April 13, 2018
Knowing how to handle yourself on the job and understanding what people's expectations of you will be are just as important as the quality of your performance. If you have a good reputation, it will open doors for you. Bands often hire based upon two criteria other than musicianship: your experience, and your demeanor. Until you gain experience, all you have to work with is your demeanor. How professional do you come across, on the phone and on the bandstand? Are you familiar with the business of music in general? Band leaders and managers also want to see how much you know about the local scene, because until you understand it they can't trust you'll know how to draw consistently and perform up to standards. A big part of that is how well you know and follow the basic rules of paid performance.
Rule number one: Always be on time. Everywhere. Every time. Whether it is a show or a rehearsal (or a conference call), don't be late. Even if your band or industry is permissive about this, it will always be counted against you by the people you are working with who are serious enough to be on time. This is fundamental, so figure out what you need to do to accomplish it and make it routine. Do you have to be on time back from the break? Now you know.
Rule number two: Dress for the job. What does that mean? You need to ask when you get the booking. If you aren't sure, go see another act at the same venue with a similar style. Getting the right style improves the show and helps you blend seamlessly with the other band members. Make sure you understand the extent of the stage costume demands from the beginning. Most of the time the performer is expected to provide the quality and variety of stage clothes the show demands at their own expense. If you make a serious effort to do this well and you consistently step out looking like a star, there is a good chance that better opportunities will come knocking.
Rule number three: Always play in tune, without stopping to tune. Accomplishing this depends somewhat upon your choice of gear, but you must do whatever is required to consistently play in tune. If you use a vintage guitar without locking systems, it can still be set up to play reliably in tune except under the most extreme playing. If you are aware enough to fine tune as you play, this might be sufficient for some bands. If your guitars are equipped with locking systems, get them set up precisely. Make sure your bridge and nut are properly adjusted to avoid snags and drifting out of tune. With an optimum setup, your guitar's tuning stability becomes more predictable. Eventually, you'll know in advance about when you will need to switch guitars before they go out of tune. Big industry secret! Changing the gauge or brand of your strings will change everything about how they stay in tune for you. Always use the most consistent strings you can, and you'll get better tuning performance. Experiment between shows, not when your reputation is on the line.
Rule number four: Bring the right equipment. Keep it in working condition. Take the time to determine right gear for the material you are playing, and keep it repaired and maintained so that it can be relied upon to perform. Don't put off equipment repairs until they result in complete failure. If your amp needs a 'good whack on top' to come back on, something is broken in there and it will get worse. Stay on top of anything unusual you notice, and your equipment will work very hard to make you money. A little maintenance expense is just part of the business, and bad equipment can ruin your reputation just as fast as bad musicianship.
Rule number five: Keep your body running right. Staying healthy is incredibly important in the entertainment industry, where there isn't always someone who can cover for you if you get sick. This puts incredible pressure on performers who fall ill, because entertainment is a tough, no-excuses kind of business. The cliché, "The show must go on," sums it up quite accurately. And to make things worse, even if you do show up sick to do your duty, the other musicians won't appreciate risking their health playing in close quarters. Learn what kind of diet keeps you healthy and fit and stick to it. If you take medication for health issues, make sure you stay up on your meds, so you stay on your feet. Many performers investigate herbs and alternative medicine looking for ways to stay at their best. Fortunately, if you are working much, playing a show is great aerobic exercise.
In our next article we'll explore best practices for working musicians on stage. Until then, do a little self-inventory on these basic rules and figure out how to address anything that prevents you from making these concepts into working habits in your own career.
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