Your Integrity and Reputation Are Worth More Than a Few Extra Dollars
I’M SURE THAT MANY OF you have worked very hard to get into the music business. You’ve practiced, attended music schools, checked out clinics, gone to numerous concerts, and listened to thousands of hours of music. So, it would be a shame, once you turn professional and are actually in the business, if you forgot that it is, in fact, a business. Like any other profession, the music business requires a code to live by. The decisions you make about the work you take—or turn down—have a lot to do with your integrity. Up-and-coming players often call me for advice on how to “defuse” certain sticky situations.
For example, how many times have you been called for a gig that pays chump change, only to have a better gig come along for real bread? Do you honor your original commitment, or risk being known as a “$150 whore?” After a few of those situations where you’ve gone for the higher pay, your reputation will suffer, because you can no longer be trusted if a better paying gig comes along. This happens on all levels—from sidemen in the bar scene to musicians on tour with major acts.
I suggest handling all such situations with honesty and empathy for your employer. As a sideman, it’s always advisable to call the bandleader, contractor, or composer, and ask if you can be dismissed due to better-paying work that presents a scheduling conflict. If it’s purely a “warm body on guitar” they need, you should offer to send a sub. But if it’s you they want, and you’ve made the commitment to them, I believe you should honor it. I only had to make that mistake once before the ramifications caught up with me, and I never bailed on a composer or bandleader again.
Turn it around for a second. Have you ever had an upcoming, very important show with your band, and three days before the concert your drummer bails on you? You can’t get just any drummer, of course, because this player has made all the rehearsals and he’s on the record. So how do you feel? In fact, Steve Morse once told me he thought Los Angeles would be a tough place to start a band, because everyone is running from gig to gig and won’t commit to a project. I decided not to be one of those guys.
Concert tours get even more complicated. Before the tour begins, an agent may commit to a fill-in date to keep the band working, only to receive an offer for a higher-paying show for the same night. The danger here is that, by now, the venue has your name on the poster, the monthly mailing list has gone out, and, in some cases, ticket sales have begun. Canceling the show can result in a huge hassle for the local promoter. Besides emails and refunds, he or she has probably invested significant money in ticket printing and advertising.
As a solo artist with a band on tour, I’ve had to eat it a few times. When the agent was offered a higher paying show after we’d committed to a “gig on the way to a real gig,” I’ve always stayed with the original booking. I believe it’s better to make a few less bucks than to burn the bridge forever. Local promoters have their own networks, and they talk all the time from city to city. In addition, Pollstar monitors ticket sales and tracks tours. In short, you can run, but you can’t hide. Take my advice: Being unreliable is the quickest way out of the music business.
Carl Verheyen is a critically-acclaimed, Grammy-nominated guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, producer, clinician, educator, and tone master with 12 CDs, two live DVDs, and two books released worldwide.