There is a pervasive myth in the music business that you have to take every gig. “You never know who’s listening.” “Doing something is better than doing nothing.” “Always be hustlin’.”
This is well intentioned advice, but it is misleading and incomplete.
We all have some original and interesting projects we’d like to pursue. For me it’s been recording the podcast and bulding an iOS application. These are projects that have been on my mind for years, but have only recently gotten off the ground.
The problem with “take every gig” is that you’ll never have time for those projects. “Taking every gig” requires being reactive to the things that happen to you, and not proactive about doing the things that are important to you. And those things are what will develop your career in the direction you’d like it to go.
I spent 2-3 years playing in salsa bands four or five nights a week. It was fun, and I still like the music, but it wasn’t the direction I wanted my career to take. It was a cul-de-sac musically, and while it paid my bills at the time, it didn’t offer much else. But there I was, “taking every gig”, just like I was told to do.
The real costs are “opportunity costs.” If I choose to play in a less-than-optimal playing situation I might say to myself “Well, I wasn’t doing anything else. Why not?” The “opportunity cost” is the cost of not doing all the other productive things I could have. I could have written a blog post. I could have recorded a podcast. I could have written some new code. I could have taken a class on Coursera. I could have mowed the lawn, weeded the yard, fixed the drywall, called ten musicians and scheduled a time to record music in my home studio…. the list is endless.
I’m not saying “never do a gig you don’t want to.” But don’t ignore the opportunity cost.