Here are some phrases that have been useful to me when somebody calls about a gig. When dealing with other professionals (or working through the musicians’ union) mostly these aren’t necessary—the caller should give the needed info unprompted. But many of the gigs in my rural area are one-offs for weddings or school or business events, and I’m dealing with callers who don’t regularly hire musicians.
Let me call you back in five minutes.
This has saved me many times. Sometimes I need a moment to think through the money/mileage/scheduling/etc., or to find a polite way to negotiate the terms or just turn the gig down. It’s fine to put the conversation on pause for a moment and prepare your response. (Or, depending on the caller, to pivot the conversation to text messaging, which gives you more time to formulate responses, plus a record of what was said).
Who will be my contact person when I arrive?
I use this one all the time with, for example, brides who are micromanaging the wedding planning (down to calling the saxophone player). If I arrive at the gig and need to know where to set up or collect my check, it’s going to be awkward for everybody if I have to bother the bride with business details On Her Special Day. If necessary, I gently suggest that she put a trusted friend in charge of answering the band’s questions and handing over their payment.
Who is the musical director?
This one is sort of a trick, because if it’s the kind of gig that actually has a musical director, then it’s less important that I know in advance (and, often, it’s the musical director who is offering the gig anyway).
When I really need this one is when a well-meaning non-musician is trying to hire a band piecemeal (“Oh, my cousin is going to play guitar, and this guy I know from church is going to play drums, and my boss’s friend is a piano player…”). Asking this question gives me a chance to drop the hint that somebody needs to be in charge musically. In some cases, I’m able to segue into some friendly advice that they hire an existing professional group, or hire a professional to put together an ensemble.
Just so I’m totally clear, are you offering me a paying gig, or is this more of a volunteer situation?
I do still get calls asking me to donate my time. While I mostly turn those down, I don’t think it’s helpful to be nasty or condescending about it. Phrasing it this particular way gives the caller an easy multiple-choice question to answer without any waffling or weaseling. And when I turn them down, it seems less like I have refused a direct request, and more like I’m just passing up a chance to “volunteer.”
Can I count on $XXX?
Sometimes less-experienced hirers (such as someone hiring for a business or school event) have a budget range in mind, and (foolishly) tell me what that range is (“Well, we can pay between $AAA and $BBB”). The number they are hoping to pay is the smaller one, but I’ve made the mistake before of fixating on the larger one (and being disappointed later). Always nail down an exact fee. I try to get the top end of the range, of course, but make it worthwhile: “Can I count on $BBB? That way I can be sure to get a great keyboard player.” Or: “Can I count on $BBB? Then I can cancel some lessons that week and have time to look over the music in advance.”
If they are hesitant to commit, you can say something like, “Okay, why don’t you call me back as soon as you have an answer, and we can firm things up?”
Is that the base rate, or does that include travel/doubling/etc.?
If the caller really is thinking in terms of base rates, then I probably won’t need to ask this question. But hirers who aren’t tuned in to this are probably counting on me to walk them through the process of hiring me. Asking this question gives me an opening to educate them that it’s appropriate to pay extra for travel time, or for bringing multiple instruments. (A quick web search for “afm wage scale” will give you at least a rough idea of what the union considers fair for doublers.)
Do you have useful phone strategies for lining up gigs (large or small)? Please share in the comments section.