So, how does a musician secure a long-term gig? Frankly, a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time. This one came about for me because a close friend introduced me to the owner who is a fine singer in her own right and a music lover who understands how important it is to support live music. But the owner is also a no-nonsense business owner (which is why she is successful and her place is known and loved) and if I had not proven myself I’m sure she would have had no hesitation in telling me to pack it up.
You have to have some level of experience and talent, no doubt, but perhaps not as much of those things as you may think. I think that to a large degree it amounts to nothing more than paying attention!
Thinking back on the many decades I’ve played out, and the many times I’ve watched others doing the same one thing is abundantly clear. Interaction with the listeners is crucial. Making the effort to talk with people, even those who may not be demonstrating a lot of interest in what you’re playing is what it’s all about. Making the customer feel welcome, making them know that you appreciate the fact that they are spending good money on something that is NOT a necessity in their lives.
There are other factors of course, some of which we have no control over like the overall viability of the business – sadly, if things aren’t going well live music is often the first thing to go. The things that the performer does have control over should be obvious but I’ve certainly seen musicians who either don’t care or haven’t considered those things. Here are a few.
Always, always be on time and be prepared to play when you’re supposed to. A few pros I’ve known take great pride in being able to show up at a gig 15 minutes before they’re scheduled to play, set up and jump right into the music. I am not one of those guys. I usually show up at least a half-hour before but often it’s an hour out from play time. This way I can get set up, do a brief (but QUIET, for god’s sake!) sound check, be sure all my equipment is operating as it should and then relax for a few minutes, collect my thoughts, talk to people who may have come to hear me play, review my set lists, whatever…. I always perform better when I don’t have to rush.
Look around. Who’s there? I consider things like how many people are present of course but also the demographic. Is it a young audience or an older one? That will help me decide the order I’ll play my tunes and which ones are best suited.
When it comes time for a break, be sure to make it reasonable time-wise. I try to break for no more than 15 minutes between sets, usually it’s shorter than that. The only time I’ll go longer is if I’m talking with people and I don’t realize how long it’s been since the last set. Owners of the places you’ll play are keenly aware of how long musicians go on break, believe me, and that will factor hugely in whether or not you’ll be asked back. However, they are also aware of how much interaction a musician has with the audience, whether while playing or on break. The savvy ones know that the interaction between sets is just as important as the attitude and involvement a performer shows while playing. It just makes people feel good. And who knows? You may connect with someone who is looking for a musician for a private party or other function.
A very important part of a gig that many musicians seem to overlook is what happens when it’s time to pack up and leave. This will most definitely affect your long term status at any venue. A band or single performer who rushes to pack up and get the hell out, leaving trash behind and the performing area in total disarray is making more work for the employees of that place, or worse yet, the owner him or herself. To you, the gig may be history, but to them all you’ve done is made it harder for them to get home themselves. I always make a point to restore the area I play to as close as possible to what it looked like when I arrived. Better, maybe. This WILL be noticed. And again, if you are packing up and someone wants to tell you about how they too are a guitar player, or their late uncle who loved a song you played, stop what you’re doing, smile, and make them feel good. Five minutes more isn’t going to ruin your day or night and that person will go away with a good feeling about you on a personal level. They may even tell their friends and the next week you may see them back again with more people, i.e., more customers for the place you’re playing. Everybody wins.
Peace & good music,