I thought I’d give you a snapshot into a day in the life of a gigging musician. On Saturday I was playing my first gig with Soul Calibre, a wedding/function band. We were performing for a wedding reception at Blenheim Palace near Oxford. I’d never gigged there before so was looking forward to seeing the venue.
So, I woke up at about 12, now I know what you’re thinking, how lazy is that? But given that I was about to embark on what has every chance of turning into a 24 hour day it’s not unreasonable to have a lie in on the morning of a gig.
After a nice bacon sandwich preceded by a shower and packing the car up I headed to the drummer’s house, arriving there at about 2pm, I guess the drive was about 45 minutes.
Now you see, the drummer was offering a lift to the venue, good for me as any musician will agree a chance to save on fuel expenses is always welcomed. Once there, I unpacked my car and repacked the stuff I needed into his car, we then headed off to Blenheim Palace.
We arrived at about 4pm, so by this time I’ve already spent 3 hours on just my commute, no mean feat! We weren’t ready to play though. The van had already turned up but hadn’t been unpacked so we set about the task of unloading and setting up. This, for reasons I still find unfathomable, always takes an age, wires everywhere, staging construction, along with the lights and sound checking can often take up more time than the actual gig.
Not forgetting of course that the equipment is really rather heavy. To add to all this we’re under time pressure to make sure we’re ready by 6pm so guests can start enjoying the reception. The wedding breakfast was in the same room as the ceremony too so time was especially short.
The room itself was marvellous, a massive conservatory with beautiful glass panes, 20 foot high elegant gold curtains, marble flooring and exquisite chandeliers. All pristine and fresh.
This of course meant that the manager of the venue was keen to protect the room, telling us we had to be no louder than 93 decibels whilst playing. This often happens at venues and quite frankly that level is utterly crippling to bands. Whoever came up with those guidelines has no idea about live music.
Once all the sound nonsense was sorted now came the boring part, hanging around for 2 hours before playing. What do you do in this time? It’s always the worst bit of the gig, but luckily as part of the contract the bride and groom had agreed to feed us, so we had a nice posh wedding breakfast. Although I always find they’re rather too small for a ravenous musician who, let’s not forget by now hasn’t eaten since about midday and it’s now nearly 8pm.
At last 8pm arrives but oh no, the wedding timings have gone out the window, too much chatting and not enough eating from the guests. This means we’re still hanging round, for another 30 minutes. We get on stage just after 8:30. At last, a full eight hours after leaving to work I’ve finally started doing what the bride and groom are paying me to do, perform at their wedding.
The first set was fun, the first dance was sensational. Clearly the newly weds had put a lot of work into their dance routine with spins, flicks, jumps, twists and many more making an appearance. Dare I say the best first dance I’ve seen at a wedding.
The crowd were good, lots of dancing and really appreciative, nice to see, sometimes these weeding crowds can be tough but that wasn’t the case today, they were up for it!
After an hour long first set we had a brief 15 minute break where to my delight we were able to consume the wedding cake. Absolutely delicious. Chocolate fudge cake covered in marzipan and white icing. I even managed to snatch a corner piece, my favourite.
No sooner had I stuffed the cake in my mouth than I was being called back to stage to perform the second set. I didn’t mention, the room was boiling and the first set had been a real workout and my body was starting to get tired from all the moves and jumping around on stage. It can be quite physically demanding sometimes.
The second set did seem to drag a little, especially when it was three or four “last songs” in a row, but you can’t let on to the crowd that that’s what you’re thinking. They were still partying and dancing, brilliant. It’s so good to have an appreciative crowd, it makes the job so much easier.
At last though, after a slightly extended second set we finished at around 11:15. Great, I can head off home, oh no wait, we have to wait for the guests to leave so we can pack up. More specifically they were playing ipod music through the band PA system so we couldn’t pack down until they were finished dancing.
So at last the clock ticks over to midnight and the music is switched off. Most of the guests have left but there are still some hanging around. Time to pack down the drum kit and the rest of the equipment. It’s always easier to unpack than pack up, we had managed to sneak a few wires away whilst the ipod was playing though so we were done in good time.
We didn’t stay to help pack up the van, not something that usually happens but the rest of the band knew we had a long trip ahead so they let us go. The drive was easy but long, arriving back at the drummers house for about 3:30am.
I still had to get myself home so off I drive, noticing that I didn’t have much fuel left, not a problem, I pulled over, filled the car, and just as I got onto the motorway the headlights fail. It was impossible to see so I had to pull over. I didn’t have any spare bulbs so a quick call to the RAC was in order.
Luckily it was all fixed and I could continue my journey, but all that drama meant I didn’t get home until 6:30am. Now you see why I got up later. Out of the house for 18 and a half hours, lifting heavy gear, having the knowledge to set it up and operate it properly, skillfully negotiating tricky venue managers, travelling for hours before playing any music means I deserve my payment at the end of the day.
To those who say being a musician is just fun and you should be grateful I say. Yes, it is fun, but why wouldn’t you pick a fun job if you could? I challenge you to swap jobs with me and see who can do the others job first. I have spent 23 years and counting learning how to play the trumpet. A lifetime dedication as well as £23000 in student loans and tuition fees so I have the necessary skills to entertain at a musical event.
I haven’t even mentioned the preparation I put into this gig, learning songs and arrangements for a band I’d never worked with before which took considerable time and effort. What you see on stage is the culmination of many factors. Organisation and dedication over several years makes this happen, not a bunch of people turning up for a good old laugh.
I love what I do and I feel very lucky to be playing music for a living but my goodness it has been hard work.