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Which gigs should you take?

MusicPosted by Makram Aboul Hosn Sun, December 11, 2016 10:12:46

If you are a musician with the following three qualities, it’s highly probable that you’ll be constantly busy with new gigs:

1. Good at music: Proficient on your instrument, a good reader, listener, knowledgeable about styles, skilled in writing, etc...

2. Responsible: You show up on time, have the right equipment and scores, pay attention to dress code, and you’re proactive during rehearsals and performances.

3. Easy to get along with: You have a good attitude, and people don’t get stressed out by your presence. You’re open to suggestions and have a positive inclination towards making things better for yourself and for others.

This is what Snarky Puppy’s bassist and founder, Michael League asserted in a talk he gave at the Prince Claus Conservatory in June 2016. He also shared his conviction, that even in New York, the world’s most difficult city to make a living as a musician, it is almost impossible to think of someone with these three qualities who does not have many opportunities to choose from. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule: the musicians who don’t have all three qualities and still get a lot of work—for instance the very nice guy with mediocre talent, or the totally unpleasant virtuoso.

December is a very busy month for musicians, as the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday creates high demand for a wide range of performances. That being said, it is very easy to end up spreading oneself thin and becoming overwhelmed with performance dates. This usually leads to a snowball effect of stress, and the music begins to suffer as a consequence. Also, one can easily fall into the habit of no longer taking the gigs seriously, and as a result, not put in the time and effort required to perform at an optimal level.

If you find yourself with a lot of gig offers, here’s Michael’s criteria for choosing which ones to take. There are three key elements to consider:

1. The gig helps you grow musically: If the gig compels you to leave your comfort zone and pushes you to practice skills that you don’t get the chance to use regularly, it’s a taker. One small example from my career is my decision to join an Orchestra. I knew it would push me to become a better sight-reader, better with the bow, better at playing in tune, and provide me with constant exposure to great, new compositions.

2. Helping out a friend: Friends often ask for each other’s help, as they should. They may do so by asking for advice or favors. It is a very rewarding feeling to see a friend succeed, especially if you feel you helped them get there in some way. Most of the time, helping out a friend means that, they too, would want to help you out on any opportunity they get. It always surprised me how someone who I thought could not help me, ended up being of great assistance.

3. The gig pays conveniently well: Clearly, some gigs pay better than others, and there are many variables here. On some gigs you get a lot of money in the end, but you have to go through a lot of stressful rehearsals, traffic jams, etc... Other gigs pay really well for you to just simply show up and play 30 minutes of anything. How badly you need the money is another variable.

Next time you get an offer for a gig, you can consider these elements upon making your decision.

If the gig offers none of them, then you should NOT take it. If it offers one, you should take time to consider it (that’s another thing: most of the time, you don’t have to give an immediate answer—you can always take some time to think). If the gig offers two of these, you should most probably take it. And of course, if it offers all three, then you should not let it go.

It’s also worth considering that if all musicians used these factors as reference, concert organizers and pub owners would try to ensure at least two of them, creating a better work environment for musicians as a result, leading to better performances and happier audiences.

So that is one way to think about work… what’s your take? If you have any criteria you would like to share and discuss, feel free to share your opinion in the comments section!

Edited by: Sima Itayim

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