We’ve probably all heard this argument before: “well, if the rehearsals aren’t paid, then I can’t commit to doing a rehearsal but I can take the gig” or any variation thereof. Or how about this one, “well the gig isn’t really paying that much, so I’ll just take it and show up.” If for some reason these folks actually get hired, more often than not, they show up and phone it in. Maybe a few parts are learned, maybe it kind of resembles the song, but otherwise it’s usually a mediocre glimmer of the song. Allow me to translate these statements into what they really mean: “I don’t have enough self-respect as a player to prepare even when I’ll still take the gig, but I’ll be sure to let you know that you’re not paying me enough to actually do my homework.” Kind of reads differently when you put it into these terms, doesn’t it? I see this all the time. It’s absurd how many folks out there are using these same excuses as a reason for not preparing. (Note: to be clear, there are folks who can show up to a gig and kill it based on their own preparation but these are the real pros, this post is dealing with a different issue).
Let’s break this down to basics:
If you wish to work (and I mean really work), being prepared is a given: As much as you are able and with the information (setlists, recordings, etc) that the band has hopefully given you, it is your job to show up as prepared as you can. I fully understand and recognize that without a rehearsal to iron out specifics, the product may only be so polished (garden hose car wash vs. the commercial car wash). But, you still have to prepare.
Bar gig or stadium gig, your playing and ability is your reputation: For many musicians, I think the thought is, “I’ll start really putting in the time when I get a big gig.” The problem with that logic is this: you’ll never get hired if people don’t see you already know how to put in the time. If your playing isn’t on point at the bar gig, then why would you think that anyone would actually hire you for a bigger gig? To the “no one big is going to hear me in a bar” comment that may be inevitable at this point, you never know who may be in the audience or who they know. Some of my biggest opportunities have come from the smallest situations.
When money is a factor, keep it simple: There is a breaking point between the product someone is asking for vs. what they are paying that may not work for some people. That is totally fine. Everyone’s financial situation and work load is different. If you’re not willing to take it for the money they are offering and there isn’t any bartering room, then don’t take the gig. It’s that simple and doesn’t need to be anything other than a polite declination. There shouldn’t be any offense taken by either party. You are doing yourself a disservice and the band a disservice if you take it and don’t prepare based on money.
To wrap up, what you as a musician put out into the world is always going to show people what you’re capable of or not capable of. As I’m sure you would agree, most of us probably want to show people what we are capable of. In order to do that at a high level, we have to set up shop in the woodshed as often as humanly possible regardless of pay. There is no other way, and the pros that have gone before us are a perfect illustration of this. Think of the heavy hitters . . . Vinnie Colaiuta, Jeff Porcaro, Dann Huff, all of Prince’s lineups, Brent Mason, Greg Phillinganes, Steve Porcaro, Steve Lukather, Keith Carlock, Stu Hamm, Gregg and Matt Bissonette, The Vulpeck crew, all of Sting’s lineups, Pink’s current lineup (same one she has had for a long time), the list could go on and on. These folks didn’t get there by coming unprepared . . . unprepared isn’t in their vocabulary. If you wish to work, then prepare you must.
Aaron Kusterer is a musician, tour manager, and composer based out of Long Beach, CA. He has performed with artists such as Eddie Money, Mitch Malloy, Juanes, and Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson) to name a few. He has also performed across the globe during a 10-year stint with the United States Air Force Band, 6 years of which was spent as a music director and tour manager. In addition, he owns and operates Advantage Tour Management. For more information on him, check out: AaronKusterer.com.