Eric Baines

Tag: professional musician

“Do I Have To Read Music?”

by eric on Feb.06, 2010, under Music

I thought I’d blog about something a little nerdier than I usually do. I’m often asked by aspiring musicians as I’m traveling around playing music, ” Do I have to know how to read?” You would think that there would be an easy answer to that question but to me it’s a little more complicated. 

I’ve lived a double life over the 18 years of my music career. On the one hand I’m an aspiring artist, songwriter, producer and entertainer. On the other hand, I’m also a professional working musician who makes his living playing music. These are very different things and each has it’s own approach. 

Let’s start with the easier answer. As a professional musician who relies on music to make my living, I can’t afford to turn gigs down. I always go by the rule that the best players get the best gigs. That means if I can’t read then there are a huge chunk of gigs that I can’t play. That’s not good for business. Making your living at music relies more on your skills than on your musicality sometimes. I’ve known plenty of mediocre players that make a good living just because they can read. I’ve also known really super great players and 99.9 percent of them can read. 

Having said all of that, not everyone has to be the perfect site reader. There are different levels of reading and each one gets you more gigs. If you can read a chord chart or a lead sheet, that is a few more gigs that you can do and it’s better than nothing. Sometimes artists will give you their charts ahead of time so if you can read slowly then that’s a gig you can do. There are also the gigs where you are given the book when you get there and they call out numbers of chats all night long and you read eerything…and those gigs usually pay really well. I’ve also had artists give me their charts before the gig but once I get there they’ve decided to do a couple of other tunes that they brought the chart for. At that point you have a short sound check to learn the tunes before 5,ooo people show up to watch you fall on your ass.

The last thing I’ll say about this is what’s the big deal about reading? Why is everybody so afraid of it. Just learn how to read. At least learn what you can. It will only help you play more gigs. Buy a book, take a private lesson, go to college whatever it takes. Learn what you can and work on your craft. The best players get the best gigs.

 I remember the first time someone, other than my parents, asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was seventh grade in the computer lab in middle school and a very hot girl (who will remain nameless to protect the innocent) asked me the question. Without even thinking I said “I want to be a rock star”. It was like the words just jumped out of my mouth. I wasn’t even in control. At the time I didn’t even know what that meant but that’s what my gut knew. To me this is a whole different approach to the music business and the other life I live as an artist. When you get into writing your own music and putting a band together to make it as a star, that is more about entertainment and creativity then skills. If you are interest in being in a band and making it big as an artist I would recommend you spend more time working on your songwriting skills and your stage presence. You still need to be able to play but you’ll probably never read or need that skill. To be an artist you need to figure out who you are and what you have to say. You need to search yourself to find out what it is that people like about you and how to bring it to the masses in a presentable package. Reading is not going to hurt you but it’s not a necessity. I would suggest you write, write, write. 

I hope this answer this question and helps somebody somewhere. Let me know what you think. Now go make some music. Oh…and buy my record!

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