In my senior high school years I was in a band with other Rush heads. We played Rush songs and wrote progressive rock music, but we realized we needed to perform Top 40 music if we wanted to be paid. I was trapped in a late 80’s Lifeson sound time warp so my guitar sound was extremely clean, clear, bright and heavily chorused. That was my favorite Lifeson guitar sound. But this was the 1990’s not the 1980’s. At one gig a guy in the bar came up to me and criticized my sound which bummed me out, and then right after another fellow came to me and said how much he loved my sound. A red flag?
Problem: Sounding like your hero is fine for the hobby musician, but detrimental for the aspiring career-musician.
Sometime after high school, I decided to go back to school for an undergrad in classical guitar. The band thing fizzled out and I switched my goal to becoming a session musician. I was inspired by Dominic Miller who played for Sting and Phil Collins, etc. and read that he had studied classical guitar. I figured doing the same would take my playing to the next level, and it did. But when I played electric guitar I still sounded like Lifeson. It wasn’t until the end of my university days that I realized I needed to separate myself from Rush . . . I needed to break up with Alex! <sniff sniff> It wasn’t him . . . it was me.
Solution: Listen to all kinds of music and learn different styles
I set out on a quest to totally re-vamp my playing. I started to emulate the top session guys by learning their guitar parts in the songs they played on. I specifically focused my attention on players such as Dan Huff, Michael Thomson and Brent Mason. I went way beyond prog rock and immersed myself in pop, country, blues and jazz. I also took private lessons from a jazz guitarist and an 80’s hair guitarist for soloing. It helped that I liked the music and what I was learning, except for jazz which was like having to eat my brussels sprouts. But the point is that learning music should always be inspirational while challenging you to grow.
If you’re aspiring to be a musician-for-hire, start stretching out and exploring different styles: learn the parts and get the tones.