Why Most Shows Aren’t Worth Taking For Experienced Musicians

I’m going to say something you might disagree with: most shows aren’t worth your time if you’re a seasoned musician. When musicians are young and looking for experience, every show is worth considering whether it’s an open mic night at a local coffee shop or playing covers at your beloved grandparents’ 50th anniversary barbeque. Every chance to perform represents an opportunity to grow and learn and gain exposure for young musicians.

But what happens after you’ve been playing open mics and barbeques for years? What do you do when the show offers (big and small) keep rolling in but only a select few stand to do anything to get you closer to your musical goals? To preserve your sanity and help you make the most out of your efforts in music, I think you should politely decline any show that doesn’t stand to help you or your music succeed.

Great shows take a great deal of work to pull off.

Putting on a great show takes lots of practice and planning. There’s the actual show to think about which includes a performance and lots and lots of waiting around (for the uninitiated, it’s not common for musicians to commit to being physically in or near the venue they’re performing at for eight or more hours between loading in for sound check and loading out at the end of the night). Then, consider the weeks of preparation beforehand needed to put on a great performance. The time it takes varies between musicians, but it’s safe to say that quite a bit of practice goes into shows even for solo musicians. And lastly, consider the years of work and money and sacrifice it’s taken for your music to grow and develop to where it is today.

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Your music has value. Most shows aren’t set up to recognize that value.

What I’m getting at is that you and your work in music is valuable. Most shows aren’t worth taking because they’re not set up to value you the way you should be valued. Let’s say you’re a mid-size local band that’s built a modest following in your region. The longer you’re around, the more requests for shows you’ll get from local venues and small bands from town and around the country who want you on their shows. While it’s great to help someone out with a show from time to time, the economy of taking shows like these are almost always out of your favor. It’s essentially someone asking your band to hold up the bill for the night not only with your performance but also with the fans they hope you’ll draw. Most shows aren’t worth taking for serious musicians not only because shows require weeks of work, but also because bringing fans out to shows over and over again is hard to do for most musicians, no matter how much experience they have.

And when I say most shows won’t value your band, I don’t mean just in terms of money. If you do find yourself taking on shows where you’re the only band expected to draw, what does that do for you in the long run? You might make a bit of money and will more than likely play to the same crowd of fans that you always play to. Since you’ve put so much into your music over the years, asking if committing to a show is worth it or not isn’t an option as much as it is a tool to help keep you focused on your goals.

Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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  • Jeremy Price - February 20, 2019 reply

    I totally agree with the writer. However, sometimes economic pressures will compel a band to take a gig it otherwise might not.. No matter what the gig pays, the artist has to be true to the music, and if a gig is taken, no matter what the fee, a 100% committment of body, mind and spirt is required. Oh yes, and make sure to always ask the audience to give itself a round of applause for showing up !!

  • Old School Groove - February 20, 2019 reply

    “bringing fans out to shows over and over again is hard to do for most musicians, no matter how much experience they have.”

    This is good advice not to overexpose yourself. We try to play a select number of gigs with the aim of not diluting our crowd. We’d rather play fewer shows with good crowd.

  • Xan - February 20, 2019 reply

    You make some valid points, but there is a hint of axe-grinding here.

  • Lia Hide - February 20, 2019 reply

    I totally agree

  • moz O' - February 20, 2019 reply

    from a long time experienced full time musician…..this is EXACTLY correct. Cherry picking your gigs also avoids music becoming a grind, the gigs are more financially viable, you’ve got a lot more time to work on your music, and you enjoy it much more – which is why you do it! [and if you’re doing it purely for fame or fortune, the road to that goal is paved with the crushed bodies of thousands of musos who’ve trod the path ahead of you!]

  • Chris Dunnett - February 20, 2019 reply

    I agree completely, which is why I don’t perform nearly as much as I used to

  • Kimberly - February 21, 2019 reply

    This is very true and also why I don’t do a lot of shows in my local market.

  • Smoky Weiner - February 21, 2019 reply

    Your goals? What is that? To make a living from music? To get famous? My goal IS to perform. I am doing exactly what I want to do. No, I won’t do it any time or any where or for any sum of money but I always want to play.

  • Chris Walker - February 21, 2019 reply

    It’s true that participating in some of those shows aren’t worth it because from what I seen is that most artist and musicians get used and burned out.It’s good for the exposure experience and getting recognized but eventually once a person gets labeled as just a local artist,that’s how they’re going to be perceived.It’s just like waiting on the right time to explode and excelerate.When the right show presents its self as a venue or opportunity to be seen in front of some major plugs or in front of a huge event that’s talked about or televised is the right time to go for it.

  • Gloria Bosman - February 21, 2019 reply

    Thank you for this, just echoed my sentiments of late. I gravitate towards gigs that will help me be recognised more as a composer and a recording Artist. I do starve at times, but I choose that, so I can be remembered for who I came to be, not a rip off of some successful Artist by singing covers all of my life, but be remembered for my original works and contributions as a Creative.

    Anthony Cupo - February 23, 2019 reply

    Best answer – I get the success thing but then there’s this aspect of making a unique contribution – this discussion can be so layered but love this response – every other response can be flipped .

  • Steve Morgan - February 21, 2019 reply

    I totally agree with the writer. In addition, the local venue’s want to know how many people can the band promise. Well…it’s not the bands responsibility to fill the house. That falls under marketing 101. That holds true for any business. But a lot of venues don’t market themselves correctly.On top of that the venue doesn’t want to pay what the band is worth. I remember when you could actually make a living being a club musician. Anyway sorry for the rant, and maybe a bit of topic, but it’s frustrating when I hear bands playing for just dinner and a beer.

  • Richard - February 21, 2019 reply

    If you have been gigging since the earlty 80’s or earlier, you know that the gigs just aren’t there. Period. I have no solutions. We can thank or blame, computer geneartaed / MIDI / EDM if that makes one feel better (it does for me). Hoever; the days of well-paid gigging musicians are nearly, NOT COMPLETELY, but almost inexistant. Don’t let anyone stomp on your dreams, but please don’t think you are going to ‘make a decent living playing music nowadays.

    Jason - March 30, 2019 reply

    Create a list of small venues to create a following nothing more if you can’t start packing those places and there’s no reason to ask for a good paying gig. Trust me the good paying venues are there the problem today is a lot of the bands don’t have the product and the younger generation that believes they’re going to become rock stars and just want to play the venues are paying them anywhere from fifty to a hundred bucks plus a meal or drinks and the band’s happy cities are just filled with too many bands that will play for free. That’s why they will always play for free. I am talking from experience I played in the good old days as they’re called and made it a very successful career of it I stopped playing for at least 6 years and then created a new band. We are now making anywhere from $1,200 for smaller venues $2,000 for the larger ones. It took us 3 years to create a following where we can now sell out most venues we play at we play in a different city every night four nights and we never stopped touring$8,000 a week in total no less than $1,000 per band member a week in total with a well budgeted tour schedule for gas food and any other expenses if that’s not good money then McDonald’s must have up there pay scale. The only thing that venues want is to have is a really good crowd if you can prove to sell out a venue they pay you any damn thing you want. They only want to see the sales I’m alcohol and tickets more food whatever gets them off. And for the love of your self-worth as a musician all musicians stop playing f****** covers be yourself be original create a product that someone cannot get enough of that is the key to success in any career. Do not create a set list with two originals or five originals and the rest covers matter fact don’t learn any damn covers they’re useless it’s already been done they’ve already heard itleave that s*** to the cover bands that never want to leave their town and never want to make any real money because when I say $1,200 and $2,000 for small and large venues I didn’t mention venues with a fire code capacity of 1000 and higher that a local cover band will never play because when we play those I’m not releasing that price but we’re able to take off from touring for two months so that we can get back into creating new music and recording. It can be done trust me if my band of misfits that are lazy and don’t like to work just want to play and have fun can do it any damn body can do it. It took us three years a blood sweat and tears but it’s all worth it.

  • Will Ludford - February 21, 2019 reply

    There are some valid points here.,, you can be in danger of simply taking in the same venues for year after year and not actually be aware of the fact that you take the bookings simply for “security” … the venues book a year in advance and you see your diary nearly full and you think Im ok for another year,, ..this is ok for semi pro bands who all have a day job.. but if your trying to move up the musical ladder then at some point you have to stop and think where do I need to be in a year from now…and you should be thinking about doing less gigs.. but for more money..,, saving yourself and your energy.. to say your bringing in the same people at gigs is a sign that either your not confident of your self or your just happy being a local artist.. end of… so check out gigs in another town where you have to bring out the best in you and your show to impress those people who dont know you.. but will like you and follow you…get a map… draw a 100 mile circle… and conquer those towns and cities in that circle.. make friends in those places.. take phone no.s and emails…. and keep people up to date when your playing a venue.,. most bands now do their own media and press ect.. make friends with bands in other cities.. so if they cant do a gig.. they may pass it on to you.. when your selling houses its Location Location Location…. when your selling yourself in music.. its contacts contacts and contacts .. stop being on every music website in the world…you cant possibly keep up with them all… instead join sites that represent the next town your going to play in…say Facebook,,.. if your playing in such a town.. join a group for that town.. add a few friends from the group.. tell them your playing there soon…. give those people a free pass and ask them to simply spread the word that your playing there.. and bring their friends.. and do the same in another town… ect… there is much more I can add to this but I think most people will get the idea….. and what ever happens… enjoy the applause and shouts of “More More More”,, .. because it doesnt last forever…..stay safe and enjoy the journey….

    Jason - March 30, 2019 reply

    Finally well said I don’t know if it’s the generation today that doesn’t want to put in the effort and only complain that times are like they used to be because the internet changed everything.if they would just wake up and understand that times are actually easier today to become a successful musician get off their ass and do some work they would have a career. Just like anything else nothing comes for free and anything that’s good it’s hard to get. All the music outlets that are around nowadays we’re not there in the old days which meant it was harder to reach out to people and to create a following. The tools are there we just went from the Stone age to the future of working with real tools so you use the new tools and make them work for you. For the older musicians the think times are harder the best advice I would say is to take a class on using social media. Oh and promotion and marketing because nowadays you have to do it the venue will not do any work for you and you can’t hang posters up anymore. Be friendly to everyone meet new people be social create contacts. I guarantee when you go to a car lot the salesman will give you his card that’s how you create clientele.

  • Indra - February 21, 2019 reply

    Thank you! I’m now preparing to raise my fee as a solo artist, and do select events after a few years breaks from weekly travel with a band that was exhilarating but exhausting (up to 44 gigs in 7 weeks in one season.) Also did hotel gigging which in Barbados is for the tourist market with pre-set cover songs and not much room for originals. Your post is encouraging; thanks for sharing this insight with us.

  • Anthony Cupo - February 23, 2019 reply

    Times changed and consumers lost the sense of value , society now can get so much audio and image from afar , from tech and all — so is it anyone’s fault and what’s anyone’s time worth ? Is music an otherworldly thing? Or just some noise and clatter to some ? Found out about this book called “society of the spectacle “ and to me a writer or artist or thinker , musician — anyone Interested in the flow of society and the patterns should check it out — music and many things in life need a renaissance and a revolution of some kind , I don’t know what that could look like .. either way interesting book about how people perceive what they are fed , heading out to shows is not what it used to be and when younger people who actually have a passion for the freshness cry out and applaud the youngest people don’t always have the money to pay the worth but they know the worth more than the grind it out work force just trying to keep heads above water each week working hard — if music is a lift for some they can listen to It in commute and download it , hence we have a dilemma cause artist would rather try to sell to a disconnected experience so hope you can check it that book by Guy Debord or just read a summary of it

  • Magicsong - February 23, 2019 reply

    The jazz gigs in NYC used to be 3 sets/night with a 15 minute break in between sets. Lots of opportunity for fans , friends, other musicians to arrive , order food or a drink and relax for a good social evening, staying for a second or even a third set. It’s now become a revolving door, circus in clubs all around, of 3 or 4 separate groups an evening, each actually getting only about 40 minutes. I simply won’t do those, because, just as you say, the preparation time required makes it absurd, from doing publicity, to bring in a crowd, getting your group together, even dressing and travel, just to do 4 or 5 songs, simply doesn’t feel right. It”s also rather an insult to a following, in my opinion, to pull them into a situation where they’ miss half the show if they come fen minutes late., and there won’t be another set!. Is there a better way? A whole evening at a little corner bar has odds of being more satisfying than a jazz “slot”..at a “jazz club”.

  • Jason - March 30, 2019 reply

    I agree with the writer every show must make sense. In response to a few of the comments I’ve read as a performer for 20 years I agree times have changed it is harder to get fans to come out to shows when they can just download it or listen to it online. But we as performers need to adapt. Meaning don’t not be creative for god sakes we are artists this is what we do we built something beautiful from nothing. I have performed all over the US back when the times were a lot easier and the pay was very good it took me only 3 months to find band members write music and book shows the first few shows we played 40 to 50 people only because it didn’t matter where you we’re playing at people were going to the bars and clubs to drink they were always there within 6 months we were playing to 500 an 800 capacity venues selling out it was very easy we didn’t have to put a lot of effort into anything except for our music. NOW HERE IS THE ADVICE. Yes times have changed with the internet and people just aren’t going to clubs anymore. The solution is we can’t just write a set list play a show and expect to be famous anymore if success is what you’re looking for you cannot be lazy take time and write good songs Don’t just make noise. Create a real show give people something to look at that’s exciting bring the show to life. We’re going to use the internet in your favor but don’t post everyday. The biggest thing if you want to make it in this career you can’t have another career you have to put 100% of your time and effort and what you want to not just you but your whole band must only do music and create your product. Don’t play local everyone knows start playing in your area create a following move to the next state create a following there so on and so forth yes it is harder nowadays but don’t make excuses and be lazy and for God’s sakes treat your fans like they’re your family many musicians forget for the only reason you can do what you love. When you make a relationship where the fan ask them to share it with other people yes it might take a little bit of time to fill a venue but trust me it’s a lot easier than you think. If you have the product and you know how to sell it then you will sell it. Compared to my earlier career when times were easy 2 today the band I’m with now started playing out the first month we were together for about 6 months we were playing 4 anywhere between 5 and 20 people pretty pathetic and that’s why most musicians give up but this career is for the thick-skinned and that’s the problem with musicians nowadays most musicians I want everything handed to them, they think everyone should love them and buy their music all they have to do is create it. You must stick it out push push push and believe in yourself make your fans believe in you it only takes one die-hard fan to talk about you and bring you five more die-hard fans here’s a tip when you meet a fan tell them you will give them a free shirt and CD and a ticket to your next show if they can bring 5 friends with them. You wouldn’t believe how quick it works and how quickly you can sell them in you out. We’ve been playing for 3 years now never gave up we went from playing from 5 to 20 people now we are playing for a minimum of 150 to 500 small venues larger venues were playing anywhere from 500 to 1000 I’m talking about our shows headlining. We play 1200 miles away from our home now and are about to expand and some of the states that we pay play in like Michigan we sell out every venue every time. So it can be done just don’t give up on yourself. We just sign to an indie label trust me when I say you don’t need a major label give me wasting your time letting them take your money just learn how to market and promote yourself and build a team that can help. Get on every radio station you possibly can it’s not easy but if you can make a buzz you can get a spot. Try to get a few articles in a magazine local online it doesn’t matter anything you can Branch out on can help you. This business is just like any other career that you can have in your life if you want to successful career you have to get up and go to work everyday maybe put in overtime I don’t waste your time trying to do multiple careers nowadays if you try that music will only be a hobby to you. I’m not trying to come off ignorant or anything I’m just trying to give some advice because I myself was one of those people that said nowadays music isn’t as relevant in the venue’s just aren’t the same in the pay is not the same from experience if you can pack a venue to the top you can name your price as we do. And if you can pack your work week with shows 4 times a week and have the band make anywhere from $1,200 for smaller venues to $2,000 for larger venues then trust me you’re already successful in your music career as we have done you can’t tell me that as a band member if you can pocket a little over $1,000 a week after making in total anywhere from $4,800 to $8,000 for a week of shows 4 days that you’re not a successful musician just trust me it’s great.and you don’t need a record label sticking their hand in your pocket when you can do that yourself. One more word of advice don’t waste your time with a band manager they’re they are 100% a money pit unless you can find one that believes and your music and what you’re doing and doesn’t collect a fee or ask for money up front don’t ever Pay a manager a minimum fee cuz they’re not going to work like they should unless you can sign a contract with them were they get paid by the amount of work they collect for you and the opportunities they create then they won’t worry about working because they know they’re going to get that minimum fee find someone that’s going to work pro bono until they make you money. Everyone in the music industry is out to find their next pot of gold and they will use a band until the band is broke take every cent they have because they don’t give a s*** about you they give a s*** about the dollar. The team that you create for your band must ALL believe in what you’re doing. Don’t waste your time. Actually if you find this information useful you might want to underline that last one twice don’t waste your time. Be unique don’t over release new music constantly give people time to miss you. Don’t over play a certain area play local once every 6 months maybe more. Make a tour schedule that makes sense don’t ever backtrack on the road do your best to create a flowing itinerary for your travel there are enough States in the US that you can play a show and indifferent City or state every night and keep them separated so that you don’t hit that city or state again at least 6 months we have done it. And the number one key element to this career don’t be afraid to take chances and don’t give up if those chances fail just take more and keep at it. Doors will open trust me no more excuses no more procrastinating you have to get off your ass put 100% of your life and effort and what you want and go for it. Good luck to all of you that do it for the Love of music and want it to be a career you can do it.

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