Playing For Thousands: PRS Artists Who Work With Pop Stars

Posted Mar 22, 2018


Many gigging musicians get some butterflies in their stomach before each performance, but imagine the extra pressure when playing in front of tens of thousands. For these PRS artists, it's just another day on the job. We chatted with 5 artists who work with some of today's biggest pop stars. Learn how they landed their gigs, the gear they use, and what it's like playing for high-profile artists.

First, let's take a look at the five musicians we spoke with and the artists they work with:

Chris Payton // Katy Perry

Martin Estrada // Selena Gomez

Kendall Gilder // Jennifer Lopez

Francesca Simone // Beyonce

Mike Scott // Justin Timberlake



What does your warm-up or pre-show routine look like?

CP: Pre-show is always the party! At around 1 hour before show, most of the guys come in to the dressing room and we’ll start playing music. Get the energy going! I keep a small practice amp in our dressing room, so often times I’ll plug my guitar into that and jam to what’s playing, or plug in some headphones to really zone in and get my fingers loose. We can be pretty competitive sometime, there’s usually a game of something happening before it’s time to step foot on stage. We play Uno and PlayStation a lot.

ME: It depends on the circumstances of the show as it varies gig to gig/tour to tour. I’ve been called to do full 90 min shows w/o any rehearsal so that is a much more stressful situation where you are laser focused and practicing up until downbeat. I’ve also been on very comfortable tours where running the set is almost auto-pilot and the production/techs don’t even want you to touch your gear prior to the show. I would say I have a glass of red wine to get loose and usually do 10 mins of technical exercises.

KG: I don’t have much a warm up routine. Other than stretching my fingers, I just start playing. I’m a big “tone head” so by the time I’ve finished shaping my tone for whatever room I'm playing in, I’m pretty warmed up.

FS: During shows I like to be calm and centered in the mind, but be able to exude confidence and give the audience as much energy as possible. To find that calm / energetic balance, I like to meditate for ten minutes or so, do lots of jumping jacks, and stretch to pump my energy and get my blood flowing. Right before I go on stage, I stretch my wrists and my hands, then play chromatic finger exercises on my guitar. Sometimes when I’m playing in really freezing cities, it’s really hard to play with cold hands, so I make sure to keep my body and hands warm. Cold or not, I always drink my favorite ginger tea with honey and lemon!

MS: I usually do a continuous chromatic scale from the top of the neck starting on the high E down to the low E moving down a half step for each repetition. It helps me loosen up my wrist and finger dexterity. Start slow and increase velocity as your fingers warm up. It's a great picking exercise as well as fingering exercise.

What PRS gear do you play, and why is it a good fit for your current set list?

CP: I’m playing a PRS 408 for most of the set. Having the ability to go from humbucker to single-coil on each individual pickup makes this guitar perfect for this music! I use my whammy bar a lot, and with locking tuners and the Gen III tremolo, it hardly ever comes out of tune.

ME: I use my HB II and SC 245 primarily on big tours. It is in my opinion the perfect pop/commercial touring guitar. It is literally a swiss-army knife. It looks great, is not too heavy, has coil taps and I always have the piezo hooked up wirelessly. The guitars are very well made and sit in the mix perfectly for that type of music - it has a very balanced tone - never too twangy/shrill and never too clunky or muddy. They are extremely reliable, have great intonation and consistency. My favorite PRS is an older Starla with the shorter scale neck/bigsby. Has a great vibe but isn’t as versatile as the other two. If I was making my own record, I would use the Starla.

KG: I’m currently on tour with smooth Jazz artist Boney James. It’s a lot of funky rhythm, but some of the solos are of the clean “jazzy” style. I prefer the SC245 for this gig. It has the coil tap so I can dial in a strat sound for the rhythm and use the hum buckers for the solos. I am able to get a les Paul sound on the neck pick up. This minimizes the switching of guitars between songs. It’s a very versatile guitar.

FS: Right now I play a PRS 305 customized with a selection of Seymour Duncan pick ups. I need a diverse array of tones for this gig, which is exactly what my guitar offers. It’s a real workhorse… I can get anything from sparkling clean rhythm tones to heavy distortion. It also has low noise floor, which is super important because even the slightest buzz amplified throughout a stadium can be extremely loud.

MS: I play a Hollowbody II on almost everything . . It's extremely versatile and the piezo adds a nice bright texture on top of the electric sound. For high gain leads and dive bombs I use a NS 14 . It's a great guitar with big tone and the locking whammy is awesome . I also use a PRS Angelus acoustic . It's a great sounding acoustic with very comfortable action.

What would you say helped you land your current gig, did you experience a “big break?”

CP: I would have to say maintaining professionalism on multiple levels, being on time, making myself available to every opportunity that presented itself. I was always told “Whether it’s paying $100 or $1000, treat every gig the same” I would have to say this is my big break. All though, I’ve played with multiple artists on different levels, this is my first world tour. I’m super grateful to be doing it with a team of great people, with an amazing A List artist like Ms. Katy Perry!

ME: I did not experience a “big break” as I have lived in Los Angeles for 14 yrs. Work nowadays is always feast or famine but if you are here long enough and have a large body of work, someone will always call you. You have to seize the moment and do the job. Music like anything else is a relationship driven business so I always try to stay active, in the mix and relevant.

KG: I’m from Phoenix, AZ so it wasn’t too hard for me to move to LA. Once I got to LA, I just showed up to the jam sessions every night. Sometimes I would get an opportunity to play, sometimes I didn’t. I made sure I was at every jam session where I knew the big MD’s would be hangin’ at. A few of them heard me and after 8 months in LA, I was on tour with Jennifer Lopez, playing my brand new P24.

FS: I posted lots of Instagram home videos. I made one where I was soloing to Treasure by Bruno Mars, then one of my fans took it to Facebook where it went viral. From there I started to get lots of attention and DM’s; one of the messages was from Derek, Beyonce’s music director who said we should stay in touch and eventually asked me to audition. I sent in an audition video, and a week later I started rehearsing for her Made In America in Philadelphia!

MS: Well funny story, I got my current gig with Justin Timberlake by coming a week early for audition. The guitarist audition was on a Friday, I came to LA on Sunday and went to hang at rehearsal on Monday and hung out every day like a homeless guy until the artist noticed me there every day and asked the music director who I was. The music director told JT that I was there to audition on Fri. It was Wednesday. Justin said let him audition today since he is here. BAM!! Auditions were canceled, I got the gig. Pissed off a lot of folks who were waiting to audition with that move. Haha. That was 14 years ago… and I’m still here.

How do you approach your performance differently when playing for a high-profile artist?

CP: For me, it’s about stage performance and respecting the music, playing it verbatim. The people come to hear their favorite songs, they come to see a show. I believe it’s my job to assist with that. The fans come to see the artist, but it’s the team behind that artist that help make the show what it is - from crew to band to dancers. I get up on stage, and the only thing on my mind is giving the audience all that I can to help make their night memorable.

ME: Again, I think it depends on the gig and the level of preparation and skill required to do a good job. Some music is more technical than others - i don’t think that profile defines the approach. I do know that if you are not a likable/fun person you will not work. It is important to remember that you are not the artist. Every situation you work with requires an assessment of what the job is. If you do your job you will be fine.

KG: Those shows are ALL about the artist. You play the song the way it was written unless instructed to do otherwise. It’s not about you or your agenda. If they want to give you a moment, then take it. If not, do your job and stay out of the way.

FS: Any gig I play, I approach the same way, whether it's playing in front of 10 people or 100,000 people. I give just as much energy to the audience because I feel the reason I perform is to move people. My goal every time I play is that somebody walks away feeling either inspired, or changed for the better in some way. And in order for this to happen, I need to give my all every time!

MS: The main thing is to have the material prepared like 2nd nature. It's not a time to make mistakes when u are standing in front of 100,000 people and you are on 3 100 foot tall screens. Bring you’re A-game every night.

What do you like to do with your free time while on the road?

CP: I love bowling, theme parks and doing water activities. Any time there’s water nearby, I’m at the beach, renting a jet ski, tubing, anything of that nature! It’s a fun group of people, so we always find things to do in whatever city we’re in.

ME: I actually like doing other work on the road. I bring a mobile production rig and spend a lot of time producing/composing - particularly for content/ad/synch. On really big tours you don’t even see your gear so I try to get better at other aspects of music and developing other revenue streams for myself while also improving those skills. It’s very easy to waste time on the road or getting caught up in the party/drinking, etc. It is important to have fun but also to keep progressing. Music is changing and has changed significantly in the last decade. Getting to do this is amazing but its important to remember that all gigs end and unemployment is always looming no matter what gig you are on. The way around that is to have multiple streams of income.

KG: Eat, Drink, party and work out. Ha-ha!

FS: When I’m on tour, I love to explore each new city, try to learn a bit of the language, check out the landmarks, hang out with my friends, and most of all try the food! It’s always a good time on the road. I also have my computer, pedals, and interface which allows me to make music on my days off at the hotel or on the tour bus.

MS: Drink alot, and sleep, did I say drink? Alot? Haha

Do you have any advice for young aspiring guitarists?

CP: I would say, take every opportunity that you’re given and treat it like it’s the last one. Stay true to your sound, but also be a chameleon when needed! Versatility is one of the most important skills a guitarist can have, working in this industry. Everyone is great at what they do, no one can do what you do. Surround yourself with people with likeminded ambitions, and become the best musician YOU can be.

ME: If you want to do something, be relentless at achieving your goal. I think stamina beats talent in the long game. I think being organized and having a strategy is very important as well. If you want to achieve something you need a plan. If one is lucky enough to get to do this then your goals will change as you get more experienced and your priorities evolve. Each individual is responsible and accountable for their own success or lack thereof. I also believe that as one ages it is particularly important to make a concerted effort to stay aware of trends, what’s popular in music and where it is going. I try to spend time everyday listening to new music - its a great time as there are such few barriers to entry. It’s important to be inspired, energized and positive as opposed to being bitter, negative and dark. I find that a lot of guitarists in particular are resistant to this - things change and evolve and there is always a place to fit in - it is important not to live in the past - there is so much music to be performed or created.

KG: Study! Not just books and theory. Study the greats that are doing what you want to do. Don’t just learn their licks, chords and solos, but Figure out why they play the way they play.

FS: Practicing consistently is key. When I was in middle school, I would go to bed at 10pm since my parents didn't want me staying up too late, set my alarm for 2am to get up and practice for three hours, then get another hour of sleep before getting up to go to school. I loved it so much. I was always listening, and learning. You are always a student of guitar and music overall. You will never reach a point where you have completed everything there is to know; there’s always a new way to do something or something else to learn. That's what I find so beautiful! My advice is to stay inspired. Stay curious. Stay hungry.

MS: Find your groove , try to create a style that is uniquely yours. Shed, take in all the knowledge u can learn from other players but try to be an innovator,not an emulator. Always be humble cause there is always a guy that can play circles around you and most importantly NETWORK! Go out and sit in with bands, be heard and be seen. It doesn't matter if you are the baddest dude on the block if your only audience is your basement walls. Network, sell yourself, play out live, generate some buzz. Be confident in your abilities. Unfortunately, who you know can open more doors than what you know. I knew JT’s drummer(John Blackwell) and bass player (Kevin Walker) - Had they not told me to come from NJ to Los Angeles to try out for the gig I would have missed a huge life changing opportunity. Who you know is just as important as what you know!



Chris Payton // Katy Perry

Martin Estrada // Selena Gomez

Kendall Gilder // Jennifer Lopez

Francesca Simone // Beyonce

Mike Scott // Justin Timberlake