Losing Your Gig & Landing On Your Feet

It’s bound to happen at least once during your drumming career: You lose your gig, sometimes through no fault of your own, and sometimes…well, we all screw up now and then.

There are three ways you can become unemployed. First, the band breaks up, throwing everyone out of work. Don’t worry, you’ll land on your feet.

Second, you get fired and the band goes on with a replacement. Don’t worry, you’ll land on your feet.

Third, you die. Sorry, I can’t help you with that one.

As long as you fall within Scenario One or Two, you’ll be all right. Trust me. You’ll survive.

I had a brief conversation with Steve Smith at a Modern Drummer Festival Weekend several years ago. I had been fired from my band shortly before, because my background vocals were, how shall I say it, sub-par? In other words, my singing sucked (it’s since improved dramatically, I’m proud to say). I asked Steve how he coped after Journey dumped him. He listened and said, “Don’t worry. When one door closes, another opens right up. It always seems to work out that way. You’ll be fine.” Then Steve smiled at the attractive woman sitting next to him, and I knew that rationale applied in more ways than one.

Getting fired or having your band self-destruct before your eyes can be a devastating experience. You may experience the same reactions people feel after losing a loved one; shock, disbelief, anger, despair, sadness, loneliness, self-doubt, helplessness, and certainly others. This is the time to accept reality, take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, and make a plan.

First, let yourself grieve for your lost gig. I know this may sound a little touchy-feely, but it’s true. Allow yourself a little grieving time, and do whatever you need to do, short of physically attacking your ex-band members, sister, some pizza-faced kid in a fast food restaurant, your doofus cousin, or any other human being. “Get it outcha’ system,” as soul singer Millie Jackson once said. If you were fired, demand to know why. If it was your playing, you need to know exactly what areas need improvement and get busy fixing the problem(s). Your ex-bandmates can be your best source of information, believe it or not. What do they have to lose by telling you the truth? Take their criticism with grace.

Then, zero in on your musical weaknesses and do whatever needs to be done to rectify the situation. Maybe you need more formal study, more practical playing experience, or maybe some work on your timekeeping.

Bear down and do it. Make a plan and stick to it.

Or, maybe there was something about your attitude or demeanor that rubbed the leader or someone else the wrong way. Were you professional, reliable, responsible, honest, enthusiastic, musically astute, attentive, positive and free of alcohol and drugs? If not, you probably have some soul searching to do, and I recommend you get on with that as well.

OK, so now you’re feeling a little better and looking for a gig. Hit the local music paper and check the classified “musician’s wanted” ads, make up signs advertising yourself, and post them in local music stores. Use the Internet for all its worth. There are literally thousands of websites for musicians out there, and most will let you post classified ads free of charge (because they know musicians are usually broke!). If you don’t have access to a computer (or you’re like my best friend Neil, who’s too damn stubborn to buy one), have a cyber friend help you out.

Get the word out that you are available. Keep a Rolodex of musician’s names and phone numbers and call whomever you think might be able to help you. Get out to clubs and network. Talk to as many musicians as you can, because a door just might open up for you. Someone may know somebody whose aunt’s boyfriend’s half brother is getting ready to quit his band. Stranger things have happened. Don’t forget what Steve said; doors close and open. It seems to be some kind of karmic law.

Answer any and all ads that might remotely interest you. It may not be the gig of your dreams, but if the band has some positive things happening, plentiful work, high profile gigs, a record and tour deal, or even a former big name now trying to re-establish his or herself, it will be a learning experience. If nothing else, getting into another band, even if its not ideal, will boost your spirits, help you regain confidence, and put some dinero in your pocket. Look at it this way; you got the gig, so here’s a new group of people who must think you’re a good drummer. This is your chance for a clean slate.

When you get settled into another project, dedicate yourself to the highest level of performance, both on the bandstand and off. If you can successfully do the hang, treat your fellow musicians with respect, act like the consummate professional, and drive the band with fire and enthusiasm, you’ll not only succeed in pulling yourself up from the loss of your last gig, you’ll become a better drummer and person in the meantime.

How do I know all this? Because I experienced Scenario #2 at the lowest point in my life. Without sounding like an egotistical wanker, I managed to dig my way out, find good people to play with, and hopefully have become a wiser human being for it.

Life throws stones in everyone’s path. Never let them crush you. Rise above it, make a plan for improvement, stick with it and you’ll land on your feet every time.