Before even beginning today, I want to give due credit to Andrew Hitz, whose podcasts The Brass Junkies (cohosted with Lance LaDuke) and The Entrepreneurial Musician ought to be required listening for every low brass player. I honestly can’t remember which one of those shows was the source for this idea, as I heard the episode some time ago, but it was brought to mind by a recent interaction on Facebook.
The occasion was a humorous post about a subject familiar to all working musicians: the suggestion that one should be willing to play for “exposure.” For better or worse, certain segments of our society seem to believe either that musicians ought to perform for free and earn their living doing something else, or that “if musicians are given enough (free) exposure from me, surely other people will discover these musicians and offer them paid work.” The first idea might seem reasonable—make music a hobby that you share with others simply for the love of it—but performing/teaching/writing/doing music at a high level requires time for individual practice and development, and that time is lost whenever one has to take a day job. And even if that job allowed adequate time for practice and preparation, good mental/emotional/spiritual health requires that one have some time for leisure. To put it briefly, for the musician a day job, while sometimes necessary, detracts from the time necessary to develop and maintain high-level execution of his or her craft. If performing/teaching/writing/doing music can’t pay the bills, musicians by and large won’t start working for free. They’ll have to do something else, and any music making that remains as a side hustle won’t be nearly as good.
The second idea, that of performing for exposure, also might seem reasonable to those offering such engagements, and admittedly musicians sometimes make calculated decisions to perform for free in certain venues—more on that in a moment. Too often, though, the “exposure” gained from such engagements is simply to other people who also want free musical services. While exposure can be a good thing, you can’t eat it, fill your car with it, or pay your rent with it. At some point real remuneration becomes a necessity.
So how should one decide whether or not to take a gig, especially one with low or no pay? Here is the great idea that I got from one of those podcasts. There are three elements that one must consider:
- The music.
- The hang.
- The money.
The rule of thumb is that one should only accept an engagement if at least two of those elements is satisfactory. I have played some great music with great people for little or no money, and left fully satisfied. I have played not-that-great music with great folks for really good money, and also left fully satisfied. I have played great music with people I didn’t know very well but got paid pretty well, and…well, you get the idea. There is, of course, a limit on the number of “good music-good hang” gigs one can take before going broke, but generally speaking this is a good guide when considering an offered engagement, particularly when the pecuniary rewards are small or nonexistent. Sometimes “exposure” really does work out, especially when the music is great and you get to play with great musicians or even meet new people who might help you get paying work in the future. But only sometimes.
The Gig Acceptance Trifecta is a simple scheme, but it works. And go listen to those podcasts. There is much great advice to be found there.