Lessons about performing, lesson eleven: It’s your business!

For those of you who aren’t paying attention (or are new to the site), I’m compiling a list of rules (lessons, really) about being a performing musician. Here’s the complete list!

This next rule comes pretty hard to many – and it’s why many fail at making a career out of their musicianship. I moved this up in my list because of a conversation I had with someone. It is important enough to write it today. (Though it won’t be published until tomorrow. I love that schedule feature!)

So, what’s today’s lesson?

Rule #11: Treat it like a business!

I know… I know… You’re all artsy and you want to say what you want to say, do what you want to do, do it when you want to do it, and society has stupid rules. You’re a fucking rebel. I get it.

Trust me – I get it. I’ve been there.

Now shut the fuck up and listen. Seriously… Of all the rules that I’m laying out there, this is one of the more important ones. It might be the most important – but they’re all pretty important.

You’re not “self-employed.” No, you’re employed by the people who pay you to perform. Your dumb ass went from having three bosses to having 500 bosses – and you have to impress all of them, or they fire you.

Yes, yes they will go to the bar owner and say they don’t want to see you back at that venue. Yes, they will tell their friends that you suck. Yes, they will tell their friends that you didn’t show up until it was three hours late, you were drunk, and you still smelled like that delousing crap they use at the jail.

Venue owners also talk to each other. You can, and just might, get blackballed from the industry – with varied degrees of severity. You may get no more gigs regionally – and that term can be pretty broadly applied. They do discuss what acts were good, what acts were profitable, what acts were welcome back, and more. More importantly, they discuss the shitty acts.

Note: Not much annoys me more than cleaning up after your mistakes. I don’t like going into a venue and having them say bad things about the last act that played there.

You’re a professional. Act like it.

Show up on time, be presentable for the venue/genre, bring the tools to do your job, do your job well, and leave with your reputation intact and improved. Basically, say what you do and do what you say you’ll do.

We’ll touch on a few more business-related rules but I want to talk about your reputation. See, you need to be a professional because your reputation relies on it.

The biggest asset a band has is its reputation. It’s also the one most easily squandered. I’ve been in bands that lasted a very short amount of time – even though they had all the talent you could possibly want – simply because they couldn’t maintain a good reputation.

You’re not just a business, you’re a business owner. You’re an executive officer in a business. Act like it.

In fact, you should also be filed as a business in your local jurisdiction. Doing so will also get you things like no sales tax on business expenses. That’s right, you don’t pay sales tax on your kit. You get to write-off expenses. (We’ll get into this in a later lesson.)

Today, it’s all about your reputation. Earn it and keep it.

That means your name shouldn’t be in the paper for an OUI/DWI, domestic violence, drug offenses, etc… Granted, it probably will be – but it shouldn’t be. If your name is in the paper, it should be saving kittens from fires and helping old ladies cross the street.

As a band leader, if I see your name in the paper then we’re pulling you aside and having a talk. If it keeps happening, you’re done. It’s a business and I am not going to let you tarnish our name and reputation. I’m not going to let your actions reflect poorly on the rest of us. You’re done.

I mean, in theory… I’m pretty understanding. We are, after all, musicians and artists. Try as we might, we’re not gonna be perfect. No, not even close. I’m not saying you have to really be perfect, I’m saying you have to try to appear to be.

You’re being paid – possibly well – to do a job. Do it. Do it well.

If you’ve got a job to do you might as well  do it and do it well.
-Paul McCartney

So, don’t get sloppy drunk at the venue. Sure as hell don’t do it and then perform. Don’t be seen with the “wrong crowd.” Yeah, that means don’t hang out with people who are going to tarnish your reputation. Don’t be associated with them.

Note: The rules change if you’re catering to what folks might call the wrong crowd. If that’s the case… Hmm… Well, don’t get caught going to Sunday School and helping old ladies cross the road. In other words, don’t tarnish your reputation with the people who are paying you to do what you love.

And we do love what we do. It’s a fuckton (scientific term) of work, but we love it. These people are paying us to entertain them, perhaps the greatest honor one can ever have. Keep that in mind and remember they’re your boss (within reason). Just like you’d not want to hurt a loved one, don’t disappoint your fans.

Remember, it’s the fans who are the people who are paying us to do something we only dreamed of doing as a kid. The fans are the people who matter – probably more than venue owners. If your fans love you enough, you can kinda be a dick to the venue owners – but I’m definitely not suggesting that.

As always, use judgment and be prudent. You’re smart enough to know what’s acceptable and what isn’t. So, do it. Be a damned professional.

I’m glad y’all like reading these and I enjoy writing them. It’s a great honor to have you appreciate them and to value my input. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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