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Career Advice

Band Leading 202 - Gigs

Band Leading 202 - Gigs
By Robin Yukiko - Sept 25th 2012

In Band Leading 101, we talked about how to run a rehearsal to get your band tight. We discussed having the appropriate charts for the musicians, running through a piece and breaking it down, and constructive criticism.

Once you land a gig, your professionalism really has to shine. Here are some must-dos to remember.

Always have a contract. This can be as simple as an email saying how long you’ll be playing, how much you get paid (and when), and what food/drink provisions you are entitled to. I can’t stress this enough. If it’s not in writing, the bartender may come to you at the end of the night and tell you that you owe THEM money (this recently happened to me).

On a big gig like a wedding or corporate event, it’s a good idea to ask for a 50% deposit upfront. That way, even if the event is canceled, all the work you put into preparing for it (and the work you turned down because you were booked) won’t be a waste. Again, have a contract for everyone’s protection.

Stay on top of things. If you are the one who booked the gig, make sure everyone knows what to wear, what time to be there, where to park, and what time your first note is played (AKA the “downbeat”), etc.

Delegate, if you can. If your group is, more or less, an equal partnership, make sure everyone is pulling their weight. Someone can update the website, someone can design flyers, someone can do the social media, etc. If you are doing all of these things and booking the gigs, build that into your cut of the pay. As I mentioned in Band Leading 101, not all bands are the same. Be mindful of your particular arrangement with the band members when asking them to help out.

At gigs (particular of the club variety) make sure you have someone running the merch table and collecting emails. It sounds sexist, but if a woman is able to do these things, your chances of collecting are higher. If he or she is devoting the whole night to this, be sure to slip them some cash in thanks.

Have a set list and give everyone copies. If you’ve been playing a steady gig for ages it’s possible to call out the tunes, but otherwise write the key next to the song name. You can also learn the hand symbols for different keys (e.g., two fingers pointing up = two sharps = key of D).

Keep things moving. Dead air is the killer of excitement. If you are the frontman/woman don’t ramble on. The more people there are, the more important this is. Speak slowly, clearly, and briefly.

Introduce the band. It’s always nice to be recognized, so, assuming it’s appropriate in the venue, give a shoutout to each member (leaving room for applause), introduce yourself, then say the band’s name nice and clearly. Cases where it’s not appropriate: funeral bands, wedding ceremonies (i.e. when it’s not about the band).

Thank the venue, tear down, collect, and pay out.

It’s important to love what you do, but it’s essential to treat a gig, even a low- or no-paying one, as a real job, because it is. Tom Rhodes, a Bay Area performer, recently said in an interview that he can tell within 30 seconds of seeing someone play at an open mic if they are professional or not. It doesn’t have to do with getting paid (although that is technically the definition of professional). When it’s your gig, be organized, play well, and carry yourself like a pro. It won’t go unnoticed.

Robin Yukiko is a Berklee College of Music grad, singer-songwriter, pianist, and music educator in San Francisco. She performs regularly and hosts the SF Singer-Songwriters’ Workshop at the Musicians Union Local 6. Learn more at


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