I still remember the most harrowing job interview I have ever had.
I was still in college, hoping to become part of the University Activities Board (UAB). I was at the end of a large table, occupied by a dozen current board members and an advisor. Everything about me, how I dressed, how I presented myself, how I spoke, my resume, my work and school history – all of it was on full display, being deeply scrutinized by some of the toughest (and I would soon learn, most AMAZING) people I had ever met. My job was to demonstrate professionalism, intelligence, creativity, and most importantly, usefulness. If I couldn’t do that, I had no hope of joining the team.
This came to mind today during a conversation with an artist about how to properly support his new record, and it dawned on me. Everything an artist does is a job interview. This can really be applied to any aspect of a musician’s struggle, but let’s start with the big one. Booking shows.
- A Venue is an Employer, and You Want a Job. This one strikes me as somewhat straightforward, but it can often be misinterpreted by musicians. You are not doing the club a favor by playing there. Please read that last sentence again. There are easily hundreds of working bands in every major city, and they all want gigs. Meaning, you can very easily be replaced. BUT, if you do what any good potential employee should do, make short but professional contact with the proper people, follow up, ask permission to send a resume, show up on time, know your job, do it well, etc… they’ll keep you employed.
- Your EPK is Your Resume. An Electronic Press Kit should contain all of the essential information that an employer should want to know. Who are you and what do you do (Bio/One Sheet)? What’s your relevant work experience, and who else has employed you (Gig List/History)? Let me see and hear your portfolio (CD, High Res Photo). Do you have references or letters of recommendation (Reviews)? If they like your resume, you may schedule an interview (Gig).
- Every Show is your First Day on the Job. Do you show up late? Are you dressed inappropriately? Do you come unprepared? HELL, no. You are a PROFESSIONAL. You’re there early. You’re ready to set up quickly and at the exact moment they need you. You try not to piss off the sound guy (good luck with that). You set up a tidy-yet-inviting merch table. You make sure that a large number of your friends & fans come to the show to cheer you on. This is a good first day on the job. And this needs to happen Every. Single. Show. [NOTE: If you’re playing a bar, your job (contrary to popular belief) is not to blow everyone away with your unmatched musical moxie. It’s to SELL BEER. The moment you think it’s something else is the moment you’re losing sight of the big picture.]
Now. Let’s pivot and say you want to get some solid reviews for your record. The author is now the employer. Your EPK/CD/Social Media Presence is your resume. Your interactions are your job performance. Pivot again. Trying to get fans to buy tickets and merchandise? They are now the employer. Your music is your resume, and how you connect with the fans on and off the stage is your job performance. See what I mean? Be courteous and professional with booking agents. Be respectful of your sound guy’s time and efforts. Give music writers a story to tell and DJs a reason to put you on the air, and connect personally with the people who support you and your music. That’s how you get “hired.”
In essence, you are trying to earn a living doing something you love. You want people (fans, booking agents, etc.) to provide you with steady income for long periods of time. If that’s going to happen, you’ll need to A) convince them of your potential value, and B) give them that which they value happily and consistently.
Sure sounds like a job to me!
Good luck, fellow job-seekers, and thank you for your friendship, your interest, and your art!
(p.s. I did get that gig in college. It was awesome.)
Owen Sartori is a 35-year veteran in the music industry as a musician, songwriter, and producer. Currently, he is a co-owner of F5 SoundHouse in Minneapolis, MN and helps mentor, produce and write with/for artists wherever he is needed.
For more, visit f5soundhouse.com.