The key to success in ANY professional endeavor is your attitude. Music is no different. When I say attitude, I mean your work ethic, the way you treat other people, your business sense, your commitment level, and overall outlook on your career. No matter how good you are at your instrument or craft, there is always someone better. With that being said however, the best player doesn’t always get the gig. What causes this phenomenon? It boils down to other qualities besides just talent because, honestly, you only need to be SO good to do most of the stuff that players at this career level need to play. I have gotten more gigs because I treat people respectfully, I am genuinely nice, I answer my phone/return phone calls, show up on time, show up dressed appropriately, and always try to play my best, than I EVER could have gotten because I can shred a harmonic minor scale.
The first key is to realize that you are no better than anybody else as a person, but also, that you are no worse. This ties in with the age old Ego/Confidence dilemma. People don’t like egomaniacs AT ALL, but they also don’t like the mousy shy musician scared to play his instrument, or even carry on a conversation. Avoid making any comments or actions that would make you come off as being either one. This can mean sitting back and letting the other guitar player solo all night even though in your mind you think you can outplay him (and maybe you can!). It can mean turning your amp down when the venue or the other band members tell you to. If you are a drummer, it may mean playing in the pocket all night even when you want to show off all your Neil Pert rolls (that’s for you Steve!).
Even if you are the star of the show, you are not bigger than the gig. Let me repeat that: YOU ARE NOT BIGGER THAN WHATEVER GIG YOU ARE PLAYING. If you act like any gig that you are playing is beneath you, then congratulations! You will never have to play that gig, nor any gig for whoever hired you to play that night, again. If you think a gig is beneath you, you are probably wrong, but either way, don’t take it to begin with.
If you agree to play a gig, whether you are hired a sub, or it is your band that is playing and the venue has hired you, you have an obligation to give 100% at all times. That means whether there are 2 people, 200, or 2000. Yes, sometimes it is hard to get that charge when you have a small crowd, but you have to reach down inside and find whatever it is you need to motivate you to play your best. Yes, we all “phone it in” sometimes, but that needs to be the exception, and not the rule. This is your craft, and you have a job to do. You can’t afford to slack off at any time. It’s like I have had to tell a band member in the past when he’s complained that no one was there: The people who hire us and/or can have influence on whether or not we come back (the bar staff, etc.) are there, and often sober, and that’s why we can never afford to slack off.
It is important that you are on time, and prepared, for any gig you take. My friend Sean Daniel has a saying that I will attempt to paraphrase because it’s so true: If you’re “on time”, you’re ten minutes late. I will even further expand upon this idea with a more confusing, but true, saying: “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re fired.” If you are a sub or hired player for a gig, you want to be the first one there. If its your band, you want to be there BEFORE the venue expects you, but, of course, within reason. Don’t show up 2 hours early looking to set up. 10-15 minutes is a good rule of thumb.
I guess what it all boils down is that you have to remember at all times that if you are a professional, or aspiring professional, this is a business. You wouldn’t show up to your office/job site late, drunk, wearing the wrong clothes, and acting obnoxious, or you would be fired. The same goes for the music business. Yes, it’s a VERY different type of job, and it certainly doesn’t feel like work if you love it, but never lose sight of the fact that it IS a job. The best organized, most motivated, people rise to the top the fastest.
In Part 2, we will discuss the ever important concept of Audience interaction, as well as dealing with bookers/staff members that may be less than friendly or professional. Until then, e-mail me if you have any questions or comments (firstname.lastname@example.org), and don’t forget to tune!