There’s an old joke: “A musician is one who loads $10,000 worth of gear into a $5,000 car, drives 100 miles, to go to a $50 gig.” I love being a musician. I love the variety of the music I play. I love the adventure. I love the travel. Here is a glimpse of the work that goes on behind the scenes to make gigs happen.
Before I even get the gig, I’ll spend time bidding on various events that come in via platforms that I am subscribed to, such as Thumbtack, Gig Salad, Wedding Wire, etc.
Once a perspective client contacts me, we’ll talk about details of the event to make sure one of my bands is a good fit, and we’ll negotiate logistics, such as timing, pricing, etc. and prepare an agreement for the client to sign. Then I will have to make sure the musicians are available on the date in question. This can be somewhat time consuming because if any of the regular guys are not available, I will call subs for their chair. This can be difficult, especially if the event is booked last minute.
On this particular two-day gig this past weekend that I’ll use as an example, which was a duo in a certain city, I contacted two musicians in that city, and they both said the same thing, i.e. that they were available Saturday, but not Sunday. Those were the only two musicians on that instrument that I knew in that city, and one of them gave me a referral, which thankfully could do Sunday. But if he hadn’t been able to, that could have resulted in a lot of stress.
When those details are in place, it’s time for me to start preparing the music. Since I am the bandleader, I learn any new music that’s required (and we allow up to 3 requests that are not in our regular repertoire per event) and I make charts for the other musicians.
Next, I have to start preparing for the logistics of the gig. I got home late on Thursday night this week playing at a car show in Rochester. The next morning, I had a guitar lesson on Zoom and a short performance at a local venue at 2pm. This meant that I had to do my morning meditation, drop off my son, pack for the gig, do the lesson, and leave by noon to get there at 1pm. I would be leaving for the weekend gig directly after that.
In my case, since I’m vegan, packing includes preparing meals for the entire trip. This is typical, because even if it’s been arranged in advance that the band gets fed, and even if there are vegan options, the timing of when the band can eat during the event can be sometimes quite late, and can often change during the event itself. I’m the type of person who has to eat at regular times in order to maintain stamina and energy, especially while performing. Therefore, I always bring my own food to pretty much every event I play. If the band gets fed and I’ve already eaten, I can always take it home for the next day.
So in the case of this particular weekend, Friday was quite hectic. I got to the gig and found out everything was running late, and we didn’t start playing until 2:45. By 4pm, the event was still going strong, but I had fulfilled my obligations so I got on the road, arrived at my destination around 6:30, and walked around the neighborhood for 45 minutes to fulfill my weekly exercise quota. I bring this up because sometimes it’s not easy to keep the rest of your life in balance when your schedule is always different every week.
In order to be available for both Saturday and Sunday, I had to sub my regular brunch gig on Sunday in Ithaca, as well as reschedule a free trial lesson that was set for Saturday, and a rehearsal that I had Sunday afternoon. I also had to move all my guitar students for the Saturday morning to Zoom only, and move the time up an hour, so I could be at the gig by 11:15 for a noon start time. I booked a more expensive AirBnB because it was only 10 minutes from the venue.
When I arrived at the venue, there was a lot of equipment to carry, and I was not able to bring my car right up to the gate where we were to play. Because of this, I did not bring my food bag, which had my water bottle in it. It was a 90 degree day, and although they offered to get me water, there was so much hustle and bustle that my water didn’t arrive for several hours.
This meant that during the first 20 minute break, I had to walk to my car, get my food bag, and negotiate with the security guard to get back in since I was not given a wrist-band that I didn’t know was needed. By the time I got back in, there was only 5 minutes left in the break, so I ate a few bites and it was back to work.
It only rained for a single minute that day! Thankfully, I had just packed everything up, but I hadn’t made it to the car yet. Keeping an eye on weather and protecting your gear is another factor that can make gigs stressful. Plus, I had no one else to watch the gear while I went and got my car, because the other musician had already left for a rehearsal himself.
The wind that day was so strong that it kept blowing my music stand over. There were times that I had to stand with the headstock of the guitar up against the binder on the stand to keep it from blowing over.
Another stressful factor was that there was overlapping sound from a neighboring booth that had a DJ, then later, a live band. It’s not easy to keep your place in “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” while you’re also hearing “Billy Jean” in the background.
I don’t usually mind driving, as I can listen to audio books and music, but the six hours of driving that I did that weekend definitely took a toll on me. It would have been easier to stay in Rochester on the Thursday night, but it wasn’t practical, and sometimes staying in too many AirBnBs is cost prohibitive.
I sometimes feel that people should realize that playing a 4 hour event is the easy and fun part. What goes on behind the scenes can typically take another 8 hours, for a total of 12 hours per event on average. A four hour event that is an hour and a half drive away typically looks like this:
- 4 hours of playing time
- 3 hours of driving
- 2 hours of set-up and break-down
- 1 hour to prepare the music
- 1 hour to talk to the client, book the band and do the agreement
- 1 hour to pack everything up and put it away once returning home
Yes, I loved it this past weekend. Yes, I’ll do it again. This is what I live for. I love making both the host and the guests at any event happy by cultivating the perfect playlist, playing it passionately with great musician friends, and being artistically fulfilled in the process. And if it takes a ton of effort, time and energy to make it happen, I’ll do it in a heartbeat.