Every Jazz scene (and other genres too) has them. Maybe you’re one of them or you know someone who fits the description. They are the musician that’s not originally from the scene. They weren’t born there or haven’t grown up in the local school system (or didn’t recently go to one of the local universities). For whatever reason, they’re in the scene now and trying to fit in.

I’ve been there and I want to encourage those that fit this description, give you some advice on how to handle it, and maybe even raise some awareness for those that would be considered locals. This is also perfect for people who are new to town and wanting to get into the scene.

Some things to consider first. This advice won’t help you if:

  • You’re a jerk. If you’re always putting other people (or venues) down and no one is calling you for gigs and/or hangs-then you might be a jerk. It has nothing to do with how good you do or don’t play. It’s because you’re a drag to be around. You don’t have the be the red-headed step-child of the scene. Jerks come in all types of demographics.
  • It’s your playing. This one is rough. We all have to evaluate our playing and that can be tough because some of us look at our own playing with way too much of a microscope. BUT, if your playing is not up to par it could be why you’re not getting the calls. If that’s the case-fix it. Spend more time in the shed. Get lessons from some of the top call people in town and ask for advice (not for asking for a gig). Listen to what they have to say.

If the above doesn’t apply to your situation, but you’re still the red-headed step-child:

  1. Be patient.The music business is all about relationships. If you are new to the scene-be patient. It takes time to develop a relationship with people. Get to know the musicians by going to jam sessions, going to their gigs, and hang when you get the chance. This applies to venues too. Don’t just frequent the venue when you’ve been hired to do so. You are the red-headed step-child because you’re newer to the scene than the other musicians. The longer you are around the less you will feel like the outsider. The longer you are around the deeper your relationship becomes. This takes patience and time.
  2. Be humble. You may be the next greatest thing since sliced bread. But, chances are you’re not. When you hang with people in your scene, be humble and spend more time talking about them or whatever conversation is being made. When asked about you and your playing remember to keep it honest and save the bragging for when it really matters (on the stage).
  3. It’s not going to be fair. Put your big boy/big girl pants on. Life isn’t fair and we have to accept that fact. Whether like it or not, preference is given to local musicians who have been there longer or who have grown up in the scene (assuming they are good). They’ve been around longer than you. They have built relationships earlier than you have and that means they probably have more of a following as well. My advice: stick it out. Being a musician is a lifelong endeavor. Life happens. People move on, people move in, and venues come and go. Go back and read point 1.
  4. Ignore the local jerks. Every scene has them and you have to make a conscious decision on whose statements you give weight in your life. It’s not easy, but we have to ignore those personalities. As of this writing, I’ve lived in the Denver area for the past 13 years. I’ve been a part of the scene for a while, but still get the occasional outsider feeling from people and some venues. About 3 years ago I had someone come up to me during a jam session at one of the local clubs and say, “Who do you think you are? This is (local player’s name)’s town. You’re wasting your time.” Wow. First off, I absolutely love the local player they mentioned. I think they are an incredible musician and more importantly an awesome human being. While we’re not BFF’s, I still consider them one of my friends and colleagues. Some people are jerks and you have to do your best to ignore them. Will it hurt? Probably. But, life is a long ride if you let yourself be defined by the jerks of society.
  5. Keep moving forward. Keep working. Keep calling venues for gigs, keep playing with musicians, keep building relationships, and keep your career moving forward. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of what-if in your life. Discouragement is a feeling and feelings change all the time. The music business is a war of attrition. KEEP MOVING FORWARD!
  6. Embrace being a red-headed step-child! Healthy scenes have musicians from all over the place. While you want to continue building relationships, embrace being the outsider! You bring something unique to the scene. Believe it or not, you’re probably not the only outsider. AND, musicians who have grown up in the scene probably want to play with you. Eventually you will get to the point that you will feel like you’ve always been a part of the family!

I would love to hear from you on this. Have you been or are you currently the red-headed step-child in your scene? What advice would you give to others?

*** In real life my family has a number of red-heads and I have had the honor of being a step-child ***

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