Hiring a band? You (usually) get what you pay for! A horror story from my freelancing days, and how you can learn from it.

Money, Money, Money, Money! (Money!)

As a musician for hire, I’ve come across lots of different bands some professional, some not so much. I feel like I now have enough distance from a particularly embarrassing event to speak about my experience in hopes of protecting clients from a bad hire.

Price isn’t everything. However, it can be a pretty good indicator as long as things make sense. For example, a band that charges double the rate of other comparable bands might actually be worth the money because they offer much, much more than those comparably-priced bands! However, if they can’t offer you performance samples or don’t even have a website (and I’m not talking a MySpace website … if you even know what that is), RUN! Just the same, someone who’s low on the pricing might be cheap because no one will hire them for more money. Alternatively, you might have an extremely gifted group that’s just getting started. If that’s the case, you’ve got a bargain!

 

The Gig, The Disaster

I was hired as a keyboardist for a band, and it became clear that I shouldn’t have taken the gig. They had a date for me, but not much else. Since I wasn’t booked, I took the gig. I wasn’t told a time, how much I was being paid (I was doing it as a favor for a friend), what it was for … anything really beyond the fact that I’d be performing their “usual” setlist and that “there might be requests.”

I found out a week before the gig that it was a wedding. That’s also when I was given the list of requests despite my repeatedly asking for them for months prior because, you know, it’s important for me to practice. The night before the event … no, wait, wedding! at 11:30pm, I was asked to learn a couple of more songs because they were “important for the clients!”

The gig was disastrous for me. Despite being promised a set list well in advance, one was never made. The band leader was literally asking the musicians what songs they knew so he could decide what the next song would be! At someone’s wedding! The band was also hired to play the processional and first dance. What songs? I certainly wasn’t told, nor was I until the event coordinator nudged the band leader saying that everyone’s waiting for us to start [names song].

The coordinator had to interrupt us in the middle of songs to say that something needed to happen! We’d take long breaks while the DJ would provide most of the background music. The band manager told us to treat ourselves to the wedding buffet, only for us to be told that we weren’t supposed to be fed or given a table to sit between sets.

The music selection was completely inappropriate for the vibe of the wedding, and it showed in the faces of the guests as they attempted to eat to disco/techno/dance music. This made it extremely difficult to connect with them during the dance numbers after dinner.

 

With liberty & embarrassment for all!

Additionally, sound was a complete mess. The monitors (how musicians hear themselves on stage) kept causing massive feedback that interrupted the wedding on several instances, so they eventually had to be shut down. In other words, we weren’t able to hear ourselves whatsoever. Imagine being a drummer and not being able to keep the beat for the singer! Imagine being a singer and not being able to hear whether or not the guitarist is finished with his solo!

Most of all, imagine being a couple who paid thousands of dollars for a band that came unprepared, botched songs, interrupted the flow of the special day you’ve been planning for over a year, and embarrassed you in front of all of your friends and family.

I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. But I couldn’t, and I didn’t. I put on a smile and played my parts like it was the best day of my life. Needless to say, I wasn’t paid very much in the end (nearly half of my minimum rate). At that point, I was so humiliated that I would’ve paid to leave .. and suppose I did using my professional reputation as tender.

 

The aftermath & thoughts

Fortunately, the vast majority of professional bands who’ve hired me have been just that: professional. I don’t think it’s any mistake that the best bands have been the highest paying ones; and boy do they deliver!

I’m not sharing my experience to imply, “Throw a bunch of money at musicians and all of your wildest, musical dreams will come true!” (Seriously, don’t do it.)

Instead, my advice is this: do your research and hire a band that strikes the right balance between price, value, professionalism, and convenience. Musicians can and oftentimes will say anything to get themselves hired. Be sure you call their bluff and see if they can produce evidence for their claims.

Also, be aware that when you ask a vendor for a discounted rate, you’re giving them license to provide discounted services. It’s always worth trying to bargain, but professionals will know their value and turn down gigs that aren’t worth it for them. I made an exception in this case and suffered from it.

My sincere hopes are that you won’t.

Phoenix burned to the ground in an act of vandalism

This weekend, I performed as a part of the Phoenixville Firebird Festival which celebrates Phoenixville, PA’s economic turnaround. The day’s festivities were to culminate in the burning of a 30’+ tall, hand-crafted wooden bird as it always has in previous years. It’s a beautiful occasion for people to gather and celebrate.

Unfortunately, arsonists burned down the statue well before the festivities had even begun. In spite of all-day heavy rain, Phoenixville banded together and continued with the festivities. Musicians, artists, performers, and craftsmen all gave their all in celebration. Within hours, people had donated wood and helped reconstruct a scaled-down version of the bird so that the ceremonial burning of the phoenix could go as planned.

My thoughts are two-fold. First is being upset that people would consciously go out of their way to destroy something that not only took months of work but also symbolized something positive for a community. Second is admiration for how Phoenixville lived up to their name and carried the spirit of the festival, even despite the act of vandalism as well as the terrible weather.

On a personal note, this also felt like a revival of sorts for myself. I’ve been making some significant changes to how I’ll be approaching the business side of my music for the coming year, something I’ll be announcing soon as events unfold. However, this weekend’s show was a test run and proving grounds for part of what’s to come, and things felt good to me. Cryptic, I know, but despite trying circumstances, this weekend helped remind me that it’s important for us all to band together to support something we truly believe in, especially when that something is your community.

Summer Tour: NYC (June 20-23)

Wow! The tour is coming to an end in a month! Then I’ll be back in Philly for my homecoming show with my awesome friends Nalani & Sarina! Anyway, here are some snippets of my summer adventure.

 

Day 1:

Thankfully, my 2009 Subaru Forester passed its yearly PA state inspection. The week prior, I test drove my fully-loaded car to make sure that everything ran fine. Better to work out logistical kinks earlier than later! Here’s a video I shot of the before and after:

The drive to NYC went fairly smoothly with the expected delays. My generous friends and hosts Genai & Jacob put out a cheese and vegetable spread. Then we promptly crashed to be well rested for the day ahead.

 

Day 2:

After waking up and getting ready, I got some food from a food truck and picnicked at Sunset Park in Brooklyn.

NYC Sunset Park

After running some errands, practicing, and more eating, I attended my first rooftop party! The panoramic shot won’t upload, so instead, here’s a weird failed panorama. I assure you that the view was quite pretty:

NYC - Rooftop party

Edit: Yay! Got the panorama to load!

Panoramic shot from a Brooklyn rooftop

 

Day 3: 

I got together with some old bandmates to jam before eating loads of pizza and attending an Avishai Cohen concert. Avishai Cohen is my favorite touring act at present, and he hardly performs in the US, so it was an honor.

Goo Foo

Jam with old friends & bandmates

 

 

Day 4:

I got to play at the Hollow Nickel in Brooklyn. Really great crowd, awesome host, and a goofy, light-hearted vibe for the evening. Got a lot of great advice on how to improve my act as well!

NYC Hollow Nickel

 

Day 5

No NYC experience would be complete without being given a parking ticket in a residential area without any signs that indicated restrictions. My EZ-Pass also malfunctioned on my way out of the city. Imagine the lovely line of patient NYC drivers who were stuck behind me because the cross bar wouldn’t lift to let me through. Anywhoo, on to Connecticut!

Watch my TEDxStanford performance! (video)

Well, my performance from TEDxStanford is finally up thanks to the hard-working folks behind this massive undertaking. Without further ado, here’s the video of my performance!

 

It was amazing listening to all the brilliant speakers and getting a chance to spend some time with them. I’ll be sharing their talks on my Facebook page in the coming months. Some non-TEDx highlights from my adventure to California:

  • My flight was delayed due to mechanical failure. Glad they caught it while we were still on the ground
  • Because of this I got put-up at a really nice hotel suit compliments of Delta Airlines (I give a video tour on my Instagram)
  • It was fun driving a Mazda, although the tiptronics are reversed from my Subaru and took getting used to
  • Philz Coffee makes absolutely delicious mint coffee. I’m not much of a coffee drinker but wow, never had a more refreshing ice coffee
  • My brother and I saw Spiderman 2 after a nice hike through Alum Rock Park. The hike was beautiful, hilly, and included a run-in with a wild turkey. I enjoyed the movie; apparently far more so than the critics. Maybe I’m just easy to please
  • I’m super relieved that my Stonebridge made it through traveling safely

Here are the pictures I snapped along the way:

Some pictures from my travels:

 

 

Website (shelteredturtle.com) — central hub of everything I do
Facebook (/shelteredturtlemusic) — interesting articles, fan moments, & general media
Twitter (@shelteredturtle) — cute puppy pictures & direct interactions
YouTube (shelteredturtlemusic) — original & cover music, tutorials, & live footage
Instagram (/shelteredturtle) — pictures on the road for both gigs & travel

On the road: West Chester, Ambler, & Princeton

I might be a klutz and spill water on myself, but even clumsiness can lead to something lovely:

27 Wet pants heart
Before I made preparations to leave for a small weekend away, I got a little something in the mail from AAA: namely travel & camp guides for the places I’ll be visiting on my summer tour!

26 AAA books

I then head out to a rain-soaked West Chester, PA to play at the Higher Grounds. It was a really cool spot complete with an open kitchen, a fireplace complete with sofas, and a nice, open area carved out for musicians. After my set, I managed to break yet another zipper on my Reunion Blues Continental guitar bag. Nothing that a little strand of paracord and a lighter couldn’t fix!

26 Paracord zipper pull

The next day, I had a spot at the Ambler Music spring festival. Some light drizzle and ominous storm clouds scared some people away before my set, but the sky opened up once I started playing. I bumped into my friends at the Engle guitar hammer as well as many other talented musician friends. Overall, it was a fun day of hanging outside, eating food, and listening to great, local music.

26 Student band

My friend Geoff C. also managed to snap some great shots from me playing on my lovely Stonebridge G22CR-C outfitted with Miniflex Model 1 Two-mic system:

Harmonics

Joy

Snap

 

Sunday had me over in Princeton for their Communiversity Festival of the Arts. I really did not anticipate the scope of this event! I spent nearly two hours trying to find parking with no luck. I happened to run into my friend Michael M. who got into my car and parked it while I rushed over to the stage with gear in hand. The kindness of people always floors me. Everything was fine after I took a deep breath and started playing.

27 Communiversity

After a really fun set in front of a great, interactive crowd, I hung with friend and awesome/funny/hypercreative songwriter Sarah Donner, her foster kittens (pictured below), and her bassist Jay. About the most relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

27 Kittens

I then hiked back into town, grabbed some Chinese food, a root bear float, and jammed in the audience to my friends and favorite multi-instrumentalist, twin sister, musical act, Nalani & Sarina who always put on a killer, high-energy act. After walking around town for a bit, I drove to visit my folks in their beautiful country home. The next morning, I found out that sometime during my time in Princeton, I managed to put my first scratch in my Stonebridge. As Roger from Stonebridge said, “The first cut is the deepest.”

27 Stonebridge crack

And there you have it! A weekend nicely bookended by my clumsiness, hahaha!

Looking ahead, I’ll be at the Spring Picking Bluegrass Festival to demonstrate the Engle Guitar Hammer this Thursday and Friday! Then I’m off to California to perform at the TEDx Conference at Stanford University! What a dream come true!

Love and Peace,

Henry