Guitarists write, practice, and perform the guitar parts in a band. They play onstage as part of concert tours and record in the studio
$16,000 – $750,000
$16,000 – $750,000
How To Become a Guitarist
What Does a Guitarist Do?
Musician and producer Tony Fredianelli is the former Lead Guitarist of Third Eye Blind; he has also performed with bands such as XEB, Apocrypha, Sugarhouse, Mindfield and Majik Alex. As a Guitarist, he tells us, “Well, obviously, time in practicing is crucial. It’s important if you are looking to turn guitar into a profession, depending on what your end goal is. If your end goal is to try and be a session guy, you’re going to have to learn how to read music, but also gather a multitude of different styles of music and become steeped in them to create your own sound.
If you want to be an innovator, which the world is in dire need of, you need to constantly ask yourself, ‘What is it I am doing that separates my style from others?’ and be honest with yourself. In my life, I went through multiple different phases, from fusion jazz to metal to classical to rock, to classic rock bands, to funk to indie ‘80s. I think, in this new age, it’s very important to have some skill at honing your craft with technology as your friend, opposed to your enemy.”
“The music business is constantly changing, it’s a morphing, re-morphing animal,” Fredianelli says. “You need to be able to translate your life experience and pain and joy through whatever mediums you have at your disposal, analog and digital, and transmit your skill through playing live to develop connections with your peers, to grow others’ awareness of your skill.
With the advent of YouTube and constantly evolving technologies, find a way to get people interested in you, everything about you. Monetize that connection by giving your music out to everyone and anyone who will listen — whether through band recordings, solo performance, or the style of who you are — and build a name for yourself.
Nowadays, I think it’s super important not to put hope in thinking there’s a group of wise people, in some nebulous boardroom, who you place your faith in, that are able to take what is essentially an unknown musician and get them a career. Being a musician, at least in my experience, is much less a matter of choice, and something you do like breathing, to stay alive, to heal, to transform, to grow. There’s something to learn and teach in every musical relationship you make. Don’t make enemies and have the humility to know good advice, and avoid potholes created by believing you know more than you know.”
Education & Training
The training required to become a Guitarist, Fredianelli says, “depends upon your goals as a musician. If you want to be a hired gun Guitarist, depending upon the circumstance, you could need to learn how to read music. Some guys benefit from music school, but it is not necessary say, if your goal is to be a Guitar Player in someone’s band, or to start a band of your own.”
To turn one’s passion for music performance, and turn it into a “career” requires more than the ability to play. Fredianelli says, “Gaining life experience is crucial to be able to transmute art, which is what playing music is all about. If you haven’t experienced a ton in your life, how can you realistically expect to translate experience to others? I am speaking more in terms of songwriting, and some psychology, but performers also gain from their ability to connect to others by having the sufficient life experiences to relate historical, personal, emotional feelings into the music they play to others.”
What Skills Do You Need?
Becoming a professional musician requires years of devoted practice. Fredianelli says, “Regardless of a musician or singer’s technical abilities, the only way to gain depth to their musicianship is through repetition, playing and sharing and re-sharing their growth with other people. Some people are serious ‘naturals’ — like child prodigies who just pick up the piano and outshine seasoned musicians — but those cases are rare. It helps to have some natural ability, for sure, and a driving passion for music.”
Essential skills include “an ear, [plus] the ability to develop technical dexterity, feel, and to gain tone, the kind developed in the hands, voice, [and] fingers.” You also must have some education of what tones can be made and manipulated through the use of effects, and new apps.
Not everyone is cut out for life as a professional musician. Fredianelli says artists who want to pursue this career should be “the kind of person who doesn’t take no for an answer; they must be relentless in pursuit. Must be able to handle quite a few kicks in the nuts. If you are the type of person who hears life and can transmit what you perceive into creative output, which is a gift, music is your life course. If you are the kind of person who can be happy just being able to lift other people up or make others feel through the process of creativity, and playing for the sake of love for your music, or your instrument [then] being a musician for a career is for you. It’s super cathartic.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that a professional musician’s life can be, according to Fredianelli, “up and down, and all around. Hills, valleys, and sometimes the heavens, and other times in the deep pits of hell. It can be trying to be a musician for life. Technology keeps constantly shifting the gameboard around and every gain, sometimes seems to come with the expense of an echo back of personal sorrow.”
“Friendships and connections, all throughout your path, are vital to making being a musician your livelihood,” Fredianelli says. “Networking, turning your big ego down — onstage ego can really work for stage presence, but if you can’t see through your own performance when you step off stage, you are likely to be misunderstood. I personally believe being humble, and good with and good to people on your path [are key]. The days of musicians with big heads, looking down on others, are done, even for bands that ‘made it’. Social media demands a certain amount of humanity and humility in order to gain real fans.”
How Much Does a Guitarist make?
Earnings can vary widely for professional musicians. For most creatives, it’s feast or famine. Fredianelli says, “If you are very lucky, you catch a break, and if you’re even luckier, you don’t get ripped off. Learn to enjoy just playing music, stay active networking and when you are coming up, play in as many bands as you can. Just sitting in your bedroom, unless you are networking and making friends through social media, isn’t going to bring money or much luck toward you. By the same token, start considering ways to create money opps for yourself using the internet. Virtual teaching, if you’re advanced, can also be an option.”
The money ranges “from zero to hundreds of thousands or more. The internet has made more opps for more musician to make small bits of money, but it also stripped society away from having a record business to provide funding to break an unknown act, where you could ‘make it’ and potentially make millions. I think those days are really gone and not coming back. Touring is the last place left for a musician to make money, really, make what you do live something people have to see.”
Unions, Groups & Associations
“Nowadays, if you don’t have a social media plan then how will people know where to go to your shows or become aware of how great you are?” asks Fredianelli. “You need social media in 2019 and beyond.”
Although some musicians find resources and community via the American Federation of Musicians, the majority of professional Guitarists aren’t members. Fredianelli adds, “Music unionship could be valuable to a small set of folks — if your end goal is to play as a musician on Broadway or for a Vegas showroom — but beyond that, it’s really not necessary.”
Fredianelli reminds aspiring Guitarists “you first need love for music and a ton of faith, drive, and belief in yourself. Some natural ability can help greatly, but there are examples of musicians and singers without it who still get to a successful position.” To get started:
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Learn to read music if you want to work as a Session Player.
- Network with other musicians.
- Create a social media plan.
- Ditch your ego.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Be prepared to be pushed to your furthest areas of faith and belief in yourself. Expect to be tested to give up on yourself, and remember if you give up, you will never know if some success was just around the corner, if you had only gone a bit further to believe in yourself.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“They fail to protect themselves from sharks and gutter snakes, musicians, bandmates, and crooks that pollute the business of making music. They foolishly trust individuals and get royally ripped off. Band agreements and contracts are vital to become well versed in.”
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
“The Beatles, hands down. No one can touch the Beatles.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Is this something I can be happy at, even if I wind up poor money-wise?”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“You covered the bases. I may have asked, ‘What is one thing new musicians do that is a waste of time?’”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Tony Fredianelli began playing the guitar in 1983. At sixteen-years-old, he and his band Apocrypha signed a four-record deal with Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records, two of which were co-produced by Fredianelli and Marty Friedman of Megadeth. Later on, Fredianelli expanded his musical horizons from the guitar to vocals, forming and leading Vegas bands Sugarhouse, Mindfield, and Majik Alex, which was approached with deals by a multitude of record labels. In the early ‘90s, Fredianelli was introduced to Stephan Jenkins and eventually formed the band Third Eye Blind with him, Kevin Cadogan, Arion Salazar, and Brad Hargreaves. Fredianelli left the band in late 1994 prior to their commercially successful self-titled LP, although he did contribute uncredited guitar and production ideas used in the songs “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Motorcycle Drive By.”
He contributed uncredited guitar parts and songwriting to “Farther” from the 1999 multi-platinum follow-up Blue. That same year, Fredianelli was invited to rejoin Third Eye Blind as their utility musician. Late in January 2000, he was asked to return as Lead Guitarist and collaborator. He played lead guitar and some keyboards, contributed background vocals, and was a co-songwriting collaborator on the 2004 release Out of the Vein, and the #3 Billboard debut release Ursa Major. He essentially formed and led the street teams of Third Eye Blind during the period of 2005-2008. Due to his refusal to back unjustified litigation brought by the band against its longtime manager Eric Godtland, Fredianelli was frozen out of Third Eye Blind in January 2010, although he eventually sued and won a unanimous federal jury award against Stephan Jenkins four years later. These days, Fredianelli serves as the lead vocalist in XEB, which he formed with Kevin Cadogan and Arion Salazar to play the music they contributed to in the Third Eye Blind catalog. XEB toured the US throughout 2017/2018 and Fredianelli plans to tour select cities in 2019 to play the Out of the Vein record in its entirety.