By Steven Denyes
Peter Sprague is a jazz guitarist, recording engineer and producer. His discography consists of over 100 albums that he has played on or produced. He has worked with many jazz greats including Al Jareau and Chick Corea. Here are this month's tips-from a Pro, excerpted from the book Gigging For A Living: Candid Conversations with Independent Working Musicians.

How have you balanced the music and business in your career?

Promoting yourself is a really important part of being an artist. How do you do it in an elegant and truthful way? I think it's something you have to address as an artist. Are you a person that can do this? If you are, that's a good thing. It can lead to more opportunities of doing your own projects. If you can't, you are pretty much going to fall back into the role of relying on people calling on you to play and being the supporter of their dreams.

I know certain people can't do it and that's OK. It's something important to know about yourself. There are plenty of people who are amazing players but don't have the ability to get organized and promote themselves. They are wonderful but it may never go beyond that. Self-promoting can really sound ugly but I don't think it has to be that way.

I've always seen the business side of things as an important element. When all my bandmates were there, why did I get the record deal? It was probably because I had this other thing going. I would send stuff out, I would follow through and pursue it. It never felt like unnatural to me. The only thing is that it takes time-time that would be much more fun to spend creating music. I still see it as important. I have a new record out and earlier this week I spent hours on the phone following up with press people. It's not really fun but it's important.

What do you think of the stereotype of the flaky musician? Can you be that way and earn a living?

I don't think so. There are people that have way more natural talent than me but the reality is that what most people want, especially in recording situations, is great performances and reliability. I can think of lots of guys that are great players that I could call for projects but I don't because of their attitude or I just don't know if they'll show up.

People are willing to ride that for a while but there's a certain point where that won't work. I think that everyone that has finally made it is there because they are great players and they have this whole other element together. With the amount of competition out there, you need a lot of talent and this personal ability and trustworthiness too.

What advice would you give to an aspiring young musician?

It's really hard to tell anyone any of this until they are at a certain point. It really takes people bumping up against stuff until they're ready to listen. A lot of times you have to find out by example and by your mistakes.

My guiding lights through all of this is to do what I do so well that there is a sense of accomplishment no matter what. Do stuff really, really well and be OK with how it all lands. The doing of it is what is important, not what will come of it later. I tell that a lot to people that I work with in the studio. They come in with the idea of what their record will do for them once they make it. They get lost in the middle of it. I tell them to just enjoy the doing of it and not worry about the outcome of it. The chances are so huge that nothing is going to happen. If you're leaning into getting a response from that or it's going to shape your happiness, you're in for a bummer. Do it to the best of your degree and enjoy the process.

I was working with Chick Corea when the Thriller album came out. Michael Jackson was hitting hard. I could see Chick having some envy of the way this cat could fill stadiums and he could only fill big jazz halls. I could see that the "If I only get to that level" puzzle could go on forever. It became clear to me that the real key is the ride along the way.




Excerpted from Gigging for a Living: Candid Conversations with Independent Working Musicians by Steve Denyes. For more information visit www.giggingforaliving.com.

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