This is a compilation of tips and tricks and dos and don’ts, which I have compiled over several years of gigging in the corporate scene both in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Many of these points have been inspired by actual events. Obviously, one would assume that the musician would already have the technical skills required to work in this sphere of the music industry, such as excellent reading skills, good intonation, the ability to play in different styles, to follow a conductor, to play in time to a click track and possibly even double on other instruments. I would like to thank several music deperados of corporate gigging who have all been in the trenches for many years, such as Mike Campbell, Darryl Andrews, Nick Green, James Bassingthwaighte, Bryan Schimmel and Mike Blake for sharing some of their wise words and kindly contributing to this list.

  1. If you don’t want to be a musical chameleon, don’t accept corporate bookings. As a session musician, you have been hired to fulfil a role and bring to life the music which has been selected for the theme of the event. Don’t start complaining about the content of the music, which is very likely going to be commercial in nature, once you have accepted the booking. Because of the nature of corporate functions, the music caters to many different cultures and musical tastes. Once you are there, it’s too late to change your mind “for artistic reasons”. Being a session musician is also a fine art, if you’re not up to the task, don’t say “yes” to the gig.
  2. Be at least 30 minutes early for sound check. It’s always best to ensure that the musical director (MD) or conductor is happy and at ease at the start of the booking. After that, you can pretty much get away with anything. Arrive late and you start on the back foot and even the slightest misdemeanour will attract unwanted attention from the boss.
  3. Traffic is not an excuse for being late. See point 2.
  4. Always dress smarter than the guests. Not only do you look great on stage and in any visual media (such as a live broadcast to big screens, professional photographers or television), but when you go to the open bar and order a single malt, no one asks questions because they think that you’re the guy paying for the event.
  5. Wear dark colours. Many think that musicians wear dark clothes because it looks hip, but in reality, it’s an unspoken universal understanding, that it hides the booze and food dribbles on your shirt.
  6. Always use a contract and get a deposit upfront as a bandleader. I’ve been bullied, with regards to payment, by large corporates in the past. Nothing was more satisfying that when my lawyer procured the payment plus interest. That wouldn’t have happened without a signed contract. It also helps to relay to the client how you are expecting to be treated on the gig, the payment terms and conditions and much more. In addition to that, because the actual session musicians are seldom booked with a contract (and you could be perceived as being a chop for asking for one), I suggest that in the event that you haven’t received an Email with the correct details, that you simply send a diplomatic Email to the person booking you, asking for details such as rehearsal & sound check times, gig start/end time, dress code and fee, etc. Having these details outlined in writing could help if, for any reason, any disputes arise or anything goes awry.
  7. It’s a bad idea to forget your music at home.
  8. It’s a really bad idea to forget your instrument at home. Always check that you have your axe, fresh reeds, your sax or guitar strap, mouthpiece, drum sticks, working jack-jack cables, batteries or anything else you might need to make the music! You’ll look like an amateur if you arrive without a piece of equipment that prevents you from performing at a professional standard.
  9. Eat before the gig. This is for two reasons. Firstly, no one likes a whining or begging musician asking for food. It immediately lowers your status from that of an “artist” to a busker looking for handouts. If you are really starving – be subtle about it. Approach the musical director or conductor and ask what the deal with chow is, or pop around the corner for a bite between the sound check and the gig. I see food on the gig as a bonus and most of the time, corporate gigs pay really well, so it really isn’t the end of the world if you have to buy yourself a sandwich and a cappuccino if it turns out that food isn’t supplied on the gig. Often musicians seem to forget that their primary reason for being there is to perform and I’ve even seen “pro” musicians throw a tantrum when there was a problem with the kitchen and a meal was unable to be provided. Deal with it! Secondly, as a musician you often walk through make-shift, tent-kitchens or the bowels of massive kitchens in huge hotels and convention centres and you get to see where and how the food is assembled en masse. I’m not too sure you’d want to eat it after that anyway!
  10. Introduce yourself to the sound engineer or stage tech(s) and treat them with respect. I have found that there is a direct colloration between achieving a great front of house sound, monitor or headphone mix and/or anything else you may need and the way in which one treats technicians.
  11. No gay jokes. It is very common in corporate productions, that the high-powered people running events such as the producers, choreographers and musical directors are gay. There is nothing more awkward than a “macho” musician telling inappropriate jokes unknowingly within ear shot or over an open mic, which is being sent to FOH or everyone’s in-ear mix! Although it is unlikely that you will get fired, it creates an awkward atmosphere and it is more likely that you would slide down the booking list for the next time.
  12. To avoid awkward greetings with lady event co-ordinators, use the Italian greeting, i.e. one kiss on each cheek. If you give only one kiss on the cheek, it’s awkward and you look uncultured if she goes for the second and you’re not expecting it. If you go for the Swiss greeting (i.e. 3 kisses) and you bump into her head when you’re going in for the third (that she wasn’t expecting) it can be really blind. Not to mention that she may have to conduct her business the rest of the evening with a black eye. The common handshake can also work, but generally I’ve found that with sophisticated ladies the handshake can also be a bit weird. Read the situation.
  13. Take your seat on the bandstand before the downbeat. A musician rushing to the bandstand after the gig has started is amateur hour!
  14. No coffee on stage. Sticky shoes. Gross.
  15. Take your own entertainment such as an iPad or a good book. There is a lot of waiting around on corporate gigs while dancers are placed and sound checks are done.
  16. Subtlety procure the WIFI code. The future is here. You no longer have to miss that all important rugby match because you have a gig. Just make sure that you have the Super Sport app on your device, or make sure you know a good website to stream online.
  17. Buy a good set of headphones. There is no substitute for good sound. Almost none of the corporate gigs that one does nowadays are with monitors. Chances are you’ll have your own sub-mix where you can mix your own sound to your cans with a MyMix or the like. This is rendered pretty pointless if you don’t have your own headphones.
  18. Click is king. If you’re using a click track, click is king. This means stick to the click track no matter what and bulldoze right over any singers, soloists or dancers who are lost. If the band gets derailed from the click track, which is in sync with the audio and video, is exporting time code to the lighting rig, pyrotechnics, live television, etc. – it will be a total and absolute meltdown.
  19. Don’t start an entry a semitone higher than written. You may want to check the key signature before you start.
  20. Don’t be a perve. On almost every corporate production, there are beautiful women such as singers, dancers, celebrities and guests. There is nothing wrong with admiring beauty, but when it goes overboard and the musicians are drooling on themselves, winking to each other, smiling from ear to ear, wolf-whistling and missing their entries, it’s distasteful. Be subtle.
  21. B.Y.O.B (Just in case).
  22. Master the art of concealment, so that you can take in a suip on stage. This is very important if you are a brass player. A trombone or trumpet section without at least one hip flask within the section, is like the Duracell Bunny without batteries – it just won’t go. However, if the client sees a musician necking a bottle of brandy during 127 bars rest, it’s sort of like a young child seeing the batteries fall out the back of the toy bunny – it just shatters their reality and a tantrum will ensue.
  23. Clap hands for the awards you don’t care about and laugh at the unfunny corporate jokes, especially if you are in plain view of the clients or guests. Corporate companies always appreciate it when everyone seems to be part of their team and are seen to be enjoying being involved in their event… Even the musicians. It’s a corporate thing.
  24. Do not hang out at the bar in front of the guests or clients with an instrument strapped to your back. This is just a school boy error and you may also blow the cover of your fellow band members who are keeping a low profile and enjoying some of the Bordeaux Reds. Leave your axe in the green room or put it in your car and then get involved.
  25. Get your parking validated before you leave. Most of the time you can get a free parking voucher. You don’t want to know what some of these convention centres charge for parking when you’ve been there for several hours setting up and performing all day.

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