I've truly had a great time writing these "Mind Your Business" articles and want to thank you if you've been following along. I genuinely hope that people have gotten some useful information and inspiration from them. This will be my final installment in this series as I feel like I've covered everything I wanted to say on these topics. Throughout my columns I hope I've given you the tools to push your career even just a little further. I hope you see that the tools are out there for you to handle all aspects of your music business. Don't wait for other people to do it for you. In fact, nobody will ever care as much about your own career as you do.
To conclude, I wanted to go beyond the nuts and bolts of trying to make a career in this crazy business. Rather than speaking to how to become a better manager, publicist, or booking agent I want to address something biggerhow to become a better person. I know I run the risk of sounding preachy but we all need reminding sometimes. So I humbly offer my two cents about keeping perspective and dealing with people around you.
I've found that honing my skills as a jazz guitarist has been a very selfish pursuit. The time I've invested in learning and practicing -the hours taking care of the business and the time travelling to and playing gigs -is truly staggering, but I've generally loved all of it. I've always pushed myself musically and professionally and, through tireless work, I feel I've carved out a little career in what can be a difficult business, but one I love and that brings me great fulfillment. But the other side of this passion is that it can also breed selfishness and self-centeredness. While some of this is almost necessary for the job, a lot of it is toxic and unhealthy.
Try to be kind and understanding of those around you. If you've been able to be a working bandleader don't treat your musicians as if you're doing them a favor. I try to make them feel like they are part of a family and that I am their host. Help your drummer load in his gear. Good will amongst your band will almost always make better music.
Be nice to your audience. Remember that people have so many choices in how to spend their free time these days. In fact, it's amazing that people even leave their house at all! Be grateful that someone has chosen to spend their spare time and money to come listen to you. I'm sure many of you can relate to this but, over the years, I've had many people come up to me on my set breaks to tell me about the '69 Stratocaster they own, or to ask what model distortion pedal I have, or to tell me about the band they were in 20 years ago. If I were to be perfectly honest these conversations can be tiresome as I'm really not into talking about gear all that much or hearing about their 70's progressive rock band "Proton." BUT, I remind myself that while I've had these conversations hundreds of times before, this person maybe hasn't. And if I've gotten them excited about music or guitar than that's really what I wanted to do anyways. Just be patient and listen.
Be nice to the people who have hired you to play. Whether it's a club, festival, or a private gig, someone has decided that they're willing to pay you to come perform at their event. It's easy to grumble about how much a club owner is paying or that they'll only feed you "bandwiches" (the sandwiches the band gets fed while everyone else is chomping down on steak and lobster). And while I'm not saying you should blindly accept whatever is being offered for a gig, I am saying you should try and see their side too. Anyone who hosts a jazz concert has just as much of a struggle ahead as us people playing it. Often they have even more at stake financially than you do. Do your part to help promote any gig, be sympathetic to the people who have given you the opportunity, and be grateful that you're getting paid to do it.
I find that the business can make people jaded and cynical. I've also seen people become embittered about the gigs or the accolades they didn't get. This is so easy to happen as we often compare ourselves to others (usually more successful). I really wish I was as good a guitarist as Mike Stern
and that I had the career of Pat Metheny
. These guys are my heroes and I've always tried to aspire to what they've accomplished. But in the end, I'm me and my path is different. I've come to accept that we can't all reach the height of fame that we'd like. So, for me, it always comes back to the center and why I started this in the first place. It's simply the joy of playing music. That's what makes me the happiest and what pushes all the grudges aside.
Try not to be resentful about the gigs you're not getting but rather appreciate the opportunities you do
get. So I'm not headlining the Newport Jazz festival but I'm going to have a good time on my café gig and remind myself it's yet another opportunity to practice my art. I could be doing much worse things in my life. So even though this gig isn't very glamorous and it's possible that nobody is even listening, at least not I'm not digging a ditch. Besides, if I wasn't getting paid to play this gig I'd probably be doing the very same thing in my basement for free!
These principles don't just apply to bandleaders. Leading my own band for so many years has made me a much better sideman I'm sure. When it's not my gig I show up happy to be there. I won't be complaining about the money, or the tunes, or the drummer. If you've taken the gig then you've accepted the situation so don't complain about it. I've been on the other side of that and know what a drag that is to listen to. Help the bandleader out. If they need help loading in the P.A. then lend a hand. If he/she wants help calling tunes then offer some ideas even if you don't necessarily agree with their vision.
In the end this isn't just about playing music. These are life skills. All the things I've talked about here are really true in any pursuit, playing music has just been my way of learning these lessons. It's really very simple. Be positive, be helpful, and just be nice!