Freelancing: How To Survive In The New Millennium By Playing Your Guitar, Part 4

Thanks to all that have been following this this final installment,
I'd like to do two things; first, I'd like to take a look at some of the
many miscellaneous gigs I've done over the years, gigs that may exist in
many cities, but that most guitarists are unaware of, as well as simply
unusual jobs that have popped up from time to time. Then, I'd like to
take a look at a subject often overlooked in most music writing, the
human factor; namely, the many situations that can arise between people
that can have an effect (positive or negative) on your ability to cop
gigs. The human ego can be a nasty tool, and believe me, it is something
that any good freelancer needs to be aware of. More in a moment;

We've talked about the casual scene, shows, symphony gigs, and
numerous other ways to hustle and survive. However, looking back on the
last 20 years, I find I have played a zillion gigs that may be hard to
categorize, gigs that can have a substantial effect on one's income, but
also, gigs that many folks aren't even aware of. These are in no
particular order, but listen up...there's money to be made here. First,
let's talk about teaching.

OK, lots of folks are aware of teaching, to be sure, but I started
with it because it is a great way to have some sort of steady income,
and, depending on one's disposition, it can add up to a lot of cash. I
have many musician friends who rely on teaching for varying amounts of
their income, and I myself have been doing it for about 15 years, to a
greater or lesser degree. How to get started? First, if one has a music
degree, a school gig is quite possible. I know many guys who teach at
colleges or elementary/high schools, and it is steady work. Yes, it is a
"job," so to speak, but depending on one's need for stability, this can
be an excellent way to pay the bills. You must have the temperament to
deal with the politics/headaches of being part of an academic
institution, but this may not be a problem, depending on your

If you don't have a degree, it's hustling time, but there are
several options. One is to become affiliated with a music store on a
freelance basis. Most large music stores have teachers, so go check them
out, and see what they need. You'll often start slow, but can develop a
lot of students with persistence. Not as formal as a school, this
approach can still add up quite well financially. Also, the store may
well provide you with students from the customers that come there,
looking for lessons. And believe me, if they do, that's an enormous
headache out of the way. If you don't hook up with a store, you can
teach out of your home, or go to the student's home as well. The hard
part about this approach is, you have to dig up your own students, for
the most part, set the schedules, and make sure you get paid..and, more
importantly, make sure the students are consistant in their lesson
schedules. If, for example, they cancel the day before a lesson, there
goes the money. I know folks teaching out of their homes who are doing
quite well, but some of them had a large following at a music school
before they split off.

In my case, I started teaching at home, and only made sporadic
income. Then, about 12 years ago, I got called to do some sub teaching
at a local folk school for a couple of weeks. Well, the weeks turned
into 12 years, and it has been a great gig, overall. I started out with
a few students, and as the years went on, I built up a following, added
more days (as I cut back on playing clubs), and have come to depend on
teaching as a regular part of my income. I am fortunate, because the
school gets the students, does all the business, and even pays you if
they don't give 24 hours notice when cancelling. I am usually booked up,
and often have a waiting list. I highly recommend teaching...there's money
to be made, but it also makes you a better player, cause you can't teach
it if you don't know it yourself. It really helps one to get their
intellectual chops together. And, there's always a zillion folks wanting
to play guitar.

Another category of overlooked jobs are school gigs. There are
organizations, for example, that send artists (not just musicians) into
the schools to do workshops or residencies, and these can also pay well,
and they don't get in the way of any clubwork you do. In Denver, there's
an arts organization called Young Audiences which sends many artists
into schools on a regular basis. If you do a workshop, for example, you
may simply do a presentation about your specialty, playing for the kids
and answering questions. A residency, on the other hand, can last for
weeks or months, and be a serious source of income. In this case, you go
to the school pretty much every day, all day, and spend time with the
kids, composing and doing your thing part of the time, and helping the
students work on projects the rest of the time. Each year, Young
Audiences holds auditions, where you fill out an application, chat with
their directors, and see if you are right for the job. I know lots of
folks who have done this over the years, and I am sure that most large
cities have these types of groups. Do some research, and see if it's
right for you.

If you are in the Union, MPTF gigs are often available. This stands
for Musicians Performance Trust Fund. Whenever there is a Union
recording sesion, a teensy amount of money from the session is put into
a national fund, which is allocated to locals around the country (and, I
don't know the mechanics of this). This can add up to a pretty good
chunk of cash; the Union then looks for sponsors, say a local downtown
business association, to put up matching funds for a performance, and
presto, instant gig. For example, in the suburbs of Denver, the various
cities, during the summer, have show wagons in a park, where they put on
musical performances, sponsored by the Union, and using MPTF funds. I
haven't done a lot of these lately, but at one time, the Union sponsored
my band to do a series in the schools on the history of rock and roll.
It was a cool gig, and went on for numerous performances. I still get
occasional calls for these, and you usually wind up playing with some
very good players.

Playing original music is dear to my heart, as I am sure it is to many
of us, and I have, indeed, managed to play my own stuff over the years,
although not as much as I would like. There are myriad ways to
accomplish this, of course. In my case, I have a good friend named Alex
Lemski, who runs a non profit organization called Creative Music Works.
Alex gets funding from grant money (another source of income, if you are
into doing it), and uses this money to put on shows. The good thing
about this is, there's no pressure to fill a club, or bring in a lot of
folks. In fact, since Alex actively looks for the way out folks, he
knows the audience will often be small...but, the gig is financed by the
grant, which means the musicians get paid, the hall rental is covered,
and you can play exactly what you want. A bonus on these gigs is often
some decent press coverage, which can be quite elusive to those who play
on the fringe.

Another option for those who want to do an original show is, simply,
do it yourself. I have done an annual Microtonal concert for six years
(Microstock), and until this last one (which Alex graciously took over),
I did it myself. Of course, the problem here is, you often wind up
spending money, and making none, which isn't much fun...but, sometimes
there's no other way to present your art, especially if it's way non
commercial. But, I know there's other folks out there like
Albuquerque, there's Tom Guralnick, who has a space called the Outpost,
and he has brought in many fine avant garde folks over the years. The
trick is to look around, and see what's in your city...I believe most
large cities have such organizations, and if you hook up with one,
there's gigs to be had.

I mentioned grants...basically, a grant is free money for artists,
given by the city, state, federal govt, or corporations or foundations.
Actually, there's a lot of this going on, and many dance and theatre
groups depend on this money to survive. I won a grant in 1999 from the
Colorado Council on the Arts ($4000.00), and I know lots of folks who
have done the same..comes in handy. It's must first know
where the money is being funded from, and then find out the rules for
applying. A grant application can often be long and tedious, and there
are actually professional grant writers who can be hired to do it for
you. But, as Alex told me, once you get known by a funding organization,
you can often get repeat funding. I see certain groups here in
Colorado, such as the Symphony and various theatrical groups,
consistently getting can be done. Be aware, though, guys
like George Bush and crew hate to give money to artists, and look for
ways to cut off funding. Better get on it soon, before they make all of
us start digging oil wells in West Texas.

OK, there's a few avenues to check out. Before finishing up this
overview of unusual gigs, I just want to mention a few jobs I've done
over the years, some of which are one shot deals, some of which may
repeat once or twice a year, but, the point is this: each job is cash
in your pocket, and pays a bill, or feeds you, or your cats. Each time I
get a call, I feel blessed, and am very grateful. If they call again,, check these out...

Over the last four to five years, I've done a solo guitar gig for Sunday
brunch at a nice restaurant...maybe they call me six or eight times a year.
It's easy, and I get to play some nice classical, flamenco, Brazilian,
and jazz standards. But, you gotta be able to play three hours solo...

I play with a local folk/rock band, maybe, again, eight to ten gigs a year.
I'm sort of their auxiliary guitarist, so if the main guy can't make it,
I do it, or if they need a big band, they use both of us. They also just
used me on a CD of Buddy Holly tunes, which was a nice project. Tunes
run from Grateful Dead to rockabilly to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to a
yearly Woodstock tribute...and, we never rehearse (gotta have a fast

One summer, I filled in with a blues band for several months, again, no rehearsal, repertoire ranging from BB King to John Hiatt. We did a lot of gigs, and it was fun.

Over the last ten years, I've taken occasional gigs with flamenco
dancers. Of course, you have to know the compas of the flamenco forms,
but surely don't have to be a virtuoso (which I am definitely not). It's
a very specialized form, and not a lot happening, gig wise. I've always
enjoyed flamenco, and learned a lot from doing it. Paco de Lucia is one
of my heroes.

I did a bunch of gigs at Denver International Airport this year, walking the concourses with a clarinet player, playing jazz standards,
serenading the folks walking through the airport. A most unusual gig,
not likely to happen often, but it paid my rent for 3 months. I'll take

A few years ago, I did a bunch of gigs with a mandolinist, with a
repertoire ranging from Carmen to Dawg music to the fastest Hungarian
music you've ever heard. Very tough, but got to play a lot of
interesting, mostly European, forms...almost all rhythm guitar (gut
string acoustic, of course).

In the 1980s, I did a number of big band gigs, including the annual
Jerry Ford Golf Tournament in Vail -- played with Bob Hope, Dinah Shore,
Charley Pride, and others -- high pressure, for sure. Over the years,
I've done a number of big band gigs. You play Freddy Greene style, and
occasionally sing Johnny B. Goode -- they never let you solo on the jazz

Have played several gigs with Japanese koto players, doing
traditional Japanese stuff, and my originals...very specialized, and
very beautiful music.

I'm sure there's more, but I can't remember them all, onto:

The Ego Factor

Please let me say that I have met many wonderful folks over the
years, but I am not going to talk about them now. I want to discuss, for
a moment, the kinds of people who are out to make your life miserable,
and believe me, there are many. We're all grown up here, so I don't want
to be polite...please bring your sense of humor for a moment. Basically,
it's real simple: in life, we must interact with other humans, like it
or not; and, in the music biz, there are no shortage of colorful
characters, many of which suck real bad. I just want to briefly mention
likely scenarios you will encounter, and perhaps ways of dealing with

First, there's the snots. Just as in high school there are cliques,
the jocks, the stoners, or whatever, the same thing is going to happen
on the music scene. The snots are found everywhere, and are basically
elitists who will not allow you into their group if you don't meet their
standards, whatever those may be. In fact, you can be standing right
next to them in a room, and they will act as though you are not even
there. They are the lowest of scum, and are most unpleasant folks. The
problem is, if they happen to be an agent who books a room you are
trying to get into, you're will never, ever play that venue,
even though you may be absolutely perfect for it. I have a dear friend,
one of the most respected folk/acoustic musicians in Denver, who has
never played one of the main rooms for this kind of music, even though
she's much more talented than many of those who do play there. It's
because the slime that books it is intimidated by her on a human level,
and refuses to acknowledge her existance. My friend handles it with
grace, but harbors no deep love for this supposed human...nor should
she. Good news is, this person is now gone from the scene, so maybe
things will change...although don't hold your breath.

The other thing about the snot factor is just the sheer
unpleasantness of these people, should you ever find yourself on a gig
with them...which does, indeed, happen. They will play a gig with you,
without ever once saying hello, or even looking your way. It's an
amazing act, and act it is, but they do it anyway. It makes for a long
gig, and what should be fun turns out to be tedium galore. This is a
situation where you must call upon your sense of humor, and realize that
they have the problem, not you, even though they will try mightily to
make you feel like shit. If you don't fall for it, they are defeated.

Along with the snot factor is the clique. Of course, it's the same
thing, but what happens is that a group of snots acting together forms a
clique, which again means less work for you, because they don't think
you are hip enough to play with them, or whatever it is they think. And
believe me, this often is not a matter of talent (and if talent is the
isue, you shouldn't be on the gig, anyway); no, it's a matter of like
minded folks hanging together, and they don't want you hanging with
them. Case in point: my blues band just did a gig (in November) at a
local blues bar. We definitely kicked ass, the club owner loved us, the
help loved us, and the crowd had a great time. Only one problem...the
woman who the club owner hired to book the club, is one of the biggest
turds in Denver, and has not returned four phone calls from my friend Mark,
who booked it. We even went to the club and confronted this woman
(peacefully, of course), and she still will not call us back. Is this
cool, hip, or whatever? No, it really sucks, and is extremely
dishonorable on a human level...especially since our band is quite good,
and is certainly qualified to play this club.

But, here's the deal...this woman (and I say that very loosely) has
never ever liked me as a person, and for absolutely no reason that I can
discern, since I've never even done a gig with her, much less insulted
or antagonized her in any way. It's chemistry, pure and simple...hate at
first sight. And, what can one do about it? Well, I'm still looking for
the answer to that one. To beg for the gig is demeaning to your spirit,
and to let the gig go sucks, because we should be playing this club.
The point is: this sort of thing is very very common on the music scene,
and you need to figure this into your career aspirations real quick. It
isn't always fair, and not always based on talent, to be sure. You may
be highly qualified to play a room, and loose the gig as soon as the
owner/manager lays eyes on you. Then, to add insult to injury, guys that
have not a shred of talent will surely be playing these rooms on a
regular basis. Why? Because like attracts like, and a big dickhead may
fit the chemistry of a club better than the more talented musician,
because the room itself is full of folks who could care less about
music, and are only there to see and be seen. And, guaranteed, on the
local club level, this is more common than not.

And there, in a nutshell, is one of the biggest problems that have
confronted serious artists (not just musicians) from time
immemorial...the art itself is often not the most important thing to
these people; it's the power and manipulation that comes from being a
clubowner, or booking agent, or whatever. I read once where Ornette
Coleman said he met wealthy clubowners who said such things as, "I got
enough money to burn a wet elephant, but I ain't giving it to you." Yow!
Once the head starts swelling, it's all over for art (art for art's
sake, and money for Christ's sake). Plus, if you happen to be talented
in a genuine way, you will often arouse the contempt of those folks who
are not as talented, because you intimidate them. Remember Mozart? The
Italians at the court, led by Salieri, made his life miserable because
they were not on his level, and rather than study with him, which would
have been the honorable thing to do, they messed with him...true story,
and it happens all the time, at every level. And, if you think this
stuff doesn't happen, or it isn't as bad as I'm saying, I advise you to
stop taking the Prozac, and get a reality check.

Sorry if I sound a bit pissy...this part of the music biz is most
distasteful, but very real. From working with Texas mafia clubowners
(some very bad boys), to losing gigs because you don't look "hip" to
some cheesehead's standards...I have seen it, and experienced it, and
seen many many other very good artists go through the same thing. Of
course, on the other hand, I have met my share of marvelous folks, and
have lived to write this article, and pay the rent for 30 years. Yes,
there are also very good people in the biz...your best bet is to try and
find them, and learn to tell the difference between them and the shits'll save your dignity, and have a much more enjoyable life in
the process. At this stage in my life, I have a low tolerance for
nonsense, and weed those folks out of my life as fast as possible. To
put up with elitists, or prima donnas, is a waste of precious energy,
and should be avoided at all costs. You will be a happier, wiser person
if you hang with those who behave of luck.

This is my last freelance column for a while...I hope to return next
issue with a series on the world of tunings, how they evolved and what
they mean to us as musicians. It's the least understood subject in all
of music, but perhaps the most important of all. Because, if you're not
in tune, the music sounds like crap, and who wants that? See you...

Neil Haverstick is a guitarist out of Denver who won Guitar Player magazine's 1992 Ultimate Guitar Competition (Experimental Division) with a 19-tone guitar piece, "Spider Chimes".

Neil has written for Guitar Player and Cadence and has written two music theory books, "The Form Of No Forms" and "19 Tones: A New Beginning".

His latest instrumental CD is entitled "Stick Man".

Neil Haverstick