From singer-songwriters to classical musicians and hard-boiled rockers, stupid questions and downright rude comments such as “When are you going to get a proper job?” and “Can you play my birthday party for free?” are par for the course. Here’s a handy guide to questions you should never ask a professional musician.
"Would you be available to fill-in for our cover band? We can’t pay you, but there's free beer!"
Why this sucks: How would you feel if somebody asked you to cover for a co-worker for free and offered you a couple of beers for your troubles? Entertaining people is damned hard work, and it costs money to play a gig.
What musicians usually say: “Ah no sorry, we’re busy that night,”
What musicians usually want to say: “Hey no problem. So how about you stop by my band member’s houses Saturday morning, mow their lawns, take their kids to football and pick up some groceries, and when you’re done, there’ll be a cool beer waiting for you in the refrigerator. Sound OK to you?”
"Why don’t you go on X-Factor or The Voice?"
Why this sucks: Because the X-Factor and similar TV competitions are not the be-all and end-all of the music industry. Some people find it exciting to be a part of, but other people that have spent years grafting and learning their craft, simply don’t want their ‘rough edges’ i.e. their personality and art smoothed over.
What most musicians say: “It’s not really my sort of thing,”
What most musicians want to say: “Because I didn’t become a musician to be told what to wear, what crappy songs to sing, what stupid damned haircut to have, and precisely how far up Simon Cowell’s gold-plated butt-hole to stick my tongue,”
“When you get famous, can you get me free VIP tickets?”
Why this sucks: Whut? You’re having a friendly chat with somebody, and they’re already thinking years ahead of piggy-backing your success to roam around backstage bugging people for autographs? That’s not very friendly!
What musicians usually say: “Ha ha, maybe,”
What musicians usually want to say: “Oh, well, OK then, random-person-I-just-met. What’s wrong with wanting to see MY band? Tell you what buddy, why don’t I just forget all about my girlfriend, my parents and my friends, and let some dude I just met come backstage and stare at Katy Perry’s ass?”
“Um, that’s a little more than I was hoping to spend. Can we have a discount?”
Why this sucks: Contrary to popular belief, the quoted fee does not include drugs, loose women or backstage unicorns.
What musicians usually say: “I’m really sorry, that’s our best price,”
What musicians usually want to say: “Oh I see. You want five people to travel 50 miles, turn up two hours before it starts, bring a thousand pounds worth of equipment, set it up, sound check it, rock your guests for two hours, pack it all up and travel 50 miles home at midnight, and you want all of that for less per person than you paid the old lady that put the buffet out?”
“Hey, you’re a musician? Are you any good?”
Why this sucks: If you told somebody your job, and they said “Are you any good at it?” you’d probably think this was a little rude. Musicians are no different. Doing a particular job implies that you have some level of competence at it, so it’s kind of weird to assume that musicians don’t.
What most musicians usually say: “Haha, I’m OK I suppose,”
What most musicians want to say: “Hey, you’re a doctor? Are you any good at it? Killed any patients lately? I could tell you that I’ve been playing since I was five years old, or that I’ve been on the road for the last fifteen years, or that I paid my mortgage entirely from music, but that would make me look like an asshole. So yeah, I’m damned good, but I’m not justifying myself to you,”
“Are you any good at Guitar Hero?”
Why this sucks: OK, this isn’t a rude question. But it’s kind of stupid. Think about it.
What musicians usually say: “Haha, I’m OK,”
What musicians often want to say: “No, I can’t play Guitar Hero, because playing the guitar involves actually involves playing the damned guitar, rather than following some lights on a screen. OK?”
“Hey, can you play this prestigious event for free? There will be people there that can help your career…”
Why this sucks: The up-market version of “We can’t pay, but you can have some beer!” is “This venue is very posh, and you may meet some kind of millionaire wizard that will make all of your dreams come true,” which is rather insulting to somebody that; (a), already has a successful career, thank you very much, and; (b), is probably bull. If somebody thought they could suck up to a millionaire by introducing them to an established, professional musician they would invite you as a guest, rather than expecting you to show-up and play for free.
What most musicians say: “Erm, I’ll have to speak to my agent about that,”
What most musicians want to say: “You’re at least 20 years too late if you expect me to get excited about the vague promise of ‘career help’ from mysterious benefactors. I’m a working musician, not a wide-eyed newbie,”
“So, what do you do during the day? Like, what is your job?”
Why this sucks: Imagine your job. Now imagine you tell somebody what job you do, and they ask you what your real job is. Being a professional musician is a real job. End of story.
What most musicians say: “Erm, during the day I practice. This is my job,”
What most musicians want to say: “Oh I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to impress you by covering up the fact I work in a coffee shop with my more interesting hobby. I’m sorry you don’t value the years of training and intense competition it takes to reach a level where people actually want to hear you play. My job is music. Whether it’s playing or teaching, my job is my music, and I’m sorry you don’t think that’s a "real" thing that I spend my life doing,”