At some point you may think that while you love your main band, taking on a second band or project is a good idea. From there you may also decide to sit in and help out some friends, help out a friend on a recording or two (or three), play a theatre show here and there, so on and so forth. Welcome to the wonderful world of the freelance musician. Many people make the leap but don’t have the business skills and mental toughness to keep at it. That’s right, I listed skills not associated with playing music.
I was in this same spot seven years ago, as I made the jump from being called “just a rock bassist” to “the first person you need to call, period.” It took a lot of work, a lot of patience and a lot of learning from mistakes as I made the transition. Here are the big subjects I’ve discovered that have made or broken musician’s careers in the areas where I’ve worked.
Check Your Ego: As a freelance musician or hired gun, you are at the mercy of who hired you. If they want a specific style, tone, etc.. be prepared to give it to them. And if you CAN’T, let them know and do your best to provide something that WILL work. And if it’s not working, take direction and criticism gracefully. As much as you may not want to believe it, you’re not the expert all the time. Take direction, be open to try something new.
Be Easy to Work With: I’m sure many of you at some point have seen someone that didn’t have the skills or talent you have suddenly get a gig, promotion or whatnot that you felt was rightfully yours. The simple reality is that your attitude and overall demeanor are going to trump talent and skill. I’m sure this could have easily been put under the “check your ego” category, but it needs to be stated again. As musicians, we’re passionate people. We create things that move people, that elicit an emotion and create an intimate connection with our audience, and usually get upset when someone “just doesn’t understand.”
Be Uber-Organized and Fair: The simplest – and toughest – rule I live by when scheduling is “first come, first served.” This keeps everyone on an even keel and makes it easy to turn down a gig if you have to. Now keep in mind, there WILL be those times where you have a gig that you simply can not turn down. And remember, there is an art to getting out of a gig, so if you choose to do that, make sure it’s worth it. However, these are the exception; gigs and sessions you commit to, you have to honor.
The other part of this is being organized. No one likes being double-booked, ESPECIALLY the two people that you committed to that now have to vie for your time/talent. In this day of technology, there is really no reason not to have your calendar on you at all times. The other part of that is making sure you USE your calendar and look at it regularly, no matter how great you think your memory is.
There are a number of other things to consider when jumping into the freelance world, but these three are my top priority, and as mentioned, are the ones that I’ve seen stop young eager musicians in their tracks, and have them sitting at home on Friday nights, wondering why the less talented but easier to work with guy got the gig. And this is just the personnel stuff; the musician skills are a completely different subject altogether.
What are some criteria that you’ve learned the easy/hard way and feel is important?