I'm getting more prolific - only 6 months between posts this time!
Anyway, I thought I'd write a little something on freelancing as a musician after reading this excellent post on the reality of being a mixing enginneer by Björgvin Benediktsson - Why Your Mixes Don't Really Matter.
The first lines of Björgvin's blog are really relevant to the life of a freelancing musician:
"It's a funny thing, customer service.
It doesn’t revolve around you. It’s all about the customer."
Why? Well, because it's true basically. Now, before I continue, I should stress that this is really about being a musician being hired to play a specific role in someone's music. If you're playing your own music, you are the customer so please yourself ;)
I'm lucky that I get to play with a lot of different artists, in a lot of different genres and although I'm being hired to play because I'm able to play/read/hear whatever it is they require, they are hiring me to fulfill the role they need in their music, not to play everything I know and try and steal the spotlight. I have seen many musicians try to do this - squeeze in every lick and trick they know, and guess what? They don't get called again.
When you get a call for a session or a gig, never forget you are there to play the role that bandleader needs. It might be that they want someone for their fusion gig who can play extended solos and read complex charts, it might they need someone to play whole notes all night under their country ballads. Be conscious of their needs and expectations, and play what feels right for the situation. And don't be afraid to ask if you're unsure (although some bandleaders won't need asking if they don't like it!).
So what can you do? The simple one word answer is "LISTEN". On the gig, listen to what's going on around you. Pay close attention to dynamic changes and analyse your own volume/intensity compared to what everyone else is doing. Is the drummer dropping his volume in the choruses? Is the soloist going in a certain direction? Also, if you've got written charts it's always safe to assume they might not be 100% accurate. Sometimes the band may have changed something or someone might just make a mistake. If you're not listening to what's going on, you can easily find yourself in a different place in the song to the rest of the band when the singer misses a cue or the band decide to loop the intro 4 times not the 2 on your chart.
Listening counts before the gig too, if you're playing in a genre you don't know that well do some research. With the internet, this is easy now. No more record libraries, borrowing from friends, etc just go to YouTube or Spotify (or whatever THE online resource is by the time you read this) and listen to a few tracks. Pay attention not only to the notes but also the types of tones and instruments used. Even if it's all upright bass and you only play bass guitar, you'll at least know the timbre that will be expected so might consider a more muted/dark tone than you may normally use.
So, to sum up, I'll quote Björgvin again:
"A happy customer is a repeat customer. Think about that when you’re doing your next project."