SO YOU GOT YOURSELF A GIG. NOW WHAT?
SO YOU GOT YOURSELF A GIG. NOW WHAT?
By Garrett Lechowski-North Adams, MA
It’s a pretty exciting concept, especially if you’ve dreamed of it from when you are a kid. A gig! With a working band or signed musician! How cool is that?
Well, yes…it is. However, slow down, partner. Your skills were good enough to land this job. There is a question on the table that is just as important:
“What do I need to do to keep that gig?”
A lot of musicians don’t think about this concept. Depending on the level of gig you’ve landed, it probably looks like a fun time, filled with fans, parties and perhaps even a decent paycheck. But let’s look at the reality.
What type of gig did you land? What are the requirements of being in this band? How much availability does this band require? How much time do you need to put in rehearsing the material? How much do you need to put in financial for rehearsal space of maintaining your equipment? What about stage attire? What about your stage presence? What about your health?
Still sound fun? Well, it is rewarding in many ways. But let me give it you straight from both as a musician who has been hired as a sideman, as well as the guy who ended up in the role of running bands.
Let’s start with the type of band you’ve joined.
Are you playing in a bar band? You know, the type that is playing from 11pm-3am in the morning and barely making money to cover your expenses? Is this just for fun playing to folks at your local VFW on Saturday nights? Are you playing small theaters doing the tribute band thing? Are you working for someone who is trying to push his or her latest recordings?
That is the first order of business. Whoever has hired you, be very clear about the expectations associated with that band. This includes:
-How often do I need to be available to play?
-How far will we be traveling?
-Who does the booking?
-How will I get paid?
-What are the equipment requirements?
-How often will the band be rehearsing?
The above seem like “no brainer” questions. Are there any financial expectations associated with being in this band? Think about it. Someone needs to pay for the website, advertising and a rehearsal space. Also, is there a booking agent involved? If so, how much will that agent be taking per show? And are you exclusive with that booking agent?
Once you get the answers to all of the above questions, make sure they are sitting right with you. If so, great! However, there is another essential piece in all of this.
But what about keeping this new job opportunity?
I mean, think about it. Yes, you may know the material. But are you keeping up on your skills as an instrumentalist or as a singer? Are you looking for ways to improve what you are doing?
One of the most disappointing things I’ve seen as a bandleader and booking person is…
Band members who do not put in the work. Think of lead singers who consistently rely on an iPad for lyrics instead of engaging with the audience. Think of the instrumentalist whose skills wane because they do not practice their instrument. Or the musician more concerned about jumping around and trying to look cool, but their skills are starting to decline. How about the person who puts absolutely nothing into how they look on stage. Sure. It you’re playing for free for your local Legion hall on a 95-degree day, maybe it’s ok to be wearing shorts and a Black Sabbath shirt. But that will not work playing a $4,000 show for a theater group. It will not go over well with the buyer or the audience.
Everyone in a band has a role in playing the material. With that said, you may also have another role when it comes to setting up shows, sending out contracts, “advancing a show” (preparing information to be distributed to band members before a show) or promoting a show. Are you living up to your roles on and off the stage?
There is also the matter of health. Depending on the venues you play, you could be playing theater situations for 90 minutes a show. You could also be playing 3 hours over a 4-hour period, in addition to setting up and breaking down gear. Add in driving time, this could easily be a 10–12-hour day for little money. Add in eating poorly, too much alcohol or some other substance. You could easily be setting yourself up for becoming ill quite easily.
Keep in mind, there is the stress of working with other people. Look, there are just too many people who envision playing in a band in the same way they did when they were a teenager. It’s a gang mentality of “we’re friends! We will always be together!” Guess what? As an adult, this is now a work situation and, potentially, a business. The old rules of “dude, we’re in a band!” can no longer apply. This is specifically because there are too many people depending on you. I’m talking about your bandmates, the audience, the folks that run the venue and, in some cases, booking agents.
You have the job. But it is now your job to lose.
Look, I mentioned earlier that I have been a reluctant bandleader and responsible for booking. In a perfect world, bands would be a democracy. At best, it’s a modified democracy. I heard Jeff Tweedy of Wilco once say that “a circle needs a center.” Unless you have one person running a band, with the idea of “doing the will of the band” or “working in the best interest of the band” as the mentality, you are destined for problems. For example, you can’t have all four members of a band looking for gigs. It gets confusing and makes your band look really unprofessional if two band members call the same buyer.
And with that, there will become decisions about what is best for the band that will inevitably tick off other band members, family, friends and possibly fans. If you stay with the idea of “working in the best interest of the band”, you can rarely go wrong.
Herein lies the problem. When band members attempt to hold others accountable for the behavior of other band members, things will go askew. With that said, if these issues are not addressed, you could easily see a band implode.
So, how do you keep a gig? Be clear about what the band wants from you when you get hired and do your best to honor those requests. Stay consistent about keeping up on your instrument and your parts. Arrive at rehearsal prepared. Make sure your needs align with the needs of the band. If you want to join a touring band but have a weekday job, it’s just not going to work.
Lastly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, stay as open as possible to the input of the band leader and your bandmates. If you can keep the mindset set of “this is not about me. It’s about the band and the music,” it’s hard to go wrong.
Garrett Lechowski currently plays in several touring classic rock tribute acts, as well as serving as the American guitarist for Carl Dixon of Coney Hatch and The Guess Who. He is also a psychotherapist in private practice in Western Massachusetts.
© Garrett Lechowski 2021
© 2021 Garrett Lechowski