The Lightbulb Moment: Rehearsal — Treat It Like A Gig

Bassist in the light

Your phone lights up with a text message about a gig next Saturday night… score! You’re available, the money is decent, and your drummer friend recommended you. It’s an overall win! You accept the gig and receive a follow up text: “Let’s rehearse Tuesday night.” Thankfully, you’re free, but you realize that you only have 48 hours to learn all of the material. Cue the stress headache.

If you’re a freelance player, this can happen at any time. You jump at the opportunity to do a cool gig and make some money but quickly realize that you’re under the gun when it comes to learning the music. At this point, you can:

  1. Clear your schedule to the best of your ability to give yourself ample time to practice before rehearsal
  2. Check out the material, attend rehearsal, but decide to do most of your practice between the rehearsal and the gig
  3. Believe that you’re doing the rest of the band a favor by simply showing up to play bass at the last minute and therefore, can skate by on the material.

If you’re leaning towards B or C, you can kiss that gig (and others) goodbye. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you pick up the gig at the last minute or if you’ve had the date on the books for two months. It is often assumed that if you take the gig, you’re willing and able to do all of the work required for it (which is usually more than just showing up). That said, being prepared for rehearsal is as, if not more, important than being prepared for the gig. Here’s why!

First things first, it is difficult and costly to schedule a rehearsal. In addition to the gig, the artist needs to find another time when everyone in the band is available. The rehearsal is typically longer than the actual gig, so for a 45-minute set, they may schedule a three-hour rehearsal to have enough time to properly go through the material. They also need to solidify a place to rehearse, which means that they may need to pay for a rehearsal space or find a less-than-comfortable basement or garage. Whether you’re in a band or hired as a sideman, it’s rare to get compensated for rehearsals. If you do happen to get paid, that should serve as added incentive for you to do a good job. The artist is essentially telling you: “This fifty dollars represents the respect that I have for your time and professionalism. Please show up and take this seriously.”

Second, a rehearsal is a strange combination of an audition and a gig, so always try to make a good first impression. If you aren’t prepared for a rehearsal, the artist or bandleader may take offense and decide to hire someone else. Additionally, the person who threw your name in the hat will be embarrassed and disappointed —they may even take some heat for recommending you. I’ve learned that unless you’re rehearsing the day of the show, then there’s always enough time to call another player to take your place.

Third, the overall vibe of the rehearsal will directly influence the vibe of the gig. When everyone shows up with a good attitude, there’s plenty of time to work through the material, and all of the tunes sound tight, then everyone will leave in good spirits. The artist or bandleader will look forward to putting on a great performance and they will feel confident about the players they chose to hire. This kind of validation is not easy to come by.

On the other hand, an unsuccessful rehearsal may result in a debilitating lack of confidence when it comes to the gig. The artist may expect the players to make the same mistakes or worse, show up to the gig equally unprepared. When people walk out of the rehearsal feeling uncertain or introverted, it’s easy to transfer those same feelings to the show. The artist has enough to worry about (promotion, ticket sales, merch, etc.) and they shouldn’t have to draw their attention to the inconsistencies of the band. Furthermore, the last thing you want is for the artist to feel like they wasted time and resources by hiring you to play their material; that notion of resentment is irreversible.

And lastly, your reputation as a musician is often your greatest attribute—do your best to establish a good one. The more you represent yourself as a positive and professional person, the better your reputation will be and the more work you are likely to get. If you show up to a rehearsal with good gear, a good attitude, and as an asset to the band, then people will remember that. If you show up not knowing the material, then you’re basically telling everyone in the room: “I don’t respect your music and I don’t respect your time.” That’s a great way for you to alienate yourself from the artist, the bandleader, and your fellow sidemen.

The overall moral of the story is to always do your homework, even if that means staying up late to write charts or repeatedly play through the songs. No one will negatively criticize you for knowing the material and in fact, you may receive some praise for being on your game (especially if it’s a last minute call). While you may have to invest a few extra hours in the woodshed, that investment will ultimately pay off in the form of more gigs, more money, and the ability to climb the social and musical ladder.

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

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