To Audition or Not to Audition

Q: I’ve applied to audition for a band. My problem is that I’m not actually convinced about their music. The reason that I still want to try it is because they play gigs that are a higher level than mine, plus the fact that they play, because I haven’t been doing much lately. I have never been great at networking, so I hope I get to know some people too. I could elaborate a bit more, but I don’t want to start a rant… How good or bad idea do you think it usually is to play in these kinds of situations?

A: That’s an interesting question. I can see both sides of this debate pretty clearly.

For sure, it’s good to pursue any opportunity that will both put you in the company of better players or higher level playing situations. It’s also good just to be in a working group. Gigging is the best way to gain experience and learn new things.

On the other hand, it’s a bit unfair to the guys in the group if you don’t believe in the project and don’t plan to stick it out (or plan on bailing as soon as something more up your alley comes along).

While I wouldn’t suggest misleading this band, I will say that it is important to get out there and play and if this band plays higher level gigs than you have access to, that fits with the “hired gun” perspective on gigging. That mentality is to take the best gigs you can get and constantly walk the tightrope with regard to obligations and money, networking opportunities, resume building and so on.

As you haven’t auditioned yet, I would encourage you to follow through enough, to at least see if this is even an issue. Even going through an audition process may be beneficial. You may learn something about your ability to assimilate information or fit in to a given situation. You may not be right for the band but you may impress someone along the way (producer, band-member, engineer) and get referred or recommended for another opportunity. You may even simply just gain some knowledge based on the feedback you get.

If you score the audition, proceed to dominate the competition and if you are presented with an opportunity, then it is truly time to decide what to do. You may think about what it is you hope to get out of this situation exactly, in advance, and have a bottom line ready in the negotiations.

For example, can they guarantee you enough gigs and/or money to warrant whatever level of commitment they would require of you? Because if it isn’t about the art, it should at least be about something valuable to you because it will take a lot of time to learn material and get up to snuff. Whether that means money specifically or just experience, touring, a personal challenge or even just keeping the instrument in your hands somewhere outside of your practice space… only you can decide what that is and how much it means to you.

My basic criteria is this (and there are always exceptions to the rule). A gig, tour or any opportunity has to give me at least one of these things:

  • Adequate compensation
  • Adequate artistic satisfaction
  • Adequate opportunities to network and make an impression on someone I care to impress (i.e.: an investment in my career)
  • A Valuable learning experience (another subset of the career investment)

If a gig can give me one of those things; I’m happy. If it gives me more than one, then it’s a no-brainer.

Don’t feel like you need to be whole-heartedly invested in the music of a project just to play with them. If playing “bad music” for money was a capital offense, many of us would’ve gotten the death penalty years ago. It simply should fulfill or satisfy you in some way. With regard to that notion, some of us are built better for the freelance world than others. Personally, I can find something satisfying in most any musical situation.

Sure, if the band is just so not happening that it makes you cringe or you just can’t stand the style of music, you should pass. But as long as the musicians are playing fairly well and putting it all out there, you’ll probably find something of interest in there.

There are some musicians who feel that if they aren’t making art, they can’t compromise and simply refuse to take part in anything that isn’t them. That’s entirely valid too.

The only thing I would ask is that if you are going to play, do it like your life depended on it. Put 100% of yourself into it. Don’t half-ass it. If you can do that, then you will treat the music with respect and that’s nothing to feel bad about.

It is a personal choice, and whichever way to decide to walk, walk hard, my friend!

Readers, how about you? What do you do when these situations arise, and how do you view this topic? I’d love to hear your take. Please post in the comments.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Another excellent column.

  2. Walk hard, hard
    Down life’s rocky road
    Walk bold, hard
    That’s my creed, my code

    I’ve been scorned and slandered and ridiculed too
    Had to struggle everyday my whole life through
    Seen my share of the worst that this world can give
    But I still got a dream and a burning rage to live

    Walk hard, hard
    Though they say, “You’re all done”
    Walk bold, hard
    Though they say, “You’re not the one”

    Even if you’ve been told time and time again
    That you’re always gonna lose and you’re never gonna win
    Gotta keep that vision in your mind’s eye
    When you’re standing on top of a mountain high

    You know when I was a boy, folks used to say to me
    “Slow down Dewey, don’t walk so hard”
    And I used to tell them, “Life’s a race and I’m in it to win it
    And I’ll walk as damn hard as I please
    How do I walk boys?”

    When I meet my maker on my dying day
    Gonna look him in the eye, by God I’ll say
    “I gave my word and my word was good
    I took it in the face and I walked as hard as I could”

    Walk hard
    Walk hard
    Walk hard
    Walk hard

  3. If the opportunity to play with better musicians presents itself I don’t care what kind of music it its. I the experience will up your game….

  4. That is the exact question I’ve been wanting to ask. Thanks for this!

  5. Excellent answer, Damian. In 2012, I took a gig touring with a Louisiana reggae/soul outfit for the opportunity to play a style I wasn’t familiar with, with people who were better than I, at least at that style. I learned a lot, and must have done all right, as I was asked to tour with them again this year. Will I tour with them next year? Probably not, as that gig no longer satisfies any of your four criteria.

  6. This reminds me of an article I read in Bassplayer magazine some years ago. It was titled, “The Gig Triangle.” Each potential gig has 3 key components. The music, the money, and the hang (aka these-people-are-really-fun-to-hang-out-with.) The perfect gig would have great music to play, consist of an incredibly nice, professional and funny group of players and would pay $$$$ at the end of every gig. This is a equilateral gig triangle.

    Each bassist needs to sit down and decide what kind of triangle they are comfortable with. Can you put up with idiot douche bags and bad music as long as it pays well? Can you forsake money for the sake of artistry? Each person’s triangle is slightly different, you just have to decide where you are willing to compromise.

  7. This is a very useful article for me personally as I have found myself in a band situation where we’ve essentialy been put on a time limit of 2.5 years and while we’ve become close friends the professionalism of each individual member differs due to lifestyles and musical interests. I’ll keep this article in mind for when serious decisions need to be made.

  8. Damian, I’m so happy you included the “cringe” clause.

    One of the most enduring quotes I have read from Trey Gunn was “don’t play music you don’t like. It poisons your relationship with music.”