Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

Gigs That Pay

     
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Maybe you've been there: a freezing January night, 1:00 a.m. As the last drunk dancer knocks the vocal mic perilously close to your teeth for the third time that evening, the barman mercifully draws the proceedings to a close with a loud "Last Orders!" warning. Forty five minutes later you're loading amps and PA speakers into the back of the van, smelling like a beer-soaked ashtray and hoping that the invisible patch of black ice on the way home doesn't turn you and your vehicle into the perfect lead story on tomorrow's local news. All of this for 30, after you pay the clown who booked the gig. Sound familiar?

Sure, there are those who might consider the above scenario a whole a lot of fun--after all, it is a night out, and maybe you got try out your new Fuzz Face on "Back In Black." And maybe the money isn't everything. On the other hand, if there was a way to play a good gig and get paid well (and not risk emergency dental work from a microphone-turned-projectile), you'd do it, wouldn't you? There are quite a few attractive alternatives. Deciding which ones are right for you largely depends on your particular situation, including the style of music you play, your location, and where you feel comfortable performing your music. Following are some proven, financially lucrative gigs you may want explore.


Gigs That Pay

Universities
Believe it or not, this is the mother of all excellent gigs. Universities must find creative ways to entertain their sometimes very large and often hyperactive student body every single weekend, and most have created a staffed Student Activities department for that purpose. Students very often make a receptive, enthusiastic audience--in fact, many "known" bands got blasted into the mainstream as a result of working this market. Because Uni populations are diverse by nature, Student Activities heads are constantly in need of all different kinds of music--which is where you come in. A Uni gig is shorter and generally gets started earlier than club gigs. Best of all, the pay can be quite generous. Payment is often presented before the performance; if you're lucky, refreshments and accommodations may be thrown in as well.

Small weddings
No, you don't have to get into a tuxedo and announce the first father-daughter dance. Smaller weddings are often considerably more tasteful, requiring material that's far more accessible and flexible than the garden-variety schlock often heard at a large wedding. Many are daytime gigs, often held at smaller restaurant function rooms or even private backyards. Though the pay may not be in the stratospheric levels of a major-league wedding, a small combo can still fetch between 200 and 400, depending on location and type of wedding. And you won't have to play "Love Shack" during the third set.

Whether or not your band gets the wedding reception gig, note that guitarists are often needed for wedding ceremonies. If you have a repertoire of solo instrumental numbers, for instance, you may want to make yourself available to play while people are getting seated, for numbers during the ceremony, for the processional (when the wedding party walks down the aisle), and for exit music. Knowing one or two classical numbers may help get your foot in the door, but even arrangements of popular tunes and jazz standards go over well in most settings. You might want to contact churches in your area to let them know you're available, and keep an ear out for those backyard weddings.


Tolerable Gigs That Pay

General wedding market
This is where you start to realize that you might really be in it for the money. The pay is mega (600 and up--sometimes way up), but anyone who has to go out each weekend and do everything from "Play That Funky Music" to "Livin' La Vida Loca" while wearing totally outrageous attire is probably earning every penny. But if your goal is to cut out a living as a gigging guitarist, take the gigs that pay and get your artistic rocks off in your own time.

Hotel/restaurant chains
The clientele can be tough and the money not typically as good as the aforementioned great gigs. Still, pay can run at least twice that of a small-club gig in the right location.

Business functions
Depending on the customer, these can either be a lot of fun or your worst nightmare. A party for a smaller, hip company will pay well, and no one will mind when you go into your Ramones tribute medley. On the other hand, make sure you know the chords to "Takin' Care of Business" if hired to play for a gathering of Office Sales reps. Talk to your suit-and-tie friends to see if you can get contacts for the Personnel, Promotional, and/or Activities departments in their companies. You'll be surprised how many opportunities are there.


Gigs to Avoid

Don't play any venue that offers only a percentage of the bar. First of all, you have no way to gauge whether you're getting your fair share of the money they make at the bar. Second, they want you there because you're increasing their draw at the door--and you should be paid for that regardlesss of how much money people spend once they're inside.

Don't pay to play. Several venues have "deals" where bands actually pay the club to get a gig there. If you're good enough to be playing in front of a crowd, you should be paid for your time and effort.


Getting the Good Gig

When it comes to handling the business arrangements--booking, publicity, cold calls-- you can do all of it yourself, in the early stages of your career. Unless you're booking big venues in several cities, you probably don't need an agent, and you certainly don't need to be giving up a piece of the action. It's true that in some cases a professional agent can be very helpful--they may have friends and contacts in high places, and can protect you from getting ripped off. But anyone anyone with access to basic desktop-publishing software and an Internet data-base of information already has the means to keep the weekends booked. A trustworthy friend might do it right out of the goodness of his or her heart, or for a dinner out. Taking care of it yourself, however, will give you an education--and book full of phone numbers--that will serve you well for years to come.

And, this part's important, always have business cards and demo tapes on hand when you play a gig. Once you start, you'll find that 90% of your work comes from people who happen to catch a show. There's no better way to promote yourself than a successful gig.

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