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.

  • 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….

  • 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”.

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