Getting Good Gigs
I’ve been very blessed to use music as a source of income in my life, and a lot of those gigs have been consistently decent through the years. Some of the best gigs I ever had were with some incredible musicians that made the work easier, and of course more enjoyable. I’ve played many different kinds of services that included different styles of playing as well, such as 18 shows of “Phantom of the Opera”, which was a ton of shows over the course of two weeks, but I still remember it as one of the most memorable shows I did in Tampa.
I always get asked “How do you get these great gigs? Who do you have to know? How do you get your foot in the door?”, and a lot of the times the person asking thinks that there are simple answers to these questions. Unfortunately there are so many scenarios and factors to every one of these questions that I have no set method to obtaining such services, but I can at least share some experiences from the past that might help some musicians in need of financial assistance out there.
First, I want to start this article off with a quote I saw on Facebook that really resonated with me when being asked by people who really wanted to get gigs:
“Being a freelance musician isn't like other jobs. If you want to be someone's first call, you'll have to be patient. If they're established, they will already have a list of trusted musicians for the job. You wouldn't want to work for them if they were willing to discard one of their people for the new kid on the block. They'd eventually do the same to you and you'd be right back where you started. Play the long game. Build trust. Be cool. Trust the process.”
While this is very sound advice, it can be hard to accept the fact that gigs aren’t a consistent source of income, nor are they very timely. When I was starting to study music full time, I took any gig I could get my hands on, whether it was far away, with a lackluster orchestra, and even if I didn’t get paid very much. A lot of people consider the pros and cons of a gig when they’re offered one, which is fine. However, when you’re first starting out in the business, you’ll have to endure some hardships in order to get your foot in the door with some other musicians affiliated with that gig. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a “trickle-down” effect happen because I went to a gig that I wasn’t necessarily excited for, and then being offered another reactionary gig that was more enjoyable than the initial one. My opinion is this: If you’re offered a gig, it’s not a bad thing to think hard about the service being offered, but just know that there’s a potential future service ahead of you if your’e willing to accommodate for that particular service at hand.
Now I’ve gotten a lot of great gigs, such as “Phantom of the Opera” as I mentioned before, and other ones such as the Florida Orchestra, and even with Cirque du Soleil! But as you can imagine, with some of the good gigs come the not-so-good gigs, and that’s what people fear; They fear that since they’re doing a bad gig, that means that they’re a bad musician or they made a bad decision in accepting the service. Well that’s not very true. Like I said, there can be a lot of factors at play in a certain situation like that, such as playing with questionable players, sketchy contractors, unpreferable conditions and spaces, unnecessarily long (or too short) rehearsal schedules, and even poorly kept temperatures. Every musician has experienced several if not all factors above at one point in their career. I for one have experienced all of them, sometimes in the same gig! No matter what occurs in a service, you have to give the music it’s due. Remember, if you’re doing the service just for the money, you won’t be making music at a quality as high as you could be if you go back to your roots in how you chose to be a musician in the first place; to help improve the quality of life of people around you.
Have I ever been a part of gigs where I didn’t want to be there? Yes. Have I ever felt like playing at a lesser amount of my ability because I felt sick or unprepared? Yes. But have I ever left a service during progress because I felt like I was better than everyone else? Absolutely not! I’ve always known that when I’m hired for a service, whether it’s the day before, or three months prior, that I have been selected over tens of other people to fulfill that job, and that alone is what keeps me in the mental game. That contractor has expected me to give my due to the music, even if it’s not the best music in the world sometimes.
Maintaining Good Gigs
Once you’ve marketed yourself to the point where you’re consistently being called by the same contractor, you’re doing something right, and it’s therefore helping you get multiple services. Being a good player is about half the battle with these kinds of things; I believe being a good person is the other half. Think of it like this: You’re a well known contractor in the area that’s been tasked to hire musicians for an event at a New Years Eve Ball Dance. Nothing too crazy, but a classy affair nonetheless. You choose your musicians that you think would help the process of practicing their parts, attending rehearsals, and providing a well-deserving performance by the end of the night. Would you hire a musician that’s on the ball about 50% of the time, or a musician that’s on the ball 95%, if not 100% of the time? You also have to consider the actions your musicians make towards each other during the gig. Are they jerks that can play well? Are they mediocre players that have a good heart? There can sometimes be a fine line between the two aspects in a musician’s personality, but after some time, the choice can seem pretty clear on who’ll be hired again for the next new years’ gala.
Maintaining good gigs also means that you have to think ahead when it comes to when you’ll arrive at a service. I for one have never been late to a gig before, and I plan to keep it that way for the rest of my career. Can I make that promise as best as I can? Yes. Will there be “Acts of God” that I can’t foresee, causing me to make it late to a service? Absolutely, but I can at least try to accommodate for those scenarios with more than ample travel time and preparation for what lies ahead on the road, or the air.
Learning your part before the gig can seem like a simple task to most musicians, so simple that a good amount of players fail to do so, and often regret the lack of action taken to help make for an enjoyable experience while playing the gig. Please, learn the music ahead of time. If you’re a person that’s always too busy to learn the music, maybe you shouldn’t be the person they’re offering the service to.
With all these gigs under your belt, sometimes it can get a little harrowing keeping track of your services if you have too many. I for one find it extremely stressful when I finish a gig and then have to race across town for another gig, and I can attest that many conductors find it annoying and unprofessional. I knew a pianist who would regularly be late to students’ recitals and juries because she partook in services 45 minutes away from the next service, which would be starting in about a half-hour’s time. This particular studio professor noticed this trend starting before it was too late, and swiftly excused the pianist from “helping” her students in their performance tests. Don’t let the greed overcome you; be thankful for the services that you already scored.
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Money! Yes, getting paid is a great, great feeling. You have more money now than when you woke up this morning! Before you receive your check via the contractor, there’s some things to know so that the check doesn’t “miss” your hand when it’s being given to you.
If you’re unsure about the amount of money being offered for the expense of the gig, it’s not at all in your best interest to ask the contractor what it is head on. This action can make the contractor think that you’re only in it for the money, which you’re not: You’re giving the music it’s due. Usually the rate of pay will be listed in an email from the initial proposal that asked you to partake in the service somewhere. If it’s not there, ask a colleague that you’re close with that you know is getting paid. I only include this portion of knowing whether or not the person is getting paid because a friend of mine once asked this very question to someone he 1) didn’t know, and 2) he also didn’t know if they were getting paid or not. The result was “Wait, you’re getting paid?”.
Bargaining can also get you promptly ignored from a service because it shows that you think you can outsmart the contractor in a financial sense. They’ve considered you fit for the job; don’t make them change their minds. They’ve already thought of all the monetary factors at play in order for you to have the best experience possible, which can include travel pay, and even food pay. Is it unethical to deny a gig because it pays too little? Not at all, but just make sure that you’re saying no to the service in a professional manner, or else you’ll have no choice but to say no to every gig they offer you! Sometimes it’s even okay to just say “Sorry, I have other affiliations that night” when turning down a gig due to a lower pay than you’d like. Trust me, there are plenty of situations where you can play that card if the contractor is trying to sell you way too short, which I’ve had happen to me before.
Letting Gigs Go
Sometimes you can’t do all of the gigs that are offered to you, which can sometimes make you regret picking up certain ones that came before it. I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t feel bad when this happens. There’s been numerous times when I’ve been offered services that took place at the same time on the same day, and it just so happened that I picked the one that paid noticeably less. While this can be annoying, it’s important to note that no matter what you try to do, sometimes it’s best to let that ship sail off into the sunset. You should appreciate the other party for contacting you in the first place; that means that they trust you to do the job right, which is always good! I’ve always noticed that they’ll usually call you back for another equally important service in the future, so don’t sweat not getting both of the gigs.
Things can turn really ugly if you go back on one of your already contracted services and decline them for the other service that’s offered to you because it has better pay. This is extremely unprofessional, as it shows that you’re able to be easily persuaded through the gravity of money. If this alone makes you sway one way or the other, your chances at being hired again by the previous contractor are greatly diminished, which can affect your relationship with not only that one hiring entity, but with multiple others. Contractors like to talk to each other, learn from each other. Your name will be mentioned if you take this route.
There’s so much more factors that can affect your experience in a gig that I could go on longer, but this blog post is already a little too lengthy. I hope some of the points I made above will make for an enjoyable time in your freelance work!