I recently did an interview for University of the Arts. I was brainstorming advice ideas for younger students and came up with some things I was told by my older peers. I’ve collected this advice over the years and can personally say I’ve also experienced it and it’s definitely true. For the sake of keeping this post simple It will mostly be about business.
1. Be over prepared for gigs. You can never be too prepared. It’s not acceptable to be under prepared. There’s so many great players around. If you show up underprepared the boss will remember that and call the tons of other people that are prepared. Go out of your way to learn the material like the back of your hand. Get a source recording to practice too. Even if they don’t have one try and find it. If it’s a gig that other people have done call them and ask them about it. If you have friends on the gig call them and ask them about it. Get all your gear set up and ready to go at home. Practice at home just like the gig is live. ex. standing up if it’s a live gig. Pedals and gear in the same spot on stage. Same guitar you’ll use. Make a checklist of things to bring and go through it before you leave the house so you don’t forget anything small but important like a slide or extra cable.
2. Don’t ever do a half assed job. That word travels fast. If it’s a dumb gig and you don’t really wanna do it then say no or put 100% into it. It’s better to do 3gigs a week that you gave 100% to than 10 that were half asses. While it seems like more is more at the time. This will hurt you in the long run. There’s a saying thats true “if you do a good job word will travel and you’ll get work. If you do a bad job word will travel even faster.”
3. Don’t ever bring the wrong gear. They’ll never forgive you. If they say you need a 12 string guitar for 4 bars on one song. Don’t show up with an ac and a 12 string pedal unless that was told it’s ok. If the gear is unreasonable then ask for transportation help and money. Or try to negotiate less gear. But NEVER show up without the right stuff.
4. Don’t say yes to something you know you can’t handle. I’ve seen this a lot. People say yes to get the $$ but in the long term they do a bad job and people don’t call them next time. ex, if you’re a Killin rock player but can’t follow a conductor and sight read on Mandolin then don’t do the opera gig. Visa versa! Be honest with yourself about what you can handle. At the same time. Don’t sell yourself short.
5. Don’t let people know you messed up or aren’t cutting the gig. If you make a mistake at a gig don’t say or do anything. Don’t apologize unless they ask. Just keep playing with a poker face. It’s standard protocol. After a mistake is made just move on. You can’t go back and fix it. If they ask who played a wrong chord and it was you then acknowledge it. Don’t draw attention to mistakes. No matter how obvious they are. If you have to say something then say something like “I’ve got it, it won’t happen again.” or “No problem, I’ve got it now”
6. Don’t vibe anyone. The musicians in the room are usually more likely to get you work than the actual boss. Most people don’t understand this. If some classical sax player can’t cut the funk track don’t give him an attitude. Not only is it straight up mean and pointless but they’ll remember that. Everyone else in the room will just think you’re a jerk as well. I’ve seen many situations where I’m on a gig and some player isn’t cutting it. People are talking junk and giving him an attitude. A year later that same person is hiring people for a high profile gig.
And Guess what? None of those people are getting called! Remember, if someone on the gig is way out of their league they’re probably there for a reason. AKA the producers kid or dating the ove of the bosses family members. Not totally kidding. Just watch out with vibing! It doesn’t do anyone any help. When you see others vibing don’t take part. Just change the subject and be nice.
7. Don’t show up late. DONT SHOW UP LATE!!!!! This is crucial in any other business. Why should it be different in music?
8. Don’t drink a lot or do drugs. If you have to party then do it on a day off or after the gig. Word will get around that you like to have your cocktail at the bar before the show and sound terrible when you drink. I know it’s fun to get loose at a wedding or a bar jam but it doesn’t fly in the studio or a big concert. They want someone sharp and professional. This goes for being hungover or burnt out too! It’s the same thing!
9. Don’t hustle people too hard. It’s annoying and not fun for you as the player either. It’s very important to get out there and let people know who you are so you’re considered for things. If you do it too much you’ll be a pest and everyone will make fun of you. I’ve seen this a lot. Someone new gets to town and on the scene. They email everyone the same “copy paste” email and we all get it. BOOM your immediately the new annoying guy who we all assume can’t play and has no gigs or experience. Don’t try to be someones fake friend. We all see through the BS just like you would. Be honest and genuine. Thats a quality people really want in a sub or musician.
10. If you have a bad gig don’t let it get you down too much. Don’t talk about it. Don’t complain to other people that it was the drummers fault or the conductor sucked. Or the charts sucked ect…. Just never mention it again. It’ll disappear like every other rumor you hear on the internet. I’ve seen a lot of people get fired from gigs. People love to gossip about that. The problem happens when someone gets fired and goes around telling everyone about the experience and all the excuses. “the gear broke”, “the MD was in a bad mood”. “I had a headache” blah blah. Congrats! you’ve just let everyone in town know you got fired! Best to say nothing. Laugh about it as a funny story years later with your buddies.
11. From my experience subbing and having a gig while I watch people sub. The best people that get the furthest just show up and play well. They’re quiet, polite, do a good job and pleasant to be around. A mistake here or there doesn’t matter too much for those players. Everyone loves working with them so we forgive mistakes. If you’re a jerk or have a bad attitude then we can’t wait for you to clam. Don’t go around the room giving out your business card or telling everyone how amazing they are. We all see through that.
12. Try not to bail. Don’t take a gig knowing that you’re gonna bail as soon as a different gig comes along. However, it does happen! People have to bail and gigs come up that are way better. Sometimes you can’t say no. Be very apologetic and GET SOMEONE BETTER THAN YOU. That’s the words of John Miller. He’s right. I’ve done it both ways and the better player is what will help your rep. I’ve done it both ways myself. One time I had to leave a show for a much higher paying show. I acted too cool for the room and got whatever sub I was using at the time to cover. They were not happy and didn’t appreciate my attitude. A year later the same thing happened again. This time I scheduled a meeting to talk with my boss about it. I warned everyone in the band and asked advise on the best way to go about doing it. I told my boss that I just wanted him to be happy and give the show the best player they can get. They loved me for the concern and were totally supportive.