In order to succeed in the music business, having a good reputation among friends, associates, and peers, and remaining professional is high on the list of priorities. If either of these traits falter, and word spreads that you are not professional, or your reputation is tarnished, it can be very difficult to erase and change those perceptions.
Most musicians get hired to play by word of mouth from others. It might be a friend of yours speaking to a bandleader that recommends you for an upcoming show, or it might be your old college professor who passes your info on for a big audition, etc. The possibilities of scenarios are endless. This is why it's so important that you keep a good reputation among as many people as possible. You simply never know where your next gig is going to come from.
Being a professional means doing your very best even when you don't feel like it or conditions aren't in your favor. It means being paid to do a job at the highest level and exceeding expectations. It's a designation that hopefully other people give to you, not that you give to yourself. It's earned.
There's a story I want to tell you that spurred the title of this blog, but first I want to talk about what kind of behavior and habits create professionalism and a good reputation. A do's and don't's of sorts.
Don't be late. This is a big one. If everyone made it to that 4:30am lobby call except you, you've failed. Essentially, think of it like this. If you're not 10-15 minutes early, you're late!
Don't be drunk. Or High. Or hungover! If you want/need to drink, limit yourself so it doesn't affect your performance or your behavior in a negative way. Have a bottle of water in between drinks. This will keep you hydrated and keep you from getting smashed up drunk. No one likes that.
Don't be unprepared. "Oh man, I didn't have time to check out that recording you sent". That's not how you impress the bandleader or artist you're working for. Learn all the material, even the songs they said they weren't going to do. You never know, those songs might get called anyway. Believe me, it is so much less stressful if you just know the material.
Don't have crappy gear. If you play guitar and have a bad cable, and don't carry extra cables with you, that can really mess up your night (and everyone else's!). Keep spare tools and supplies with you. I always carry an extra hihat clutch, extra sticks, and heads with me. I keep an extra bass drum pedal in the car, and and extra spring for the pedal.
Don't lie. Don't say that you know the material when you really don't! Just be honest. "Hey, I only had 24 hours to learn all 85 songs so I'm just gonna do the best I can". That's WAY better than to say you know it all, then you get on stage and you're fumbling all over the place after you've put everybody's expectations of you on high.
Don't have a bad attitude.This is a big one for me. If you don't want to be there, then don't do the gig. Let someone else take the gig who DOES want to be there. (There's probably 100 others who would jump at the chance to play your gig!) Negative energy, whether on stage, or in the bus or studio, is SUCH A DRAG! It really is, and no one likes to be around that. It's also a bottomless pit because it spreads to others. So just don't even go there. Stop complaining and try to see the positive side of things. Remember, you could be mopping floors somewhere or digging ditches in 90 degree heat. No thanks! Keep your perspective. Try to remember that you're there to have fun and put on a show and entertain people. Give the audience a reason to forget about their personal problems and relax. Smile! Music is fun.
Don't look like a mess. People make judgements based on appearances. It's sad but it's true, and first impressions do count! If you look like a slob, with ratty clothes that aren't clean or don't fit, you're gonna look like a mess, and people will think you probably sound like a mess too. So find some clothes that fit the situation you're in. A pair of black jeans will take you very far in the music world. I'm serious! (No holes either!!) Learn to take pride in your appearance. I've had airport ticket agents upgrade my seat because I looked and acted like a million bucks. I was on tour once with a show and the show owner was touring with us as part of the cast. He notoriously wore clothes that looked sloppy and didn't fit him. Generally he just looked very unkept. We were setting up for a sound check in a very ritzy, expensive hotel and I saw the stage manager approach him and ask him if he was the show's tech roadie. The show owner took offense to it and couldn't understand why he was thought to be a roadie. Haha! That was some funny shit, I tell you! So there you go. Dress for success because you are the face of the organization you work and play for.
And now for the story I promised you. Recently I was asked by a friend to sub for him on an upcoming week long tour because he had an audition for a pretty big up and coming artist, and getting the audition would've meant leaving right away. It was very last minute and after I digested the details of the tour, I decided to take it on. I told him that I would have to sub out my local work while I was away and that it could be tricky being that it was so last minute. After hearing from my friend that he didn't get the audition, I was off the hook. The next day I get a text from him saying it's back on because something happened and that he was now asked to play for said artist, and could I still sub the show for him? So, I reluctantly said I think so and proceeded to make phone calls to sub out all my work for the week I'd be gone. You can see the writing on the wall, right.... ? What do you think happened next?
I get another text from him saying "More. Bloody. Changes" UGH! The gig for him was back off and he was out of the gig. So he asked me if I could see if I could get my gigs back and if not, that he would pay me the amount of money that I would've made had I played them all. That sounds good in theory but it's really not a good idea for me to do that. I explained that if I called back asking for my gigs back, that it would look really bad on my part and it might tarnish my reputation in town, as someone who can be trusted when booking a gig. Now this is key.... NO AMOUNT of money is worth risking your reputation for. So I politely said I would rather not do that. My friend responded by saying he would pay me for all the gigs I subbed out of, full price, and to send him a list of the dates and how much and he would have it to me that day. He went on to say that he wanted to be able to call me for future dates if they should come up and to preserve our professional working relationship.
Now folks, that's what I'm talking about. Professionalism and Reputation. My friend did a very good thing and it saved him his reputation with me. It cost him some money, for sure. But that's nothing compared to how his reputation would suffer if he had stiffed me and left me out to dry on those gigs. A small price to pay for sure! I also saved my reputation by not having to call back and beg for my gigs back. That's just part of the music business. Sometimes you have to see the big picture.
So there you go. Your reputation is EVERYTHING in the music world. Don't let something tarnish it, even if it's out of your control. There are always choices to be made.