When you start performing in front of audiences for the first time, booking shows can be exciting and even a little addictive. The experience of performing music for a room filled with new faces is a thrill powerful enough to sustain a career throughout years of elation, despair, and every feeling in between.
So you should embrace each and every performance opportunity that comes your way no matter what, right? Wrong.
There are a lot of reasons why saying yes to every musical gig can be a bad idea, even when you’re just starting out and looking for exposure. But how does one decide whether to accept or decline a show offer? Well for starters, here are some of the most important questions you can get into the habit of asking yourself.
Are you even ready?
This question doesn’t care whether you’re a new project or a seasoned veteran of the road. If you’re rusty and in need of some prep time, saying yes to a last-minute gig filling in for some other band might not be a great idea. You might need practice, your songs might need tightening, you might be working with some new members, or perhaps you just aren’t in the right headspace.
Not every decision needs to come down to whether or not this gig could help your career. If you aren’t emotionally or musically ready to perform, the anxiety and time spent having to scramble and prepare for a last-minute gig might set you back even further.
Is it worth the work?
To continue on from the last point; live music demands a hefty amount of work to pull off.
From the months it takes a band to write, rewrite, and rehearse their music to the day-of obligations of getting to a venue hours before the show, unloading, soundchecking, performing, and waiting till the end of the night to settle up and load out, musicians need to acknowledge that significant time commitment every time they agree to play a show.
On the other hand, if you’re inexperienced, or prepping for an upcoming tour, or even working through some stage fright issues, it could be valuable to book yourself a decent amount of shows to gain that experience and get comfortable on stage. Just don’t exhaust yourself. Musicians aren’t always the best at realizing the value in what they do or the time they put into their work.
If you get invited to play a show but are offered nothing that actually helps your career or thickens your wallet, graciously declining can help you devote your time and energy towards things that actually might. Every second you spend doing things in music that don’t serve you is time siphoned away from doing things that do.
Will the show in question help you reach your goals?
Some performances offer you the opportunity to play in front of a big crowd, others to earn a big paycheck at the end of the night. But these might not always be what you’re looking to accomplish in the short or long term.
A great example of this is when you do finally start to build regional momentum on the scene. You might start getting invited to play pretty often, and the gigs might even consistently pay well, too; but if your goal is to write and record new material, performing out might break your focus.
In a similar way, it might sound romantic to spend night after night playing to new audiences, but you still need to put in the work writing new songs and rehearsing them to perfection. Before you can win over a live audience, you need to have great music to play for them. Sometimes rushing songs to the stage isn’t as effective as tinkering with them at the studio.
What is the venue like?
Start playing live shows and you’ll quickly realize that some venues are not worth playing at all because of things like bad sound, lazy marketing, and poor management. Remember, your time and talent are valuable. Do your research and if you have to, ask around.
Some red flags to look out for are things like: bills with more than four bands on them, bad reviews, poor quality of bands booked, or whether any of your favorite local bands have ever played there. If you have any doubts, just don’t play.
We all have to start somewhere, and playing “bad” shows can sometimes be fun, but some gig offers just aren’t worth taking no matter how badly you need the booking.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.
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