8 Tips to Being a Successful Gigging Musician
Believe it or not, being a gigging musician is much like any other business. Businesses can succeed or fail, and so can musicians.
Not to worry, follow these tips and you'll be ahead of the game, or at least on the right track. Of course there is no "golden rule" and different situations and experiences will yield different results, but there are general guidelines that I have personally learned and followed that have helped me in my music career. One word that can sum up many of these suggestions: PROFESSIONALISM!
Let's break it down.
Here are 8 tips to help you become a successful musician:
#1 - Have a Survival Kit
So you are half way through your first set and TWANG! your guitar string breaks. Or you are just about to take your big solo and your guitar tone goes SNAP, CRACKLE, POP!
These are just a couple of the common disasters that can, and will, happen at a gig. The importance of having two of everything is something to take seriously, even if it may seem expensive at first. Now, I'm not saying everyone has the budget to own two PA Systems and two guitars, but if you do that's fantastic! I'm sure you'll find yourself in a situation where that will come in handy, but let's just assume that big items like that breaking down is simply a risk every musician has to take. What I'm really talking about is all the accessories. Murphy's Law (what can go wrong will go wrong) is often at work when playing gigs so why not be prepared for these mishaps?
Organize a survival kit for all shows that includes extra guitar strings, instrument cables, speaker cables, capo, slide, mic clip, and anything else that is specific to your needs. There is nothing more satisfying than peace of mind of knowing that if something goes wrong, you've got it covered.
#2 - Be Punctual
Show up for work late; what happens? Exactly. Being on time for gigs is extremely important for building a relationship with the venue and being perceived as a professional. It's a great idea to know how long it takes you to setup your equipment, and don't forget to take sound check into account.
There are many variables that could potentially sabotage your good name as a musician, but not if you are prepared. If it's your first time at a new venue, know exactlywhere it is. If you can, go there the day before just to make sure you know your way around. After you've calculated how long it takes to get there and how long it takes you to set up, add 20 - 30 minutes. Ever get stuck in a traffic jam on your way to work? I'm quite certain the same thing could happen on the way to a show, so leave early. It's much better to be too early, than too late...
#3 - Set Breaks Times
Right along the same lines as being punctual, keep an eye on your watch in between sets. Remember, you are there to do a job. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've seen this guideline abused by musicians. You just had an awesome set, all your friends are there and you want to mingle and grab a drink. There's nothing wrong with that. Just be mindful of the time and make sure your set breaks are kept to a minimum. You're there to rock, right? Also, have an iPod or something similar handy to play break music. Unless the venue cues music when you are finished, you'll want to keep the vibe going and make your crowd stick around.
#4 - Drink Responsibly
So you've been offered a bar tab for food and drinks; that sort of generosity is wonderful to see. Do you use it?
This one depends on a lot of factors, however my rule of thumb is: No.
Of course, each venue is different and everyone's situation isn't the same. Is it ok to have a drink or two? Sure. If you've played at the place several times and have a great relationship with the owner, awesome, take him up on his meal offer. But consider this thought: If it ever came down to it and two equal bands were being considered for future bookings, would a venue be more likely to hire the guys that max out their tab, or the guys that politely pass incurring no losses for the business? Something to think about.
Also, do NOT allow friends to take advantage of your tab. The offer was for your band and your band only. This is a sure fire way to not be invited back to any establishment.
#5 - Get a Crowd via Social Media
Myspace! Twitter! Facebook! If your band isn't on them you're shooting yourself in the foot. Social Media isn't a fad or a thing of the past, it is the NOW. Entertainers 20 years ago would have paid top dollar for such exposure and networking, but technology has come a long way and now it's yours for free. Use these sites to share pictures, biographies, videos, demos, upcoming shows, etc. Marketing your band has never been easier and more effective, but you've got to use the tool.
#6 - Always Play Your Best
Seems logical right? Whether it's a crowd of 100, or a slow night of five guys at the back table, always play your best. Make it a point to always play as though there were 100 people at the show, because you never know who is watching.My personal experiences have etched this tip in my brain. I understand how it can be disappointing when there is a small turn out. I've been in those situations. You lose your passion, you want to just finish the set and get out of there. I was in that same boat once when a guy came up to me at the end, offered me his business cards and said,"You guys are awesome, I'm a full time musician and I can't always play all my shows. I'm looking for a band to call on when I'm not available." That's a stroke of networking luck right there. But, I'm sure glad I was playing my heart out that night.
#7 - Be Competitive
Ever wonder if Nike discusses how Adidas is operating? Or if McDonalds executives are in the board room having meetings about Burger King and Wendy's? You bet they are! Musicians have just as much competition as these leading businesses do. That is why it's important to know who your competition is. If you are an acoustic duo, you should research other acoustic duos in your area. Are you a metal band? What other metal bands am I competing against? This is a great way to find out where to get booked, and what you are up against. Think about it. If I'm a flamenco guitarist looking for work and know of twenty places Ive seen flamenco guitarist perform, wouldn't that be a good start?Although thinking about similar artists as your competition is a good place to start, don't treat them like competitors when you come in contact with them. Sure, you're directly competing with them for bookings, but they're also fellow musicians who love music just like you do. And chances are, there will be a time when their friendship just might come in handy.
#8 - It's Much Easier Keeping Existing Clients Than Getting New Ones
This is my favorite tip, and probably the most important statement to comprehend. In Business 101, you learn that it is much easier (and cheaper) to keep an existing client than to get a new one. The same rule applies in the music industry.If you've shown professionalism and exemplified many of the above tips, you are much more likely to be invited back to a venue orget bookedin a rotation. Debut shows are everything. If your band puts on a great first show, youve built a long-term relationship with that establishment. But don't just leave it to chance. Talk with the person in charge. Tell them how much you enjoy playing at their venue. Who doesn't like to hear good things about their operation, right?Make it a point to follow up toward the end of the month (that's when they usually are booking spots for the following month.) Stay 'top of mind' and let them know you are interested. I'm not saying to beg, but there's nothing wrong with, "I just wanted to follow up regarding opportunities next month. We had a fantastic time playing there and are looking forward to working with you again. What do you have available?"
Professionalism. That's what it's all about.
Many times throughout this text you may have found yourself saying, "Well that's a no-brainer." In fact, you are correct! These are very simple tips. However, you would be surprised at how many are disregarded by musicians. Luckily for you, knowing and implementing these basic ideas will put you in a great position to be a successful gigging musician.