Gigs come in many different forms; weddings, symphony work, corporate functions, pit orchestras, and many more. Below are six tips that every musician should follow so he or she will not only be successful, but get hired again. For purposes of this article, I will assume you are a freelance musician and not a tenured symphony player or university professor.
OK, I’ll give you this one for free because it doesn’t start with do or don’t. The number one thing you want to do at any gig is be someone that the client/orchestra/quartet wants to work with. If you are easy to work with, you will get hired. Even over someone more polished as a player. A decent player who is a pleasure will always be hired over an elite player who is a @#$!head. If you are difficult to work with, people will find out, and fast, and you will find yourself with lots of free time. If you are late once and a while, or too difficult to get in touch with, that is no problem compared to a player with a reputation of being a prick. Even if you are a tenured musician in an orchestra, you can still get fired for being a jerk.
DO be on time and come prepared. On time means 30 minutes early. The old saying “if you’re on time, you’re late” applies to musicians. Conductors are notoriously compulsive when it comes to time. Being late will get you fired, and most likely never rehired. The same goes with being prepared. Know your part. Bring a pencil. Unless you know for sure that a music stand is provided you need to bring your own. If you are sight-reading because you were not provided music, so be it, but if you got the music ahead of time, learn it.
DO NOT show off. There is really no reason to be practicing a concerto while you are warming up before rehearsal starts unless you are the soloist. This is what middle school students do to try and get people to think they’re cool and talented. If you were hired, you are talented. So is everyone else. Gigs are the result of your hard work, not a place to practice more. Sitting in the back of the violin section playing Sibelius or Tchaikovsky makes you look like someone desperate for attention. What you should be doing is quietly (even with a Practice Mute) playing some scales and looking over some trouble spots in the music on your stand.
DO be polite. We all learned in kindergarten (or earlier) to always say “please” and “thank you.” That is never more important than when you are a freelance musician. Do you want more gigs? Then you need to thank the contractor for hiring you. Need something? Say “please.” Shake hands with people you meet, especially anyone in authority. If you’re playing a wedding or other public event where you have interaction with the customer and the public, you need to be courteous and polite at all times. Even if they ask you to play Stairway to Heaven on viola. This is related to my free advice above – be easy to work with.
DO NOT bury yourself in your phone. It goes without saying that you should silence your phone before you begin playing. Duh. Also, when you have some free time, you need to be meeting people and networking and not playing Bingo Blitz on your phone. I’ve seen musicians looking at Facebook or playing Words with Friends during a wedding when there are people looking at us. Very unprofessional.
DO try to network and make contacts, but do so with care. The last thing you want to be thought of is desperate. Networking takes time and effort, but too much effort will turn people off. You need to let your playing and your reliability do most of the talking. Yes, have business cards, but don’t hand them out like lollipops at the barber. If someone asks, by all means give him one, but don’t force it when it comes to networking. If you network correctly and subtly, you’ll get more gigs than you would if you beg for attention.
DO NOT ever badmouth other musicians, even if they’re not in the group you are playing with. Even in a big city, freelance musicians are a very small and close-knit group. Word always seems to get back to whomever you are talking about. Worse yet, what if it’s the conductor or someone else in charge? Well, you can forget about ever getting hired again with that ensemble, and probably many others in town as well. A difficult reputation is extremely tough to overcome in this business.
Gigs are hard enough to come by without sabotaging your chances of getting rehired. The free advice at the top is really all you need to know, but if you don’t know how to accomplish that, then read the rest and you’ll be on your way. I’ve been an extra in a recent movie shot here in Atlanta and the one piece of advice all directors and actors have for the extras is “don’t be weird.” That covers a lot of ground, but also hits the nail right on the head.