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Big Labels, Small Giglist...

By nick carter, May 30 2018 09:45AM

I recently had a call from a bandleader looking to book musicians for a forthcoming gig, the conversation went like this...

Bandleader: "Hi, is that Nick?"

Me: "Hi xxxx, yes it is, how can I help?"

B: "I was wondering if you're free next Saturday for a lunchtime gig?"

Me (checks diary): "Yes I am, what's the gig?"

B: "It's a trio gig with myself and a bass player covering a bunch of jazz standards, midday until 3pm with breaks, playing for a wedding before they head off to the church."

Me: "Sounds good, could you send me a few more details - timings, address etc. - and then we can talk money"

B: "Will do, but can I pencil you in for it?"

Me: "Sure, I'll look forward to working with you again!" (I didn't worry about the money side of things too much as I've worked with him several times in the past and know he always looks after his musicians well!!)

B: "Great! I'm so pleased you're available, I really wanted to get a jazz drummer for the gig!"

Me: "Cool, I'll look forward to getting the details, and seeing you next week!"

Now this pretty much sums up a 'normal' gig enquiry - sometimes things are discussed in slightly more detail (sometimes less!) - but that was a fairly standard exchange. However, it got me thinking: firstly, how many professions are there out there where people will call you, tell you where to be, when, what to wear and how much they're going to pay you? Try approaching booking a plumber/electrician/general tradesman in that way and see what happens!

That wasn't what struck me the most, however, it was the bandleaders closing comments: "Great! I'm so pleased you're available, I really wanted to get a jazz drummer for the gig!"

It got me to thinking: throughout my working life so far I've always strived to be as versatile a player as possible: I feel it's important to not only play as many styles as possible, but also believe in whatever style you're covering. I always try to sound/feel authentic whatever style I'm playing: I tailor my equipment choices on a gig-by-gig basis: I alter my tuning as necessary: I have a huge listening list and I always do my homework ahead of the gig. Whilst the bandleaders comments were meant as a compliment (or so I hope), after thinking about the exchange (or possibly over-thinking), it led me to this conclusion: it's really easy to get 'pidgeon-holed' as a musician (in this case, because I play jazz, I'm automatically thought of as a jazz drummer). This couldn't be further from the truth: I consider myself as a drummer who happens to play jazz (or funk, or pop, or rock, or whatever) than a jazz drummer, and even broader, a musican who happens to play jazz rather than a jazz musician.

Now before any of you reading this think I have a problem with jazz: I really don't - I love playing, transcribing and listening to jazz, moreover, I have a problem with labelling. My thoughts are that if you have invested the time into learning an instrument you should be at least familiar with as many styles, techniques and concepts as possible. I know some fantastic musicians who are either labelled by others, or label themselves, who are constantly bemoaning a lack of work, and I genuinely think that this is a major part of their issues: no-ones going to call a 'rock' guitarist for a Latin gig, and vice-versa!

So what's the answer? Well, I think it's a very simple one: I think that all you need to do is add your own label, and keep it simple: 'John Smith - drummer'*** By labelling yourself in such a simple way, anyone looking to book you has to at least call you to find out what you offer rather than not call you because your field of expertise (or in many cases favourite style of playing/listening) doesn't match what they're looking for.

***apologies to any 'John Smith's' out there who prefer to be known as rock/funk/jazz/Norwegian-influenced speed metal drummers...

Here you can get Nick's thoughts on music, drumming and life in general as well as all of Nick's latest news. With over twenty years experience in many different aspects of music, including performing, teaching, recording and as a respected music journalist/editor, Nick has a wealth of experience that he aims to share through this blog.