Which one do you think will get you more work?
Beyond the barrier of entry to play music professionally (a base knowledge of theory and technique) there are people who make their name being good players and people who make their name running good bands. Having chops is only a part of the equation if you want to succeed in this business.
The reality of the situation is that both kinds of musicians need each other. Those who run the bands can’t do what they do without competent musicians who would rather just play and not worry about the details of booking/advertising/promoting. I have played both parts in different projects. That being said, I make more money being in charge than the guys I hire to play their parts. If you want to get past being a sideman, you may want to look more into the business side and take some time off woodshedding.
Full disclosure: I did not go to school to be a musician. My college degree is in music business with a minor in business administration. During that time I was playing in bands and performing in ensembles with music majors. Those guys were in a state of stress I did not envy. Crazy schedules, tons of lab time and classwork seemed to suck any fun out of their college experience. I saw their futures. Most of them became music teachers and I wasn’t interested in that career path. Were they better players than I was? Absolutely. Was I still playing in bands with them? Absolutely.
Once I got out on my own I found that all of the information I had learned in marketing and management directly affected how my bands were doing locally. I had the skills to come up with good ads and manage our social media in a cohesive, professional way that seemed to elude some of the other bands. I was able to compete with bands with teams behind them.
At the end of the day you have to decide whether you want to be the musician who gets the check or the one who signs it. Maybe it’s time to put down the metronome and pick up the management books….
I suffer from insecurity, amongst a litany of other psychological shortcomings. I think most musicians get into this business as a result of their insecurity. I mean when you boil it down, you are singing for the approval of strangers in exchange for money. Yikes.
Insecurity can be a good thing or a bad thing. The feeling you aren’t good enough can motivate you to prove others wrong and propel you forward. I have auditioned for gigs that intimidated me musically, and my insecurity motivated me to over prepare and perform well in high-pressure moments. Drive can give you the competitive edge over people more talented than you. It’s just a matter of harnessing that self-doubt and pushing through it.
On the other hand, there are other musicians who let that insecurity rule them. I have worked with incredibly talented players who can’t make a decision without seeking approval for it. It makes things like song selection, part splitting, and hanging out excruciating.
That insecurity can also manifest itself on stage. This usually comes out in over playing and over performing. It’s one thing to show off your technical skills in a way that benefits the band, it’s a completely different thing to upstage other members at inappropriate moments.
In other situations that insecurity shows up in social one-upmanship. My buddies call it “boat racing.” Have you ever played a gig with a guy who always has to put others down and talk about what he’s done? The guy who name-drops without remorse and basically sucks the air out of the greenroom?
In it’s worst form that insecurity can cause people to over indulge in things like drugs & alcohol and make playing almost impossible. I’ve dealt with guys who’d show up to gigs late & loaded, play horribly and be openly hostile to the rest of the guys. Those situations usually end with their relationship to the band ending.
So what do you do? If this sounds like someone in your band, you may need to decide if their issues are worth discussing with them or if it’s time to cut them loose. These kinds of personal issues can reflect poorly on your group if they spill onto the stage or interactions with your clients. On a few occasions I have had tough conversations with guys who had too much to drink or stepped over the line of conduct on stage or with the audience. It can be messy but if it comes from a place of trust and friendship it can be beneficial to everyone involved.
If this sounds like you, you may want to do some soul searching. You may need to talk to someone about why you feel the way you do. If you don’t feel ok, you need to talk to someone. It’s ok to be not ok, but don’t suffer in silence. We have seen what mental illness can do in the music world and if this is something you suffer from you should try and resolve it. It won’t kill your edge, it may be the thing that makes playing music fun again.
A few wise men who run a certain podcast have ended their shows with the tagline “Always Be Performing.” But what does that mean to those of us in the clubs and playing events every weekend?
I remember during my stint in original bands reading reviews by local music critics in the towns we played. Critics (music critics especially) have always found ways to say foolish things in the pursuit of cool. One thing that would pop up over and over is how my band played like every show was a packed house and that we were acting like arena rock legends when we played a town for the first time regardless of actual attendance. I guess when playing college towns you’re supposed to stand there and look earnest? Sorry. We played fun music and put on a good show. The people who were there were grateful and usually told their friends when we came back through…
A few years back a director at a church of all places boiled that mentality down to a sentence that I have lived by ever since.
“Be the thermostat in the room, not the thermometer.”
In context we were playing for a middle school event to a bunch of kids who may or may not have ever been to a concert or seen a live band in person. They may not know how to react or what to expect. In that instance, it was our job as the band to dictate the energy level of the room, not the audience. While I always knew that truth in my head it was groundbreaking to hear it delivered so succinctly.
So when you are playing at whatever event you are hired for, be sure that you are the thermostat for that set. If it’s a cocktail hour, keep it light and breezy. If it’s dance floor time, crank up the heat. The power is in your hands. Use it wisely and watch as your audience catches on.
Adam and Dan play in bands. They're pretty good.