I've played bass on a ton of wedding gigs (GB, casuals) and, while some folks may be to "cool" to do weddings my motto is 'If it's payin' I'm playing''. I actually like them quite a bit. Seriously, if you're just doing the sideman thing weddings are usually a lot of fun, pay fairly well and are one of those perfect places for you to network and get the stage time you need to figure out what works and what doesn't with your gear, etc. You're building your repertoire and, well, you could be digging ditches or doing customer service. Wait...if you're playing music you are doing customer service but that's another blog post entirely. These kinds of gigs are usually a pretty forgiving scene if you do a few things well. They can also be career stifling or even career ending if you do too many things wrong.
Here are some things that I was thinking about on my way home from a recent gig. These may seem like common sense but will always be worth repeating even for those of us who've been around for a while.
1. Communicate professionally
Be sure that you know who's calling the shots and respond to emails and texts in a timely fashion. It's a good feeling when people see your name on a gig list or see you in person and let out a sigh of relief that lets you know that they feel more at ease that you're on the gig. I've been a bandleader that hired players that were great players but wondering whether or not they were going to show up on time or prepared was more trouble than it was worth and I'd honestly prefer a less experienced player that will keep me at ease by communicating in a timely and professional manner.
2. Do your homework anyway
I don't care how experience I think have whenever I get a set list I always make sure that I can play everything on the list with no problems - even the middle section! Don't skim the list. Go through each song, with or without your instrument. If you think "yo, I can play that, no problem, fine. What about those special requests? Are they traditional dances being played by the band or on an iPod?
I'm assuming that you're a bass player if you're reading this on my site. Our position doesn't allow for us to shrug and say "I don't know that one". Especially if it's on a list and you're expected to know it. If a bandleader sent a set list they expect you to know every song on it even if for some reason it doesn't end up getting played. Do your homework anyway.
3. Show up on time (early).
Life happens, I get it. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control but I have found that 'billing in' extra time for the unexpected is one of the best things you can do to show up to the gig and remain in a composed and relaxed state which is not only good for you but keeps everyone else at ease. I live in and work in the San Franciso Bay Area where traffic is a fickle and unpredictable beast and most of the wedding gigs that I play are typically an hour and a half away from my place near Oakland. With GPS technology as it is today, there's no reason to not check to see how long it will take to get from your base to the gig with at least a thirty-minute cushion. I've got more than a few stories where stuff happened on the way to the gig that could have proved to be disastrous had I not given myself a cushion. Flat tire, car malfunction, accident on the freeway, traffic stop... yeah man. Stuff happens. Give yourself time.
4. The hang, man, the hang
I'm one of those people who truly believes that your playing is secondary to how you hang. If you play your ass off but nobody wants to kick it with you.. you know the rest. This so important to me that it deserves some additional bullet points.
a. Be nice....to everybody. I mean everybody
Every guest, every other one of 'the help', every person in the band. I'm not saying to be a kiss ass or be disingenuous. I'm talking about keeping all your bad stuff to yourself, the traffic, your bad day, your taxes, etc. Keep it to yourself.
b. Know your audience
Also, don't be the life of the party. There are exceptions to every rule but don't be that guy or girl who's loud, got all the jokes and won't' shut up. Don't talk politics, off-color jokes and keep your voice at a reasonable volume. You know, read the room and the social cues. Sometimes it's better to just keep quiet and speak when spoken to. Folks really do remember the hang. Every situation is different I suppose but I don't think you can go wrong by just keeping cool especially if you really don't know everyone in the room really well.
c. Be a problem solver
...but not a know-it-all. Again, read the room. If someone needs a hand or a solution that you can help with, do it just don't be the smart ass with all the answers. It can come off as obnoxious.
5. "Thank You, good night, get home safely"
It seems simple but being genuinely grateful and letting the people that you've just shared a lot of time and energy with that you appreciate them never hurts. It just feels like the right thing to do. I've been on wedding gigs with folks who have this "yeah, I'm really too cool for this shit, I've got my own thing going" and other people who are just cool to hang with and realize that weddings are just another way that musicians diversify their income and are grateful for another gig. People who are thankful when a night of work is over but have had fun, helped to make the night enjoyable and then folks who are glad the night is over but bitch and moan about loading out the drive home, etc. I've found that both types of people are remembered but for very different reasons. I've also had a couple of unfortunate situations where I've played music or time with someone and then find out that they didn't make it home safely. I usually say "thanks guys, hope to see you guys sooner than later, get home safely". It's all genuine. I've had a good time, would like to do it again sometime and I want you to get home in one piece.
There's nothing wrong with a little kindness and I think that it goes a long way whether you're playing music or doing anything else. It's old school sure but "please, thank you, get home safely" aren't going out of style any time soon. At lease I hope they aren't!