Over the years I have played loads of original gigs, but whilst getting projects off the ground and experimenting, function work was one of my most reliable incomes (and that is true for most professional players I know). This post is really a list of things that might just help you to pack in the day job, or leave school earning enough to survive as a musician, if you are serious about pursuing a career.
I’ve written this article in stages, so if you feel you don’t need to read a section, you can skip bits. Similarly, if you are starting from the beginning with this process, you might want to take it slow, and work through it bit by bit.
Getting function gigs is a great way to earn money while you develop as a player. You need to know dependable musicians and have a bit of a scene around you for support (deps are far better than cancelled gigs). First off here are some pointers that may help you take this first step:
- Form bands with the best players you can, or audition for one
- Make a great showreel (look at other people’s to see what you are up against)
- Go to jam nights
- Check listings sites like Starnow
- Contact agencies (and ask them what they are looking for)
- Put ads up in music colleges, music shops and on websites
- Don’t stop applying for stuff and networking (give out business cards, and ask people for them)
- Start learning top 40 and classic tracks, until you know hundreds
- Do some freebie pub gigs if needed, and network with the venue and crowd (but don’t get stuck doing this for too long)
- Work out how you are going to get access to lights, sound and engineers if you are trying to do this with your own band
Now you’ve got the gig there are some really major things that you need to be conscious of if you are going to succeed in the field, and get called back for more gigs.
- Turn up early
- Know all the songs
- Don’t drag out rehearsals
- Make sure you keep it friendly and professional (take your lead from the other band members, and if you can’t hack drinking and playing, but the others can, don’t match them at the bar)
- Check the map before you set off
- Even without a car, find any way you can to get to the gig, make it your problem, not the rest of the band’s (car shares can be a good solution)
- If you don’t have a car, always chip in for fuel (unless that’s payed for off the top)
- Check the dress code
- Be a good enough player, if something worries you in the setlist, get in the shed!!
- Do not for any reason deprive the band of the gig buffet (for example: requiring a last minute rehearsal just because you don’t know the songs well enough)… I’m serious.
Heed those words of advice, and you should be off to a great start. Gigs may not initially be forthcoming, and you might not earn much (I’ve seen people play for everything from a single free drink all the way to £500 (and up) for a single show).
Hustling for More Gigs
Once you’ve started getting gigs, you can start to make more of a career out of it. Over the years I’ve come across some great ways to move up the ladder, and stay in work. Here are my tips:
- Always take details, and give out your business cards
- Take note of when you last contacted people, and if it’s been a while – catch up (you don’t have to talk shop, you can just go for a beer – you just don’t want to be forgotten).
- If you perform a function at a hotel/private hire venue, network with the venue too and let them know how to book you
- Most bands have not realised the potential of wedding fairs. If you are a great band for weddings, get a stand at wedding fairs
- Take a note of gigs that are at annual/regular events (contact the booker a sensible time before the next one, politely).
- Ask agents what kind of act they really need at the moment
- Always say yes (you might end up unable to do the gig, but that brings me to the next point)
- Always know deps that are as good or better than you
- Prioritise deps by how likely they are to be able to offer you a gig in the future (sounds harsh, what about friends?? Well… this is a job, not just a bit of fun).
- Look at contracts, holiday parks, hotels, bars and anywhere that might be able to pay you more regularly
Hustling for Better Gigs
There are also a few ways to improve the pay scale of gigs, and to get your band used for more prestigious events. One way is by having the best promotional materials possible, another is by word of mouth, but there is also an often neglected step, which is ensuring your band fulfills a particular market need (using your set lists, image, promotional material and playing style). A great band can be sidelined because they don’t offer a product that their agent gets asked for much. Don’t be that band. If you are being sidelined, find out what your agents top band/s are offering that you aren’t. If it’s not working out with your agency, consider offering that kind of band to a rival agency. Be careful about agreeing to exclusivity clauses.
- Enhance your bands image for the type of gigs you are looking for
- Keep your promo up-to-date
- Play great arrangements (read my article on killer arrangements)
- Find ways to extend your show, such as increasing audience involvement and basic choreography
- Make sure you always please your clients, and try your best to accommodate their often annoying whims without grumbling
- Leave everyone smiling, and feeling like their event was really important, and not just another stupid function gig to pay your bills (which you might feel like sometimes)
- Play with musicians who challenge you, so every gig is fun. The audience can sense when you aren’t having fun (and that doesn’t mean show off)
- Look at longer term contracts – can they offer you more money than you are getting through one-off gigs
- You will always know musicians with better gigs than you, ask them for any info they are prepared to share, and ask their agents, managers and even try ringing venues and asking how they booked that band.
- Join a different band if you need to
To sum up, you are going to need to stay committed to the hustle of being a musician, if you want a lasting career. The suggestions above are only scratching the surface. Some of the best musicians I’ve ever seen go out and gig for pennies practically, because they are against hustling and networking, while I’ve know some pretty average musicians doing great gigs because they know how to play the game. Learn to enjoy the game, and you will go far.