It would appear that last week’s post on gig preparedness struck a chord with folks, pun most definitely intended (if you haven’t read it, click here). A close friend of mine brought up an interesting issue after reading last week’s article and I think it deserves a post because it happens all too often. His dilemma? He had been hired recently for a gig and the bandleader/MD (music director) didn’t give out the setlist until the night before the gig. He hadn’t played with the band before and so he wasn’t privy to their arrangements and material (cover or otherwise). He did his best to prepare (and I will personally vouch for him as being one of the best musicians I’ve ever worked with and someone I would take on tour in a heartbeat . . . tireless work ethic, good hang, exceptional attention to detail, etc.) but as you might suspect, one can only do so much when a bandleader waits until the last minute to provide anything. He felt as if he had been hung out to dry and being someone who values preparedness, it really frustrated him. I’ve been in very similar scenarios and it frustrates the hell out of me to no end as well.
Why does this happen? 3 reasons, in my opinion:
- Laziness . . . pure, unadulterated laziness.
- Procrastination which is a symptom of laziness.
- An extreme lack of understanding regarding the real responsibilities of a music director/bandleader.
In other blog posts, I’ve gone over music director responsibilities in depth so I’m going to focus on the specific issues of timeliness and clarity.
Timeliness is a virtue and better allows for preparedness: When you as a music director procrastinate in sending out rehearsal materials, setlists, recordings, details, etc., you’re shooting yourself in the foot and throwing your entire band under the bus. Your band won’t be prepared and the product will suffer, and ultimately . . . you will be to blame, not your band. It is your responsibility to communicate what needs to be done and ensure that the band has everything they need to prepare a good product. When the materials are sent out well in advance, then you are setting your band and yourself up for success and ultimately covering your own butt. As long as everything has been communicated clearly, preparedness at that point is on each individual band member. Fail your band at this step and you’re already standing in a pool of mediocrity.
Clarity in the communication of expectations and direction provides the band with a framework within which to operate: When the expectations are communicated early (ahem, see above) and clearly, there is often less confusion and players are kept at ease which ultimately is the goal. Relaxed players = good product. Murky information causes unease and seriously undermines your position as MD/bandleader. Often, I see many “bandleaders” that think they are communicating clearly and often expect you to read their mind when you haven’t worked for them before. Then they get frustrated when you as a player, don’t just “get it.” If you as an MD think you’re communicating clearly and you’re getting met with confusion, it may be time to check yourself and think about restructuring what you say. If your communication reads more like a math equation where band members have to solve for x and then multiply everything by pi in order to figure out what they need to play, you’re doing it wrong. Keep it simple and clear. In order for good communication to happen, there has to be a message, a sender, a receiver, and an understanding. Without an understanding, you’re up the creek without a paddle and doomed to repeat the same scenario again and again until you figure out the problem.
Music directors typically have high expectations for the product (at least they should), I mean come on, that is the goal, right? Yes, sometimes we have to adjust our expectations based on factors outside our control but generally speaking, the expectation should be high. Where music directors often go wrong is having that high expectation without doing the upfront work to help ensure the product has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting there. This is where the timeliness and clarity come into play. Musical ability aside, these two elements often make or break an MD. Sure, there are other factors at play, but timeliness shows forethought and care of other’s needs, and clarity can subdivide about 17 different ways to include, arrangement, stage conduct, charts, recordings, etc. You need clarity in all of those things, and when you as an MD provide that in a timely manner (ahem, timeliness) . . . you are once again, setting your band and yourself up for success.
Aaron Kusterer is a musician, tour manager, and composer based out of Long Beach, CA. He has performed with artists such as Eddie Money, 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.