The choice between actually joining a band or just acting as a “hired gun” for a gig here or there has come up quite a few times in my career; in fact, it’s gotten my attention again very recently. I tend to enjoy the challenge of coming into a group, learning the material thoroughly, and playing a great gig much more than the challenge of navigating the dynamics of being a member of a band. When I think back on it, some of my favorite gigs have been with people I never see again…and some of my least favorite have been with a band I see every weekend. Here I’ll explore some of the reasons I enjoy being a hired gun over being a band member.
1. I’m not a social butterfly! – Some people in bands I’ve joined really enjoy the social aspect of rehearsing with the same group every week, and they form very deep friendships during the time they spend playing together. The bad thing for me is that I enjoy sitting around playing much more than I enjoy sitting around talking. When I’m playing trombone, I have much more to say than when I have to talk to someone. When I rehearse, I get in the trombone playing zone, and don’t really want to talk. Or drink beers all night. Or “just hang out”. If everyone else wants to talk, but I want to play, I can get downright cantankerous!
2. Band Drama isn’t fun. – This goes hand-in-hand with #1, and it’s pretty self-explanatory. I like reading gossip in In Touch magazine, not hearing the dirt on the bass player from everyone else in the band. It’s not fun being a part of a group of people whom you really can’t trust, especially when you’re supposed to be CREATIVE around them.
3. Sightreading IS fun! – When I come in to do a pick-up gig, someone usually tosses a binder full of new music in front of me and I get to read it. And sightreading is so exhilarating! It’s one of my favorite things to do.
4. Hired guns rarely have to load in other people’s stuff. – I was with a band one time that expected everyone to help with load-in, setup, and load-out. Not a problem, until people started asking me to plug in mic cables and set up guitar amps! I always wondered why any guitarist would want a clueless trombonist messing with his/her amp. I certainly wouldn’t want a guitarist putting together my trombone for me! As a hired gun, I put my stuff on stage, and am then free to think about making music.
5. Because variety is the spice of life. – One of the things I enjoy most about being a musician in general is that every day is very different. When you get hired on to several different bands for gigs here and there, you get to play more different music than if you’re a permanent member of one or two bands. I enjoy my weekends so much, going from chamber orchestra on Friday to Summerglen Duo on Saturday to salsa band on Sunday.
With my favorite band, Keith Henderson and the Illusions, I’m somewhat of a hybrid between a hired gun and a band member, because Keith doesn’t always perform with a horn section. I get the flexibility of just coming in once in a while to rehearse, but the comfort of being in a band “family” in which everyone really cares about each other. If only every band could be that nice! Well, until that happens, I’ll continue to enjoy the wild life of a hired gun!