When I was a university student, I was once offered $250 for a four hour jobbing gig. I turned it down and told him that $250 wasn’t enough money.
He argued: “But $250 is scale!”
I responded: “It’s not my scale.”
You see, at the time I decided that jobbing gigs, which paid less than $100/hour, weren’t worth my while. That was my scale, my dollar value. For anything less, I was better off devoting my time and energy to studying and practicing.
But about a year later, I played a nightmare, $400, four-hour long jobbing gig. I went dark for a week!
I thought I’d be happy with the money; I was very wrong and confused. How much should I charge? How much am I worth? What makes me happy?
Thankfully, I have since figured some things out. Ever heard of the gig triangle?
I have something better.
They’re not conditions, they’re idealisms that I hold myself to with my current lifestyle. I trust that all together, they will enable me to do what I want, make a living and stay happy.
1. Music Trumps All
I’m only truly happy when I get to play good music. If a situation arises where I can play music and feel good about it, I’ll go for it. This includes free gigs. As long as – using experience and judgment – I think I’m not being taken advantage of. Actually, I can say confidently that whenever I’ve decided to play good music for free or for “less than scale,” I have always greatly cherished the return (in whatever form it may come).
Side Note: This isn’t true for everyone. Why is that?
Personally, where good music is concerned, money is not a consideration. I play music because I want to; I teach music because I want to. Not because I want or need money. Besides, if I wanted money, I’d do something easier and simpler than being an artist.
Of course, I’m not so unpractical that I turn down high paying gigs! But if there’s no good music, I have a high price tag. I don’t have a minimum rate; I make case-by-case judgments based on how I feel at the time. Basically, I don’t do $200 weddings anymore. But I’d do it for $2000!
Realizing my power to say “no thanks” and turn down low-paying gigs was a career-altering discovery. It helped in keeping my time and energy abundant so that I could focus on more important things, namely the next two points:
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
I strive to be the best. If I’m the best, I’ll get more gigs.
I’ll rephrase that: Of course, in music there’s no such thing as “the best.” Who’s better, Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans? It’s a silly question. Everyone knows they were both great, and their greatness was one of the reasons they performed very frequently throughout their lives.
So what qualities did they possess that caused them to become so great?
The answer is discipline; that’s what I ascribe to greatness.
I apply discipline to many facets of my life, but in order get more and better gigs, discipline is best applied to practicing. I trust that the skills and knowledge I acquire through the most disciplined practice will be in high demand in the concert world.
So I strive to practice my ass off!
I aim to practice for fours hours a day. I wish I could do more, but then I’d start crossing my physical and psychological thresholds. However, any less than four hours, I’m displeased. After four hours, I’ll still spend time with musical activities, like transcribing, analyzing and listening, but they’re away from the piano.
The bottom line is this: If I’m great, I’ll get more gigs. So I’d better be the best I can be!
Playing and practicing are a performer’s lifeblood. They’re intimately connected with our individuality and are key to exploring, discovering, understanding and enriching ourselves. For me, success is being able to make a living as a performer.
I realized early on that I have to work hard to find fruitful playing opportunities. How hard? Harder than anyone else. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll use every ethically sound, physical, emotional and creative resource to make this happen. My success and happiness are at stake!
Because of this, I have researched and studied many non-musical things without hesitation. I’ve improved and want to continue improving in the following:
- Mail outs
- Press Kits
- Grant applications
- Competition applications
- Letter writing
- Booking gigs
- Booking better gigs
- Booking tours
- Cold calling
- Relationship building
- Communication skills
- Writing skills
- Resume writing
I also strive to do everything at the most professional level. Nothing amateurish. Do it right or go home!
Here are some more things I may want to do in the near future:
- Learn a second language
- Be more creative with everything listed above
I’m very fortunate that I get to work with people who help me with publicity, promotion, applications, mail outs, graphic design, record production, record manufacturing, record distribution, licensing and booking. However, if I didn’t have their help, I’d just do it myself and get a little less sleep! Whatever it takes…
- – - -
Music, practice and perseverance…that’s it! If I fail, (and I’m confident that I won’t,) it’s either because I overlooked a vital opportunity and/or because I didn’t work hard enough.
I realize that these points aren’t practical for everyone. As I said, these are idealisms that I hold myself to with my current lifestyle. I suspect that if you disagree strongly with the above, our lifestyles are probably different.
I respect that.
But if you have a similar lifestyle to me, hopefully this information will be valuable to you!
See you out there!