How to Avoid Being All Technique and No Repertoire

Updated on January 9, 2018
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Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

There was a time when I had so many different guitar playing techniques down and my guitar playing was quite impressive but, unfortunately, I did not have a very long set list. In fact, I did not have much of a repertoire at all. Sure, it’s nice to be a good, or even great, player but in the end, you have to have a good number of songs to play if you want to make money.

So what you may need to do, if you are someone who is pretty much all technique and no repertoire is to analyze your own situation. That’s what I had to do to figure out why it was taking me so long to make money playing music.

Do Some Serious Self-Analysis

First of all, how many songs do you really know all the way through? In my case, I perform mainly as a solo performer. So, as it would apply to me, one would ask how many songs I can play as a solo act. Currently, I perform over 80 songs, where I play guitar and sing. I also sing and perform keyboard songs, mandolin songs and banjo songs as well. All together, let’s just say that I have a lot of songs that I could perform but it was not always so.

Often I think to myself that I wish I had started performing for money sooner. I had actually started doing paid gigs fairly late. I had served in the Army and by the time I got out, after my 3 years of service, I was a very good guitar player who had mastered a lot of great techniques but, in all honesty, I did not know a lot of songs all the way through. Obviously, to play out, you have to know a lot of songs all the way through.

So I recently thought back to those early days to sort of analyze as to why it was that it took me so long to get to the point where I could actually get out there and play steady gigs for money. It was fairly simple to reach a conclusion. I just did not know enough songs.

Don’t Count Too Much on Unreliable People

When I first got out of the army, I started a few different bands. None of them really went anywhere. There wasn’t a single one of the bands that I was in that actually did more than 15 songs or so. In the overall scheme of things, that’s nothing. You just aren’t going to get steady gigs with a lousy 15 song set list. It just ain’t gonna happen.

Unfortunately, as part of a band, I was dependent upon others in order to have enough songs to play out. It was not solely up to me. Later, as a solo performer, it was all up to me and me alone. But until I became a solo performer, I needed to be able to count on people to learn their part. That doesn’t turn out so well when the people you are counting on are unreliable. In other words, If you have a situation where not everyone is learning their part, you have a situation where certain people are holding the rest of the band back.

Let’s say that you are a lead guitarist. You have to practice the lead solos over something. Sometimes you can play along with the CD. Or, if you have a drum machine or something with backing tracks, you can play along with those. In any case, there are ways for you to practice your parts and learn the songs all the way through. But what good does that do if you have other members of the band who are not learning their parts?

At some point, you may come to the conclusion that you are working with unreliable people and something has to give. Maybe you have a bass player who is great and has all the various techniques down. From a technical standpoint, he’s a great player. But maybe he’s not learning his parts for the songs that you want to perform as a band. Well here’s a little tidbit of wisdom for you: he’s worthless if he does not learn the songs. I don’t care how good a player he is, if he is not learning the songs, you can’t play out and make money doing paid gigs.

Eventually, you will have to decide if it is likely that he can get his act together to learn what he needs to learn or if you are just wasting your time with a person who lacks the dedication necessary to learn enough songs to make it so that you will be playing out anytime soon. Sometimes it is a tough call. In any case, don’t allow yourself to rely too much on unreliable people.

Learn Each Song to the Point of Completion, One by One

Unless you are able to learn and actively engage in the process of learning new songs, you yourself may not be considered a reliable person. Learning enough songs to the point of completion for the purpose of being able to do paid gigs takes a considerable amount of dedication and determination. You have to systematically learn one song at a time, all the way through.

Eventually, over time, you will learn enough songs to be out there playing. Even if you are not currently in a band, you will pretty much be ready to go. All you will need to do is find other people who are interested in performing the same type of music as yourself who are ready to go just like you are. You see, since you have your act together, you are worth more as a musician. The truth is that wannabes are a dime-a-dozen. Wannabes are the people who say they want to do something but usually lack the dedication needed to actually do it. You need to be able to determine who those people are and avoid working with them.

There are some experienced musicians out there that may have already been in band situations where they have already been out in the scene doing paid gigs. Those are the type of people you may want to hook up with. Don’t worry so much about that flashy lead guitarist who may be phenomenal when it comes to displaying the various guitar techniques if he doesn’t know a lot of songs. In the end, you have to know a lot of songs. You’d probably be better off with the guy who is average but knows a lot of material. That’s because he was also someone who systematically learned one song after another to the point of completion. He will also be more likely to learn even more songs one after another since he already has a track record of doing so.

The More Songs You Know, the More Valuable You Are

If you yourself know a lot of songs, it would be much easier for you to work with an existing band. Let’s just say that there is a band that just had a lead guitar player who either quit or was shown the door by the rest of the band. If you are a lead guitarist who already knows a lot of the type of songs they play, you could be worked into the situation quickly and could be out there playing with that band relatively soon. You having that type of portability makes you more valuable than someone who doesn’t.

Since you may be more valuable than your average musician out there, you need to be aware of that. Being aware of that would prevent you from allowing yourself to get involved with people who would only be wasting your time. The last thing you need to do is waste your time.

Know What You Want to Do

The more organized and focused you are, the faster you will be able to get your act together. At first, when compiling a set list, you should limit the styles of music you cover. Try to stick to one or two genres. That way, you will be more likely to run across people who know many of the same songs you do. Then working with each other should be so much easier, and getting to the point where you will be able to play out for money should not take so long.

So focus in on a narrow area and really work hard at it. Then, before you know it, good things will begin to happen for you. Success is where preparation meets opportunity. You could get all of the opportunities in the world coming your way but they won’t do you any good if you are not ready for them. So put in the prep work and learn that material. Focus, focus, focus.

Also, make sure you stay on track and not change your goals every week. Make decisions and stick to them. Sure, you should give things a lot of thought before making your decisions but at some point, you have to make your decisions and stick with them. Floundering around in a state of constant indecisiveness will get you nowhere.

A Few Last thoughts

I am not saying that a musician should not strive for technical proficiency. We all should. It’s just that if that is all you have to offer, it’s really not much in the overall scheme of things if you really want to get out there and start making money from steady paid gigs. There was a time when all I had to offer was my technical proficiency. When it came down to it, I just did not really know enough songs to get out there and play steady gigs.

After really making it a priority, I compiled quite a set list. But that’s it though, you have to make it a priority to constantly learn new songs until you finally have enough. If I wanted to get together with a band, the first thing I would want to see before even showing up for an audition would be their set list. I would want to know how many songs they knew and how many on their list I might know. If they have nothing for a set list, then it might not be worth my time to even check them out, depending on how long they were together. I mean, if they have been together for a while but really didn’t have a lot of songs together, that would create serious doubts for me.

So maybe you are a great technical player. But maybe you don’t have so many songs. Well, learn them. A great technical player who already knows a lot of songs and is ready to go from day one would be quite a valuable find. So go for it, learn those songs.

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    © 2018 Bob Craypoe

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