Sit-ins are an exciting and entertaining experience for both a band and its fans. A skilled guest artist can add a big spark to a set and give fans a fresh perspective on their favorite band’s music. They are also an ideal way to get a horn player to be in your band without having to pay them.
I have sat in with a lot of bands. This is a symptom of being a good enough player that groups want me to play with them, while also being annoying enough that they don’t want to have me around for an entire gig. It is my cross to bear.
Jumping on stage with someone else’s band is extremely rewarding. It can also be nerve-wracking. You have to bring your “A” game while also being mindful to not step on the toes of the other musicians. A well-executed sit-in can really take a show to the next level. It’s also a great way to connect with new musicians and expand your musical horizons. Here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to sitting in.
1. Don’t Ask – It’s almost never a good idea to ask a band if you can sit-in. If they really want you up there, they’ll let you know. This is the cardinal rule for sit-ins in my opinion. Asking a band to play puts the musicians on the spot and can come off as awkward and desperate.
2. Be Involved – During the show, try to avoid getting caught up gallivanting backstage, drinking the bands booze, and telling dumb jokes to the opener while they try to check their Snapchat. It is important to be actively involved with the music mentally even when you’re not on stage. If you’re not ready when it’s your time to play, you will end up in a mad scramble to grab your instrument and get up to the mic/amp/drums before the entire audience begins to ponder if this would be a good time to take a long bathroom break.
3. Be Prepared – Warm up and tune before you get on stage. No one likes the player that spends the first two minutes of the song trying to get in tune and figure out what’s going on. The next thing you know it’s over and everyone is all like “yeah maaaaannnn…..sounded goooooood…..killin”. They’re disappointed, though. You can see it in their eyes. It’s the same look your parents had when you first told them you wanted to be a professional musician.
4. Show Off – Don’t be shy. You’re up there for a reason. Use some of your flashiest (but still musical) licks to create a big moment in the tune. Try to add to the song without destroying its original intent. Basically, do the opposite of what Kenny G did when he recorded over “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. Also, don’t be going crazy over the singer. They hate that.
5. Don’t Pretend – Some sit-ins are more off-the-cuff than others. If you don’t know the song, don’t do that annoying thing musicians do where they attempt to learn the melody on stage as they go by playing it wrong over the guy who is playing correctly. All this achieves is making you both sound bad. If you don’t know the tune just stand there and wait for your turn to solo. Less is more….especially when you have no clue what’s going on.
6. Find the Biggest Guy in the Band and Attack Him – The first thing that you should do when you are playing with a new band is attack the biggest and strongest member. This will the show the rest of the musicians, and the crew that you mean business and are not to be messed with. The first time I sat in with the Werks I did this to Rob Chafin and he still won’t make eye contact with me to this day. It is important to never show fear backstage or on the bandstand or you could become a target for rival gangs.
Following these simple steps will lead to some great guest appearances. It’s actually pretty simple. Don’t hold up the show, be prepared, and be entertaining without be annoying. If you do these things you might even get asked to play again. You’re still not getting paid though.
Turbo Suit saxophonist Nicholas Gerlach has sat in with many artists throughout the years, and for good reason. The man can play! Having performed with groups like Lotus, Umphrey’s McGee, moe. and more, Gerlach has learned a thing or two about what it takes to step in and jam to unfamiliar waters. We asked him to tell us some tricks of the trade…