Do I have the chops to play the gig? If you are asked to play lead trumpet in a big band, you'd better have some high chops. If you are asked to come in and sight-read a show, you'd better be able to sight read! Nobody can play it all, and I've seen many musicians say yes to gigs they weren't ready for, or didn't prepare well enough for. This can be extremely damaging to your reputation and your hireability. Before you say yes to a gig, ask yourself if you really can play the music you will be asked to play on the gig. Be honest with yourself, because your career depends on this kind of honesty. If you don't think you can do a good enough job, then let the bandleader know that this kind of gig isn't really in your skill-set, yet. This saves the bandleader time and saves you from embarrassment and possible career damage.
Now that the obvious is out of the way, here are three additional criteria I use when deciding whether or not to take a gig (as bandleader or sideman).
- Is the gig artistically rewarding? Nobody that I know got into music for the money. Music is soul food. If someone offers me a gig that I find artistically rewarding, I always say yes if I'm available. What is artistically rewarding music? Playing music that I love, playing with my favorite musicians, and/or playing music that demands a high level of artistry and will push me to learn new skills or sharpen my musicianship. There is a danger with this last criteria in that I have to be sure I have the chops to actually play the music (see above). But if I'm confident that I have enough practice time before the gig to get my chops together, then I say yes.
- Does the gig forward my career? If you are playing all the gigs you like to play in the venues you like to play them in, then this is criteria is irrelevant. If I'm offered a gig with new musicians and/or in new venues, then I usually say yes if I'm available. I usually do some research on the venue and musicians to see if there are any potential problems (this is very rare). Playing in new settings and with new musicians offers you a chance to extend your personal network and learn new tunes and styles. If you play well, act professionally, and impress, then more opportunities will undoubtedly come from this. But it doesn't always have to be new settings or new musicians. If you are consistently hired by the same bandleader, then it may be unwise to turn down too many gigs from him or her. They will get the impression that you'd rather be gigging with someone else, or that they're lower on your list of priorities. So do you take a new gig with a new band or stay with the same old band? You'll have to decide if the risks (artistic, financial, and social) are worth it. Be mindful of what you stand to lose as much as by what you stand to gain by saying yes or no to a gig.
- Is the gig financially rewarding? Last of my criteria is money. If a gig pays very well, or I really need the money and have no other conflict, then I will usually say yes to a gig. These gigs can be hard on the ego, so don't say yes to it and show up and be a downer (“I usually play with better bands,” “I usually make a lot more money than this on a gig.”), or an arrogant patronizing jerk (“You guys are lucky that I was available” “When I play this tune, we usually play the correct form.”). Be professional at all times! If you take the gig for the money and then act unprofessionally, it is very likely that this will get around quickly and you will lose far more money from the gigs you could have had if you didn't act like an entitled clown.