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Being a Working Musician Part 2: Pop Function Gigs

In the last part of this series, we looked at how to approach playing jazz gigs. We learned that some jazz gigs are based around being creative and playing original music. We also learned that some are more about providing a service for functions such as weddings and corporate parties. Function gigs are a great way to make a very respectable income as a musician. They demand a certain level of professionalism in terms of musicality, appearance, preparation and time keeping, as the clients are usually paying a large sum of money for your service.

Another category of shows we’re going to look at today are pop gigs pop function gigs. It is very common to play pop music at certain events. I use the term ‘pop’ as a broad category covering pop, rock, soul, funk, etc.

As a bass guitarist, you may be a member of a band which is set up specifically to play at private parties. This is often referred to as a function band. If you are a member of one of these bands, you will likely put together a repertoire of at least 30 songs to cover the standard playing time, two 60-minute sets. How your band learns the music is completely up to the musicians. Some will make musical scores for each instrument and some will learn all of the pieces from memory. Each has its advantages.

If each instrumentalist makes charts for their instrument, this makes it easier to find cover for illness & gig clashes. It means that a dep player (short for deputy player) doesn’t have to learn all the material at short notice. The charts could be fully notated or chord charts. If the musicians memorize their material, the music is often more deeply embedded in their playing and this gives the players a relaxed playing feel. Some people feel that it aids the presentation of the band if the the musicians aren’t all looking at music.

I have played at hundreds of pop functions over the years but I am not a member of any function band. I am on the dep list of many bands so I get plenty of offers of work. This works well for me as I can choose the gigs I want to take but don’t have a full time commitment to any one band. To be able to do this, I need to make sure that 3 musical skills are in good shape:

  1. Reading musical notation.
  2. Interpreting chord charts.
  3. Being able to learn songs efficiently.

If you are asked to learn the material for a gig then make sure that you do this to the best of your ability. It is easy to complain about all the work you have to do for one gig but you have to look at the bigger picture. If you do a good job, it is likely that the band will book you again. Also, certain songs appear in the set lists of many bands (Superstition, Valerie, Mustang Sally, etc) so the work will be useful for future gigs. It also helps to look at learning the songs as a good practice source. Often, by learning one function bands repertoire, you are practicing ear training, timing and playing in a whole range of styles.

Away from the playing side of pop functions, it is very important to make sure you wear exactly what the band leader asks you. This isn’t a difficult thing to get right but you’d be surprised how many musicians take a liberal approach to dress code. A band’s appearance can be very important to its success so if you are told to wear a black suit and white shirt, make sure that is what you wear.

It is very important to make sure you know exactly what your arrival time for the gig is. Plan your journey well and always leave extra time to get there. Being stuck in a car knowing you are going to be late to a gig is a horrible feeling and one you want to avoid at all costs.

Finally, make sure you have all of the equipment necessary to do the gig. Have the right bass guitar for the job and take a spare if you have one. Use an amp that is going to be reliable and carry through the sound of a loud band. Always have spare leads and a tuner. You don’t want to be playing all of the right notes on an out of tune instrument. Always be pleasant to your band members and if they are strangers then be conversational and outgoing. People don’t want to spend their Saturday evenings working with a grumpy bass player!


Visit John’s personal site for more  lessons, tips and information about bass guitar and his own bass guitar lesson site, Bass Guitar Course. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnmarleybass.