How to rock in Cleveland for a living

7:41 PM, Apr 13, 2012   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

Billy Morris knows a thing or two about Rock Stars.  He is one.  He's played with some of the biggest Big Hair '80s Rock bands including Warrant, Poison and White Snake.  But the glamour days of tour busses and groupies are long gone.

"Some tour in a bus, but mostly they are in vans. I did, even after Warrant, I played guitar for Quiet Riot, and they sold millions of records. We toured in a minivan. Five guys in a minivan with guitars, drums, blown out tires in the middle of Texas," Billy says.

He's not traveling far out of northeast Ohio these days.  A few weeks ago he became the proud papa of Penton, but every weekend he's on stage making a living to support his family.  It's not an easy life.

"St. Patrick's Day - I did four shows in one day. I started at nine in the morning and ended at two in the evening," Billy says. 

"I play my shows, I come home, I get what sleep I can get, I get up in the middle of the night and do a diaper change here and there and do what I can do. I'm living life for my baby right now, so I'm going to play my music as much as I can and I'm going to be the best dad I can be." 

Billy's band, Cleveland's Breakfast Club is a big draw at local night clubs.  He also has the Billy Morris Band for his original music.  He knows what the clubs are looking for because he also owns one.  When he's not on stage, he's hiring bands to play his own club, The Foundry.

"Musicians think that if I'm just a good guitar player or a great singer I'm going to make a living. But, what my advice is to up and coming band members is - I don't care how good you are, I don't care how bad you are, I don't care what you do - unless the club you're playing at, the cash registers ringing, you're not going to get rehired. It's all based on bar sales. That's about working as a full time musician in Cleveland. It's based on bar sales."

Not to mention there's a lot of local competition. 

"There's got to be, probably over 100 bands, there's like top three or four cover bands that are really doing well in town. Then there's the cover bands that kinda play the smaller bars that don't do it for a living,"  Billy says.

He's one of a handful of musicians making a living doing what he loves most, but now there's a different reason for his passion.

"I'm going to raise Penton by being a full time musicians.  That's what I do."

Other insights from local musicians:

CATHY MILLER:  The best advice that I can give to any musician working in this area is to be seen and heard as often as possible. Even though you may be performing regular shows at established venues, there are still benefits to playing an open mic or sitting in at a jam. You get your name in front of other musicians and a new batch of audience members, as well as venue owners who may not have heard you yet. A demo CD can be effective, especially if it is presented in a professional way, however I have had a wonderful response from venue owners who heard me sit in and play with a group live. They were able to equate an experience with my performance, as opposed to just a response to a recorded medium. They get to see what my stage presence is like, how I engage and audience or other players and what I sound like live and in the moment. 

The other bit of advice is to present yourself in the most professional way possible. Have a consistent and reliable way to be contacted; if you have a website make sure it is up to date and professional looking, and when you show up for a gig, whether it is a solo show, sitting in, or an open mic, be dressed for a performance. If you look like you just got done changing the oil on your car, you shouldn't be up on a stage. Present yourself to every single audience, no matter how small, as if you were playing the biggest show of your life. Your professionalism will bring them closer to the music you are presenting and hopefully engage them in such a way that they want to hear you again and again. Then, make it possible for them to find your subsequent shows by giving them a way to find your calendar online, or walking out with a performance schedule. If there is one person who is listening at the bar while I am playing, I make sure I talk to that person and that they leave with a schedule or business card so they can find me again. Playing music is a wonderful experience and incredibly rewarding job, but you need people to listen for it to be a viable income generator. And finally, make sure they know you appreciate their presence by thanking them for listening and applauding at the mic. You would not be there if not for them.

GARY DAVIS (Principal Trumpet, The Cleveland Pops):

My best advice to young musicians in any field is that every needs to work to be the best they can be at their craft. There is no room for any one in any genre of music for nothing but the very best. Excellence is what will separates the garage band from the stars. There is always luck involved but if a musician can not cut it musically then they really have no chance. As far as making a living in the business good luck and don't quit your day job.


I have had a lot of  shifting opinions about what works best to make a living. I think a few keys strategies that have worked for me are: 

1. Diversity: Even as a 1-genre artist like myself, I've found that working in different types of venues, different settings, and different arrangements has helped increase the amount of work out there. 

2. Networking: I have found that networking with fellow musicians is better then competing with fellow musicians. Yes, it does boil down to competition, but I've found more work and gigs by becoming friends with musicians, and I also find more support for projects from those musicians. "Share the wealth" is a great strategy.

3. Persistence pays off: Some of the higher, more profile gigs, have taken 2-3 years to develop. Don't give up at the first no... but also, don't call a venue every week. 

4. Work Ethic: put in the work... ALL THE WORK! That means, practice, network, making calls (lots of calls). 


I think the best advice to give someone is to make sure they surround themselves with decent sincere folks who share the same passion and dedication.  Warning:  This will be tough.  It's not all parties and groupies, (that gets old).  Be prepared to be frequently disappointed and rejected particularly if you're in an original band.  Be persistent and love what you do.



Most Watched Videos