3 Tips on Being a Responsible Musician

Musicians notoriously get a bad rap. Over the last few years of being immersed in the music industry, I have heard countless stories of flakey musicians that don’t have their shit together, have an attitude or are just clueless. As a musician myself, I know how hard it is to navigate the business and the unfair practices perpetrated by many in the industry that often end up “screwing ” us over, but that isn’t an excuse not to do the best we can and be responsible musicians. The unexpected happens, and sometimes situations that we put ourselves in as working musicians are not what they appear to be, but if you accept a gig or job, it is ultimately your responsibility to see it through and put your best self forward. I have done some pretty strange gigs that, even after careful research, was not what I thought it would be, but for me personally, acting professional in every situation has served me better than when I first started out and didn’t really know what it meant to treat a passion like a business. Here are a few tips I have learned-hope they help with your endeavors. It’s a constant learning process for me, and I have messed up or slacked on tips that I am going to mention below, but I have learned a lot from mistakes, and always strive to do better!

  1. Having Your Shit Together:

I have heard a lot of stories about musicians that accept a gig, and then cancel on the day of. Now, things happen, but recently someone told me of someone who has done this on more than one occasion and then has seen this person on social media and realized they canceled to do something else that they thought was “better.” A few times, I have had to cancel an unpaid community gig for a paid one, but usually not the day of-or night before, and communication is important. Most people will be understanding in that case, but not if they see you partying on instagram when you agreed to do a performance. Word gets around fast, and your reputation may proceed you.

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I am not a very organized person; it’s something I am working on, and I have shown up to some gigs when I first started out-forgetting my: capo, pick, cables, etc. This doesn’t look good. I also in the beginning have falsely assumed that any venue with a stage and sound system will have guitar cables, microphones, etc. I have been wrong and it’s been embarrassing. My sister recently made me this checklist, so that I can be better prepared. I haven’t broken a string during a show in about 4 years, but the first year I was in L.A. I was playing at a farmers market that paid very well, and I broke a string. I did not have extra strings with me, and LUCKILY I had just enough where it broke off to fashion the broken string into a workable one, but it was not fun and looked bad as I was doing it. I always like to have two of everything. Recently, my guitar battery crapped out in the middle of a song and I did not have an extra battery (this was before the list!) I had to use the bookers guitar which I was not accustomed to…..I was not happy.

When you are in the booking process of a gig; answer your email in a timely manner and make sure you have read everything carefully. As a booker myself, I had musicians ask me questions that I have already answered, and many times when I say, “please respond that you got this email”-only half respond. Yes, you’re busy-I get it, but so is everyone else, and I have also had people say, “I never got the email!” which is why it is helpful to respond.

2. Being Present

Sometimes musicians get booked on a co-bill. This is a great opportunity to have camaraderie with fellow musicians and see what others are doing and support them. I cannot always stay for every single performance every time I am on a co-bill; sometimes I am up at 6 a.m. in the morning during the week, but I definitely stay for some of the show, and I come at the beginning unless I am playing ridiculously late, so that I don’t walk in while someone else is performing. I have seen this on a number of occasions; other performers walking in all self important, directing their “roadies” with equipment, greeting others and finally settling in when someone is trying to do their set. Best not to bring attention to yourself unless you are on the stage. Don’t be on your phone the whole entire time or talking either. I have seen that so much. I try to choose one song to take a picture or record to ultimately send to the artist. The rest of the time I am listening and giving body language to people that I am unable to have a conversation at the moment. If you have recording/video equipment you are setting up-come early and maybe ask for the best placement, so that you are not standing in front of people or blocking their view.

3. Gratitude

For four years now I have booked a music and workshop series and only a few times have I had someone write me an email afterwards and say “thanks.” It’s not a huge deal I thought, for myself as a performer to do, as I always thank the person-IN person after the show, but when I started booking events; and all the stress and time that goes into that-it was really delightful to get that simple thank you email. I thought it was really classy, and it made me want to work with the person again. Have I thanked every single person that has booked me for stuff? No-but I do it a lot, with the goal of doing it all the time, and when I am really on top of it-if it was a big event and they paid me a lot of money or put me up-I send a thank you card or post card from my travels. It really goes a long way in developing those connections that will last a lifetime. Perhaps you just did a small time gig that you will never do again? Thank the person anyway! I have discovered that even some small time gigs I’ve done where I didn’t make a lot of money; keeping that connection has allotted better gigs-because the person recommends you-or knows of something…..you planted a beautiful seed and it’s genuine. As my boyfriend says, “you never know when it’s your last gig”…..have gratitude for even the seemingly shitty ones-and perform each gig as if it’s your last. One gig WILL be your last.

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Do you have some tips to add?

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More writings from Music Emerging:

A Simple Wish

Age is Just a Number: Aging in the Music Industry

Your Music’s Not Literal Enough: Story Songs vs. Poetic Songs

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