What’s fun about serial patchwork employment? (We’re all playing single dates now.)
Musicians know that diverse sources of work are often needed in order to make ends meet. The rest of the world seems to be catching on to this now. Many career coaches advise that each person consider themselves the CEO of their own company. This may be a stretch, since many people don’t feel very similar to a CEO in many areas of their lives. It’s more useful to say that the current realities of economic uncertainty and free-lance casual employment make everyone a gig player.
Musicians create a patchwork of “gigs,” many of which may be single date engagements (my main source of income for many years). The musician’s patchwork can include playing concerts with a band or orchestra, teaching classes or lessons, performing in bars or for social events, selling or servicing equipment, writing arrangements, recording, DJ-ing, or doing other forms of musical work. Musicians may also have “day jobs” involved with technology or computers, since there is a natural carry-over of skills between music and these fields.
The tremendous range of activities is part of what makes this fun. We may not get rich, but the variety keeps it interesting and engages us on many different levels.
Gigging experience is going to be relevant to more and more people if current trends persist. The old model of security with one company until you retire is something only the older ones of us even remember. If all of us are journeymen now, what can we learn about fun from musicians, the people who have been patching it together all along?
1. Transferable Skills – Gig players have a certain body of skills that we constantly maintain or add to, which equip us to step into many situations competently. The situations constantly change, but the underlying skills remain, and a professional gigger is usually a great deal better at adapting to new situations than a lay person will be.
For musicians, there is basic repertoire to know, basic patterns that exist within various styles of music, skills such as sight-reading, having “good ears,” or getting into a groove with others, that equip you to hit the ground running. With these basics, a pro can often play well with others, even with little or no rehearsal. There’s a certain sense of scrambling sometimes, but it can be fun and even exhilarating, so long as you aren’t drastically outside your own comfort and competence zone. And when things get rough, the knowledge that “this too shall pass – and it’s gonna be a great story later!” helps keep it fun.
2. Responsibility, professionalism, and playing your position – Just as in so many other areas of life, responsibility and professionalism, combined with a sense of humor, make someone a welcome presence on the bandstand. As in many team sports, the understanding of one’s position and the physical and mental ability to play it well are crucial. It’s important to be able to step up and take center stage when appropriate and yet remain a team player and not take up too much space when it’s not your moment to do so.
3. Playing well with others – The level of cooperation that musicians usually engage in while playing together makes gigging fun. The sense of being “a band” is a wonderful contradiction to the isolation that free-lancers can feel when they are not working (and that many of us can feel simply because of how our lives are organized). A good leader promotes this group spirit, but sometimes a “bad” leader brings the team together too, as the musicians unite and joke about his or her counterproductive behaviors!
4. Work breeds work– To keep a full calendar of single dates, we need a large number of referral sources and good word-of-mouth, both from clients and from others in our own fields. If we “come to play” on every gig, our network will see and hear that. Likewise when we see or hear others doing something well, we want to support them.
The two most meaningful forms of support for artists are being knocked out by their work and helping them get access to other paying gigs. We never know where the next opportunity will come from, but work breeds work, both for ourselves and for others. As supportive members of our extended communities, we can pay this forward and help keep this wheel turning for ourselves and for those we respect and admire.
One way to prepare ourselves for the world of work we’ll face in the future is to expect that we are all going to play many gigs in our lifetimes, patching our work together one piece at a time.
What basics are needed in order for someone to have a possibility of connecting with people, getting work, and having fun in your world?