10 Qualities that make a Great Sideman

professional musician, sideman, hired gun


Recently, I posed this question to all of my local working musicians.  “What makes a great sideman?”  A Sideman is a term used to to describe a musician that is often “for hire” and comes into an existing situation or band to fill a role.  These hired guns get a wide variety of work from wedding bands, sessions, original bands, and cover bands to lessons, and sometimes (most of the time) all of the above.

The musicians I know from my area are talented, vary widely, and usually stay busy.  We are quite fortunate to have this level of talent in a town that isn’t considered a ‘music town’.

So here they are:

1. Punctuality.  As defined by the band leader.  Self explanatory.  Be on time!

2. Be prepared.   Given the situation, are you ready?  Can you cover other people’s parts if you need to? Does your gear work? Do you have backups? Learn to set up and tear down your rig as quickly as possible.  5min or less for guitar and bass, drums take a little longer.  Help others if you can.  Learn to troubleshoot your own rig if something isn’t working correctly.   I carry a spares bag that contains instrument cables, patch cables, a few tools, and a spare amp (Crate PowerBlock) that can (and has) saved many gigs the past 7 years that I have had it.  The amp has been used on guitar, bass, and to power monitors.

3. Keep Personal issues Personal.  When you are on a gig, keep the crybaby stuff quiet unless you are asked about it directly.  Everyone is sorry your dog is sick, and your roof is leaking.  Everyone has problems.  This is even more true when you are on the road.

4. Presentation.  Have the right sound at the right time with the right look and vibe for the gig.  Learn to play with feel.  If you don’t know what that is, then listen to more great music. Play with passion.

5. The SONG is king. Always.  You are making music together.  Maybe the right answer is to not play anything, or play one note, or maybe (rarely) shred your face off.

6. Hold musical ideas loosely.  Be able to take criticism.  Playing in a band is a team sport.

7. Be pleasant. Always.  Be kind to sound crew and venue people.  This can be difficult sometimes, especially if the sound crew is incompetent or extremely arrogant.

8. Know when NOT to play.  and be OK about it.

9. Play the gig and don’t complain.  You are making music after all…

10. Diversify.  Learn another instrument or 3.  You will get more work, and it makes life more fun and interesting.


So there you have it.  From the mouths and heads of some of the most talented people I know.  Thanks to everyone for your contributions.  Some of these points don’t apply if you are creating a new original project.  Personalities and quirks go hand in hand with great writing teams and great creative music.

Cheers!  Keep your calendars full, and create!