Gig Tips for Pianists – Part 1 of 2

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This article is going to focus on a variety of gig tips for musicians, but primarily pianists. Over the years I’ve gotten many different questions from students and advancing musicians about gigging, being a professional musician, music business, and the ins-and-outs of finding work and performing. I’ll attempt to answer some of those questions here. Feel free to ask about anything you don’t see here in the comments section below. And also check out Part 2 of this article for even more gig tips.

Gig Tips #1: Repertoire

This tip is for all musicians but primarily for pianists, because pianists often find themselves performing in a solo, cocktail-style context. In this setting, be sure to have a list of songs ready that people will recognize. The occasional obscure tune is cool, but they should be sprinkled in with more familiar tunes. Remember that your performance is your calling card and regardless of the caliber of your playing, people generally like to hear songs they know. This usually entails a fair amount of ballads, jazz standards, show tunes, and pop tunes (think Beatles, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder). A (very) quick short list of cocktail piano “must-haves” includes the following:

  1. Body and Soul
  2. The Days of Wine and Roses
  3. Summertime
  4. Georgia on My Mind
  5. My Romance

Gig Tips #2: Where to Find Gigs

Piano gigs can be found in lots of places – retirement homes, senior centers, museums, colleges, weddings, churches, coffee houses (do they still have those?), private parties, banquets, bars, jam sessions, and restaurants. The idea here is to be open-minded. People need music for all sorts of occasions. And once you get a gig in any of these places, realize that it is highly likely that your presentation there will lead to your next gig. That’s because finding gigs is all about networking and making a good impression. Networking and being personable is as important as being a good player. The hard part is finding that first gig. Remember “the three ‘P’s” – be persistent, professional, and prepared. Scope the scene at the venues listed above regularly and repeatedly to find your opportunity in, and approach whoever is in charge with a professional, courteous demeanor. When you get your chance to play be sure you’re ready. Practice, practice, practice!

Gig Tips #3: Gig Etiquette

This goes hand in hand with tip #2. A huge part of gigging actually has nothing to do with being a great player. Seriously. Being a great player is always important of course, but sometimes a bigger part of getting and keeping the gig is being professional. This means a few very specific things that will ensure you make a good impression and help secure future gigs:

  1. Be punctual. Never show up late for a gig. Tardiness is one of the quickest ways to lose a gig. Event planners hate it and always notice it.
  2. Communicate clearly, effectively, and promptly. If the person paying you emails you a question about the gig, respond directly and as quickly as possible. Conduct yourself as a business owner, remembering that the customer is always right.
  3. Dress like a pro. If you don’t know what to wear, ask. Better to be over-dressed than under-dressed for a gig.
  4. When on the gig be super-personable, charming, and courteous, regardless of whether you like the gig (or the players) or not. Sometimes the worst gigs (and players) can be your connection into a great gig (with great players).

In Part 2 of this article we’ll talk about gig tips involving gear, pay, and practice time.

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