Sidemen

Chuck Berry

Ever seen your favorite band and there appear to be a few extra members on the stage? Or maybe your favorite band isn’t a “band” but an individual performer who’s up there surrounded by a nameless, faceless bunch of musicians. Either way, you’ve been exposed to some of the most important role players in the music business: sidemen. Of course, we have them in business too!

Sidemen were kind of hired guns – for studio work, for tours, for a gig – that comprised or filled out the band.  In the late 1940’s and 1950’s, the focus was on band leaders and many of the famous orchestras at the time made extensive use of itinerant musicians who were content to play someone else’s music and stay out of the spotlight for the most part.  To this day, Chuck Berry hires a bunch of local sidemen in whatever town he’s visiting to play with him.

On the site MusicianWages.com, Gary Melvin, a sideman himself, writes a guide to being successful at it.  His main points are:

  • Become a Stylist (learn a few genres of music well and become extremely competent in them)
  • Know Your Abilities
  • Do Your Homework
  • Learn To Memorize (get off the sheet music and open your ears!)
  • Learn To Sing (i.e. learn another, complementary skill)
  • Be Professional

In my mind, those are great skills to have whether you’re a musician or a researcher or a marketing person.  Moreover, if you’re an executive, you need to appreciate that without sidemen (and sidewomen), your band sounds pretty empty.  Even if they’re not as well-known as you are, you need them to put out your best product.

As a sort of sideman myself these days, I wear the badge with the same sort of pride as I did in high school when I got calls to sit in with other bands.  It takes real talent to learn a band’s sound and make it better in a brief period of time.  What more could you ask of anyone you hire?

Who are the sidemen in your life who are making your act sound better?  Have you thanked them lately?

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