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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
As some of you may recall, months ago i posted about my quandary as to whether I should play "gigs" for free or what should be my price. I am slowly progressing from an amateur and jammer to a pro doing gigs.

I have been attending a lot of blues jams, more blues than jazz jams. I like blues, it is good to know, it is simpler than jazz, so this is what i have been doing.

This has lead me to connect with various amateur and pro blues musicians.

In Los Angeles, on bar/nightclub/party type gigs for blues or blues/rock, the bands i hang out with dont seem to make much more than $150 to $200 total a night. These are all non union gigs. Most of the people i am playing with are non union members.

The bands have lead guitar, bass, drums, and vocals/harmonica. Sometimes there is a sax player, or trumpet, but they are add-ons and not central to the core band, generally. So if the gigs dont pay that much, they dont pay a horn player. Some of these musicians dont have day jobs so if they have to divide the $200 up by 5 instead of 4 it will hurt them.

At the same time, they like having horn players there. They may want to promote the development of horn players like me. There are some very experienced pro horn players who may sit in at some of these gigs, maybe has part of a host band at a blues jam, without
pay because there is no money to pay them and they want to stay in good contact with the band leaders for other higher paying gigs (like occasional corporate events), and make contacts for other gigs, etc. The audience and any musicians in the audience may not know the horn player is unpaid. So the horn player may sit in or be part of the band even if he/she is unpaid and the other musicians are paid.

Even if they were paid, I am talking about maybe $40 a night plus tips.

This is the low level pro blues situation for horn players in LA, as far as I have seen.

A lot of the pro jazz players, or wedding type band members, or pro session players, dont want to have anything to do with this scene, so they dont participate. It may be lack of money for them, or they may have a lack of interest in playing blues. They may refuse to play unless they get their minimum pay, and the gig may not pay enough for them or may not interest them.

But I have an interest in these blues gigs. I am just starting out and i like them.

This is what happened to me recently.

A well respected blues guitarist who is the leader of a band invited me to play at a "gig". Call to me was on short notice. He also invited a trumpet player (of generally the same level of play as me, give or take.)
So we did this "gig". Neither horn player got any money because it was a private party of the guitarist, not a paid gig for anyone (but he paid the DJ $150 to play on breaks for dancing.)

I was honored to be invited to this "gig" to play with the guitarist, it is a relatively new contact for me and he is well respected.

Then he invites me to play at another "gig" the next week. This gig is at an established venue that pays.
He says he will call me to further discuss, but he gives me the time, date and place.

He never calls me to further discuss. I dont call him either. But the gig time comes around. I decide to go anyway because of the reasons i mentioned above.

So I get there and loe and behold there is another sax player setting up. I confront the guitarist, and say he invited me, but he already has another sax player setting up,does he need me to play too?

He says this:

"Oh, he WORKS with me. I thought you could you know sit in as a JAMMER and play a few tunes later in the evening."

This is upsetting for me to hear because i thought i was moving up in the world to play as a full fledged band member on the gig with this locally well respected blues guitarist, and hoped to get paid $40 approx plus share of tips.

Instead he wants me to sit around (where? at the bar looking depressed holding my sax, while the patrons ask me why i am not playing with the band?) Drinks are about $5, entrees start at $12 and i dont feel like sitting around for 1.5 hours waiting for a chance to play on 2-3 tunes, feeling upset the whole time because some other guy has the gig on sax and i am treated like a 2nd class musician.

The money issue is secondary, i feel i dont want to be sitting around embarrased and treated like a 2nd class musician, watching the other sax player on stage with "my" gig. Also i think it would make me look bad professionally if i accepted that role.

So i do the only think i think i can do, and walk out.

I dont have any responsibility to be there anyway, im not hired, im not getting paid, there is another sax player,and they dont even want me to play until 2nd or 3rd set for a few tunes anyway.

I have asked a few people what they would have done in my shoes.

The guitarist/leader might have felt he was doing me a favor inviting me to sit in. Maybe he didnt feel i was ready to do the full gig, although I did the full gig with him the week before at his private party and i got complements and got this new invite to do this other gig.

Maybe after he invited me, he decided to hire his usual sax player instead and never expected me to show up, since he never called me back.

I should have clarified my deal with him before going to the gig, but i didnt foresee he would have another sax player there instead of or in addition to me.

One person who I ask advice of told me that anytime anyone lets you sit in on their gig, it is a compliment.

I found myself more offended by this than complimented but maybe i have to supress my own ego and go with the flow.

If I had stayed to play, maybe i would have impressed people and gotten more gigs out of it. On the other hand maybe they will have more respect for me that i walked out and wouldnt accept the 2nd level invitation.

So if anyone has any opinions, lets hear them.

Some of you might say dont play any gigs that are less than union scale, or that are non union but that isnt the way the business works in Los Angeles with bar and nightclub blues gigs. They are all (as far as i have seen)non-union and they dont pay that well.

In response to a past question, Steve Goodson advised i should never play for free because it devalues and takes work away from other pro musicians. But sittign in and doing gigs for low pay, or even no pay is part of learning and advancing, i figure. It doenst help ME if i never get any gigs and never get a place to start doing gigs.

Other people tell me, play anytime, anywhere i am invited because each time will make me a better, more experienced player (for example i know a lot more about playing into a mic and with a PA and using monitors, or trying to play with no monitors on stage, and playing on gigs by ear with no practice on the tunes, etc., from all of the prior "gigs" i did. If I sat at home waiting for someone to call and offer me $100 a gig (some people say they wont take their horn out of the case for less than $100, obviously some players demand a lot more than that too), then i may never get that call and i wouldnt be prepared or experienced for that call either.
 

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Playing well will never devalue music or musicians...its a celebration. Learn and show your face. I only wish I were at the level of being able to play gigs. Be proud of your work and put it out there.....but....on the other hand....dont be cheap forever or you WILL be known as "that guy they can pick up for a dime". Good luck.
 

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Gary,

I have been in the same situation a few times when I was starting out. I now make a point of asking about the money when the phone rings. This lets the leaders know you expect to be paid for your skills & labor and clears up any confusion later on.
 

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To progress professionally, you have to "pay your dues"....keep the horn in your face as much as possible. Sure, you want to be treated professionally, and be rewarded financially,but looking past the present dollar to the networking and learning possibilities is part of the business building aspect of any profession. I understand the point of view that you shouldn't be giving away your services because it takes money away from seasoned pros, but it sounds like the pros in your area aren't interested in your venues. I suggest you call the respected blues guy and wangle another sit-in invite...and offer to sub when his main horn player can't make a gig.
 

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I was part of that scene in the 80s - I can see things haven't changed much. Many of those blues guys have made an art form of getting a free "horn section" by inviting guys to sit in, taking advantage of the fact that there are a lot of players hungry to get stage time, paid or not.

My suggestion is to always get it straight up front whether its a paid situation or not. If it's a sit-in situation, don't be the first guy to show up, and don't play every tune of every set. Hold a little something back, you're helping them make the band sound bigger as much as they're helping you by letting you play.

Also, restrict sitting in to public venues; bars, restuarants, etc. If it's a private party or other paid gig, then it's not a sit in situation, and it's an insult to even be asked to play those for free.

It's a delicate balance between sitting in enough to get your face out there and attract new business, and going out and playing for free and being used. Part of hanging on that scene is being able to manage those situations without getting into big blow ups and strained relations.
 

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garyinla, thanks for bringing this up. You touch on three or four topics of interest here. I've been playing blues for quite some time and have sat in on lots of jam sessions. I still enjoy them and every band I've been in and most gigs I've gotten can be traced back to one jam or another. I've also sat in quite a bit with other bands. These experiences are always valuable even though they don't pay any money.

When you start getting invited to play a "free" gig, you're getting into a gray area. I wouldn't be too happy about it if everyone else was getting paid except me. But if it was spelled out in advance and I thought it would be fun, I might do it anyway. In the special case you mentioned, you really had no obligation to stick around and play. So no one can fault you for leaving. On the other hand, if it could lead to an opportunity, it might be worth sticking around and playing. These sorts of situations can lead to getting invited to join a band.

I'd suggest looking for an opportunity to become one of the "core" members of a band. It's understandable that many blues bands can't afford a horn section. However, a single sax (usually tenor) can become an integral part of a band. I occasionally get called on a paying gig with a bass-drums-guitar trio. They don't want another guitar, but do enjoy having the sax because it adds another dimension and makes it possible to play some tunes that don't work well without a sax.

So here's a suggestion. If you can get yourself into a band, even on a trial basis, do so. Then start bringing in some tunes that require a sax (Honky Tonk, Mr. Magic, Watermelon Man, Mercy Mercy Mercy, etc.). Also get the band to start ARRANGING some tunes beyond what can happen at a jam session. Make your horn part INTERGRAL to the arrangement. If you do this, you will be a necessary part of the band. They'll need you in order to play many of their tunes. So now you are indispensible. I did this with a band I play in now and most of our tunes require the sax or they don't sound right.

Finally, on the money thing, in the SF Bay area, most of the gigs at clubs pay around $350. Some pay quite a bit less but you can often make up the difference in tips (pass that tip jar around!!). Private parties pay more, but you have to ask for it. I've done parties that were much easier with less playing time than in clubs for $100 to $125 per band member (4 to 5 members). This is not big money, obviously, but I enjoy playing so much that the money is often a bonus. Keep at it and keep jamming. The opportunities will come but you gotta be ready to jump on them. Best of luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
JL--

There is another band i am or thought i was a full member of, or at least the regular adjunct horn player. I have done "gigs" with the other band. They play blues/rock.

There is a bad story with that band too.

After doing about 4 "gigs" with that band, where i didnt get full pay of the other band members, but they gave me ALL of the tip money (which was less than what one full band member would get) on one occasion, and divided it up with me and another jammer on another occasion---

Then there was a 5th "gig". On this gig they asked me to lay out for awhile after the 1st set (the management complained that they wanted the group to be more hard rock and also they wanted to get a harmonica player on stage who is soon to come into a great deal of money through some sort of settlement.) Please understand that at all times in the past the band said i was great and an important part of the band, so i wasnt playing badly (no worse than usual anyway.) But when the asked me to lay out indefinitely to let the harmonica guy play (in the past we had both played on stage before when both there) and i am sitting there and they dont call me back up beginning of next set, I walk out of that "gig" too but it was 1AM then anyway.

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You mention HONKY TONK, a leader of yet another band SUGGESTED to me that I learn that tune, so i can play it with them.

WATERMELON MAN, MERCY MERCY MERCY and also MR MAGIC are probably the 3 most popular tunes that are called when i am on stage with blues bands and they call non standard 12 bar blues tunes.

So your advice is right on the money with the choice of tunes.
 

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I can't speak as a professional musician, but in my own field I've learned that, for the most part, when you do something for free, its perceived value is zero. That is, it's taken for granted, there's no investment made.

Even a little bit of money flowing changes this. If others are being paid $40. and you're asked to play for free, ask for $10. If the band wants you to play, they'll chip in a couple bucks each to cover it - who can say you're not worth $10.? If they won't pay even that much, clearly they don't value your services much. It establishes you as having some sort of ground that you stand on.

It's an easy way to communicate that you want some sort of compensation and recognition, however symbolic, and it makes them evaluate whether they really care or not if you play.

I've not experienced this situation as a musician, but in the service industry I'm in (visual effects) there is always a pressure to provide certain services for free, and I've learned that getting even a little $ changes the dynamic and makes things work a little better.

Just an idea - does this make sense to anyone else?
 

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Finding the right band to play in is a whole issue in itself. Garyinla, that blues/rock band you mentioned doesn't sound like a very promising situation. It can take awhile to get with the right group of musicians who are not only good players, but also responsible and considerate. You have to keep playing and looking around for the right combination. It's not easy to find, unfortunately. Some bands prefer not to have both a sax and a harp player, since they can get in each other's way. Of course the sax and harp can function as a unit (Red Archibald band comes to mind), but that takes good cooperation on the part of both players.

Those tunes I mentioned are very commonly played, and they tend to be "horn-based," so they will get called a lot in a jam session when a sax player is around. The point is, they give you a chance to shine and they also sound better with the sax. If you get up there and can't play these standard tunes, you probably won't get called for a gig. "Back at the Chicken Shack," "Work Song," "Cissy Strut," "Chamleon," "Night Train," and "T-Bone Shuffle," among others, all fall into this must-know catagory. The good news is they are all pretty easy tunes.
 

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Bands are like beautiful women. If they really want you, they will let you know. :wink:

If not, they'll string you along until something better comes around. :x

The trick is to make them like you! 8)
 

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It sounds like you have a day job and this isn't your bread and butter so I would draw a line and put myself on one side or the other. When I was ready to take the horn out of the house and start gigging I'd sit in with anybody and play for whatever money was offered and it was a gas just to play "out". I wasnt' looking for the money and didn't care and it was fine. That is one side of non professional playing. Now that I've been spoiled from gigging steady for some 6 years I wouldn't do a non paying gig unless it was with good friends. There are guys hanging around some of the clubs we play with their horns in the car just waiting to sit in. For the most part it is an embarassing situation for everyone. Poor control over the mike and mixer settings means you might not be heard at all. If it is a good band there are definately arrangements that add to the tunes value (so you don't sound like a garage band) which make knowing parts a must. Then , when you sit in you never know how long of a solo is okay. So, do you blow your brains out for one chorus or build something nice over 3? Plus, these guys sitting in (with our band) haven't ever played well enough to make hiring them an option. All the good players are gigging regularly. Gary, in your situation I'd look for a good , gigging band with a good female lead vocal (in my experience female lead vocals work more than male) and then try your sitting in to eventually work your way into the band. So, you find a band you like. Approach them on a break and say that you'd like to play with them at a rehearsel (or right then if they offer)
You are also learning to pay more attention to what you see versis what these people tell you. A band with integrity won't pull the crap you went through (another horn showing up for the gig getting paid) Another option you have is to take lessons from someone gigging alot who teaches and then if you play well enough you might get his throw away gigs. Or you might learn and improve your skill level. Good luck, I've been in your situation . K
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Keith, thanks for your advice.
Yes i do have a day job but i also have professional aspirations on sax.

There is yet another band i have played with that has a female vocalist lead. I enjoyed playing with them. They had a sax player who is no longer doings gigs with them. He is a great, experienced, older, blues player, so i have to assume it is a money issue with him.

I did one gig with that band, as an invited sit in. They said I played well, and i am invited to sit in with them anytime i want. But they havent offered to pay me, so i havent been sitting in at their gigs.

They arent using a sax player, i went to one of their gigs recently that was local to me, to check them out and say hello again. Again, they told me, feel free to sit in any time i want, that I played well at that other gig.

I didnt say i dont want to play on their gigs unless they pay me, I didnt want to be that direct. If they are doing low level gigs for around $200 (I am guessing) and already have 2 guitars, bass, drums, and lead vocals, and no sax, i figure there is a money reason they dont use a paid sax player on these gigs.

I may sit in with bands like this erratically, as it suits me, but i am not going to be there regularly for no money.

If I sit in erratically and they ask why dont i come more often, then maybe i will explain because it doesnt pay and I am looking for paid gigs.

Getting a teacher for purpose of making gig connections through the teacher has occurred to me, that would be a good reason to take lessons from multiple teachers, also i could learn things too. The teachers have an interest in teaching me too, they want the money, some of them. I have had a couple of musicians after me to offer to be my teacher, so i can pay them money.
 

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Gary.....Practicing your horn for your own enjoyment has its advantages....you avoid traffic and all the tobacco smoke in bars...however, you can progress only so far professionally by skipping "playing out" opportunties because you aren't getting paid. Quit your grumbling about not making money.....sounds like the guys who are playing in your venues of choice aren't making much....and hook up with the blues band that had the older, experienced sax player...and , how do you suppose, he got good? Swallow your pride, grab your horn and make some music. Its supply and demand...when you improve you will be in demand...and will get paid. Although our blues band plays in clubs and corporate gigs for decent money, I still sit in with a bunch of guys once in a while at a "charity" gig at the VFW...I always learn something and the practice under "live conditions" is good for me.
 

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I have to admit this whole thread is pretty foreign to me. I went to school for music. My first gig was when I was asked to play in a rock band steadily and it was about 50 bucks a night that was in college. I then was asked to play in a GB band by a professor at the college I went to back in the 80's. Ever since then I've played in different bands and subbed in bands but when my phone rings I ask "How much will it pay?" I can't remember a gig I ever did for free except a charity here and there. My mindset from the beginning was that I wanted to do this for a living. if you weren't gonna respect me enough to pay me for my services I would rather stay home an shed. It seems to me that if you want to be a pro you need to get a teacher that is a playing musician and have him teach you all the horn hits and all the solos. Be able to play a solo in any key on the spot. When you feel 80-90% prepared you hire yourself out. You sell yourself as a pro. You decide what you will work for. If you let people know you will sit in for free why would they pay you. Your basically telling them that your an amateur by your actions.
 

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The previous two responses by Steve and Nefertiti show both sides of this issue pretty clearly. Something can be said for both. I have to say it would be better to get out and sit in or play in jam sessions for free than not to get out and play at all. There really is no substitute for playing live, with a band. Of course, if you can do as nefertiti evidently did, and get good enough to immediately start getting paying gigs, then that's fine. Not everyone can do that. Also, you'd have to pay a teacher some real $$ to teach you all the "horn hits and solos." And you still won't really know them until you play them live with a band. Nowadays I usually get paid to play (except the occasional worthy benefit), but I'd still be sitting at home with no paying gigs if I had refused to ever play in a jam session or sit in for free. Too much ego or pride can get in the way and hold you back.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Thanks for all the posts.

Some of these issues may have to do with geographic locations. In Los Angeles there may be more of a supply than demand for musicians compared to other areas, so the going rate for a low level nightclub blues/rock band gig may be $200 rather than $400+. This means there is a trickle down effect on the horn players, that are 5th men at gigs.

Obviously there are lots of sax players making a lot of money, but maybe not in these venues on these gigs, in this geographic area.

I know one player, he says he wont do a gig for less than $100, so that eliminates all these bar gigs. He may not get much work at all, he has a day job and may not care. But maybe he gets some higher paying work (ie more major shows/concerts because he is thought of better, and maybe is a better player too.)

I have to think that the bands that let me sit in on their gigs, repeatedly, have to think I play at least OK otherwise they wouldnt jeopardize their own gigs to let me play there. I either have to either add value to them or not be a negative, otherwise they wouldnt let me play on stage with them. So this is a good thing.

IF a band has a gig and cant really afford a horn player and invites me to play with them, it is possible that this can result in higher level gigs coming my way through the exposure. The band might get bigger gigs (ie maybe a blues festival gig rather than a nightclub gig) that pay better, or as is the case with some of the musicains in these bands, they may play gigs with differnet bands that pay better or may actually occasionally play with some famous musicains once in awhile, too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Another thing to consider is this--

If i sit in at various venues as a guest, and i am only there erratically on repeat gigs (like the band may be there every Sat night but i show up only ever 3 or 4 times), then when i am not there, the patrons might say "where is the sax player tonight?" "We want to see the sax player?"

Or if i sit in for a set and then leave, the patrons could say "why is that sax player taking off? we want him to play some more."

This might prove embarrasing to the band to explain that i only sit in occasonally because i am not a full fledged member of the band, so theoretically the result of this could be that they may offer to pay me to attend regularly.

Also again, it keeps me in practice and I learn, and also I make contacts, by doing these sit-ins.
 

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Now you're getting it. The problem I've had with this thread all along is the definition of "sit in". Sitting in means coming up and playing a few tunes, or possibly one set, during an evening. The band should start their regular set, then bring you up with an introduction..."we'd like to bring up garyinla to play a few tunes with us". You shouldn't just arrive/leave without explanation. Maybe I'm just getting old, but there's an ettiquite (sp?) to doing this.

The person sitting in is a guest, and is there either to give to the band by adding something to their performance, or to get something by having a forum to try new ideas or practice playing with a band. Somebody's doing someone a favor.

Sitting in is NOT playing the whole night for free - that's a ripoff. Perhaps an occasional charity gig when everyone donates their services, but that's it.

You WANT the band to have to explain that you're not a regular member. You WANT the audience to pressure the club to pay the band to hire the sax player.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Im on a jazz chat line on computer. Some guy sees I am local to his city, and he says he owns a carnival and also plays guitar in a band that plays the carnival. He invites me to join the band. (He doesnt know me and hasnt heard me play, just knows i am in his city and plays sax.) I say I am available for paying gigs, if he has one, that would be fine. He says there arent that many opportunities for paying gigs with his band, but it is a great deal of fun, and he has great musicians in his band, and I should not miss this opportunity. I say i am a pro musician and i am looking for paying gigs. He says "there are many guys who are available for pay."

So all along he is chatting with me, inviting me to join the band, he already has a list of sax players who are available but will only work if he pays them.

The way i leave this with him is that if he has paid gigs, he can contact me further.

If he owns the carnival, i am sure the carnival gets paid, so this a profit making venture for him.
 
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