On the Topic of Playing Music for a Living
By Paul Allodi
I’m still trying to do that! Just kidding but not. Its a tough road out there and your level of success can vary from month to month and year to year. There are many levels of success in this business as well- from local coffee house gigs to fancy restaurants to the bigger clubs in your immediate area and beyond. You really have to know what level of success you desire. Is it enough to just play once in a while or weekend warrior style? Do you desire more than that- playing 4-6 times a week to make your bills but doing what you love? Writing and recording and ultimately selling your original music? Touring regionally or nationwide or even internationally?
It can all be done if you want it.
The old saying “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it!” comes to mind. I have proffered many inspirational sayings over the years, passing them on to myriad open mic-ers, wanna be song writers, karaoke queens as well as established local artists, when they ask me “How do I get a gig?” or something similar.
Phrase That Pays #1: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” It is truly as simple as that, at least in my mind. And it works at whatever level you are at or desire to be at. If you never figure out where you want to play and who to ask about it and go and ASK that person for the gig, you will NEVER get it. Granted: If you ask, you still may not get what you want but you’ve opened the door for future contact and negotiation.
Then, generally, it comes down to persistence, your personality and business style. You make your case for why the venue should have you (but don’t promise what you can’t deliver) and then you ask for a reasonable (or slightly higher!) compensation. After that, you settle on a a deal for the gig. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you feel you are worth. Be sure to consider all costs of the gig when figuring your rate (promotional materials, equipment rental, transportation, etc). Know what is essential to the show and what luxuries are. Do you REALLY need the tambourine player or the extra lights? I have been successful partly because of the fact that I pay attention to the needs of each venue or event and am able to adjust my product to fit the need and budget- solo, duo, trio? Up to 10 players if they want it! Female singer? Sax player? Percussion instead of drum kit? Big lights and sound or P.A. on a stick with a floodlight? All of these aspects can be used to up sell a gig or negotiate down to a deal. If you work in concert with any agents, be sure they know your options regarding equipment, band members, road crew, etc.
Double check all contracts!
Phrase That Pays #2: “You are only worth whatever you can convince someone to pay you!”
You may ask, “What if he doesn’t offer me a gig?” Then you find out why, correct the problem if you can (or want to) and ask again. And then you keep on asking often enough to keep you in his mind but not too often so as to aggravate him or jeopardize the deal! Bottom line is that eventually he will either give you the gig to get you off his back or tell you to go away, in which case you can proceed to work on another viable opportunity. Don’t waste time on a prospect that is not interested.
Phrase That Pays #3: There are plenty of places to play… EVERYWHERE!
It has been a constant effort and a labor of love to keep the ball rolling, as I have, for 15 years, full-time. 5 gigs a week, 50 weeks a year. I love playing (most of the time!) and though I haven’t pursued some of the other aspects of the business as aggressively as I might have- recording, merchandising, licensing and publishing to name a few, I have been able to pay my bills including a mortgage and keep my van running.
I may not be getting rich but I am not starving, either. Plus, I know many others who, over the years, have taken hope and inspiration from the fact that I am still out there doing it at 49 years old.
Additionally, I have taken great pride in the accomplishments of others like Dave Tamkin, Kevin Mileski, Arthur Lee, Scottish McMillan who were supporters of my Open Mic Nights back in the early days. I hope I helped them grow and prosper in some small way and that I have passed on the torch of music on, as well. It is my hope that these words may continue to help others as they pursue their dream down The Wayward Path of this crazy business, too.
I’ve always been partial to Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (Of Horton Hears A Who runs a close second) Great life lessons. Guess I need to vist the library more often!
My favorite piece of gear would have to be my Boomerang Phrase Sampler– my ever dependable, wrist-saving back up guitarist! Honestly, as a solo acoustic player, I can hardly imagine doing a gig without it.
One thing I can’t live on the road without is… CONTACT- Friends and family (cell phone, social network pages, texting, emails, etc.)