How to Get Called Back for the Gig (Or Not)

Guitarist and bassist

So I just came home from a recording session and the conversation I had before I split had me thinking for the entire drive home. We were speaking about a few other bassists that the band had tried to use, and the various issues they encountered. The songwriter chimed in at that point with a story about one of the guys and why he’d never use him on a gig again.

In a nutshell, every issue came down to the respect they failed to show for the gig, the music, and how they were afraid that it translated to the audience: the bassist rolling his eyes, making faces and vibing the band, and how that translated to the audience as well as the other players.

One story had a guy rolling his eyes at the rest of the band every time something went a little wonky. Another had the guy overplaying by leaps and bounds, and when asked to stick to the parts, replied, “I’m bored… trying to have fun here” (that one astounded me). We went on about this musician or that musician and the way they would pout, make faces, and yell at the rest of the band when they weren’t satisfied with something (and these are solid players on both sides of the equation. I’m not talking “bad local band hires world-famous fusion guy and gets vibed,” here. This is more of a “quality band hires a quality player and get’s vibed from the get-go,” type of thing.

Every story ended with, “…and that’s why he has so much trouble getting work” (which often makes them more frustrated and causes him to act out even more), including from the engineer! The engineer also wouldn’t hire players like that because he wants to energy to be good, especially on those marathon days, so he won’t even bother hiring the players with attitude.

It got me thinking because I know a lot of fantastic players that don’t gig as they should, and I often hear other musicians talk about why. It really struck me how important it is to be cool, on and off the stage… but ESPECIALLY on the stage.

For the love of cheese-its, don’t make faces, roll your eyes, or vibe anybody in the band while on stage! The audience notices, it ruins the cohesion on stage because it makes everybody self-conscious or distracted (either wondering why you’re mad, stressing about any perceived flubs, or just thinking that you might be a jerk). Long story short, it ruins the experience for everybody in the room. If you’re having a bad time, finish the gig and then do what you need to do in order to avoid bringing that on yourself. Does the band stink? Don’t do the gig again. Does the guitarist overplay? Have a civil discussion with him or her (privately). Does the sound in the room stink? Hire your own sound person next time…

There’s always an answer and it should never be, “I’m going to be mad and make sure that everyone on and off the stage knows it.”

Trust me… the stories I hear? It doesn’t end well for you.

Here is my take on this:

  1. Everybody in the band is likely doing the best that they can! If you’re better than them, don’t berate them. Teach them. Help them. Add to their potential, don’t try and knock them down a peg (chances are that they are well aware of their deficiencies).
  2. If you have a serious problem on stage and something is driving you nuts? Suck it up until there’s a chance to solve the problem. Try and address it on the break. If it’s something that really makes it so you can’t play (monitor mix, etc.)? Don’t just give the sound guy the stink eye and wave around like a madman, (trying to pantomime: I can’t hear the kick, the bass is too loud, where’d the horns go and everything is too quiet). Finish the tune, announce a technical difficulty, apologize for the delay, and tell the sound person what’s wrong. Fix it. No matter how much bad vibe you throw, it won’t get any better. Take a breath and articulate your needs.
  3. If you are mad that the gig pays too little and/or the drive is too long, you shouldn’t have taken the gig. You took the gig. It’s not their fault you said yes, so don’t arrive at the gig mad. It really makes it a drag for everybody and only a petulant child absolutely needs to make everybody around them as miserable as they are. Take responsibility for your own actions.
  4. Be cool. If you’re having a bad day? Tell everybody, “Sorry, I had the worst day” and then just be the quiet person. If you don’t have anything helpful to say, don’t say anything.

The point here applies not only to us musicians in the studio or on the stage but to all of us as we go about our daily lives. We’re all doing the best we can (for the most part). Be forgiving, be empathetic, be kind. You don’t know what others may be going through, either.

The world isn’t out to get you and if you feel that it is, you should likely examine your own filter through which you are perceiving the world.

Your ability to get hired (and stay that way) depends on it. It’s not just the ability to play a solid bass line or take a cool solo that keeps those working musicians working. It’s often of equal import, how they handle themselves in the non-musical ways. Don’t vibe the band on stage.

Be helpful, be kind, and be thoughtful, and it will come back to you tenfold.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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