Posted on February 6, 2017, 12:00 am
Congratulations! You got the gig. You nailed the solo, made appropriate eye contact, and wore the right clothes. Time to tell your parents the good news and start shopping for the gear you can now afford. There is no greater happiness than a musician with a paycheck, and this joy is what keeps us going through the tough times. If landing a job is that easy, why don’t we make it happen more often?
Getting hired for a live backing band is, by default, a subjective process. You may know the results of an audition before you even walk into the rehearsal studio. You may sweat through an audition, sure you’ve missed your big chance, only to get a salary offer that same day.
Assuming you did your homework and presented yourself to the best of your ability, whether you get hired or not is based entirely on factors outside of your control. The manager liked your smile. The label guy hated your solo. The artist thought you were cute. The artist’s mom thought you were greasy.
What does this all mean for you? All the unpredictable factors that aligned to get you the gig can also fall apart at a moment’s notice.
If you’ve ever been fired from a job, then you know the unnerving consequences of rejection. You feel fearful, angry, inadequate. Depending on the job, you may even feel strangely relieved to be freed from an oppressive environment.
For touring musicians, here are a few common scenarios for losing a gig:
Casting decisions (gender, skin color, hairstyle)
Logistics (live in different city, out of budget)
This being the Wild West of careers, you may lose a gig for any number of other reasons. (Halitosis, anyone?) There may be no quantifiable reason at all for your termination. Much of this business is decided on instincts and vibes, not resumés. If someone up the ladder doesn’t like you, they won’t hesitate to find someone else.
Before you throw your hands up and surrender your entire life’s work to divine luck, there are some concrete steps you can take to keep a good gig in your favor. Just like you did your homework before your audition, you also have an ongoing barrage of assignments that can help you stick around for the long haul.
Lesson #1: Learn the Music.
This is reason Numero Uno why you’re here, right? Apply the motivation that got you the gig and show your new employers that they made the right choice. Landing a new job doesn’t make you the best musician around—it makes you the person with the most to prove.
Absorb everything. Memorize your parts. Master your instrument. Support your bandleader. Do whatever you need to do to serve the project. My goal with each new project is to boost my skills, making me a more desirable hire for the next tour.
Lesson #2: Know the People.
Who are your bandmates? Where are they from? Who are the people who auditioned you, and what are their relationships to the artist? What are the quirks and preferences of the artist? The musical director?
Make a habit of getting to know everyone, including yourself. The more you practice social awareness, the better your chances for success. I find that during long weeks on a tour bus, a mindful person has the most allies and the least amount of drama.
Lesson #3: Respect the Artist.
Yes, you’re living the rock star life. But this is a job, and the artist is top boss. They hired you as a representative of their brand, and it is your responsibility to be a positive asset to their team. Respect their needs, habits, and privacy. Honor their fans. If the artist brings loved ones on the tour, treat those guests as extensions of the artist. This means working constructively with your tourmates; understanding the code of conduct; and for the love of cheese, keeping your trash talk to yourself.
Lesson #4: Leave Gracefully.
Even the best gigs will end. The artist may take a hiatus, or you may want to pursue other opportunities. No matter the circumstances, take the high road and exit graciously. Thank everyone involved for including you in the experience, and let your friends know that you’re moving on to other endeavors.
Okay, I’ll admit … I’ve learned a few of these lessons myself, the hard way. But I’m grateful for every experience lost and gained. You may not always be right for the job, and that’s an important lesson in itself. Bottom line is, if you can rock your instrument and be the person everyone wants to hang out with, you’ve got a long and fruitful career ahead of you.
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