Every professional musician at some point in their career has gotten a call to play a gig that for one reason or another raises a red flag. Maybe it doesn’t pay well. Maybe it pays great but you know the conductor or music director has a reputation for being abusive to the players. Maybe it just seems like nobody involved has their act together and you sense that you're going to get jerked around with constantly changing parameters. Or maybe it’s just a gut feeling. Whatever the reason, you’re reading your hiring email or are on the phone with a contractor and you’re not sure if you should take the gig. Of course you need the money and you’re schedule is free — A voice in your head is screaming, “You’re a musician being offered work!!! TAKE THE DAMNED GIG!!!” — But something just doesn’t feel right … What do you do?
Put it through the 2 Out of 3 Test!
There are basically three key elements to any gig: artistic merit, personnel and compensation.
- Artistic Merit - What are you playing? Is it music that you love or music that you hate? Does it involve a piece you've been dying to play or a genre that you haven’t had much experience with and are interested in exploring? Perhaps it’s music that you’re not particularly interested in but it presents a challenge that is enticing. Or maybe you hate the music and just don't want to put in the work necessary to make it happen.
- Personnel - Who are you playing with? Do the people you will be working with embody what you value in your colleagues? This is different for everybody, but for example: are they excellent musicians, mediocre musicians or horrible musicians? Are they fun people with whom you will enjoy every moment of music-making or are they overbearing and unreasonable people who will make life on the job unnecessarily complicated? Are the powers that be (conductor, music director, etc.) respectful and inspiring or are they going to cause to leave the job feeling demoralized and miserable? In short, do you want to spend the hours required for the job playing music with the people involved?
- Compensation - Does it pay well? — Not just in raw dollars, but relative to the time involved with rehearsals and concerts as well as personal preparation. The gig may only involve three rehearsals and a concert, but an orchestral piece that you’ve played 15 times may require no personal preparation at all, whereas a contemporary chamber program could potentially require dozens of hours of personal practice.
If at least two out of three of these elements are a net positive, it’s a good gig. GUARANTEED. If not, you're probably better off saying no.
Try it right now. Think of the last gig you did and how you felt about it. I can go back through my calendar for years and without fail, every job I left feeling that it was worth it passed the test. Every job I left feeling that it wasn't worth it didn't.
What makes this test really useful is that it teaches you when to say no. As freelancers, we usually feel that we have take every job that comes our way and even when our gut tells us we should say no, we usually find a way to talk ourselves into saying yes.