Category Archives: music industry

Show Stories — It IS a job

Doing the job... bring music to all.

When you go to a concert, it seems there’s an element of magic to the event. The music, the lighting, the vibe being built ahead of time. It all combines to bring the fans the best show possible. It lets those in attendance leave their “real lives” behind for awhile and take in this electricity. It seems almost surreal when all is done just right.

But what many don’t realize is that for those who bring the show to the fans, this is the JOB. They may not go to a corner cubical every day. They may not get up and go to work at 8 am then come home at 5 pm. However, all other elements of a job exist… along with a few other stressors no one with a “day job” ever has to deal with.

“The office building” is the arena or theater or night club or field in which the show is taking place. “The office” is where you stand when you play your instrument, or where you run sound or lights. When you are keeping over the front of house guy’s shoulder, its about like when someone pokes their head in your office to see what you are doing.

You have a boss or two keeping an eye on things at all times. There are company policies to follow, and occasionally you do have “a board meeting” in which the state of the “company” is discussed.  You can get fired for not doing your job or breaking the rules, and there is often a dress code you follow on-stage.

On show days there are certain jobs that must be done to make the show happen. Unload the trailer or semis. Set up the stage and instruments. Set up the lighting and video boards, if the artist carries those. Run a sound check (something that I personally have found to be infinitely boring). Then you may or may not have hours off before the show. Every day is different regarding “down time.” You have to find time to eat somewhere in there. Catch a shower and maybe a nap, because chances are you’ve not had much sleep.

If you have multiple shows in a row, its almost guaranteed that at some point you’ll go to bed around 4 am, and you’ll have to be unloading the trailer by 8 AM ready for another full, 20-hour day.  (FYI: sometimes when you go to a large festival, what you don’t see is that under the stage there are hammocks where people try to grab a fast nap between sets.)

When you do get to sleep, you sleep with all your co-workers only feet away. Who needs a water cooler when you can just stick your head out of your bunk and probably reach out and grab the person you want to talk to? There is very little privacy on a tour bus!

Soundcheck in the VERY hot summer sun.

Your bed, bathroom and living room moves as you travel from point A to point B. Every curve and pot hole jostles you awake, or lulls you to sleep. Every time someone pulls out in front of the bus, anyone sleeping is disrupted. Heaven help you if you’re trying to pour a cup of morning coffee. (Its like my husband says in good humor when he is driving bus: Truckers can go fast and take curves on two wheels all they want. THEIR cargo doesn’t fuss them for spilling their drinks!)

Its always good to see familiar faces on the road. Especially when its a long run that takes you away from home, a friendly (and different!) face can really rejuvenate the road-weary soul. However, guests need to always remember… its a day of fun for the guest, but its a work-day for the musician or crew member. They can’t go run around and party when there is work that has to be done for the show to happen.

The show can last anywhere from half an hour to several hours depending on the set-up, crowd and artist’s mood. (Yes, I have been to shows that have lasted upwards of three hours because it just felt right to keep going.) And while people may go, “Oh you get paid for that half hour you played.” In reality, you get paid for putting in a 20-hour work day. You get paid for representing the artist at all times during that day. You get paid to be available any time there is a show to be done.

The perks of the job are, of course, doing what you love, seeing the country and meeting thousands of fascinating people, and sometimes having four or five days off during the week to be at home. The downside is indeed sometimes running on no sleep, being away from your family for days (weeks or even months!) at a time, and the industry being “feast or famine” — you work like crazy in the summer making money, then come winter the shows are scarce and so is the money.

I recently saw where a friend said, “The music thing is the worst thing you can do and the best thing you can do.” I thought that summed it up really well! I think anyone who truly loves their job, anyone blessed to do what they enjoy and love for a living, could probably agree with that sentiment. You wouldn’t trade the job and experiences for anything, but when you break it all down… it really is a job. One that you are good at (or you wouldn’t be out there!), enjoy, and that needs to be done.

Music business techniques that can be applied in other businesses

Before I met my husband, I would randomly wonder how, exactly, you get a job as a touring musician. It’s not like the jobs open are listed on or Do you have a resume? Do you fill out an application? How does this work!?

I’ve discovered being a touring musician straddles two phenomenons: having a job and being self-employed. I find that fact alone to be the hardest thing to convey to anyone outside of the industry. (However, I’ve also found it to be a common phenomenon in the blogging world.)

You are self-employed, in that you have to own your own gear, and you can be “playing for” as many as three or four artists at a time. Sometimes you do session work (recording albums). Other times you just pick up gigs where you can find them around town.

You “have a job” when you work for an artist full-time, and your pay is based on how many shows are booked for your boss. Occasionally, “the boss” will put the band on a salary, and you make a flat rate no matter how many shows you play.

Ultimately, the income of a touring musician can come from many different avenues and ways. But, still, the question remains: how do you GET these jobs? And beyond that, what can other industries learn from those musicians who get the work?

I’ve broken it down into five factors that decide who does and doesn’t get the job.

1. Talent. No matter what job you go for, you’re not going to get it if you can’t do it. For musicians, its musical talent, of course. For writers/bloggers, its an ability to write. For accountants, its knowing accounting rules. For doctors, its knowing how to diagnose illnesses, etc. At the end of the day, you can’t get a job that you can’t do. Period.

2. Resume. Even for a musician, having a solid resume can mean the difference between getting the gig or not getting it. Do you have any experience in performance? No? Then there’s going to be hesitation in hiring. This can be applied in all fields, of course. The more experience you have, the more valuable of a hire you could be to the company.

In blogging, your resume is your “about me” page. Tell me what makes you someone I should read. Tell me what makes you “an expert” in your field. Tell me why I should potentially contact you to write for me and my business (if you are looking for jobs such as this.)

3. Network. This is bigger for a musician than the resume, actually.  Remember when I mentioned that its not like jobs are listed on a job site? Jobs are instead listed among the “good ol’ boys” of the industry. The last several jobs my husband has had he has gotten via networking. The last two he got by being recommended by fellow musicians. The more people you know (and impress!), the more job opportunities that come your way. Also, the more you are seen, the more likely it is that your name will be the first one thrown in the hat for a job.

This phenomenon can be found in multiple other industries. The more visible you are, the more likely you are to be thought of for a job. It’s why I don’t understand people not using Facebook, Twitter, etc. These are FREE ways to network to hundreds thousands of people at one time. You want to keep your name and face out there for others to see, know, and trust.  Sometimes, you have to spend money and go out and be seen in person. It’s often necessary to spend money to ultimately make money, and sometimes that means having a few drinks or buying a dinner or two. It’s about making a connection. Its networking.

4. Audition. The audition can be seen as an interview. It’s your chance to show someone in person what your abilities are. Its in this moment that your talents come to light and your resume is really poured over. Sometimes, your resume is so strong, you can skip the audition/interview. “So-n-so hired you? They give you a glowing recommendation? Good enough for me! Hired!” However, if you’re new to the industry — any industry — your audition/interview will determine if you get the gig/job. Go in and give it your best. Dress the part and go in with confidence. Be the best you can be in that moment.

In blogging, your audition is every post you make. Your appearance is the look of your blog. Know that every person who visits your blog is interviewing you. Deciding if you are someone they want to keep reading. In some cases, they are also deciding if you’re the type of writer they may want to have do guest posts for them, or perhaps to write for their publication.

5. Hang factor. You got the job. Awesome. Now, you need to KEEP the job. It’s called “the hang factor.” This is a key factor for a road musician, where you spend DAYS at a time on a bus with your band mates.  If you can’t fit in with the group, you’ll find yourself outside of the group. Not even your talent can help you avoid being booted out when you don’t have “the hang factor” going for you.

This is true in other industries as well. A harmonious work environment is often key to getting work done. Learn how to adapt. Especially if you find yourself in a position of representing your company. You want to convey a positive appearance. You want to fit in no matter where you go.

I’ve found, personally, this also applies in blogging. I don’t like blogs that are so straightforward that you don’t have any idea of personality. I want a “hang factor” in my blog reading. I want to feel comfortable with the person whose words I am reading. I want people to feel comfortable with me… lest they stop reading me all together.

I know that every job and industry have other factors that can affect if you get a job or not. If anyone has any more suggestions, please add them in as a comment! However, these five factors are ones that I’ve found to not only  be key to the touring musician, but to also be key in other industries as well.