told me that he rents out his gear.”)
  4. Developing your reputation as a “Good Guy/Gal.”   If you get the call and can’t play the gig, give out some other names and numbers.  (Include the phrase, “Tell ‘em I sent ya.” )  Everyone involved will think you’re swell and someone might return the favor.
My “old school” three ring binder with its many names and numbers was nicknamed “The Pool Book.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gig-Getting Tools

Selling yourself as a musician is hard enough.  
Some tools and knowledge can make the hunt a little more tolerable and fruitful.

Sales management software   Don’t try to make your own homemade spreadsheet version.  Invest in some software (I use Goldmine.) and you will be able to find contacts, see what you quoted, set alarms to remind you to call back on a certain date, and much more.  It’s worth it!
A phone headset  You are going to be sitting at the computer using that aforementioned software, making calls, and entering data.  Keep your hands free to take notes on the computer, scribble a phone number, or practice flute fingering patterns while you talk to the client.

Sales technique book(s)   There was a point at which I knew that to be a successful freelance musician, I was going to also be a salesman.  I eventually realized that I needed some help.  There is no shortage of books that can give you simple steps to improving your sales pitch and closing speech.   One of my favorites is Selling For Dummies by the great master, Tom Hopkins.   As I write this post, the book is within easy reach behind my desk chair.   Packed with easy to understand tips, this book can hone your gig getting chops.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Power of "Thank You."

People remember gratitude.
Expressing thankfulness seems a bit rare in our present society.    It’s a good way for you to stand out from the herd and get hired again.  After the gig is over, find the person that hired you, look ‘em in the eye, shake the hand, and say, “Thanks for the call.”
After you get home, send a thank you note.  Not a text.  Not an email.   Send them a handwritten note and toss in your business card.  . I print my thank you notes from my computer so that the front of the card has my picture.  That way, the recipient can make sure to connect who I am and remember me for the future. 
You only need about a few sentences written on the card and you are on your way to being a good memory.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

It's Quick And Easy...To Ignore

I’m talking about email and texting.  It is sometimes more convenient than calling on the phone.  It is safer than getting a rejection in real time.   It is also quick and easy for the receiver to ignore and delete.

I have sometimes emailed and tried to feel that sense of accomplishment that I really DID something when I knew deep down that my missive could have been stopped by a spam filter, deleted based on the subject line, or skimmed and trashed.
The phone takes more guts and usually gives better results.   In sales, you want to CONNECT and build rapport quickly.  If you cannot meet in person, the old fashioned telephone ranks a close second.
All that stated, there are times when the only way (or proper way) to reach someone is by email…you’ll know those times.   When phoning is acceptable and available…GUT UP AND MAKE THE CALL.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Skills And Knowledge

Good tone and technique on your instrument are obvious prerequisites to playing professionally.
There are other things that can make you more marketable and keep you in the game.
Here’s a partial list:
Strong sight-reading
Knowledge of a variety of musical styles
Transposition at sight
Ability to read chord symbols
Ability to play from a lead sheet / fake book
Playing by ear
Singing background
Biz Sense (including Ethics and Etiquette)
Thick Skin
All of these need not be resident in a musician in order to play professionally.  As I stated, these are the kind of skills and knowledge that might make you more desirable to contractors, agents, music directors, etc…
Do you have any to add to the list?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Biz Card & P.O. Box

Get a business card.  Quickly! 
Do not delay by waiting to hire a graphic artist to design something worthy of inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art.   Go ahead and get an inexpensive card while you wait for your appointment with Vincent Van Monet.  If the quick / down and dirty cards get you even ONE gig, it might  pay for the uber-artful version.
Be sure to include ALL your phone numbers, an email address and/or web presence, and a mailing address.   Some of the jobs that you will play will be paid by mail.  You want to make sure that the paymaster has your correct address.  
I strongly suggest that you rent a Post Office box and use that for all your business. 
  • If you move within the area, your business address remains the same.
  • Your checks come to a secure box.
  • It  just looks more professional.
Get a business card.  Give ‘em away.  Get gigs.