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Home for the Holidays (Or Not)
Keeping the band busy during the holiday season

The holidays can be lucrative for the working musician. You can literally be as busy as you want to be. Here are some tips to make the most of this special season.

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  1. Auld Lang Syne! And speaking of holiday songs, if you gig on New Year's Eve, you "have" to perform this classic at the stroke of midnight. If you don't want to learn it, obtain a version on CD to play over the PA system. You can earn extra points by finding a MIDI karaoke version of the song, and invite the party host to sing it, along with the audience. If you don't have a TV or laptop monitor to display the lyrics, have your local printer or copy center run off a hundred lyric half sheets to pass along to the audience (perhaps with advertising to share costs). Make sure that your band's name and contact information is at the bottom of each sheet and you'll have a great advertising piece, too.

  2. Take care of yourself. The holiday season is also the time when a lot of people suffer from colds and flu. Get as much sleep as you can, take vitamins, eat right, and in general, do what you can to stay healthy. It's no fun performing while you're sick, but it's even less fun having to cancel an entire show because other band members didn't take care of themselves. If someone has to play Mother Hen to look after the flock, it might as well be you.

  3. Read your performance contract. I've been in some bands where not only the band -- but the individual members, as well -- were contractually bound to perform. It was an all-or-nothing arrangement. This depends on who is booking the gig. If you're booked through an agent, some venues are picky about who is showing up to perform. One time a member got sick with the flu and was unable to perform. Even though we arranged to have another musician fill in for that night, the club's management saw that the band didn't have their regular lineup and invoked his contractual right to cancel the band's performance. The entire band lost out that night. If the band learned anything from that experience, it was to make their substitutions more quietly if a member got sick in the future!

    Other contractual terms we've seen include specific times when setup and take down are to occur, band member dress code, and unilateral cancellation privileges. Needless to say, we recommended striking the last one if you can. Again, read the contract, especially the "rider" portion that explains any special performance considerations, and explain it to the rest of the band. During the holidays, it might be better to agree to not perform a show than be bound by a particularly strict contract.

  4. Give of your time and talent. Lots of TV and radio stations organize toy drives during the Christmas season. Check with the organizers and see if they will allow your band to play a set or two during the event. It'll be next to impossible for the announcer not to mention your band. Set up your banner, too, if you have one. This type of goodwill can pay off with handsome press, especially if you remember to send out a press release in advance of the event. Send it to the community relations director of every newspaper, and the media in surrounding communities. This is especially true if a local band travels to play in the "big city." The local papers will make a big deal of it. Of course you'll keep copies of the press clippings to add to your portfolio. If you can't perform, donate time to a homeless shelter, food bank, or Habitat for Humanity. Follow it up with a press release or photos on your band's web site so that your band's good deeds are remembered.

  5. Don't forget your loved ones. Give a special gift this year to your significant other, your kids, your parents, your music teacher -- anyone who has supported you during your career. It's especially crucial to stay in the good graces of your family. All the more so if they are "sharing" you with your audiences during the holidays. A gift doesn't have to be expensive. It can be a handmade journal of shared memories (personal ones, not necessarily a photo album of all the fun you've had on the road), a train ride to a nearby town for you and your family, or a family movie night featuring a memorable film with you providing the snacks and refreshments. The bottom line is that the gift is from you, and it lets your loved ones know that you care about them and appreciate their support.

The holidays can bring extra performance opportunities for most any band. But whether it's boon or bust depends on getting the expectations of the entire band in proper alignment. Talk it out and, if everyone's on the same page, you should be bringing in the new year with lots of cheer (and hopefully lots of green)!

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