An old article, revised for comment as a blog post.

Things to remember when playing as a sideman


The following is a list of guidelines I have found important to remember when playing as a sideman (sideperson). I believe in them all, I have violated all of them many times, and by violating them reminded myself why they are important.

Things to remember when playing as a sideman


  • You are a SIDEman

  • You are there to make the leader look good. This is regardless of their talent, they got the gig, they called you and they are the ones who will be paying you, so they did at least 3 things right.

  • In spots when you aren't playing for several measures, pay attention to the leader (or front person), as though you are a member of the audience who happens to be on stage (let your eyes be an on stage spot light). If you looked enchanted, rapt with attention, or excited about what they are singing—9 Times out of 10, the audience will follow your lead. If you look bored and pay no attention 10 out of 10 times they will follow your lead.

  • If you aren't playing for the whole song or series of songs, and you can do it inconspicuously—exit the stage; if you can't exit the stage find a tambourine.

  • Don't hold back,they called you for a reason,but don't ever overshadow the lead. See bullet 2.

  • Play the gig. Be a chameleon—If it is a blues gig, play it as a blues gig; if it is rock, play rock; if it is an old-school standards gig, play it like that - you get the picture.

  • Know the material. Even if you have 5 minutes before with the bass player and the drummer to review - do what you have to in order to be as prepared as possible.

  • B.S. weighs 10 times more than gold—If you don't like what you have to do and if you don't like the leadership, venue, direction or whatever—don't do the gig again—no amount of money will ever make it right. Day jobs where invented for this reason.

  • When you are playing the gig, make it the best job you ever had. Wait until after the gig to quit.

  • The audience knows when you are phoning it in. Other jobs let you work from home, not this one, especially when you are on stage.

  • Better to quit than to get fired—except when it isn't (You'll know when that is).

  • If you are subbing - unless the leader points out the fact that you are "helping the group out tonight" - you have been playing with this group on and off forever, and known everyone for years.

  • Find a place to warm up were you won't be heard. If you are an instrument that uses an amp, turn it off. Sax players, find a wall with a curtain - or go outside.

  • If you have to sub out a gig, unless you know that the band leader has a list of folks to call, do your best to find a sub for them.

  • When calling a sub -- call the best person you know. Depending on the situation, you run the risk of losing the gig, or losing the contact you called to sub -- but 9 times out of 10, both parties are happy with you.

  • Some venues you are background music. Follow the band leaders direction, but it is usually a good idea turn down and deal with it, or don't play the venue again.

  • When it is your band - then you can call the tunes. You got the gig, you called the sidemen and you better be paying them!

Posted in Advice



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