Why Few Musicians Get Most of the Best Gigs


I was calling musicians to play for my Majestic Band and noticed something:

There are just a few musicians working in DFW that seem to have all the gigs.

These guys are great, don’t get me wrong, but aren’t there a bunch of amazing musicians around here? With North Texas’ College of Music close by and Booker T. High School, talent is abundant here.

So, why are the same cats on all the shows? Not just here, L.A., Nashville, NYC all have just a handful of guys who get all the major gigs.

The answer came from economics.

Some musicians get all the best gigs.

Some musicians get all the best gigs.

I was reading an article about the 1 percent rule by James Clear. You can find it here. Clear explains the 80/20 principle and its origins from economist Vilfredo Pareto, also known as the Pareto principle. Clear describes the unequal distribution of rewards throughout nature, business, art, sports, and essentially everything.

The majority of wealth or other rewards are controlled by a minority of the population.

– Vilfredo Pareto

In the article, Clear continues to illustrate the concept of winner takes all. He then reveals you only need to be slightly better than your competition consistently over time in order to reap massive rewards. Read the article to get a better understanding of how the world works and how you can leverage this concept.

I was reflecting on how I’ve seen this in my own life.

I’ve taught at the Frisco School of Music for 8 years now. My studio has grown from 13 to over 50 drum students. Many of which have been with me for years. Most other teachers at the school don’t have that kind of track record.

I can think of 3 others that have similar stories to mine out of 40 teachers. We also get first pick when it comes to new opportunities. I’m usually the first called to take on more responsibilities, which means more pay.

I don’t think of myself as a more capable teacher. But, I have seen trends in what works and what doesn’t when it comes to keeping students eager and interested. I couldn’t have achieved this without the years of teaching and the hundreds of students that have come through my studio door.

The school itself has seen this kind of advantage. We have over 1100 students. We are easily the largest private music and performing arts school in North Texas. The owners started almost 20 years ago and consistently over time added just a bit more value to what they offered. Then they reinvested their earnings to create new programs, providing even more value.

Three years ago I was asked to put a jazz trio together for a Friday night at Henry’s Majestic. We were slightly more consistent with volume and timing of the sets then the other groups over the following months. We kept getting called back. I systematize handling the payments, created schedules and set lists, practiced banter between songs.

I now have a roster of over 40 musicians to join me onstage each week. We often get asked to perform outside of the venue for private parties and corporate events. There is still more room for growth but with consistent execution over time, more opportunities will come our way.

In North Texas there are a handful of musicians that are always working and first to be called.

I believe it’s mostly because they:

  • are a little easier to hang with
  • know just a few more tunes
  • might always have the charts together
  • are more prepared
  • their gear is in good shape
  • always have a positive attitude

It’s these small advantages added up that keeps them working. Now, anyone who has a gig and needs players, these guys are the first people think of.

Bottom line is you don’t have to be incredibly better than your peers.

You have to be good, yes.

Focus more on being slightly better in one area. Then, be consistent and persistent. Find another area and improve on that.  You’ll look up one day and find yourself with more work than you can handle.

This weekend ask, “What can I do a bit better today?”

Tonight, I’m going to play quieter and fewer fills, allowing my other musicians to breathe during their solos. I want to make them feel great about their playing instead of me getting in their way.

If you want to go deeper, I love this adage from Jay Papasan’s book The One Thing:

“What can I do today such that by doing it will make everything else easier or even unnecessary?”

-Jay Papasan

I want to know what you think. What will you focus on being slightly better at for your gigs this weekend? Share your comments on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter

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