Are you ready to “gig”? I mean, are you really READY to gig?
I have taught many students during these last few decades. A lot of those students have been intrigued by the thought of playing for money. I don’t discourage them, for sure, but I do want to make sure they’re truly ready before they start grabbing opportunities to play for weddings, funerals, and special events.
My colleagues and I in the bagpipe performing business have seen a lot of people come and go. The problem is that many bagpipers believe that all they need is a set of pipes, a kilt, and some business cards and then they’re in business, ready to play for money.
So, for all of you who are thinking about entering this market, I thought that I would give you a preview. And don’t quit your day job yet!
Here’s what you need to get started.
The first thing that you MUST be before entering the market is an accomplished bagpiper. What does that mean?
- That means, in addition to the 4/4 march, you should be able to play marches in all meters, strathspeys, reels, hornpipes and jigs, and maybe even a little Piobareachd to develop your musicality. You should have a very long list of tunes that are suitable for various types of events. Playing “Scotland the Brave” over and over again won’t cut it!
- You also need to be an experienced bagpipe technician as you can’t afford a bagpipe failure during a performance. This means you know how to fix problems when they arise, especially in an emergency situation.
It’s really about integrity! If you are a truly honest individual, you will make sure you can do all of the above before taking your first paying job. I’ve seen too many people enter the market who shouldn’t be in it, taking advantage of a customer’s naiveté about bagpipes and bagpipe music. That’s too bad as the public should get the best of what the bagpipe world has to offer..100% of the time. It shouldn’t be left to chance!
The majority of our gigs are once-in-a-lifetime events for most people: Usually they are funerals, weddings, or parties of some sort, like the type that celebrate landmark birthdays or anniversaries. If you’re not the best bagpiper and performer that you can be, you shouldn’t be in the market because these occasions are not only important to the families hosting them, but normally cost them a great deal of money as well.
Playing a gig is not easy money and shouldn’t be viewed that way. The person that hires you is paying you to do something almost sacred for them. For example, there’s a certain demeanor that you must have when discussing a funeral with a family member of the deceased. You need to know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. In most cases, this person has never hired a bagpiper before. You need to make them feel that they are getting the best person for their event.
“Winging it” destroys many a musician’s future! If you think that maybe you can wing it, you will be one of those people that we’ll see come and go. In the funeral market, the funeral directors know who we are and what we can do. They know who is good and who is not. They are the gatekeepers in this market since the majority of funerals are booked through them. That means you should aim to impress. They aren’t easily fooled!
Weddings are another story. Most people have no idea what a bagpiper does at a wedding and how the piper and pipes should be used. It’s my job as the bagpiper to educate the bride and groom on how the bagpiper becomes a part of the wedding music. In general, I do what an organist would do if they were at a church.
The bagpipes, in a lot of situations, provide the only music played at a wedding, especially if the event is outside. That being the case, I explain exactly how the process works before I give the price. Sometimes clients believe that music shouldn’t cost much but, as a professional, we owe it to our industry to charge a fair rate. (To be honest, any price I quote them is minuscule compared to what they have already been charged by the florist and caterer.) I personally want to get as much as I can on a Saturday trip away from my family but also aim to be fair. I also tell all prospective brides and grooms that they shouldn’t hire anyone that they can’t see perform first. Sometimes hiring that “friend of the family” can be a disastrous idea!
I’m realistic too. There has to be a point where a new bagpiper can come into the market. If you think that you’d like to compete for business someday, maybe you should consider competing in solo competition opportunities first. Knowing that you have to prepare music by a certain date is a goal. It gives you a reason to practice and learn new music.
Remember, you’re only as good as your last performance! The bottom line is that the marketplace will determine your success or failure and whether or not you are ready to play for money on a regular basis!