5 Tips for Taking a Gig (or Not!)

Simplicity is key! One of the guiding principles suggested in Ratgeber Freie* for whether or not a gig is worth your while is

"Does it make me happy? Does it make me rich? Does it make me proud?"

and if the gig in front of you meets at least 2 of those 3 guidelines, it's a good idea to take it. If the gig only meets 1, then you ought to be pretty clear on why you're taking the gig--or why you're kindly turning it down.

It's a great way to decide whether to take a gig or not and that's where I usually start; in addition to that, here are several other basics I consider from the very first conversation:

1. Money, honey! This MUST be a clear, upfront, and open topic. If not, say no! Find out if the payment will be made at the first (or final) performance or if the check will be mailed within 1 (or 2) weeks of performance; this is usually stated in the contract, and concert organizers love to get contracts settled & out of the way asap. (Please refer to #3 for more information on this important factor.)
2. Location Where do the rehearsals take place? Where is the gig? Travel time and cost may be an important factor in deciding whether or not you can even make it there. Block off all the rehearsal time in your schedule now and plan extra time to get there and have time to eat if it's around a mealtime. In New York I took a gig and the organizer remembered on Friday night to tell me the next day's rehearsal started at 9 am in Queens--an hour and a half away! Keep in mind that you always need a written commitment, which brings me to #3.

3. Committment Is there a contract? Or at the very least a confirmation letter? Frequently emailed correspondence functions in this manner, but some people just aren't that great with planning. Go ahead and ask--it's your work and you have every right to know all the details. When in doubt, send a friendly, professional email stating all the information you have and ask them to simply reply and confirm it.
TIP:  If you need to charge something like a flight on a credit card, make sure you have a committment before you make the purchase! If you haven't been clear about your expectations with paychecks and reimbursements, it's too easy for people to be late in their payments or even worse, not to pay you at all.
4. Favors Only do favors for musician friends you know, have integrity, and who will be more than happy to pay you back. Worst case scenario:  you do a 'favor' (e.g. work for free) for someone you don't know that well, the music isn't that great, you have to work hard to fit it into your schedule, it stresses you out, and afterward you find out the other singers got paid or got another gig out of it and you didn't. It's too easy to get into a lose-lose situation this way. Donations of time & talent for worthy causes and fundraisers aside, you ARE a professional and working for free devalues your work and your industry. (More to that in this blog post.)
5. Tools If you're a guest singer at a workshop, for example, will the workshop be providing a piano/electric keyboard for you? You may or may not need to provide your own music stand and/or stand light. Do you have a sturdy, travel music stand? Do you have the right size black folder for your performance or do you need a new one so the bent corners of your coffee-stained score won't stick out? It's pretty amazing how many black folders and binders one singer can collect through various gigs, and somehow I always need a different folder. If you're a harpsichordist and you bring your own harpsichord, when can you bring it in to let it acclimate and tune it? I have a harpist friend who set aside a block of hours for every wedding she plays, as she needs to be there quite early to tune her harp, and then she tunes it again before she tunes it again.
Take it from me--it's easier to ask in the beginning than to find out later when you're deeper into the process and conversations can get unnecessarily sticky. And, well, take it from me because I've learned some of these things the hard way. Make sure you're on the same page from the start and all will be well!
* Ratgeber Freie is a handbook for freelancers in Germany which explains laws and regulations as well as services available for artists of all kinds (think business consultations and health insurance).

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