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You are what you believe

You Are the Prophet of Your Own Destiny

Every once in a while I hear someone complain about how bad things are. We all have bad days, sometimes bad weeks. Maybe the gigs aren’t coming in as fast as you want. Maybe your calendar is full, but the gigs suck. Maybe you feel your career should be at a higher level, but you’re still stuck playing for just over scale at a place that doesn’t appreciate you. If you believe it, it must be so.

C’mon, lighten up. You could be a Walmart greeter or be doing telemarketing from a Third World country. Success or a decent break could just be a couple of choruses away.

When you think you’re stuck in a rut and serving a sentence of playing at senior homes and performing scale work at one of the local saloons, you never know who’s going to hear you and help take you or your group to a higher level. You have to be on top of your game, if you have any aspirations of getting to a higher level.

Don’t make the mistake of playing less than your best, just because a gig is the pits. If you believe you’re going nowhere, who’s to argue with you? You are the prophet of your own destiny.

How many times have these negative words and weasel phrases come out of your mouth:

“Nobody wants to hire live music

“You can’t make a living playing music in this town.”

“I’ll quit before I have to pay-to-play.”

“We’re lucky to get scale.”

“I hate playing this crap.”

“Nobody wants to hear good music anymore.”

“Clubs can’t pay musicians what they’re worth.”

If this is starting to sound familiar, you have two options:

1) Quit

2) Do something about it

If quitting is your option, that’s your prerogative. If you’d rather do something about it, then just don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring. Forget the self-pity, the negativity, and the whining. Get yourself a better website, a decent updated demo video, and a quality promotional package that you can post online.

Take your social media skills to another level. Start using the phone for a little outbound telemarketing and ask for referrals. Ask yourself how bad you want more or better work? What are you willing to give up for it? Nothing comes easy. You get what you give. Are you willing to play more cover songs, if you like just doing originals? Are you willing to travel a little more, or even move if it’s necessary? Are you networking with other people in your local? Have you done a recent recording that shows your best talents? Do you have a separate brochure just for corporate work? Have you made friends with the media? Are you getting PR from them regularly? Do the guys that do morning drive on your local radio stations know you, mention you once in a while, or even play your stuff? Do you add to your e-mail list regularly? Do you occasionally send out mailings by snail-mail?

What can you do this week to get you more work or better work next week? Do a little soul-searching. Are you using the Musicians Performance Trust Fund to your best advantage so you can get exposure and become a public service to your community as well? Are your chops as good as they can be? Do you run circles around most of the other musicians in your area, or could you stand a little woodshedding to polish up your talent? Is your library of tunes current, or do you rely on what you’ve already got in the can?

You are what you believe. Attitude is important. Keep trying something new until success starts to smack you in the face. Above all, don’t complain. If you think you’re going backwards, you are. You’re an AFM member, a professional musician, and you have the inside track. Maybe it’s time to reshuffle and expand your horizons beyond the next block. Remember, if you do what you’ve always done, nothing’s going to change. How badly do you want better work? Do you want to take your career to the next level badly enough to actually do something about it right away?

You are what you believe. Those big breaks don’t just come out of nowhere. You have to make them happen.

5 Tips to Getting Your Price and More

5 Tips to Getting Your Price and More

You are a union musician, an AFM member. You don’t play for the door. You don’t “pay to play.” You’re a professional. You want to get scale and above. The problem that many musicians come up against is non-union indie musicians and groups who want to play for exposure, play for tips, or play so they can sell CDs and merch. How do you react when someone beats you into the ground over price? Here are some things you might want to consider when that club, theater, private party, or corporate event says: “You charge how much?” or “Can you do it for less?”

1) What is your “added value”? What sets you apart?

Try to differentiate your act from the others. Do you stand out in a particular niche? Do you have state-of-the-art equipment? Maybe you have a high tech sound system and light system. Or is there something else you can provide? Does your set list include numbers that really sync with the venue? Does your client know how much value you bring, beyond your performance? Make sure they’re aware.

2) Do you have a significant following?

Do you stay in touch with hundreds or thousands of fans, through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media? Do you post your gigs to an online calendar or send out an email blast to let fans know where you will be next? If you are booking a club date, let whoever is booking you know that you will help get the word out so you’ll have a good crowd. Make sure to emphasize what you can do for your client.

3) Do you have credible testimonials about similar gigs that you have played?

Can you provide success stories that can support what you charge, so you seem like a bargain for what you offer? Do you have testimonials in print and on your website you can instantly provide? Don’t hide your light under a bushel. It’s not bragging if it’s a fact.

4) Have you played other bigger venues with great success?

Does your client know your background? Tell them about any performances you’ve done on television or radio. Likewise, tell them about recordings you’ve made, other concerts, festivals, theaters, and major venues you’ve played. Make sure your website and press kit highlight how you stand out and that you are definitely worth what you charge. You are your own best PR specialist. Capitalize on that.

5) Is your talent and expertise known to prospective clients?

You’re a professional. Again, let people know. With you, playing music is a living not a hobby. People wouldn’t go to a discount heart surgeon or a cut-rate doctor. You wouldn’t want a part-time dentist who is also a trash hauler. Stand up for yourself in a way that shows you are worth your price.

Another tip: when someone tries to get you to play for less, let them talk. Find out their real objections. And here’s the kicker:  When you quote someone a price and they say, “Is that the best you can do?” There is only one answer: “Yes.” After you say, “yes,” just wait. Don’t immediately starting hacking your price just to get the gig. Many times your client will just say “okay.” You can always negotiate later.

You know your value. You’re not just starting out. You have experience. You have talent. You’re a union musician. You’re worth what you charge.

mobile djs

How Do You Compete with the Local Mobile DJs?

A while back I addressed the subject of competing with mobile DJs. They are not going away. We all know that they’re out there. They multiply like wire coat hangers in a closet. Nothing is worse than losing a wedding gig to a mobile DJ. You take music lessons, spend thousands of dollars, and practice for years to become a professional musician, and then someone right out of high school downloads music on a laptop computer, gets some sound equipment, and starts stealing jobs right out from underneath you.

It’s not just weddings, either. It’s corporate events, private parties, school dances, and on and on. Doing a Google search, you’ll find more DJs than you do bands and orchestras. They’re becoming more prevalent than pizza shops. They’re replacing live music with one person playing streaming recorded tunes, on discount store speaker systems, for less money.

At least that’s how it seems. The only trouble is that sometimes perception is not reality. I suggest that you go to a wedding where one of the better mobile DJs is working. You could be in for a jolt. You might find that this one-person streaming music show is charging more than a four-piece group would. And he or she probably has enough equipment to fill a good-size truck. Also, it might not be just one person. It could be a technician and an entertainer-host.

So, before you decide that those DJs are stealing all the good gigs, find out how you can compete. To do that, you need to find out what you’re competing with. There are DJs and karaoke jocks (KJs) who sing along with the soundtracks, entertain, and get the audience involved. Many DJs and KJs provide constant entertainment, cater to the audience, and have sophisticated lighting equipment. They bring along fog machines and confetti guns, and they charge big bucks.

If you’re going to compete in the “big bucks” category, what can you bring to the party? What can you do that’s really exciting, different, and creative? The DJ thing isn’t as easy as you may think. Many DJs bring as much equipment as a band carting around two Hammond B-3s, a couple of drum sets, three big guitar amps, a complete PA system, not to mention lighting. It’s a lot of stuff. And they play nonstop. They get the audience pumped.

What about you? When you take a break, is anything going on? You could easily record your group as you play each set, then have it play through your sound system on the break. What about lights?

It’s not enough just to play well any more. You have to look spectacular. And, how up-to-date are you? If you don’t know what’s hot right now, you’d better learn quickly. Pick up one of the mobile DJ magazines on the newsstands. See what tunes they consider hot right now. Find out how they involve the audience and how they get their work. See what niches they go after. Find out where one of the better-known DJs is working and go see his or her schtick.

What about your promotional materials? Do you have a demo video that knocks people out? Do you have a drop-dead website with a demo video that makes people want to book you? Do you have a particular niche where you can excel as a band, an orchestra, or a single? Also, don’t think business cards have gone away. Have something unique with your contact number that you can hand out.

Most people would rather hear a live musician than a recording. That’s something in your favor right away. Promote yourself and your band in ways that DJs can’t. “Live music is best” is not just a slogan. It’s true. Many people think DJs are cheaper than a band. They’re not—at least not all of them. And even if they are cheaper, your talent and everything else you can bring to the party can run rings around the music streamers. Just make sure you can compete on the entertainment side, as well as the talent aspect. Then, your bookings might increase dramatically.

Get Their Attention

First, You Have to Get Their Attention

Years ago, if an indie musician wanted to try to book a club or concert venue, they probably started by calling whoever the decision maker was—the club owner, theater manager, etc.—and tried to get them to hear them play. Today it’s a little different. It’s more than a phone call or a press kit with a CD.

I wanted to find out what gets the attention of someone who books a lot of singles and music groups today. I started with Suzanne Morgan, manager of the Orange Blossom Opry in Wiersdale, Florida. She books many local and national groups and singles. Just this past week she had Ricky Skaggs of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), several local groups, a semi-known comic, and then on Sunday night the ’50s vocal group The Drifters. The previous week included The Gatlin Brothers of Local 257.

The place was packed every night. It’s a theater/concert venue and its promoted well. Wiersdale is not a major metro market. (The nearest town is Oklahawa, and I’m sure you haven’t heard of that either.) Morgan is a seasoned vocalist/performer herself. She knows what draws and what doesn’t. She says she is contacted by dozens, if not hundreds, of people who want her to be booked at the Orange Blossom Opry.

I asked her how she likes musicians to contact her. She says, “I like people who know enough to call the box office, get my e-mail address and cell phone number, and then send me an e-mail with a YouTube link so I can see and hear them.” Morgan says she responds to texts, and returns all calls left on her voice mail. The YouTube video weeds out a lot of people.

Just calling her and asking her to book you without knowing who you are, what you do, or what you sound like, doesn’t usually work. She uses a booking agency, but she books musicians on her own as well. Mogan likes talking to musicians and entertainers who already know her venue. She likes oldies, classic country groups, and tribute performers. She appreciates people who figure out what’s going to appeal to her audience. If you do a good job you will be a repeat performer, but first you have to get her attention. Mogan is a good person to know.

Next, I talked with Tom Greenwood who owns the Greenwood Winery in East Syracuse, New York. He books a lot of local musicians for his bar/bistro at the winery. He said he started with Joe Whiting of Local 78 (Syracuse, NY) and built from there. He says that AFM musicians are usually professionals he can count on.

Greenwood says he likes to develop local talent and always responds to musicians calling the winery to find out who to contact and what they’re looking for. He’s got something going on every week.

If you fit the bill, the next thing he wants to find out about is your social media presence. How big is your following? Are you going to help get the word out that you’re performing at his venue? He doesn’t want “pay-to-play” musicians and he doesn’t want musicians who play for the door. He wants professionals who fit nicely into his bistro scene. Greenwood says you can email him a video and then leave him a voice mail. A little persistence helps. His manager also plays a part in who gets booked.

All in all, it takes a lot of things to keep your calendar full. It’s more than being a good indie musician. Today, you need to have some social media presence smarts, networking expertise, correct contact info, and be willing to put a little energy into finding work. But first, you need to get the attention of the person who might hire you. In today’s market, when your video clip is seen, your texts acknowledged, and emails read, you have a better shot of getting a positive response.

How Accessible Are You?

You’re a professional musician. You belong to the AFM. As a working musician, you probably compete against others who will play for the door, or bands who will pay club owners to let them play for a piece of the door. Don’t play their game. There are a lot of wannabe, has been, and never-will be musicians out there who want to work, fight for radio airplay, and deal with recording and contractual issues where sometimes money is secondary. You not only want to compete, you want to excel. You want people to know about you, and for them to be able to reach you quickly and effortlessly.

Most musicians have their own websites and downloadable demo tracks. Everyone has PR kits and demo CDs. You need business cards, and you need to be readily accessible. Every promo piece I’ve seen has an email address. It’s good that someone can email you, but what if they need to get a hold of you right now? Maybe it’s a corporate gig that a committee is meeting on. Maybe it’s a group that has a job starting at 9:00 p.m. tonight and needs a replacement for someone who can’t make it. Make sure your cell phone number is listed. Email is not going to do it.

In Nashville recently, an artist at the NAMM Show gave me her CD, along with a business card and asked if I would give her my opinion on it. There was no phone number on her card, just an email address. I asked how I could call her, if there is no phone number on her card. She said to email her. She told me she doesn’t list her phone number because she travels constantly and she didn’t want to get a lot of weird calls from guys who were interested in something other than booking her. I could understand that, but no phone number can hurt a career. The easiest thing would be to list a cell phone number, not a land line (even if you have one). Cell phones give you caller ID. A caller doesn’t know where you are when they are calling.

How easy is it for someone to reach you? Here’s a little checklist for things you need to make yourself accessible to someone who wants to book you:

  1.     A phone number where you can be reached. The more numbers (cell, home, agent, etc.) the easier it is to be found when someone needs you to play.
  2.     A voice mail message with your name, group’s name, and best time to reach you.
  3.     An address—street or PO box/city/state, so people know if you are local and where you are travelling from.
  4.     An email address set up with auto email response for when you can’t check frequently, but want to get a message to people to let them know when you will get back to them, and other ways to reach you.
  5.     Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media handles that are clever, simple, and easy to remember.
  6.     A professional website with contact information, demo tracks, a calendar of appearances that is updated regularly, and links to you on social media.
  7.     A decent business card with all of the contact information listed above and social media handles.
  8.     A postcard-size handout with info on your upcoming gigs that you can give to anyone interested in you or your group. (It should contain all the contact information listed previously, as well as social media links.)
  9.     A PR kit with a YouTube link to your band and/or a demo CD or DVD. Each piece of your PR kit should contain contact information and social media handles. Make sure it defines your act and makes you stand out from the competition.

Okay, there are nine things to make you more accessible when someone wants to book you. How many of them do you have? As a professional AFM musician, you don’t want to hide your light under a bushel. Let yourself shine out there. Make yourself easy to find.

Memorable Gigs

Show Me The Money: More Examples of Memorable Gigs

We’ve been talking about memorable gigs recently and I received an e-mail from Bill Yeager of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) in response to my column on interesting gigs. I thought I’d pass it along as a lesson to be learned about making sure you get paid. Sure you have a contract, and possibly an advance or deposit, but what happens when you play overtime? Do you put in an extra hour or two and just hope to get the extra revenue? Can you be sure the money will follow? Here’s what Yeager writes:

Years ago I was playing a gig with a 12-piece variety band at a big motel in Albuquerque for a veterinarians’ convention. Everyone had a great time; it was a good gig. But as we packed up to leave, one of the attendees who seemed to be a bit tipsy, started hollering about what a great band we were and urging everyone to put some money into a hat he was passing around to keep us there for another hour. He held $50 aloft and said he’d start it off right. He insisted everybody kick in and, if anyone was reluctant, he seemed tipsy enough to be excused for hassling the others and demanding big bills. It looked like that hat was going to have more money in it than what we were originally paid for the whole night! We began putting our stands back and getting our instruments out. 

At some point, we lost track of the guy collecting the money. Where’d he go?! Some of the musicians and a few of the conventioneers who’d noticed his absence began a search. But, too late! He was gone and so was the money! And that wasn’t the only problem. We had a room full of people who had contributed a lot of money to hear more music and they were getting mad because we hadn’t started playing. The smarter guys in the band, who figured out what would happen next, were already headed out the door—probably the same door the con man had disappeared through!

Maybe this is an isolated incident. Maybe not. But it is definitely something to be aware of.

Yeager also wrote about one of the weirder gigs he’s played. It didn’t involve overtime and he did get paid in full, but it was definitely strange. Yeager reports playing for a surgeons’ convention in a big room in one of the major hotels in New Orleans. He writes:

Our little traditional jazz band was set up in one corner of the large room. The other corners had either a bar or coffee service. The middle of the room was filled by a huge multi-level table of hors d’oeuvres, cheeses, fruits, and veggies, as well as ham, beef, turkey, etc. All the surgeons and their wives were milling about the room with a drink in one hand and food in the other. So far, standard convention fare, right? But here’s where it gets weird. They had combined their get-acquainted cocktail party with a demonstration of surgical equipment. And it included two actual operations! 

There was one on each side of the room with a doctor in a white smock at a surgical table. On each table, there was a heart and a pair of lungs! The heart was beating and the lungs were breathing! No, they weren’t human. They belonged to two pigs, but the pigs were not present. They were dead and gone—probably already on their way to someone’s breakfast table. But their hearts and lungs lived on—right there in the middle of the cocktail party! And the doctors operated on them! They were demonstrating how their equipment would keep the heart and lungs of a human patient functioning during an operation. 

The doc would make a few deft slashes with his scalpel, blood would squirt, and the heart or lungs would be taken out of the little circle of life that was the dead pigs’ organs. Meanwhile, machines would send oxygen flowing to the lungs, blood would circulate through clear plastic tubes. TV cameras mounted overhead projected all this onto big screens above the party. And the surgeons ate their food and drank their drinks, chatted with one another, and watched the operation, either live or on the screens, oblivious to how bizarre and surreal it seemed to us non-surgeons! And the band? We just did what we hired to do—we played happy little Dixieland tunes and tried not to look at the screens! 

Thanks Bill. Not all gigs are easy. You’re perfect proof!

Local 257 All Stars a Hit at Nashville Summer NAMM

The National Association of Music Manufacturers (NAMM) held its summer trade show at Nashville’s Music City Center in July. NAMM, comprised of 9,200 member companies from 99 countries, is no small venue, and there were almost 500 exhibitors, 1,600 brands of instruments and accessories, and talent beyond belief. This year more than 13,000 people attended, including more than 500 Nashville Musicians Association Local 257 (Nashville, TN) members. Saturday July 11, NAMM opened its doors to musicians, songwriters, and sound and recording professionals during its Music Industry Day.


Local 257 NAMM booth with Danny Gottlieb, Local 257 President Dave Pomeroy, Membership Coordinator Rachel Mowl, International Musician Managing Editor Antoinette Follett, Bob Popyk, and Beth Gottlieb.

One of the highlights of the show was hearing the “Local 257 All-Stars,” a group AFM Executive Board Member and Local 257 President Dave Pomeroy put together for the NAMM Top 100 Dealers Awards program. The group consisted of Pomeroy on bass, super drummer Steve Turner, cool sax man Denis Solee, funky keyboardist Will Barrow, and versatile guitar and harmonica stylist Pat Bergeson, who was invited to Nashville many years ago by Chet Atkins to play in his band. Pomeroy is a kick-ass player himself and the group  rocked. The special guest star was Local 257 member Duane Eddy, who had a string of hits in the late ’50s (“Rebel Rouser,” “Movin’ n’ Groovin’,” “Peter Gunn”), and still plays great to this day. The dealers loved it, and the Local 257 All Stars received as much applause and recognition as the dealers that were acknowledged.

The Nashville Musicians Association booth on the show floor drew a lot of attention. This was the perfect venue to educate people about the union. Pomeroy’s staff and volunteers answered many questions about the AFM and Local 257 and created a lot of buzz and interest in our union. AFM members did their part to make the AFM’s presence known and create some real musical excitement. NAMM CEO Joe Lamond said he was delighted to work with Pomeroy and Local 257, and looks forward to working with them again at next year’s summer show.


Local 257 All Stars, the house band at the Summer NAMM Top 100 Dealer Awards, consisted of (L to R) Denis Solee on saxophone, Will Barrow on keyboard, Steve Turner on drums, Dave Pomeroy on bass, and Pat Bergeson on guitar and harmonica.



Get It in Writing

I had a chance to talk with one of my AFM buddies a few weeks ago who I hadn’t seen for awhile. He said he’s had a pretty busy calendar, but was ticked off when, a few days ago, a private party he had booked cancelled on him a week before the gig. The person called him on the phone and just said they no longer wanted his band. He asked why, and the answer was: “We found another group who will do it for less, and are going to use them.” I asked him if he had a contract or anything in writing. He said no. It was a local gig. He knew the people and didn’t think it was necessary.

How many times have you played a gig that was pretty much on the “honor system”? You had a verbal agreement as to date and time. It could be a private party, a wedding, or a spur-of-the-moment club date. Then, when it’s time to get paid, you have to renegotiate your rate, or you get into a hassle about getting paid at all. Or maybe they cancel at the last minute and you can’t fill the date.

You’re an AFM member. You don’t play for free. You don’t “pay to play.” You’re a professional. Use an AFM contract. Get it in writing. Then, if there’s a problem getting paid, you have some recourse. You have a tool to support your position. Many times it makes the difference when you have the unfortunate situation of having to take legal action.

I received an e-mail from Roger Latzgo of Local 45 (Lehigh Valley, PA) just recently. He wrote:

get it in writingI was playing a wedding at a Pocono resort several years ago. It was winter, and the ceremony was to be in the indoor swimming pool area. The place was lavishly decorated with lights, flowers, and a gazebo under which the couple would stand.

As I was setting up, the florist/decorator comes in and starts dismantling everything, saying, “I hope you get paid. I didn’t!” Not a good omen, but everything was straight as far as my dealings with the client were concerned: AFM contract, deposit, etc., were all in order.

The exiting florist crossed paths with the food and bar staff as the latter set up their stations. The ceremony started on time; I played and it was great. Afterward, the couple thanked me profusely for my professionalism, never mentioning the florist. And, yes, I did get paid and (believe it or not) even received a nice tip. So what I learned was: focus on your job, use an AFM contract, and ignore the external noise. I’ve done it ever since.

I think having a written contract for all gigs can really help you stay out of court altogether. Putting the terms of the agreement down in writing will help prevent both parties from forgetting exactly what was agreed to. What were the exact date and times you were supposed to play? Was there an agreement on number of musicians? Do you furnish your own PA, or is the client supposed to supply it? Is a tuned piano part of the agreement, or do you bring your own keyboard? Do you get a deposit with the rest paid upon completion of the gig? The list goes on and on. I’m not an attorney. It’s not legal advice. This is simply what I’ve learned over the years.

I think the best way to deal with a botched verbal contract is to avoid the whole mess in the first place. Get it in writing. I personally learned this the hard way. People remember things differently or don’t remember crucial details you may have talked about verbally. So ask your clients to sign an AFM contract. This is business, after all, and anyone who balks at written contracts could possibly pull a disappearing act once the gig is over.

That’s just my thought. You don’t have to make it into a major legal issue. You don’t need attorneys. You can explain it’s for their protection, as well as yours. In fact, just tell them to “OK it.” You’ll take it from there. Sometimes verbal contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

Crazy and Memorable Gigs

For the last couple of months I’ve been writing about awful gigs. I know that, as an AFM member you’ve also had funny gigs, crazy gigs, and memorable gigs. I’m sure that, as a professional musician, you’ve played them all.

I remember playing at a piano bar in a waterfront restaurant where the walls in the cocktail area were indoor waterfalls. One night a drunk decided to take the soap dispenser off the wall in one of the restrooms and pour the soap into one of the waterfalls. Funny huh? Over the years I’ve had to quit playing because of electrical failures, smoke alarms, and bar fights, but until then, I never had to leave a gig because of a giant avalanche of soapsuds.

Last month, I got a letter from Earl Cava of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), along with a clipping from the San Leandro Times. He wrote: Of all the different types of gigs I’ve worked, the nudist colony was a night to remember. I got a call from my pal Buzzy, who had a trio, asking me if I had ever worked a nudist colony gig. I said, “No, but it sounds interesting. Count me in.” I asked Buzzy if there was a dress code. He told me just to wear my birthday suit. So, not knowing for sure if he was kidding, I brought both my bass guitar, and an upright bass. (I could play the upright and hide behind it, if necessary.)  Buzzy gave me the directions to the Sequoia Nudist Colony in Castro Valley, which I didn’t know existed. As I approached the main gate I was greeted by three women in their birthday suits. They gave me directions to the club and told me the dance started at 8:00 p.m. People always ask if we played in our birthday suits. I dodge the answer, and I still dodge it to this day. I can say, however, that when we took our first break, we talked to all the club members. I can tell you that they were friendly and the nicest bunch of people.

Crazy and memorable gigs are endless. I was talking with my pal Vinnie Falcone of Local 369 (Las Vegas, NV) the other day about funny things that have taken place during gigs throughout the years. He remembers a lot of crazy stories from when he was pianist/conductor with Eddie Fisher, Steve and Edie, Robert Goulet, and Andy Williams. Some are written in the Frank Sinatra book we did together. He says the wacky things never stop. Lately he’s been conducting for Don Rickles and Jerry Lewis. He told me that recently he did a gig with Lewis. During the show, he plays piano, while Lewis sings five or six songs. This time, Lewis was doing his bit, and forgets that Falcone hasn’t been called out of the wings to sit down at the piano onstage. Lewis goes into his first number and sings the entire song “a cappella.” He finishes, and realizes he did it without accompaniment, turns to the audience and says, “Damn, I forgot my piano player.” Falcone couldn’t stop laughing. Neither could the audience.

Mike Bennett, Dixie clarinetist of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI), says his craziest gigs are the ones where musicians don’t show up or go to the wrong place. He recently played a church gig with a Dixie trio. They were supposed to play at a precise time for a service. It was a well-advertised, good-paying gig. Ten minutes before the time they were supposed to play his piano player was still not there. (He later found out that the pianist went to the wrong church.) It’s tough to play a Dixie trio without a piano player. Bennett says he started to sweat. The church was packed to capacity. He was thinking about how he could possibly pull it off, when the pianist came through the back door, slid onto the piano bench as if nothing happened, and they kicked off the first tune right on the dot. Bennett’s blood pressure dropped 50 points and the gig went on. Some jobs can be a real adventure.

If you have a crazy or memorable gig story you’d like to share, send me an e-mail. My address is RPopyk@aol.com. The ones that are more off the wall might end up in this column. You never know what’s going to happen on your next gig to make it more interesting.

AFM Working Musician Connection
The International Musician will be launching a new AFM Working Musician Connection e-newsletter sent by request to current members and to all new AFM members. The AFM Working Musician Connection will offer advice to get more gigs, promote the benefits of AFM membership, and help musicians feel more connected to the AFM. Sign up today by click here

Had Any Awful Gigs Recently?

Jerry Seinfeld does a show called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. You can find it online at: ComediansinCarsGettingCoffee.com.

The basic format is that he picks up a well-known comedian in an old classic car, and they talk and joke on the way to a coffee shop. They banter back and forth when they get there, then chat and kibitz back in the car. It’s really (as Seinfeld writer Larry David says) “a show about nothing.” Seinfeld has done bits with Howard Stern, Tina Fey, Seth Meyers, Don Rickles, Jon Stewart, and a whole bunch of others. It’s very cool and very funny, as well.

One of the ones I got a real kick out of was when he picked up Jay Leno in a 1949 Porsche. Back then, the first Porsches (this was number 40) looked like driving an alien space ship, compared to a ’49 Ford or Chevy.

During the joking around in a Hollywood coffee shop, Leno says to Seinfeld: “Did you ever have any awful gigs?”

Seinfeld replies, “There are no awful gigs.”

Leno responds, “The heck there aren’t!” and went on to say he’s had a lot of awful gigs as a stand-up comic.

Leno talked about doing a stint in a Playboy club where he was graded from “A” to “F” every night on his performance. One night the audience was mostly Portuguese. They didn’t get the jokes. It was hell. He got an “F” and the program director told Leno that he should have been more prepared. Leno said he let the director know how ticked off he was. It was really awful.

Seinfeld says, “Hey, you got paid didn’t you?    Stop your belly-aching.”

Okay, okay, I get it. Maybe there are no “awful” gigs, but some are worse than others. I’m sure you can relate. Maybe you had to fight to get paid at the end of the night. Maybe your audience wasn’t what you expected. Maybe there was chicken wire in front of the stage so you wouldn’t get hit with flying beer bottles. It could be that one of your musicians didn’t show up for the gig. In the end, maybe it was an “awful” gig, but at least you took something from it. You can always chalk it up to a learning experience.

Man, I’ve been out there. I’ve had fire alarms go off where I ended up spending an hour in the parking lot. I’ve had electrical failures where we ended up playing in the dark, and club dates where no one came in. I’ve had staggering drunks who thought they could play better (and feel they should let everyone know), and customers starting fights. I’ve had drinks spilled on my keyboard.

Once I worked in a ballroom where a water pipe burst and the ceiling started to collapse. Big deal. If you play a job that turns out to be an “awful” gig, don’t tell people about it. Forget it. Ninety percent of the people you tell your problems to don’t care, and the other 10% are glad you have the problems anyway.

So in the end, the “awful” gig helped you make rent, a car payment, or pay a few bills, and you go on. Learn from it. I’ve had my share of “awful gigs,” horrible gigs, and really strange gigs. In hindsight, some were just worse than others. Maybe some were a lot worse. I’m sure you’ve had some treacherous, grinding, “awful” playing experiences as well.

If you want to get it out of your system, send me an e-mail about it. If yours is really out of the box, I just may run it in the next column (with your permission). At least you can get it off your chest. (And, hopefully you got paid.) Send your e-mail to: RPopyk@aol.com. Put “awful gigs” in the subject line.

Remember, the nice part about a bad gig (or a bad day) is that it makes the good ones seem great. (I got that from the recent Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day movie.)

Good luck on your next gig. A better one is always just around the corner!

AFM Working Musician Connection

Starting in January, the International Musician will be launching a new AFM Working Musician Connection weekly e-newsletter sent by request to current members and to all new AFM members. This AFM Working Musician Connection will offer advice to get more  gigs, promote the benefits of AFM membership, and help musicians feel more connect to the AFM. Sign up today by sending an e-mail with the subject line “Working Musician” to: im@afm.org.