The View from the Sacbut Section

Musings of C. Clark Gayton, Jr.

Archive for June, 2009

The Art of Sitting In

Posted by C. Clark Gayton, Jr. on June 30, 2009

The Art of Sitting In

 

“Sitting in” sounds, to the uninitiated, like a relaxing time on the front porch swapping tall tales and drinking lemonade with no thought about the concerns of the day, much less, earning a living. That impression couldn’t be further from reality.

 

Using the casual implications of the phrase to corner folks into getting you work is not only rude, but unmusical-like. Announcing to an acquaintance, or even a good friend, that you’re going to come down and sit in on that person’s gig is inappropriate and manipulative. To disregard the rehearsals and thought out music set is off-putting and unlikely to get you a job. If you inject yourself into a performance and insist on doing a solo, consider that your solo is displacing someone else’s (the hired musician’s) chance to play who was probably looking forward all week to just relaxing and playing in a controlled environment.

 

“Sitting in” is a very important part of a young musician’s career and is instrumental to being heard but not at the expense of the musicians who were hired. That being said, there is a time and place for it. If not properly handled, all you’ll ever do is sit in. I’ll be even more direct:  you won’t be considered for a paying job if you always play for free, step up to the bandstand without being invited, and only sit in.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to dismiss the importance of this art, but from my perspective, there are only 4 things that can be accomplished when sitting in with a band (not all of them good and not all of them intentional):

 

  1. You’ll get a gig with the band, or someone in the audience will get you a job (yeah!);
  2. Nothing will happen, because you didn’t make an impact on the music (uh, oh);
  3. You lost countless jobs because you pissed off everyone in the band, and, as a result, the audience considered your work subpar and unprofessional (umm, but I was just asserting myself…);
  4. In an effort to really impress, you stay on the bandstand too long and wait until the gig ends to find out what the band thinks of you.  This gives the other musicians the impression that you are desperate, even if you sound great!  This is a mistake I see over and over – an uninvited musician sits in and waits until after the gig to introduce him or herself to the rest of the band hoping for work. This smacks of desperation, so much so that no one wants the squatter’s number.  They’re thinking, “Why is he so desperate? He sounds good … there must be something wrong with him…”  There’s nothing wrong with introducing yourself to the guys, but creeping everyone out by following the band around after the performance is not the deal. 

 

What is the deal is to get them interested in you! Not the opposite. 

 

In the end, it’s always about the music, so here are some tips to the Art of Sitting In:

 

  1. Listen to the band before you get behind the microphone. If you can’t add to the music, lay out.
  2. Wait until you are asked to play. And if you do play, only play ONE song, maybe two if asked. That way they see you as a conscientious musician. 
  3. If you really feel the need to play, ALWAYS ask the band leader if you can play a number with the band. NEVER just pull your axe out and start wailing. This happens all the time on the scene, and you never really hear from these guys again, I’m sorry to say (but not too sorry!).
  4. If you don’t know the music, don’t wait until the song is over before you decide to learn the changes. 
  5. For jam sessions, the idea is to throw yourself in the fire. A professional gig is not the situation to mine it out.

 

As your experience widens, dealing with unfamiliar tunes gets easier, to the point where no one will be the wiser if you didn’t know the song.

 

A Word about Getting Paid versus Sitting In

 

If your goal is to be a professional musician, you have to hone your sitting in skills and limit them to unique situations. You don’t get paid for sitting in, nor should you expect to be. 

 

If you are one of those guys who always sits in for free, how can you be taken seriously when you’re looking to get paid? You always play for free! You can successfully and freely play your way out of ever getting paid, outside of spare change when you are finally asked. Why would anyone ever pay you $500 for a job if you played down the street all night for nothing?

 

In sum, pick your situations, and always put the sound of the music first. You will be noticed for this.

 

Trust me.

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