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.
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.