Networking and “Working” Gigs Part 2

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Being an artist is not just a job, it’s not just a lifestyle.  It’s YOU!  It’s interwoven into your brain, your soul, your psyche, it’s sometimes all you can think about and all that you can do.  Unfortunately, however, it’s not always enough!  It’s no secret that generally musicians and artists are some of the worst business people ever.  It’s not that we’re not smart enough to get it, it’s just that we don’t have time to concentrate on all of that stuff, right?

Unless you can hire a personal assistant, or perhaps have a very loving mate in your life you’d better start finding a way to get the artistic side of your brain to coexist with the business side of your brain.  No, you don’t need to take classes or read any books or completely abandon your music.  Just remember that in order to keep the art alive you’re going to have to see a little money coming in at some point.  I know, I know – don’t taint art with money!  I agree and I know the argument.  Let’s save that one for another time.  I’m talking about the guy or girl that has decided to book some gigs – whether you’re doing it for your band, yourself, or have entrepreneurial aspirations.  With 15 years of experience now in the music business I’ve learned a lot of lessons – some the hard way, unfortunately.  I’ve booked lots of gigs and had the good with the bad.  I’ve seen how other people conduct their business both good and bad, as well.

I don’t really want to go through the booking process step by step from the initial phone call/email to being handed a check at the end of a gig (although there are some people out there that really haven’t the slightest idea of how to go about that).  If you have questions, feel free to email me or perhaps that can be a future blog for me.  What I really want to dig into is some advice on the “do’s and don’ts” of booking and exercising proper etiquette.

One thing that I’ve found to be universally true whether it’s a wedding band or backing up a pop star is that you ALWAYS need to take care of the people that you are hiring!!! What does this mean exactly?  Well it depends on the circumstances, and can encompass quite a few things.  Number one priority and what it always comes down to is money! I’m not saying that you have to pay more than everyone else for people to want to do gigs with you.  In fact I know a lot of people that are willing to do free gigs at times (myself included) if they really like the people that they are playing with or truly believe in the project.  So it’s not always about the money, rather it’s usually how the money is handled.  Here’s two scenarios of incidents and you tell me which guy you’d like to play for:

A)  “Guys, the booking agent just told me that the money isn’t what I was initially told.  Instead of making $100.00 tonight I can only pay you $90.00 because they shorted me $50.00.”

B)  “Guys, the booking agent just told me that the money isn’t what I was initially told.  I told you that you’d make $100.00 tonight so I’m going to honor that even though I got shorted $50.00.”

Now in fairness, depending on the circumstances one might say that both situations are OK.  Normally a $10.00 difference isn’t going to make or break you.  The problem with situation “A” is that we start dealing with “what-ifs” and percentages.  “Yeah I’d do it if…”  or “I might be OK with that if it was so-in-so…” etc.  You get my point.  Almost always 100% of the time you’re going to work for the guy in situation “B” when he/she calls again.  Guaranteed.  I have personally made less money on a gig before and I still work with and get calls from other guys that I know have done the same thing.  I know that if I got a group of guys together to do a gig, I’m going to be responsible and pay them what I told them I would pay them.

Sometimes that’s just the cost of doing business.  And that brings up another important point.  If you’re in the business of booking bands and gigs – that’s exactly what it is; a business.  You need to think about some extra expenses that will occur.  You’ll need to think about taxes and sending your guys 1099’s.  You need to realize that if something goes “haywire” it’s on your shoulders.  You are the one that has to deal with the booking agents, the stressed out wedding planners and the sometimes obnoxious club owners.  So why do it then?  Well there are just as many positives.  Number one is that you can make more money.  In addition you have a lot more artistic control over the music (because you can hire whoever you want to play with you).  Also, you can have a little more control over your schedule. You’re not held ‘at bay’ by someone else’s schedule.  In other words, you don’t have to worry about the guy you’ve been working for deciding to take the month off to go on vacation or whatever leaving you with a month of no work.

“Wait, did you say ‘make more money’?”  Everyone knows that the band leader makes more money than everyone else.  It’s just the name of the game – pretty much for a lot of the exact reasons that I just mentioned in the above paragraph.  However, here’s an area that I think can get pretty sticky.  This is also an area that I know for a fact some people are going to disagree with me.  That’s fine – I totally understand that some things we may just have to ‘agree to disagree.’  Although for others, this may be the first time that you’ve heard of this or really thought of this.  The big “dilemma” that I’m providing all this fanfare for is: just how much should the band leader be making as what’s known as a “leader’s cut?”

I’ve never really heard an exact percentage being quoted on this topic.  Perhaps there’s some dialogue or “unwritten rules” about it out there.  All I know is that I’ve worked with guys that just take a little off the top, and I’ve worked with guys that take at least double and sometimes even more than that off the top.  Here’s how I feel about this situation.  Ultimately it’s the band leader’s prerogative to charge what he/she wants.  Basically you can either do the gig or not do the gig for what they have offered.  That’s what being a professional is all about.  When I get a call for a gig, I ask all the particulars including how much it pays.  If I say “yes” to the gig for “X” amount of dollars, I show up and collect “X” amount of dollars.  However what I will tell you is that I have chosen on more than one occasion to stop doing gigs with guys when I start realizing that there seems to be an inordinate amount of money being taken off the top.  Again, some will argue with me – I understand.  I can take my own advice and go exactly back to what I just said a couple of sentences ago.  Yet, it’s my prerogative to choose whether or not to play for someone again if I feel like they are taking advantage of me.  Period.

Wow, there’s SO MUCH more I could write about.  It’s almost like sitting on a therapist’s couch!  Haha! Once again the blog has written itself and taken a bit different turn than I had imagined!  Here’s a few quick blurbs about some other things I was thinking about:

1) The band leader is not always the bad guy.  Be a professional – show up on time, bring the proper gear, play your best and always play like there’s a sold out show (even if there are only 2 people in the listening audience).  There’s nothing worse than doing a gig with a guy that is frustrated because he feels like he should be paid more or thinks there should be more people there.  You said you’d do the gig, so show up and do it.  If you don’t like it; next time say “no” and book your own gigs.

2)  Do your homework!  Show up prepared!  If you were given tunes to learn – learn them and show up with charts, if applicable.

3)  Here’s an important thing that many people don’t take into consideration – if the band leader hasn’t specified always ask what what sort of attire you should have?  What type of function is it?  Some clients will flip out if you show up to a black tie event with tennis shoes on.  Sometimes the band leader forgets to tell you and just assumes you know.  Trust me this is a good question to ask; I’ve been thanked by people before for asking this.

4)  Don’t be the guy that immediately bails on gigs when a better offer comes through.  It happens to all of us but how you handle it is key.  There have been times when I’ve called guys and honestly said “I’ve gotten a call for the same night and it literally pays almost 3 times what I’ll make on your gig.  Would it be cool if I found a sub for that night?”  9 times out of 10 the guy understands and is usually willing to work with you.  Other guys get reputations for bailing on gigs and subsequently get less and less calls.

Ultimately, the moral of this story is simple:  be a professional!!!  Have I stated that enough yet?  Networking and “Working” gigs, no matter what side of the coin that you’re on is all about relationships that you build.  These relationships need a solid foundation that all parties can understand and work from.  Professionalism goes a long way in any business relationship.  It doesn’t make you “less cool” or make you “lose your edge.”  It’s just smart.

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