SEVEN DEADLY SKILLS
Welcome to the second of our Seven Deadly Skills. Today we're talking about Thoroughness. Listen, I don't mean like "make sure you've learned the songs" thorough, or "make sure you turn up on time" thorough…I mean "have every conceivable relevant detail already in your mind before you even walk through the door" thorough. I mean "turning up five minutes early is still actually pretty late" thorough. In 2017's music industry there is just no time for anything less.
Nope, not even for the artists. The more time you take to do something, the more money you’re costing someone (for example, during rehearsals). As an artist, that’s more money you’re going to have to pay back to the record label before earning anything; any money a label gives an artist is essentially just a bank loan. If you’re a session musician, that’s more money the record label is paying for you to be there. And guess what: labels like saving money. Give them absolutely everything you've got, and they’ll love you. Give them anything less, and you’ve already blown it.
Could you, in all good conscience, charge someone money to teach them your subject? If the answer is yes, you've got a thorough knowledge of it. Nice.
let’s kick off with a hypothetical
Great - so you’ve just bagged a gig with a big artist and your diary is packed for the next 18 months. Congratulations! This is seriously awesome and be proud of yourself.
But even when the diary is full, never let this make you work any differently to when you weren’t so busy. Whether you like it or not, you are at the mercy of whichever artist/orchestra/production you are a part of. Things change, artists get dropped, tours get cancelled, budgets get slashed, and yes - musicians get fired. And what happens when the s*** does hit the fan? You jump right back in to the massively competitive pool of musicians all scrambling around for attention. So you better make sure your skills are just as strong as when you landed the gig in the first place, and make sure you don't need to exclusively rely on one source of income to live.
If we are through in our work ethic, we can be comfortable that we are doing literally everything in our power to stay in as strong a position as possible. If we're not, we'll slide back to the bottom of the pile as fast as we can ask ourselves 'am I rushing or dragging?'.
Even through the good times you need to be building, building, building. Talking to people, staying in touch, engaging, and still playing those bread and butter gigs during time off. Above all, showing that you care. Sure, in your head you might know you care, but unless you actually show it no one is ever going to know. Love what you do, listen, and have things to talk about with other musicians.
In 2017, nobody is above paid work. no matter what kind of performance environment it is*. Some of the best players I know play weddings for a living & they're earning great money.
*with some exceptions...
The bottom line is, if your product sucks, no one is going to hire you. So, what's your product? It's YOU. It's what you contribute to the room when you turn up for rehearsal. It's how well you perform on stage. It's how you present yourself, whether that's your clothes, how you speak to people, or your online presence. Your product is a huge part of your business, and as musicians we are all our own business. So, whenever someone is paying you, make absolutely sure you're providing the best possible version of your product you can deliver. Remember last weeks post about innovation? When we innovate, we refine our product (ourselves) in to being unique. When we're thorough, we're respecting all the work we've put in to our innovations. So, go ahead and show yourself some respect.
You've heard the excuses people sometimes give for their sloppy work, right? "But I’m a nice guy, I work hard. I deserve this!" - well yep everyone with half a brain cell can be nice and work hard. "But check out my sweet chops!" - there are a million musicians with chops. "But I’m usually totally on-it, today was just an off day!" - no one cares: you just cost them more money.
And perhaps the worst one: "But I just assumed…" WOOOOAHHH THERE NELLY. Never, ever, EVER, FRICKIN EVER assume something is going to be a certain way. Unless it's "I assumed my head would still be on this morning". That's totally fine. But, is your amp occasionally making a tiny buzz sound? Take it to the amp doctors now. Drum triggers miss-fire even once in the last month? Get new ones. Your jack cables crackling a little? Go buy new ones plus a few spares. "But I thought that because it was only one time they would be fine"...OK well tell that to the people paying you (artist, label, management, band leaders), who may perfectly understandably have no idea about drum triggers or guitar amp maintenance. They can only see it as you simply causing more problems, and in turn, creating more rehearsal time…which of course: costs money! The more thorough we are in our preparation, the less time things take and the more economic we are to employ.
Remember the Five P's:
PRIOR PREPARATION PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE
...and c'mon don't get me wrong, I've absolutely been guilty of the above. But do it once, realised you've messed up, and never repeat it. This is the basis of growth and learning. You're lucky if you get a second chance, but there isn't a working musician on the planet who has been given a third.
'THE PROOf of the pudding is in the eating'
You know the phrase, right? It’s 700 years old, but it’s as relevant today as it ever has been. Especially in the world of musicians and freelancers. You need to show people you're good, for them to know you’re good. It's often paraphrased to 'the proof is in the pudding'.
I was in a rehearsal a couple of years ago and one of the backing singers was having trouble with their pitching. The MD (musical director) suggested the singer position themselves in front of a monitor wedge in a slightly different way, and the singer became a little defensive. The MD gave his reason for the suggestion, finishing with "well, the proof is in the pudding.". What he meant here was, 'well, show me that you can sing in tune, and I won't need to make any suggestions'. It's super simple! When we show people that we know what we're doing, there is no reason for them to intervene.
Showing how thorough you are in your approach, means you're already a long way down the line to people recommending you.
so that we're super clear here...
I want to take you through some examples of thoroughness in practice:
- Turning up to rehearsal with every song charted out in detail and, if you've been given more than a few days to learn the songs, memorised.
- If you're a drummer, learn the chords to the songs. If you're a guitarist, learn the shape of the drum grooves. Also, everyone should have an idea of the lyrics - you never know when you might be called up for a BV (backing vocal).
- Having every piece of your equipment in great shape, all the time (guitar cases, stick bags, effects pedals, kick pedals, keyboard stand etc...).
- Having a note pad and a few pens and pencils to hand (that means rubbers, pencil sharpeners, and Sharpies too). Even if you don't need them during the session, it's good to show people you're ready if you do.
- Keep some personal hygiene items in your bag. During long rehearsals or cramped van journeys, we can become smelly pretty quick.
- Have one bag dedicated to spares and maintenance items. This way, you know where to go if something breaks. Hi hat clutches, spare power supplies, drum keys, felts, back up headphones etc...
WRAPPING IT UP
Look, of course it’s impossible to know everything. None of us are supercomputer machines that instantly recall any answers like some sort of musical C-3P0. But that’s not what being thorough is about. It’s simply about showing people you care. It’s about showing your peers that you have done everything in your power to turn up to whatever professional engagement it is, and work with integrity and...dare I say it...a smile!
That's it for this week, but see you next Wednesday for the third instalment of our Seven Deadly Skills.
Thank you to my good friend Hugh Huntingford for his graphic design, which has bought the Musician's Survival Guide to life.