Gig Musicians Vs. Show Musicians

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Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship

This weekend, I am playing guitar at a wedding. I do not know the bride nor the groom beyond email formalities, and the material I'm playing is standard matrimonial fare - Pachelbel's "Canon In D," Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" and so on. There's nothing specific or personal about what I'm doing that necessarily qualifies me over any other musician. I rarely play gigs, but this is a gig. Nearly every other time I've played music in public has been a show. Musicians are often sorted by what instrument or what style they play, but nothing separates musicians more than the mentalities of gigs and shows.

As the names would imply, a gig is a job and a show is a performance. Playing covers for four hours at Fast Eddie's on a Friday night is a gig. Playing your own songs for thirty minutes at Fubar on a Tuesday half an hour after doors open is a show. Musicians usually make money during gigs, and rarely expect to be paid at shows. You could stop reading here and conclude that gig musicians do it for the money and show musicians do it for the art, but that would be a gross oversimplification.

99 percent of the people I know who support themselves making music do so primarily by playing gigs, and that is assuming I know exactly 100 working musicians. What they accomplish is pretty amazing, being able to adapt to so many situations and memorize so many songs in detail. Playing drums in a wedding band involves knowing tempos, song structures, and crucial breaks, not to mention the required stamina. You can easily fudge the numbers on your own material, but nobody's going to let that slide when you're playing "Don't Stop Believin.'"

Inversely, if somebody put a gun to a few of these musicians' heads and told them to write a great song, we'd have some blood spatter to clean up. On the plus side, I can recommend a great funeral band.

Much of the conflict between show-ers (hyphenated to not look like showers) and gig-ers (hyphenated to distinguish between giggers, or frog hunters) sprouts from jealousy. The workload for show musicians is huge. They write the songs, rehearse the songs, book the shows, promote the shows, and receive a massively disproportionate amount of money compared to their gigging brethren.

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I agree with you that writing songs and putting together a 30-60 minute set takes a lot of effort. No one can deny that. I think you miss the mark a bit, though. As someone who lives in both worlds, it takes a tremendous amount of time and work to put together a four-hour "gig" set that sounds professional enough to merit the increased revenue. I would say that the amount of work I put into gigging is easily as much, if not more, than I put into a "show." 


Also, playing a corporate party and making a few thousand dollars requires a pretty good band. Simply put, shitty cover bands play in shitty cover bars and make as little as "show" bands at that level, or less. If you're going to make thousands of dollars as a "gig" band, you'd better bring some talent, and play a show that keeps people entertained, start to finish. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a shouting match with the booker in the parking lot and leave no richer than you started.


There's also a tremendous amount of artistic satisfaction in performing on your instrument at a level that justifies that pay increase. Even more satisfaction comes from being part of a band that executes their performances well as a unit, regardless of whether or not they wrote the song they are playing. Ever have a blast jamming with your buddies in the basement? Imagine getting paid four figures or more for doing the same thing. Not too bad.


I'm not trying to take anything away from "show" bands; as I said, I play in both. I'm just making sure the humble "gig" gets its due. 


Interesting read. My band (falling under show-er) is actually comprised of a lot of Gig-ers. I think, just like me, they use the band for their release, their artistic side. I work in advertising by day, and while it's a creative position, there are always clients and account executives at the ready to water down and undo my work. Playing original music and collaborating with a band of like-minded musicians allows me to create something without rules or borders—without clients. My bandmates in gig-er category, while still playing music, play their gigs to pay the bills, and the music, tone and attire is regulated by others. So when we all get together, it's like freeing a bunch of caged birds. Personally, I think if more gig-ers crossed the line here and there they'd be a lot happier when they're playing the chicken dance.


 @Ryan719 Absolutely! Part of what I wanted to accomplish with this piece is to defend the "gig" musicians. It's totally hard work. I was originally going to title this "Judge Not The Working Band" but it was too vague. Thanks for reading and responding.

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