Being a freelance musician (or, come to think of it, a freelance anything) can be a somewhat uncertain affair – there are some months when the phone doesn’t ring quite as often as you’d hoped, and others when you wish you could somehow be in two or three places at once.

The most important thing is that when the phone does ring then you know whether what you’re being offered is worthwhile or not.

This is where The Gig Triangle comes in.

It should be mentioned at this point that this is not a concept that I came up with (I’m simply not that smart). The basic premise of the gig triangle appeared in a Bass Player magazine article some years ago that I haven’t managed to locate – if anyone can enlighten me as to the author of the article i’ll gladly amend as necessary.

So… what is the Gig Triangle?

I find that every gig that is offered contains three fundamental aspects; Music, People and Money.

Let’s have a look at each side of the triangle:

1. The Music

The first issue is the content of the gig – what kind of music is it? I used to try and only take gigs where I really liked the music, but the reality is that I take on work with music that doesn’t make me feel physically ill when playing it (no fusion, please!).

So, if the style of music is suitable, it becomes an issue of ‘Do I have the equipment/experience/chops/reading ability to do the gig well?’. So far the answer has usually been ‘yes’ (I guess Chick Corea hasn’t got my number…)

2. The People

As well as the issue of what I’m playing, who I’m playing it with is another important factor. When you factor in travel time, soundchecks, and other periods of generally hanging around that go with gigs then it becomes apparent that the actual playing time is a small fraction of the time you spend on the job.

If I’m taking a gig, I like to know that the other people involved have a sense of humour, take regular showers and are generally a pleasure to be around. Hell is being on a tour bus for weeks on end with people who you don’t get on with.

3. The Money

Last but not least, the gig fee is always an issue. Firstly, does it pay at all? Is it worth it financially? If the gig is 250 miles away, are travel expenses included? Will the cheque bounce?

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

How does this help me decide whether to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Generally, if two sides of the triangle are there then it’ll be a gig worth taking. Examples from my own experience are:

– A gig where costs are covered so I don’t earn anything but I don’t lose any money, but the people and the music make the gig a pleasure.

– Musically uninspiring gigs that pay well and offer great ‘hang’. The knowledge that you’re surrounded by people that you don’t mind spending 7 hours in a car with and you’re also paying your rent can make playing even the most awful music bearable.

– Occasions where the music is challenging (in a good way!) and there’s some money involved but the ‘hang’ just isn’t there. I find these the hardest gigs to take, but I do them because they show me the holes in my playing and it’s important to remind yourself that you suck once in a while…

There was a brief period where I ignored the wisdom of the Gig Triangle and took a gig that had none of the sides (bad music, no money and way too much attitude…). Needless to say, it didn’t last long and I instantly regretted saying ‘yes’.