If you have played enough gigs, then you know that some of them just aren’t worth it. We all wish we could go back in time and say no. I will go over some factors to know if your next gig is worth playing.
First, you need to figure out what makes a gig worth doing. That can mean many things to different people. You need to analyze what your needs are as a musician at this point in time. Some artists need money, while others need exposure and new contacts. Depending on your needs you will have different criteria to judge how worthy your next gig really is.
Let’s analyze the details of your next gig and see how they measure up to your goals.
Maybe your drummer is a full-time musician playing in 5 bands to pay the bills. He or she will definitely want to know if the gig pays enough to support their livelihood as a musician. Maybe everybody has full-time jobs and plays in a band on the side. Then you might be looking for a gig that is more enjoyable and doesn’t need to pay as well. Either way, have a conversation with everybody in the band to know what they need to get paid. You might even come to an agreement if one person needs to make more money then the other members in order to perform. It is important to make this as fair as possible and that all members understand and agree with the arrangement. Make a minimum pay level so you know what shows won’t meet your standards right of the bat. If a gig does not pay enough then you can say no and move on.
This is a word most musicians dread. In fact, Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s funky drummer) once said, “Exposure. People die from that.” It isn’t always a dirty word, however. Your band might be just starting out and exposure is the one thing you really need. These criteria might be hard to measure beforehand. We can look at some factors to judge how the gig might do ahead of time. Some factors would include the venue, other bands involved, the promotion company, and what day and time the gig is happening. If you are playing a 2PM slot on a Wednesday at some dive bar that nobody goes to with no promotional budget then I would say this is a bad gig. It is not worth your time to haul all of your gear out if nobody is going to be there, and you wouldn’t play that venue again in the future. If you are looking for exposure versus pay then look for a gig that includes other bands that do well in that area and would bring a crowd that would enjoy your music. You can also pay an exposure show if you know for sure that certain industry people will be there and will see your band. This could include the venue owner or booking agent. Sometimes it only takes one time in front of the right people to get your band to the next step with getting better gigs. There are times where the exposure gig will do that. Just make sure you aren’t playing an exposure gig just because a venue owner is trying to cheat you out of a paycheck. Be sure both you and the venue are getting something out of the deal.
The charity event is a gig that might not get you pay or exposure but might be worth doing. This is an event where you and the band should feel passionate about the charity. You are donating your time to play, in most instances, and you should feel good about it after the show is done. Don’t play a charity show if you don’t a connection to the charity. You will be taking a date off the calendar for what could be a great paying show. You don’t want to regret saying yes later if a great gig comes up. Worse yet, you shouldn’t cancel on the charity event last minute to do that paying gig instead. If you agree to a gig with terms that mean a lot to your band then you won’t ever regret your decision and that charity will have a better event with your help.
This is one criterion my band, Mojo Radio, had to figure out the hard way. We were used to doing multi-band shows where we would play for about an hour. Our band loved these shows, but the pay wasn’t as good as the all-night gigs. We would play a few all-nighters in order to make some quick money. Cover songs were added to our setlists in order to fill time. We preferred to play originals, but we knew all night gigs required some covers to keep people happy. A full PA was usually needed so we had to borrow gear most nights to play these venues that paid well. After one night where we were told to turn down to a point where we could hear the bartenders open a bottle a bar over the drums, and nobody really paying attention to us any way we decided to never do an all-nighter again. What made the decision even easier was that we played the next night in a large professional venue opening for Ted Nugent. We received no pay besides some tickets that night. We realized that the big pay gig was not our end all be all show. That opening gig was one of the best shows we ever had and the crowd paid attention and loved us. We were offered all night gigs after that, and we never said yes to one offer. We also felt great about the decision every time.
Playing a show a long distance away means lots of time in the car. That might mean a fun road trip for some, and too much time in a cramped space with your stinky bandmates. Determine how far away is too far. A lot of time this can be the result of many factors. For instance, your band might not have a van to fit all of the members and gear into. You might need to all travel to gigs in your separate vehicles. You would probably prefer to have closer to home gigs. The gas costs and logistics of several people driving long distances become too big of factors to make it worth it to most people. If you do have a vehicle that can haul of you and your gear then long distance shows become more feasible. Again, this criteria depends on your band and your specific goals and needs.
Pick the gig that is worth your time and resources to play
My band felt that playing the shows that met our criteria would result in a better overall performance from us. If we showed up to play a show where some of us didn’t want to even play then it showed in the live performance. This means the audience would in turn not get the full experience. That could mean the loss of a potential fan, or even a possible industry connection if they happened to be in the audience. It is easy to give a great performance if you show up to a gig that you are excited about.
Remember that saying no to a bad gig frees up your time in order to accept a gig that does meet your guidelines. Don’t ever feel bad about saying no. You might find you feel bad about saying yes if it is for the wrong reasons.
Let me know in the comments below what makes a gig worthy to you. Let me know what gig wasn’t worthy in the past too.
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