The Road Well Traveled a gigging musician’s best practices

By Andrew McEvoy

“Experienced musicians know that a successful performance unfolds itself over time, starting long before you get on stage.

Over the years, a musician hits roadblocks - literal and metaphysical - that can damage the musical tapestry we are trying to create. These roadblocks can be treated with a similar mindset to our studio practice: We use our craft to face small and abundant challenges so that we are equipped to meet the day with confidence.

It’s important to provide for oneself if the expectation is to provide for others. Music exists first and finally in the mind and soul, so if you tend to those things within yourself you can share your craft more abundantly with those around you.

Here’s some common roadblocks and ways to transcend them:

Build and Price the Whole Process

Before booking an event, learn more than the venue address and start time. Depending on the type of event, setup time frame and range of services, the time of arrival on site may need to adjust. No matter what time the event starts or where it’s happening, devote the entire day to it whenever possible, keeping in mind how much additional musical and technical preparation may be needed in the months, weeks, or days before the event.

In this way, the event starts for you long before the hours of service listed on your contract. You may end up explaining your preparation needs in detail to clients during the booking process, but be careful not to over-sell at your first point of contact. Craft a single sentence that encapsulates the scope of your work, for example:

‘The flat rate of $XXX(X) covers the event including travel, music preparation, live sound production, performance and administrative fees.’

The quality of your work will ultimately justify your process and rate - or not - so ask for everything you need.

A Longer Road, Less Traveled

It’s best to get as close to your arrival destination as soon as you can. I’m frequently in town several hours, even days before I’m scheduled to arrive at a performance venue.

However, you don’t want to mix things up at the venue by arriving way too early (DON’T bring a tent and camp on site the night before). ‘Hanging out’ at the venue can even cause us to over-anticipate the performance and get tripped up when the tranquil venue starts teeming with life and activity. I like to arrive 60-90 minutes before I’m scheduled so I can iron out any concerns that arise during setup, stay productive during my entire visit, and make a good impression with professional contacts.

In light of that ‘best practice,’ why am I also arriving in the region between 3 and 48 hours in advance?

‘…I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.’

-Robert Frost

Although you certainly can’t bill your clients for the time you spend generally basking in the beauty of our world, you might consider it a gift that you share quietly and freely.

On the road there are many opportunities large and small to rejuvenate your spirit and make your performance shine in the best possible light. Perhaps an old friend or family member lives in the area where you’re playing. Perhaps you have consecutive dates in the same region and you can saddle up with your spouse or some close friends and really explore the region where you’ll be playing. You can build in a 30-40min morning hike if you’re an early riser. There’s that little diner at the halfway point where you can get a healthy meal and chat with the staff and patrons…

Take the time to treat yourself to a fine slice of life while you travel - your clients will feel the difference.

Traffic and Mental Noise

We want to make music that helps others to live their best life. That desire has to be steeped in sympathy for the human condition.

Nothing tests our faith in humanity quite like traffic. If, despite our best efforts and alternate route planning, we find ourselves on “The Road Traveled Way Too Often by Too Many People,” this can damage our music making more than anything else.

This is the biggest reason why you’ve already padded your travel time by at least an hour or two. But if time is still getting tight, remain calm and call your contact at the venue. Advise them of any changes in your arrival time and adjust as needed. This is more professional than hoping you can squeak by with a hurried or late arrival.

When the trip doesn’t go as planned, your vehicle might become a ‘mental hot box,” meaning that your anger and anxiety fills the space to such a degree that you lose track of why you’re there in the first place.

It’s time to fill your head with music - things you’re about to play, familiar artists that you love, memories of gigs well played, and so on. Maybe it’s time to tighten up the playlist you use for set breaks that keep your hands healthy. It’s definitely not time to crash your car.

Be reminded of why you’re traveling in the first place. This will give you sympathy for other drivers who may be stuck in this mess on a regular basis.

We’ve all had difficult performances, with moments that were technically or mentally challenging. These were overcome by our will to create music, however imperfectly.

The traffic jam will end, just like those tense moments on stage. You are allowed to control what you do until the moment passes. Protect yourself, your road neighbors, and your audience from negative energy as quickly and completely as possible.

Gratitude and Prudence

You may find yourself on the same roads over and over again, but the trip can be different every time. Make note of your experiences on the road and find your own best practices. 

Take time after an event to recognize any help you received and send a personal message to the people who helped you before you pursue any new bookings.

Although you may not have been the central focus of the event, you helped to make it unique. You shared your art with people who may not otherwise have found it. If you’ve taken the road less traveled, anyone can feel the difference even if they’re not sure why. You’ll know when your performance constituted a genuine act of spirit. Those are the performances that sustain your art form as a whole, encouraging people to discover more music like yours.

You’ll go miles before you sleep. Enjoy the road!”

Andrew McEvoy is a musician and arts advocate from Richmond, VA. He is a virtuoso classical guitarist and recording artist with a background in arts management and community outreach.

McEvoy raised more than $15,000 for musicians in need during the early months of the Coronavirus pandemic through the 501c3 non profit Classical Revolution RVA, which he joined in 2013 and Executive Directed 2018-2020.

McEvoy’s private event work in the DC Metro is managed by Classical Guitar Ceremonies Inc