As young musicians begin to develop their careers, they often wonder how to decide which gigs to take on. The advice from many professional musicians I know–including many of the alumni who have spoken at my class at Yale–is to consider how well an opportunity satisfies the following 3 criteria and to choose gigs that give you 2 out of 3:
2. Career Advancement
3. Artistic Fulfillment
Let’s take a closer look.
Musicians are professionals who earn their livelihood from their art so one important consideration is how much a particular gig will pay.
If you are a smart music entrepreneur, you will have created a financial plan to help manage your unpredictable finances with the following elements:
- a yearly budget where your revenues exceed your expenses;
- strategies for deriving those revenues; and
- a weekly action plan with steps to make those revenues happen.
Therefore, when an opportunity arises, you can evaluate how well it advances your financial goals.
And even if you do not have a formal financial plan, consider to what extent the gig will help you generate revenues.
And while we are on the subject of money, be sure to consider travel, lodging and food. Are they covered by the fee? Is there a barter arrangement? Will the venue pay for equipment? All of these are relevant when you are considering whether to take a gig for money.
Does that mean that you will take a high-paying gig over a free gig or a lesser paying gig? Not necessarily.
You are a professional and you are entitled to be paid for your services! Right there, this is a hurdle that young musicians struggle to overcome. So first and foremost, take yourself and your profession seriously. You deserve to be paid!
For this reason, many musicians I know strongly recommend against taking on free gigs once in the professional world. Then again, the gig may have other benefits (see below) that will lead you to do a free gig. However, do this judiciously lest you acquire the reputation of someone who does not charge for your work.
Remember that a free or low-paying gig may very well lead to other opportunities. That’s why money is just one of the factors to consider.
2. Career Advancement
Another factor to consider is to what extent this gig may advance your career. You may be inclined to take on a gig if it has one or more of the following elements of career building:
- A prestigious venue
- A well-respected ensemble
- The ability to work with well-known musicians or artists
- The opportunity to expand your network
- Advancement of your career goals
- The ability to connect with your target audience
- The opportunity to sell CDs, scores, arrangements or other merchandise
- The ability to build your brand
- Location and timing: Perhaps this gig can be the springboard for other opportunities in the location, like a residency, a workshop or a few additional concerts. You might use this gig to create a tour, thus generating some buzz and enhancing your professional profile. Or maybe you don’t have a lot going on at that particular time so the gig can help you fill your schedule.
So be sure to evaluate a prospective gig in light of these “career builders”.
3. Artistic Fulfillment
Many musicians are in the game because of their passion for their art and a deep need for a fulfilling career. That is why artistic fulfillment is the third factor to consider when taking on a gig.
A gig may not pay much but what if it has you working with your friends or collaborators whom you admire and with whom you long to cultivate an ongoing relationship? For many musicians, relationships are key to happiness and success.
And how about a gig that fits exactly within your artistic mission or vision (which is one of the elements of the mindset of success)?
Or what if it enables you to live your values or pursue your passion?
These are all compelling reasons to accept a gig so be sure to consider artistic fulfillment when evaluating your opportunities.
What happens if you commit to a gig and something “better” comes along? How do you handle that conundrum?
Without providing legal advice, here are some factors to consider:
1. How firm is the commitment?
First, consider the binding nature of the commitment to the first gig.
Did you and the presenter agree on the date, time and fee or were important details left up in the air?
Was the gig confirmed in writing or were there other elements that had to be pinned down?
In such cases, you probably have leeway to turn down the first gig and go with the second.
Did you sign a contract?
That is a bit trickier. Your contract may have a cancellation clause or otherwise allow termination before a certain date. Read the terms of the contract and consult a lawyer if necessary.
2. What impact will cancellation have on your relationships?
Second, consider the impact on your relationship with the party who has engaged you if you turn down the first gig. The music business is built on relationships so if the presenter is someone whom you value, think twice. Or, call him or her and discuss your situation. You might be able to work something out, like appearing at the venue at another time. At the very least, be honest.
3. What impact will cancellation have on your reputation?
Third, how might turning down the first gig affect your reputation? If you have a history of turning things down after you have accepted them, that could become your reputation, in which case presenters will be reluctant to work with you.
No matter where you are in you career, I suggest that you take these 3 elements into account when evaluating prospective opportunities. Be sure to be honest with yourself and take into account your intuition as to what would be a good gig.
If your opportunity satisfies 2 of the 3 elements, that is an excellent indication that you should accept the gig. If you hit all 3, even better!