Thursday, January 24, 2008

Life of the freelance musician

I'm not sure if any of you read Jason Heath's blog Art's Addict found on the network of musician's blogs on, however I highly recommend it. Jason has done a 4 part series (so far) of experiences as a freelance musician (double bass) and the trials and tribulations of the sometimes lonely life of a musician with no "home" as it were, and instead relies on a job here, a job there, teaching here and there, and trying balance that life with a family life and social life. The posts are very cleverly written, and are sometimes fall on the floor funny. Be sure to go back and read the posts in order - they are worth the read.

I occasionally look at my own schedule and wonder if it's all "worth it", and why it is that even though my wife and I have a comfortable sense of financially security, why I just can't seem to say "no" to just about any gig that I'm offered, as long as it pays reasonably well (and that's not even always the case). Take today for instance. I'm about 30 minutes away from getting in my car to drive, in what can always be a potentially dangerous highway in the best of conditions, in the middle of winter for an hour and a half one way, for a job that will take about an hour, and then turn around and drive for another hour and a half back to make it in time for Church Choir.
On top of this, I have a concert this weekend with the Professional Choir which has had me in rehearsal on every evening that I would normally have "off" (don't get me wrong here - this is going to be a great concert - with absolutely fantastic music - so I'm looking forward to it a great deal). Generally speaking, I see my wife for about an hour in the morning (when I'm conscious) and maybe for one to two hours in the evening when we are not rehearsing in the same choir together. We make up for this with numerous emails, and a few "check up" phone calls through the day, and have learned to savour the wonderful dinner moments together, and the odd weekend afternoon that I'm not rehearsing somewhere.

I suppose my biggest fear of saying "no" to a gig, is that I'll never be asked again. And maybe, down the road, it will be that gig that allows us to go out for dinner, rent a movie, or buy the "Above $10 bottle of Melbac" when we next have a night off. Or maybe it's just a habit for me to take the phone call, look in my calendar and see "you have nothing on that Sunday afternoon" and just say "yes" in spite of the idea that at one point, that afternoon was free.

I better get my suit and tie on and start warming up the car. At least it's not snowing, so the drive should be no trouble.


Ben Clapton said...

One of my lecturers told me a very useful thing concerning freelancing. He said that in deciding whether to take a gig or not, there were three questions that you needed to ask yourself.
1. Am I free?
2. Does it pay well?
3. Do I want to do it?

When you're just starting out, he said, all you need to say yes to the gig is a yes to any one of those three. If it pays well, but you don't want to do it and you're not free, then you say yes, and make yourself free. If you're free but it's not well paid and you don't really want to do it, then you still do it.

When you're a bit more advanced in your career, and getting a few more gigs coming your way, then you increase it to two things that it needs to be: Free and Well paid, or Free and wanting to do it, or well paid and wanting to do it.

Finally, when you've "made it" then it comes a thing of each gig needing to fill all three conditions. (Although, he admitted that even though he usually required all three options, if it was a gig he really wanted to do, then he would consider waiving one of the other two).

Which is why, for me as just starting out in the world of freelancing, I recently took a gig which required weekly rehearsals in a country town some two hours away from my place, and all I got paid was the fuel money. But I was free, and it was something I wanted to do, so I guess I filled in two options.

And besides, a free gig is never free - you always get promotion.

From The Podium said...

Very good point Ben,

Self promotion is a very key in the field indeed. My father is a musician as well, and he was very instrumental in teaching me this aspect of the business. I did countless of "free" gigs in my early years as a singer and organist, and eventually they would all pay off.

It's nice to be a stage now where I can be a bit more selective - but usually is a gig comes up that I want to do - and it pays nothing, I still do it!

I suppose the bottom line is that I love what I do, which is why I have such a hard time saying "no" even when I might need the break!