When scouting out gainful employment in the music field, I probably wouldn’t think of myself as a “Columbo” or even the persistent “Monk” as I search for those potential paying gigs.
However, I might be accused of having acted more along the lines of the Pink Panther’s “Inspector Clouseau” when going about an effective search for those underground holy grails of “hidden” gigs. Perhaps I am being too presumptuous in claiming to know what anyone else knows about many of the standard means of finding a gig, so I’ll ask for the reader’s forgiveness at this time for some of the obvious mentions here. We all are aware – and I believe I can vouch for this particular case – that bar and club dates are readily available and are great stepping stones for getting your name out there, even if some may be rather undesirable gigs. They can be a great deal of fun, often somewhat of a challenge and without a doubt, an in-the-trenches education in learning the trade of performance, negotiations, crowd control, set pacing, set design, and sound system indoctrinations.
Survival With a Smile
I cannot even fathom functioning in all my varied current arenas without having gone through many of these experiences. In fact, some of those gigs have actually presented me with some downright hilarious collections of material worth sharing with interviewers in the media or major concert audiences. Through the lessons of many past catastrophes, today’s potential nightmares have been much more calmly and wisely circumvented. In the twinkle of an eye, learning that every detail from troubleshooting sound equipment issues – remember to plug in the system and turn the power on – to having backup cords, strings, batteries, and microphones will save you the embarrassment of appearing as an amateur.
I recall when I began my career touring that it was a very different scene in some respects than current times. For example, in the ‘70s and ‘80s you couldn’t just hit “Google” to find folk clubs in Alabama. I actually recall, in an attempt to score a gig, standing at a pay phone while dropping coins in the slot trying to read my hand written chicken scratch notes that rivaled my best kindergarten work. Timing my drive with finding a pay phone and actually believing that the club owner would be available for calls to book dates – well, he just wasn’t in and “of course” he‘d get back to me if I left a number!
Grinding it out the hard way like this does test one’s tolerance and patience, but along the way many personalized techniques can be developed to survive in the music industry, such as growing skin thicker than Godzilla’s. The biggest trick, I would have to say, is to survive it with a smile. I have found that pointless resentments are a waste of time and in reality many of the people you are trying to reach have, you know, a life, too. Maybe their kid had to go to the dentist, or perhaps they fell out of a tree house they were building with their neighbor and landed in some poison ivy. In other words, flexibility, organization, patience, and persistence are an absolute must. It also never hurts to acquire a sense of humor and consider the task at hand to be a worthwhile challenge and not toil through it with a grimace.
During these times, we as musicians should be extremely grateful for the plethora of avenues available to locate not only the hidden gigs, but for those other creative paths leading to additional sources of income. In other words, don’t put all your financial eggs in the one obvious gig basket. Many musicians such as myself, have found profit on-line and at performances from the sale of instructional books, CD’s, and DVD’s, from teaching seminars and private lessons, and from venue revenue from performances in more than one type of environment. Go fish in many waters and realize some pools may be swamps. If they are, move your boat!
Where to Look
Currently, potential venue lists are available through the Internet, like-minded musicians’ tour schedules, music magazines’ venue lists, and weekend sections of nearly all newspapers nationwide. Develop a strategy for your tours so that you don’t burn out either by designing a poorly routed schedule or by taking too many chances with outdoor gigs. Obviously some folks just starting out in the endeavor of making a name for themselves have little choice but to pay their dues, but it’s tough to make a career out of playing for unlimited beers. Your talent is to be respected and, although it can be fun or a party, without a doubt the most successful musicians I encounter today are those who are extremely dedicated, hard working individuals who view their trade as seriously as anyone I know in any other field.
Your direction in unearthing your underground gigs will be determined by deciding what you prefer as a performing artist. Some may like to play weddings and perform locally, some may like to strengthen their names in a region and not tour as extensively. Personally I like the variety of touring worldwide. If I do too much of one type of gig I can get bored easily and my sets don’t feel as fresh. I also like new challenges, which creep up around every corner. In September, while participating in an Acoustic Forum at the Clonakilty (Ireland) International Guitar Festival, I sat next to Stephen Housden from the Little River Band and we launched into a few tunes together. The next month, I shared the evening at a venue with Brooks Williams, one of the best singer songwriters I have met, who extended warmth and kindness yet to be matched. Last week I was in Michigan for a series of guitar seminars and I wound up performing a few tunes with Laurie Jarski, owner of Broughton Music. She just happens to have a Masters degree in cello and composition, and may be joining me at a few new gigs as a result of this chance encounter. Every one of these unplanned happenings adds to my performance potential as an artist and often opens up new gig opportunities.
If you stay in the business long enough, there are so many delightful experiences and prospects that just come your way. That element of surprise makes the journey that much more worthwhile. When seeking out more gig options, here are some areas where you might want to throw your net: colleges (student organizations as well as music departments), house concerts, festivals (consider going with the more minor festivals than the majors but never rule anything out), local music societies, folk organizations, radio sponsored events or yearly fun raising programs, friends and fans who are willing to create an event to show their support, church organizations, sports functions, local benefit events, and street fairs. Always present a quality and accurate representation of what you will be delivering and after the show you may begin preliminary conversations about a return visit. Secure that new gig you just found by doing everything in your power to promote the event. A good turnout will almost assuredly warrant a return visit. And take good notes. I cannot even stress that enough knowing from personal history that many potential shows have slipped through the cracks because I simply lost the promoter’s number or forgot when their event takes place.
Lastly, although it is obviously important to guide and protect your career, you’ll develop a genuine undercurrent of “good mojo”” when you realize there is actually enough to go around. The more I contribute to honoring, supporting, and sharing with my fellow musicians the more it seems to come back around in some positive fashion. Perhaps I really am more like “Monk” than I realize as I continue to search for those gig clues and receive so much feedback from my efforts.
Originally posted 2010-03-08 04:16:56.