Getting A Gig
So you're new in town. You've been back home in Indiana or Texas or somewhere practicing the instrument of your choice assiduously. All the local players say you're great, so you pack your axe and your favorite tapes and come to Nashville to seek your fortune. Mighty fine. Nashville can always use a few more musicians. The way New York can use more concrete. The way Nevada can use more sand.
You figure you'll work the road a little, get some experience, jam with Brent Mason and Buddy Emmons, then branch out into session work. You picture yourself knocking down Tequila slammers in some dark Music Row bar with Waylon or Garth and writing a hit song on a wet napkin and waking up the next afternoon in a motel room with a hangover and Tanya Tucker. That's mighty fine, too. With an imagination like that you could come up with a hit song.
But first you have to get a gig.
So you find the clubs and buzz the jam sessions; hang out with other pickers and get some cards printed up. But, what with the DUI laws and the decline in tourism and the costs of taking an act on the road these days and -- oh, yeah, the other three bazillion musicians in town -- you have a little trouble finding work right away, so you look around for a day job. Maybe something in the music line. Wouldn't it be fun to set up guitars at the Gibson factory or to work for one of the steel guitar makers in town. Neither one of those gigs would pay very much, though.
But neither would the Circle K or the dirty book store on Dickerson Road that needs a night clerk.(You're so stupid! You spent the last ten years fooling around with that damn guitar and you never learned how to do anything practical.) And you don't really want to get up at 5:30 in the morning to unload trucks for a temporary job service. But you manage to squeak by for awhile, and just when you're down to your last farthing and wondering where rent money is going to come from the phone rings. A gig! Country Joe Schmoe wants you to go to North Dakota in a van and a trailer for two weeks for three hundred a week. Not exactly the Grand Ol' Opry, but a gig, anyway.
Funny, you kinda had the idea that a Nashville gig meant riding around on a Silver Eagle bus, getting guitar endorsements, and doing the Grand 'Ol Opry live on TNN. But you haven't even met anyone with a record deal yet, and now you're on Route 52 in North Dakota changing a tire on the van after having been fired from the club after one night and without enough money in your pocket to raise your cholesterol level more than ten points at that McDonald's down the road a half mile. If they were open. Which they're not, because it's 3 o'clock in the morning. And it's raining. And you haven't had a hot shower since you left Nashville. And you wish you would have gone to school and studied waste management like your palindromic Uncle Otto suggested.
When you finally get back to town you find that you just missed some real work. Everybody from Harold Shedd to Trisha Yearwood has been calling. (Just kidding - Harold Shedd wouldn't call you. Harold Shedd's never heard of you.) But Trisha, or someone like her, might have called, and you don't want to miss calls like that, so get an answering machine and check it often.
Auditions are real popular in Nashville in the spring, when the stars are putting their big summer shows together. You get a tape of the star's hits and you learn your licks note-for-note and go play them in some rehearsal hall with musicians you've never played with before while the guy who played before you and the guy who's playing after you watch you solemnly with their arms folded across their chests.
You won't get the gig if you're too tall, or too short, or too fat, or too old, or too young, or don't have enough hair, or just don't have the "look" they're "looking" for, but it's a good opportunity to work on your self-esteem, because if you can get through a few of these without crawling back home and asking your Dad for college tuition you're a shining example of Nietzsche's observation that whatever doesn't kill you just makes you stronger.
But you hang in there, and by and by you land your first artist gig. A bus, a uniform, a road manager, a cranky star - the whole guacamole. You flash the news to all your buddies back home, promising them Dolly's autograph and backstage entrée to the Opry when they come for a visit. You wear your band jacket everywhere you go, no matter how hot it is, and smile smugly when you are introduced as being with so-and-so's show.
So you've made it. You're a real musician, with union dues and airline tags on your instrument case and fans pestering you for your autograph and everything. Pretty soon you'll even be able to get your car running again and have your phone turned back on. And you were worried.
The Tip Jug
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I wrote some books all by myself that you might be interested in if you like country music, steel guitar, the 60's and/or mysteries.
My latest book. A compilation of the blog of the same name. Buy now.
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A musician procedural. What it's like to be on tour through Texas with a murderous White Supremacist on your trail.
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Hot Rods, girls, music and murder from 1963. More at Chevy Summer.
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