We always hear what things we should do as musicians. “Do this” or “Do that” or “Here are the top 10 things you should be doing to get gigs”. This is great, but it’s also equally important, if not MORE important to know the things to avoid. I have a story to tell you. This is a true story and actually happened involving a musician I hired for a gig once upon a time.
I normally would give separate stories and examples but this guy did so many things wrong I had enough material to write a whole post. Hope you enjoy and also learn something you may not have known. Here’s my part 1 of a series of what NOT to do as a musician.
Don’t Show Up Late To a Gig
If you show up on time, you’re late. Consider that as musicians we have equipment to set up, sound to check etc. If you show up to a gig “on time” and you aren’t playing by the designated time that you agreed to start playing at, you have failed. Always be ready to play fifteen minutes before the start time so you can account for any unexpected disruptions i.e. sound problems, equipment malfunctions, etc.
I hired a guy to play guitar for me for a university event. It was a business casual event and the president of the university was going to be the main speaker. It was a unique gig because they wanted musicians in separate parts of the building and as a result I had my violinist out in the hallway playing a solo act while I played with the Latin Jazz quartet in the main room. The guitarist was set up in the room adjacent to us to play a solo act.
First off, he was late which is a no-no for me because I’m a stickler on punctuality which is strange because I’m Puerto Rican. And if any of you are Puerto Rican or have friends who are you know that we function on our own time (commonly referred to as “PRT” or “Puerto Rican Time”). If you say a party starts at 7 p.m, we show up at 9:30 p.m.. So next time you invite a Puerto Rican to a party, just give them the time but 2 and a half hours earlier and they should show up right on time!
Okay back to the story.
This is the first time I hired the guy because my main choice had another engagement that day. He was my fall back and I hadn’t worked with him before but I’ve seen him play and he was decent. This was an early morning gig and I am NOT a morning person and have yet to meet a musician who is. But when the venue needs you at 8 a.m. in the morning, you show up an hour and a half earlier, or at 6:30 a.m..
Why, you ask? I have three reasons.
1. Because you never know what tragic accident happened on the highway before you stepped out the door.
2. We musicians tend to be absent minded and sometimes leave an important piece of equipment at home so we may have to go back to get it or purchase something at a nearby store. (I actually have had to do this more times than I care to admit).
3. It puts your clients’ mind at ease that you are a punctual person and have plenty of time to set up. (Hint: if you are the leader of the band, you should be the first to arrive)
I showed up first and the other musicians start trickling in soon after. That is, everyone except the guitarist. I gave him a call:“Hey, we’re all here just wondering where you are” to which he responds “I’m on so and so street about 15 minutes away” I respond “okay great. Give me a call if you get lost.” We start in 45 minutes so if he shows up in fifteen then he has time to set up and begin playing his start time.
Guess what? Fifteen minutes later, he’s still not here. We’ve already set up at this point and are getting ready to sound check. I’m nervous about this guy because I’ve never worked with him before. I don’t know if he got into an accident or if he’s just an inept person. So I’m hoping that he just shows up because my reputation is on the line here. Guess when he showed up? Right at the start time!! as we were getting ready to play our first song he shows up and starts setting up in the room across the hall.
So he starts late and we had already started playing in the main room. After we finish, the solo acts were to continue playing music so the crowd would disperse into different areas of the building and explore. I went to see the guitarist and what I saw shocked me. Which brings me to my next point...
Don’t Show Up To A Gig Looking Like a Bum
I pride myself on looking sharp for gigs. I also tell my musicians in correspondence weeks before a performance how they should look but also other important crucial details like date, time, repertoire, parking and pay. If you’d like to see an example of this download my “Booking a Gig Email Script” as a part of my Gigging Starter Kit for free.
When a musicians says “color is black”, it is assumed that you are wearing a nice black dress shirt with nice slacks and nice shoes. General rule of thumb is the musician should look better than the best dressed person in the room. What I learned from this gig is NEVER assume and ALWAYS be specific. Just pretend you are speaking to a 3 year old and you should cover everything you need to about dress.
This guy was wearing a black T-shirt (inside out mind you) and jeans. His hair was greasy and matted looking, he looked like he just woke up and his playing sounded like he looked -- terrible.
Don’t Play Like Crap -- Play what the person paying you wants to hear
We agreed that he should play spanish sounding repertoire but what I heard was just jumbled nonsense. Just chords being vamped on. It sounded like he was making it up rather than playing actual tunes. The other musicians started asking me “what’s up with this guy? He looks like crap and he’s playing like crap too” It was embarrassing. This was the nail in the coffin for me. I wasn’t going to hire this guy again but now I’m REALLY not gonna hire this guy again and I’ve already told other people not to waste their time hiring him.
I want to piggyback off of this thought while I’m on the subject and say that we should always play what the client wants “period”. I submit surveys to all of my clientele so I can get feedback to improve my future performances. I use surveymonkey.com which is a free service up to 10 questions.
My violinist did a great job for this event. In fact, the people LOVED him. But the client thought he was just “ok”. The reason is because the client specifically stressed that the violinist play world music and as much culturally diverse music as possible because there were going to be people from different parts of the world at this event. The violinist opted to play top 40 music.
My dad always told me “In a gig you need to make 3 people happy. Yourself, the crowd and the client”. This guy made himself happy, he made the people happy and probably thought “well if the people are happy then the client will see that and be happy in return”. The survey results showed that to not be true.
When I asked about the violinist and his choice of repertoire the client responded with “not really what I was looking for”. Ultimately as the band leader, I take the heat for this. I learned another lesson that day, too. Always give the client what they want not what you think they want and to make sure all of your musicians fall in line with that thought. at the end of the day they are the one who makes the decision whether to hire you again or not, not the people attending the event.
I will probably not hire that violinist for this type of thing again because of that and maybe the client may think twice before hiring us as well. But it’s all a learning experience and the point is to learn from the mistakes and never repeat them.
Hope you learned something of value in this post. And if you missed the link to Gigging Starter Kit, here it is. It’s completely free. Enjoy!
Harry L. Rios
Founder of HarryLRios.com
Harry L. Rios.com