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A function gig or a real concert?

Evilena Protektore

At what point the musicians forgot that each time performed on the stage is a concert that needed preparation

Vadims Kožins

The idea of this article has been haunting me for quite some time now, mainly because at some point, I discovered the word «haltūra», which in English means a function gig, but with a negative connotation — a concert or a performance at a private event, that is easy, doesn’t need a lot of preparation and, frankly, played at half-speed, so to speak. In musicians’ lingo — a gig you earn money at, not doing art. In theory, earning money isn’t a bad thing, right? But somehow, this started escalating, and as a result — some musicians started believing that playing dance music for low-level administrative staff at their Christmas gathering isn’t like playing a real concert. Many discussions may be held on that topic, but in my opinion, every concert is worth the effort. The moment you go out on stage and perform in front of people is a moment your professional skills are being tested. To think that the listener is dumb and will never notice that you haven’t studied the scores at home is… dumb. To think that if you’re playing background music means that you can stretch on song into a forty-minute solo because nobody cares is also… dumb. And what’s even worse, in my observations, this concerns jazz musicians in a big way since jazz is serious music, so when a jazz musician is invited to play at a pop function gig, their thought process goes along these lines: «Oh, pop, not a lot of chords, easy forms, I can play some licks and fills, I’ll just wing it, after all, I’m a jazz musician, I know everything, and I can improvise.» I’m exaggerating, of course, but from time to time, I happen to meet someone who has this approach in his work ethic, and that makes me wonder what exactly is a professional musician and what his responsibilities are. That is how I finally came to the conclusion that an article, where I summarize the things I deem important, is needed. A professional musicians’ guide of sorts. And just as the saying goes — two heads are better than one — I decided to invite some contributors to join me. These contributors represent two different sides of the coin — musicians (the people who provide the music) and event producers (the people who pay musicians for the function gigs they don’t find worthy of rehearsals). So, the heroes of this article are bassist Edvīns Ozols, event producer, director, and founder of the «Luka» agency Inese Lukaševska, and «Shine Event» event and marketing agency’s founder Ņikita Viderkers. After holding three conversations with my contributors, I have concluded that musicians’s work can be divided into categories, so let’s take a look!


Money is an essential part of life. But the moment money becomes a specific thing — like your fee for a job, some questions can be raised, and a lot of space for interpretation appears. I remember the moment I started out in the music business, I had huge problems with understanding how much money to charge for a performance at a concert or a private event. The only definite thing was that my time is valuable; the question is — how much?

Talking with the young generation of musicians, I always stress that you can never make such calculations based on how many songs you are going to sing/play or how much time you are going to spend at the venue before your performance. Some more greedy clients will try to persuade you, saying: But you love singing! (playing, dancing…) Your love for your music is of no consequence; you can’t measure your worth with the number of songs, but rather with how much time it took you to get to the point you are at — the years it took to become a good performer, the cost of your instrument (equipment depreciation is always a part of setting your fees); and amazing author, founder of www.learnjazzstandards.com has an article you are welcome to read, it’s titled: 3 reasons why you need to stop playing gigs for free.
But since the motivation to write this article came from performing at private events, let’s concentrate more on how the fee system works there.

The first thing you have to do is set the minimum wage you agree to perform for at a function gig. You might want to ask advice from senior colleagues and decide based on their experience. But the moment you have agreed to perform at an event for a certain amount — that’s there’s no turning back. Backing out of a gig because you suddenly realized you wanted more is simply crude. You have to stick to your words. For example, let’s say you receive a call — a private event in Riga (or whatever city you live in), the length of the performance is three thirty-minute long sets, beginning at 7 pm and ending at 11 pm, soundchek is at 4 pm, 250EUR. If you say yes, but later on decide that it’s not enough and you want 300EUR because you deserve it, you don’t.maybe you are, but a musician that is unreliable isn’t worth much, and backing out of a deal after everything is finalized makes you unreliable.

But what about the fees the agencies are willing and ready to pay to musicians?

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Ņikita Viderkers: «The clients always ask for a cheaper option, whether it’s persuading a certain band to play for less or finding another band. But in the end, almost every cover band of a background music band costs approximately the same. Media personalities are more expensive. Some may raise their prices after participation in, let’s say, Eurovision, but in a year’s time, when the name becomes less famous when the popularity wave passes, the price falls back again. In any case, we ask the bands to state their price and forward that to the client. How much the client is ready to pay depends on the client. We are ready to work with the budget the artists set, but we are dependable on the wishes and the abilities of the client.»

So, from what Ņikita has said, we know that there is a standard fee for music at private events. Now you have to decide what your price is.

Another thing often discussed among musicians is whether everyone deserves equal pay. Sometimes musicians in one band receive different amounts of money for the concert, is it fair? Yes, definitely. Maybe initially, one might think that it’s not, but let’s be rational and reasonable here and try answering this question — what influences this difference in the fees? Two factors could be highlighted here — if an ensemble invites an artist to perform, for example, a big band invites a soloist, the soloist will receive the amount of money he stated when asked. Another example — a five-people band asks 1.5k for their performance, and the soloist asks 500EUR, the overall amount will be 2k. Is this ok? Yes, sounds legit. So, one thing is how much the band costs and another thing is how much the soloist costs. Two separate artists, each working for their own fee. Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t really make sense because it all depends on whether you are ready to work for 300EUR or not. There can also be no discussion of whether the soloist deserves his 500EUR because everyone performs for the amount of money he himself has set. If you think that your worth is 300EUR, it is your choice; live with that. Also, thinking that the client will pay you more of his own free will is like planning a trip to Mars next year. When you go to a store to buy milk, you will never willingly pay double the price simply because you love the label, it’s not how it works. You will pay the price the store has set, and that is the same with music at an event. The initiative to pay you more is an exception, never the rule.

Another important factor — is who is responsible for the event. Most often, a band has a person that deals with the organizational side of things: sends out advertising letters to event agencies, talks of the fees, the repertoire, dress code, time, place, and everything else. This is an important part of the process and takes quite some time. It is only fair that this person receives more for the effort because he does double the work — both performs and organizes. And all the responsibility is on him — to make the client happy, to keep other musicians happy. And then the last question — if you said yes to playing an event for a certain amount of money, why do you care how much another musician is paid?

Rehearsals / Preparations done at home

Does anyone remember this joke about the five things that musicians always say they will but never actually do? There were «I will never play for this fee», «I will never play in this band», «I will never play this music (choose whatever style you don’t like)», «it will sound better with the audience», and, finally, «I’ll go through the scores at home». This last one is what I want to discuss in this section: rehearsals and being ready for those. First of all, you have to forget the saying, «Professional musicians don’t rehearse». Yes, sometimes there may be situations when you have to perform without rehearsals, but there has to be a valid reason — like if you have played these songs with the same band three hundred times and are absolutely sure you are able to perform with zero mistakes. Or if this is a deeply artistic performance that requires no rehearsals because it’s all based on free improvisation. The last one happens extremely rarely, and in this article, we are discussing private events where free improvisation almost never is a thing. So, what’s going on with these rehearsals? They are vital to a good performance. And you have to be ready for a rehearsal. Rehearsal time isn’t the time to learn; that part is done at home. Learning your parts at rehearsals equals wasting your colleague’s time, and time is money, as we all know. I decided to discuss this specific topic with a person who played at a huge amount of concerts and private events — Edvīns Ozols.

I’ll study the scores at home: « There are two possible options — if it is a jazz standard with no special arrangement and if I know this standard, I will not study the scores at home. But if it is pop music… receiving scores where everything is clear cut is rare; you have to do the work at home — listen to the recordings, right down rhythms and riffs, some melodies. If you come to the rehearsal unprepared, you will not be able to play anything. Another thing I’m adamant about is being on time, and since the time I have played with Jelgava Big Band, I have a clear notion that if the rehearsal is set for 6 pm, the rehearsal starts at 6 pm. It’s not the time for musicians to arrive; it’s time they have to be ready to start playing»

Time: at the event / waiting

Suppose you found the job, all the details are finalized, and rehearsals are done; what’s next? Next, you are on the day of the event, and that raises some nuances to consider. These nuances may be placed in various categories, depending on how they influence the musicians and the event itself. We can spend all the time in the world fantasizing about an event where everything is definitely better since the grass is always greener, but the reality usually is less romantic. Event organizers work out a script that has absolutely everything that is supposed to happen during the night — when the guests arrive, when they are fed, when which artist performs, etc. Depending on the script (which usually includes the setup of the event as well — decorations, technical solutions, etc.), another script always exists, technical scrip, that one deals with all the backstage happenings, like where to place musicians to wait, when to feed them, when they have the time to do the soundcheck, all things necessary. Let’s make a short stop here — the soundcheck. Is it necessary, and who needs it more? There are various opinions on that one — there are organizers that believe that the soundcheck is vital, there are musicians that use the soundcheck as an additional rehearsal, and there are musicians that don’t do soundchecks at all. Let’s ask Edvīns Ozols his opinion on that: «There are bands with whom we never do the soundchecks. I don’t support soundcheck as such — as much as you are able to “set up” during one, it will never sound the same when people fill up the space. I don’t like soundchecks, but I attend those because the musicians’ code requires them to. And concerning the time of the soundcheck — everything depends on the script — when the guests arrive and how many other things are there to do before the soundcheck.»

Ņikita Viderkers has his own opinion on soundchecks: «I have nothing against musicians that don’t want to do the soundcheck if they are good musicians and know how to do their job. If my technical team says that everything is going to be fine, if the band proves to me through their playing that they are able to perform without a soundcheck and make it a spectacular performance, I have no objections whatsoever. But I will allow that only if it’s not the first time I’m working with the band. I have to know you and trust you.»

Sounds quite fine, doesn’t it? There are situations when you can go without a soundcheck, there are when you can’t, and here is where other discussions might arise. After a couple of years of playing at private events, hopefully, every musician comes to the realization that a private event isn’t a solid thing where everything always happens on time. An event is being organized for the people, and the script always adapts to the needs of the guests — maybe they aren’t ready to dance yet, not enough alcohol, or not everyone has arrived; thus, the mood isn’t festive enough, your set might be postponed until it’s the right time for it when the public will be able to appreciate it. Some musicians have problems with that. A tale from my experience — once, I had to perform at a private event; the time of the performance was set, we went on stage, and right at the start, the organizers realized that the guests weren’t ready to listen to music, they wanted to talk instead, because before that they had so many exciting things happening, that they wanted to share that with one another. So the organizers asked us to take a breather for some time. The key word here is «some» since no one could predict when the guests would be ready to end conversations and start dancing. Seems clear enough, but some musicians weren’t ready to accept the changes, and the waiting time wasn’t counted in the arrangement. So while the guests were sharing their excitement in the ballroom, the musicians were sharing their dissatisfaction on the backstage. How does this help? It doesn’t. The waiting time will not change depending on what the musicians think, but the mood will. How will it affect your playing when your mood is so low? Another thing, of course, is that the organizers should have thought about that, placed such a possibility in the script, and informed the musicians of that.

Inese Lukaševska shares her opinion on technical planning of the event: «When I plan my events, I never ask musicians to arrive at 2 pm and stay with me until 2 am. I always try to plan things in an optimal way. Although, if your evening is booked for a gig, you are not free. If the musician is booked to perform at my event and he has something else planned for the same evening, I want to be in the know; this will allow me to plan things in such a way that will work for the musician to have time to arrive and leave, because if something changes in the script and he has to stay longer, what then? Anyway, we always discuss the schedule prior to the event.»

His comment on the waiting time between the soundcheck and the performance also shares Edvīns Ozols: «Everything depends on the script and on the ability of the organizer to plan things in such a way that makes both listeners and musicians happy. An unpleasant scenario would be if you had your first set at 6 pm and the next one at 1 am with no opportunity to go anywhere because you’re in the middle of nowhere and everything is too far. But all in all, if you are invited to perform at an event, you have all the information, and you said yes, all the complaints now are forwarded to the person that invited you. Another thing is when you are told that it will be quick, but you get stuck there. That’s on the organizers.»

Vadims Kožins

Behavior on stage

Finally, we are done with all the practicalities, technicalities, and such, and we are on stage! Is this the moment when all my ranting ends? No, because this is also a very important part of being an active musician. Being on stage doesn’t only concern performing, it is a set of variables where appearances and behavior play a big role. It’s quite clear with the appearance — clean and nice attire (this one is decided between musicians, whether they want to perform in suits/dresses, or something else) — most of the musicians even had studied this one in the Academy of Music in the Stage Presence course (also about a chewing gum being a taboo on stage, Edvīns Ozols agrees: «It might sound funny, but I think that chewing a gum on stage is awful — plays well but looks like a cow…»). The behavior on stage, on the other hand, might spark some discussion. Let’s put aside the frontmen’s function to communicate with the listener — to greet them, tell them about the songs, and ask them about their mood. A thing that is often overlooked — is the behavior of non-frontmen; here, the opinions of all my contributors coincide — you have to love your job! I’ll let them speak now.

Inese Lukaševska: «It’s important to me that the musician doesn’t mechanically do his job on stage. I am totally against the phrase: but this is just a «haltūra» (remember, I explained the meaning of this one at the beginning of this article?…) Here I would love to give credit where it’s due — Intars Busulis is a wonderful example of a musician who doesn’t discriminate against a private event; he doesn’t care whether it’s a concert or a function gig. Output, preparation, and responsibility. Not only towards the organizers but also the listeners, how much respect do you have towards the stage? You have to love music to feel the listener. During this summer after covid, there were bands that had four concerts in a day — what output can there be? It’s such a race — the band hadn’t yet finished playing, the soloists already started unplugging the microphone… it’s not cool. I understand that everyone wanted to regain something, but this filing as if you’re in a line and people are pushing you in the back so that you would move faster, like on the central market, it’s not the best one.»

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Ņikita Viderkers: «It’s awful when you can see the desperation on musicians’ faces. When the musician is on stage, but you see how tired he is of what he’s doing. It’s amazing when it’s not only the soloist who enjoys the music. There’s a cognitive dissonance when the soloist has fun, but the guitarist is looking at the ceiling and waiting for everything to end. The listener will never accept that. A musician that loves his job is always accepted very well.»

What is a professional musician?

It might seem that we’ve talked everything out; what more is there to say? But here’s a question — what is a professional musician? And another one — why is this question even being asked? Well, that’s easy. A professional musician is a musician that does his job well. Playing is one thing, but as much as you try, you can’t avoid following some behavioral rules. How well you follow these rules will influence the organizer’s readiness to invite you to perform for them, and at this point, it doesn’t even matter whether it is a private event or public because, in reality, the listener is the same. Your fee will most probably differ because that’s the reality we live it — the concert is more a joy and satisfaction of doing art, more often than not it pays less. The entertainment, in 99% of cases, will pay more. But the gist or organizational processes will be the same in both. Both will have someone in charge, someone who created the concept, the idea of an event or a concert, and someone to provide sound equipment. And the musicians’ job stays the say — playing well, playing for the people.

Edvīns Ozols: «There is no difference whatsoever if you play a concert or a private event. Both have the stage you have to play at. People pay money for that, and it’s not their fault that they get to enjoy this music not in a concert setting but at a private event. The listener wants to hear good music for the money he paid. Organizers, in turn, have to be sure that everything will work out. You, as a professional musician, have an obligation to make it sound good; it’s your job, and you are paid to do your job. It’s not because you are a musician — a spirited genius that has to be accepted the way he is. No, you have obligations; you are paid for a job, not for closing your eyes and facing the heavens.»

Ņikita Viderkers: «To me, a professional musician is first and foremost a person that is alive on stage, one who loves his job and thus does it well. Secondly — a professional musician is organized; he will be ready to involve himself in the process and work at the event as hard as we do, it’s not a person who comes to an event with the opinion that he’s a star and we have to service him.»

Inese Lukaševska: «Our events are always very interesting, they have ideas and meanings, and that’s why the artist has to integrate himself in that. I can’t always invite Intars Busulis simply because he is Intars Busuis and he’s an awesome singer, although I love him very much. To me, a professional musician is someone who is ready to leap into the director’s concept, to show me his flexibility, and someone who is able to collaborate with the script and enjoy the result. I also find the star syndrome unproductive and try not to work with people who have it. There’s no working towards a positive result when someone is a star, just the opposite — they might call you the night before and say that they don’t want to come because they are tired, have changed their mind, or something else. It is important for me to know that the artist will arrive on time, in a normal condition, etc. I have to be able to rely on the people I work with.»

Edvīns Ozols: «At the very beginning, you have to eradicate such words as “mood” and “feel” from your dictionary and stop searching for something divine. It all starts with the basics when you come prepared. It might sound dull, seems like everyone knows everything, but it’s better to do something than explain your bad job with the lack of some holy feeling.»