Adam Ward has the look of a seasoned session dog. A sleeve of tattoos runs down his right arm to his picking hand. The shaggy hair and beard goes with his Telecaster like a bar gig goes with beer tickets. He doesn’t just have the look: when he starts playing, he transitions effortlessly between clean arpeggios to overdriven, fluid leads.
His bio brags about his experience: five years in the industry after completing a bachelor’s degree in music. Based in London, he’s toured Britain, elsewhere in Europe and Indonesia. All those chops, developed over years onstage and in the studio, can be yours, or any other paying customer’s, for the low, low price of $140 on Fiverr, a popular freelancing website (and app).
For the adventurous guitarist, freelancing on Fiverr can be kind of a dream gig: Ward has worked on everything from sample packs for a hip-hop producer to shredding metal guitar on an anime soundtrack.
“It allows you to charge industry standard rates,” says Ward, who goes by the screen name adamwardguitar on the site. “You get a lot of people who are kind of serious about their projects getting in touch, and you know, it just allows me to work on such a variety of different music with people all over the world. There’s not one fixed genre on it; every new project I get is something entirely different.”
Ward is one of the growing number of guitarists hocking their skills to whoever is willing to pay on Fiverr. The website is perhaps the ultimate realization of the gig economy – any skill, from copy editing, to logo design, to acting to translating from Swahili to English, can be found and paid for.
And with the music industry a mess long before a pandemic went and ruined everyone’s day on a global scale, hundreds – thousands – of guitarists are hanging virtual signs reading “Will play for money” on their proverbial busking corners. “There are months when you do good, and months that are not so good. But it’s more than decent, and it’s enough to feel appreciated for your own work, which is kinda the point, if you ask me.”
Vanja Grastic (or studioarmadillo as he’s known on Fiverr) knows all about the challenges that come with playing music. A Serbian native, he grew up during a difficult time for his country, economically – his parents couldn’t afford to buy him an instrument, so he’d stay overtime at school just for a chance to plink away at its piano.
For his 15th birthday, he was given a red Squier Strat. Since then, he’s toured internationally and recorded three albums with his solo project. In 2018, on the advice of his mother, Vanja started his own Fiverr page. Since then, he’s completed more than 1,000 gigs. He tends to fall on the low side, deciding his fee on a project-by-project basis, often going as low as $5.
“The idea was that no one should be left out,” he says. “There’s a vast array of clients with different demands and different budgets, and I wanted all of them to have a chance to have a professionally recorded studio-grade guitar track. So if there’s a beatmaker with a great idea and a limited budget, he/she should be able to afford a guitar track as much as the bigshot producer.”
The way it usually works is simple: a client contacts a Fiverr seller through their profile. They describe what they’re looking for – a singer is searching for a searing blues solo over their surefire hit single, a video game maker is looking for Doom-esque crunchy rhythm tracks, etc. And so client and seller go back and forth, discussing particulars until the seller knows what needs to be delivered.
They record their take, send it over and, while there might be some redos depending on how close they came to fulfilling the client’s vision, the job is basically done. If that sounds easy to you, congratulations, you’re a standard-issue cocky guitarist.
The pros warn that the requests can be difficult and sometimes impossible to fill on a musical level. Grastic recalls one song where the music video had already been shot, but the only audio track was a capella vocals – off time, no metronome and off key. (He turned down the gig.)
There’s also an insane amount of competition. Making a name for yourself on Fiverr doesn’t come instantly – prominent YouTuber Samurai Guitarist tried an experiment last year where he signed up for Fiverr and went days without picking up a gig, despite being a pro-level player. It takes time and patience to build up a clientele. But it also takes actual skill – anyone can promise to deliver four chords on a beat-up acoustic.
Why should guitar-deficient musicians drop their cash on you when there are legitimate virtuosos offering their skills for sale right next to you? Ward, for example, was selling his services on his website when he was approached by the website to apply for their Fiverr Pro program, where they verify the skills of those selling their services. But there are plenty of self-starter success stories to be found.
Take Louisiana native Ronald Clay (aka rbc_25), who’s been playing since he was a little kid. Clay holds a degree in guitar performance and contemporary writing and production from prestigious Berklee College. Even for him, getting started doing Fiverr sessions was a struggle.
“The initial activity was almost non-existent,” he admits. “I signed up for the gig, put some things on there from my portfolio and the first one I got was about a month later. It was that one person who was willing to take a chance, I guess, or had a super-low budget.”
Now, Clay has amassed more than 350 sessions via Fiverr at prices ranging from $25 for a short loop of up to eight bars to $70 for his premium package, which includes up to four different guitar parts.
Nicky Hines, who sells acoustic guitar tracks for $45 a pop under the name elephantlicks and has amassed well over 300 five-star reviews, says the key to his success was basically working for almost nothing for two years, until he built up enough goodwill that the Fiverr algorithm began working in his favor. But as an aspiring session guy, he used that time productively, even if he wasn’t making big bank.
“The whole point was basically to practice the skill set of a studio musician,” he says. “I’ve done 750 orders on there now in the last two years. Locking in with a click, coming up with parts, good recording techniques and microphone placement… It’s a great place to polish that stuff because 90 percent of your clients on there are going to be amateur hobbyists. If you’re gonna make mistakes, it’s a good place to make them, when you’re starting out, not actually tracking sessions.”
While it’s a nice way to supplement income, Fiverr isn’t a magical path to a steady guitar-based income that requires no other source. Grastic still holds down a day job in IT.
During non-COVID times, Ward holds down some regular gigs and has managed to insinuate himself enough into the London recording scene that he’s doing regular studio session work. Hines and Ward both have other gigs. Not to say that making a living off Fiverr isn’t possible.
But for those looking to go down that road, the veterans have some precious insight to offer. Ward warns guitarists that it’s better to be a generalist than a master of one genre – expand your musical vocabulary so you can meet the demands of all kinds of gigs.
Clay said that along with guitar abilities, you need to develop your communication skills, so you can figure out exactly what your clients are looking for. As for Grastic, who has used his time on Fiverr to play on everything from Christmas albums to metal tracks and everything in between, the key is simple: “You always have to bring your A-game.”
“No matter what the gig is, or what is requested from you, you have to give it all you’ve got. And, you have to play for the song, not for your own self-promotion. Guitarists are usually show-offs, and while that can be entertaining in a live setting, when it comes to studio work, you have to follow the structure and the dynamics of the track closely and tailor the guitar lines to the needs of the track. That’s paramount.”