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BMM: Freelancing In A College Town – Reliability

Originally published in the March, 2012 issue of Bass Musician Magazine

In my first installment, I talked about being dependable and consistent, allowing whoever hires you to make one call and not worry about anything else. This second subject is directly related to the first one, because it’s a vital part about being dependable. Today, we’re discussing reliability. According to dictionary.com, reliability is the act of being “able to be trusted, predictable or dependable.” How that relates to you as a freelance musician is two-fold. Your reliability as a person and with the gear you work with is going to say volumes before you have a chance to.

Simply put, as a musician you are the most important piece of equipment that you have. It is imperative that you are at your best, in mind and body, at all times. In his policy on bassology.net, Anthony Wellington explains:

“Since I am a professional musician, my livelihood depends on my good health. Illness for me is a major problem, because it means cancelled concerts, lessons and lost income.”

It’s ironic that I’m writing this while nursing a cold (that put me in bed one night at 6pm after downing a liberal dose of NyQuil). Many of us don’t consider our own health and well being as part of the equation, but we need to. Take care of yourself! I have a lot of stories from my days as a naive youngster in college playing gigs extremely drunk, hungover or “should I go to the ER?” sick. I also remember those gigs when I had a sprained hand from some hijinks earlier in the day and I battled through the pain.

And looking back, while I can say I still played the gigs, did I do my best and present myself in a professional manner that resulted in more gigs? I don’t think I did. How is that being a reliable musician (or person, for that matter) that the people that hire you can depend on? It’s not. It’s showing that you don’t care enough about your health, let alone the gig you’re doing.

Today, I’m a lot more cognizant of my health, especially with a daughter (read: germ magnet) around. Any inkling of sickness I will reach for medicine to take care of it. Especially in the cold and flu season, I keep a container of Airborne in my bag in case I’m playing next to a sick musician (which seem to more often be college students). I’ll stretch my arms and hands before shows, especially during those days when you’re pulling double – or triple – duty. In the event of a sprain, I wrap it up and try to keep it as immobile as possible. The last thing you need is to be at the first gig and sprain your hand to the point where you’re working through the pain during gig 2.

The other part of reliability is related to your gear. It should be a no-brainer that you want your gear to work, and to work correctly each and every time you plug it in, tune it up and go. I strongly recommend that you take some time to learn how to do simple repairs and set ups on every instrument you plan on gigging with. For those of us that use amps, we may not be able to learn the electronics necessary for amp repairs, so familiarize yourself with the folks in town that are, for that one time that you may need to call. Some simple knowledge of your instrument can save you money down the road (if you choose to do set ups yourself), but more importantly it will save you some headache and hassle if you’re minutes before a gig with a finicky instrument.

Case in point; a week ago a reed player had something go wrong on his bass clarinet ten minutes before a gig; I’m not sure what, but he was frantic. He pulled out a set of small screwdrivers, fiddled with it, and fixed the issue before the curtain speech. I have to admit, it was impressive! Without knowledge of the instrument, he would’ve been stuck and it would’ve been an interesting show without that instrument. But more importantly, how would he have looked to the director?

This also shows the value of having supplies on hand to be able to handle any major issues that could happen. Carry extra strings, picks, instrument cords, etc.. anything that, if something simple goes wrong, it can easily be fixed with a minimum of hassle. My auxiliary bag is full of a lot of these things, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been happy to have that extra cord, even if it’s to help out a friend who’s having issues.

And while we’re talking about gear, let me quickly touch on two arguments that seem to always show up on forums:

DIY Set Ups vs Taking it to a Luthier: When it comes down to it, what is your time worth? I take my basses into a luthier often because I’m so busy, paying someone to work on it is worth more to me because it allows me have bass #1 in the shop while I’m gigging with bass #2. Only you can answer this question for your situation.

The Price Tag of your Instrument is Related to its Reliability: I’ve gigged with $300 instruments and I’ve gigged with $5,000 instruments. Your gear needs to be something you will stand behind because the people that hired you won’t usually care about the brand or the price tag, but they WILL care if it’s always in the shop or not working consistently. Again, only you can answer this as to how it fits your situation and needs.

Reliability is all-encompassing. Simply put, you need your gear to be rock solid and reliable, each and every time you use it. You need to be healthy and well in order to give every performance your best. You also need to be knowledgeable to know if something is wrong with any part of the equation and fix it quickly. Keeping everything in working order will show everyone you work with how seriously you take your job, and the pride you put behind it.

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