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Tips for Becoming A Traveling Cover Musician

The big dream for most musicians is to play their own music or as part of a prestigious orchestra. But what about those among us that just love to play music? There is a huge market throughout most countries to play covers of pop and rock songs. Opportunities exist in bars, nightclubs, restaurants, or busking on the streets. There are plenty of ways savvy musicians can make a living while on the road.

Learn to Sing

I am sorry to say that it is much harder for an instrumentalist to land gigs outside the U.S. You may be able to play a few gigs with your violin in the corner of a restaurant or the like, but you are limiting the number of places you’ll be able to play.

People want to be able to recognize songs and sing along, especially in venues like nightclubs and pubs where alcohol is involved. Without vocals, your ability to encourage that is severely limited. You don’t even have to be the best singer for these types of gigs, as long as you can hold a tune — the crowd often does the work for you with a little encouragement once they’ve settled in.

What Instruments to Play

To play solo, you will need a guitar. There are no ifs or buts about this. You will likely be playing in venues that don’t have great PA systems. The most common musicians these venues accommodate are guitarists. Therefore, the venues are much more likely to be well-equipped enough for your performance if you play the same instrument. Since we’re discussing traveling internationally, you won’t have your own PA (personal assistant) to counteract this. 

The guitar is a great instrument to sing with too. As I mentioned earlier, it’s very important to be able to sing when playing covers. Sure — you could sing with a keyboard or violin too. If you are great at combining these skills that’s a strong possibility. You simply have to be aware of the above problem. A keyboard will probably need to be plugged in too, so that takes busking out of the equation unless it’s battery-operated. Another benefit of guitars is that they are one of the most portable options available. A ¾ size guitar can be taken as carry-on luggage in a plane and can be carried in a backpack very easily. It is best to do this and use wheeling luggage for your clothes, etc. Doing it the other way around with a backpack full of clothes and carrying the guitar is a lot more taxing on the body for any long walks.

Booking Gigs

The safest way is to contact venues or booking agents before you leave. This can easily be done by searching online for “live music venues {city}” or “music booking agent {country/ county}”. There are obviously many different variations of this you could try out. It can take a lot of time, but you’ll find something eventually. Don’t contact arena venues or the booking agent for Coldplay — use your common sense to filter your results.

It’s very important to contact venues way in advance. It’s extremely likely that owners have booked musicians already. If you wait until it’s close to the dates you want to leave, you’ll most like be out of luck. For example, if you want to play in the Greek Islands over the summer you should be contacting the venues or agents in winter.

You need something to show for yourself. It is worth investing in a professional audio recording and a video of yourself playing. If this is out of your budget, have someone film you playing in front of a crowd at your local pub. If you don’t gig at home, get someone to film you at an open mic night. Venue owners and managers want to see that you know what you’re doing. The more professional your media is, the more likely you’ll be able to land a gig.

Turn Up

If you are very good at what you do, you can approach venues while you’re already in a country. Bars that have several musicians play in one night are a prime example of when this can work. Find the owner and ask if you can play a song in between the changeover of musicians. If you rock it, you could find yourself some paid gigs in the near future.

Getting Paid

Here is where it gets tricky. Getting a visa is not always possible. Obviously, the first choice is to try to obtain a visa or work permit for the country you intend to work in. High-paying destination venues such as hotels in Dubai will often help you with this. You may want to consider changing your intended destination to a country that is easier to get a visa if your first option is denied. That being said, many places will pay you in cash, especially in third and second-world holiday destinations. This is clearly risky and is not advisable 

Final Word

The most important piece of advice is to just go for it. You won’t land any gigs without trying. You may get turned down a few times before you succeed but it’s worth it.

Chris Daniel has been a touring musician for 8 years playing throughout Asia, Europe, and Australia. He also runs incitemusic.com to help others learn how to live the same lifestyle.