The other day I realized that I’ve been pushing this idea in post after post, without ever explaining why.
Here I said that high-level sight reading skills would replace your day job.
Here I said that no one would pay you to play metal or classical.
Here I just assumed that getting paid to play is what you’re after.
Here I said that no one ever got paid or laid for knowing modes.
The list goes on and on.
Why the focus on getting paid?
Understand that when I say “get paid,” I’m not just talking about someone handing you a sweaty wad of cash for playing your ass off (although that’s rarely a bad thing).
Rather, what I’m talking about is being good enough to get paid for playing.
Consider this brilliant response to the question “What makes someone a true piano player?”
I consider myself a “piano player” by a very pragmatic designation: if someone says they need someone to play piano for something, I can volunteer. I have enough experience to know that it is more-than-likely I will be able to play whatever they need at an acceptable level… I can do musicals and accompany singers, musicians, and orchestras. Since I’m willing to accept these responsibilities without feeling like I need to see the music (unless it’s unusually difficult), I’m happy to call myself a “piano player” – because I’m a piano player if you need one.”
All the things that I want for you and your playing are in service to this: that someone, somewhere will call you and offer you a paying gig, and without hesitation, you will say YES.
Because you know that you can:
- play in time
- read charts
- play with good dynamics
- know when to play and when to lay out
- play appropriately for the situation, and
- add real value to an ensemble
- be dependable
These things are the hallmark of real musicianship. And they’re not limited to people who make music full-time.
I know guys and gals that lay tile, run laboratories, teach high school, sell real estate, and write code by day, but routinely play in bands and pick up gigs on the side.
While the money is nice, there are other unexpected benefits to being good enough to get paid.
Unexpected Benefits Of Being Good Enough To Get Paid
1. You get to hang out with the best people.
Humans are social creatures. It’s no surprise that we attend churches even though we’re not all that religious, play softball even though we’re uncoordinated, and self-select into groups enthusiastic about Harleys, Aeropress, or craft beer.
The people you meet on gigs are fascinating. Professional musicians tend to be well-read, widely-travelled, curious, intelligent, and creative. If you’re going to cast your lot with a group of people, why not make it a group that subtly peer pressures you into becoming more amazing?
2. The perks.
Why spend money going out when fraternizing over free food, free drinks, and sometimes free travel are part of your job? There are things I absolutely could never have done outside of playing music professionally.
Play James Brown on George Washington’s lawn? Check. Hang out with billionaires on an exclusive horse ranch? Check. Have a wine rep order every bottle from the restaurant’s reserve list for his table, then pour me a half glass of each? Check. Play a wedding in Maroon Bells State Park on the day the Aspen trees begin to turn colors? Check. Be on television every single night for weeks? Check.
There’s not a month that goes by that I don’t find myself in some comically absurd situation and have to chuckle and ask myself, “How the hell did I get here?”
3. The music.
Yeah, I know––your life is already full of music. But how many times have you played with a world-class band? How many truly great drummers do you know that you can call to play with you tonight?
I played in bands for years, often with very talented people. But when I finally got my get-paid skills together, my world underwent a massive shift.
I never realized how accessible world-class talent is. Once you know the people playing at this level, all you have to do is call them. Hey, are you available to play from 8-10 on Tuesday night? It pays $x.
If they’re not available, they’ll recommend someone else.
Need a band for a one-off gig? No problem. Call a bunch of A-Game musicians, throw some charts in front of them and presto: instant band.
Want to record an album of your original tunes? No need to exhaustively rehearse a band, just hire some of your favorite players.
This really clicked for me when playing as hired gun in someone else’s band. At the rehearsal, she asked me, “do you want to do one of your tunes on this gig?”
I put an incredibly barebones chart in front of this group I’d never played with before. On the very first pass, it sounded better than it ever had, in any lineup I’d ever tried it in. Yeah buddy!
Get your get-paid skills together, even if you don’t need the money.
The music (and the working conditions) are unbeatable.