Gigs! The Good, The Bad, The NEVER AGAIN!

This week I thought I would talk about some of the gigs I’ve had over the years that I’ve really enjoyed or have learnt from.

Weddings:

I love weddings, they’re fun and fairly easy work musically. I haven’t had any bridezillas yet all my brides have been wonderful people.

What I have learnt from weddings over the years.

My first wedding was in St Margaret’s Church In Roath  when I was 18. I had no idea what I was doing looking back, mainly because I had only ever been to one wedding before, like most normal people, and had no idea what to expect. The bride had heard me singing ‘Somewhere Over the rainbow‘ when I was busking and wanted me to perform it during the signing of the register. It was a lovely wedding and all went smoothly. However, it was jumping right into the deep end; I had no idea what to charge, what to wear, how to organise it properly and what to play for the background music at the beginning of the ceremony while everyone was finding their seats. Now, almost 5 years on, I am old hat at it all. The big rookie error of it was that I didn’t get the location until the day before!

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My last wedding was in December at St David’s Hotel . It was a Ceremony and then an afternoon tea, for just 20 people. Gorgeous, simple and easy wedding! I got to play all my own repertoire for the afternoon tea, as I do at the Hilton. And they wanted ‘Ed Sheeran – Thinking out Loud’ for the signing which was easy to learn and arrange for the harp. I even got to use my Canon in D Cheat Sheet for the walk down the aisle, which takes all the best bits of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and distills it to the main motifs so you can lengthen and shorten it depending on the venue and brides pace, makes life so much easier for everyone!

 

GIGS! Part 1 – Residencies

What they don’t teach you in school or University is how to best go about sorting a long term gig at a venue or a ‘residency’. I have been very lucky to have my regular spot at the Hilton for almost 12 months now and because of that I have had many harpists ask for advice on the matter. I will do a ‘basic guide to residencies’ post at some point. However, here are some of my favourite regular gigs.

Hitlon Cardiff 

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I would be no where If I hadn’t been seen by the lounge manager at the Hilton Cardiff one day when I was busking and asked to come in for a trial session. I am very thankful every weekend to have regular work at such a fantastic venue. And to have valet parking! score!

 

 

 

Cathedral 73

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I spent about 2 months at Cathedral 73 in Pontcana, which was a lovely venue with really great owners and staff and a real ‘to do’ clientele! It’s also a boutique hotel for those of you wishing to visit Cardiff in a lap of luxury!

The Most frightening thing about it was the parking lot! Cathedral 73 has their own Roles Royce and parking my car next to it in a very small parking lot was the most stressful moments of my entire career thus far!

It was really lovely gig-wise and I’m a little saddened I’m not still there regularly, they chose to have a full-time pianist over me (space issues!)

 

GIGS! Part 2 – Events and Concerts. The Fun!

I’ve done some fabulous gigs in the past and here are some of my favourites:

Being a Concert Soloist:

every musician wants to be a soloist and if they say they don’t it’s because they play viola (sick burn!) Last year I got to do two lovely concerts:

The First in Bethan Baptist Church in March

The Second was a fundraiser for Stonewall Cymru

 

Odd And Fun Gigs

one of the best ones was at Cardiff Central Library for an event in July!

The best odd gigs of 2015 included, Cardiff Indoor Flee Market, The RBS on St Mary’s Street,

Being a princess #harpist #castellcoch #artproject #livemusic

A post shared by Sam Hickman. Singing Harpist (@samhickmanmusic) on

Castle Coch for an art installation

and my christmas concert with the Cardiff Consort!

 

The Never Again or Not At All Gigs!

(Yet more Advice for Young Musicians… sorry everyone else)

The Not At All Gig –  When I was in my Second year of uni I was approached by a night club manager and asked if I would do a gig in their club for a party they were throwing. I said of course, because work is work. However, it became apparent that it was not for my musical skills… he asked if I would play for 2 hours, from 11pm-1am… which already raised some red flags. To follow this spectacular offer he then argued on the price. I had said £90 (it was before I had to pay my own rent) and he wanted me to work for 2 hours in the middle of the night for £60.

Sat in the corner like a Greek goddess

were the words he said over the phone… I later talked to my friend who worked as a night club bouncer and had heard horror stories about this club and advised me not to do it. I sent an email to the club manager explaining why I was turning down his, now very unattractive, offer. To which he responded calling me ‘obnoxious’.

The Never Again Gig – This was more of a scheduling and time wasting gig which I was doing for free on Bank Holiday Monday in August where I could’ve made a lot of money busking instead. It was a gig I was only meant to play for an hour set and turned into me hanging around all afternoon doing nothing. And when I finally performed the audience was completely inappropriate for my genre and style!

 

So What did we learn from all this?

well, as Sondheim would say ‘opportunity is not a lengthy visitor’, for the last minute gigs and quick bookings you’ve got to take the chances whenever possible but within reason. As a free-lancer you have to know your value and not compromise to the extent where you are uncomfortable doing something. Learn how to tell the difference between a gig that is unpaid because they can not afford to pay you, ( for example; Charities, fundraisers, public sector, and small businesses) or because they will not pay you. If you do not think your work has value then you will not be compensated for your time and talents! This is something I am still learning to this day! It’s the standard interaction most musicians and free-lance people face.

 

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Car Trouble, Cold Snap and Being A Grown Up

Week 2, Let’s do this!

First, To set the Tone, Here is a photo of Big Harp ready for summer.

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Get the Sunscreen!!!!

 

This Week has been a pretty average week for me, Hilton, Busking and teaching! Let’s Start with Saturday.

Car Troubles

There are only 4 things you need to be a harpist (excluding ‘talent’ of course), they are:

  1. A Harp (Preferably a good make and model but we can get to that another time)
  2. A Tuner (to tune the aforementioned harp)
  3. A Trolley (If you have a big harp and care about your spine)
  4. A Car (to get to the places to play said harp, to pay for said harp)

A serval points in my career I have left the house without one or more of these. Recording day for my EP (The Live EP available for Purchase HERE!) I’d gotten set up in the studio and found I had lost my tuner at the Butetown Carnival the day before… then ran back to my house to pick up my spare.

Saturday I had the misfortune of my Car’s battery dying right before I had to go to my residency at the Hilton. It wasn’t the end of the world because the Cardiff Hilton is a 25 minute walk away from my home and it wasn’t raining. I know what you’re thinking ‘Why don’t you always walk to work if it’s that close?!? SAVE THE WHALES!’ well, the main reason is the Gut strings, when you are playing up to £30 a string (and there are 28 of them on my big harp) the cold weather is not your friend. However, since my car was not going to work I had to walk.

A Disclaimer first: I am very stupid.

I set off. I did not bring a coat. I did not bring a pair of sensible shoes and my tights ladder pretty much the second I left my street. But 25 minutes later I was at work with 2 minutes to spare!

I feel I should stress that I am usually at least half an hour early to the Hilton each week, which is awkward most of the time because on a normal weekend I just have to sit there in an empty restaurant before they open for afternoon teas at 2pm. Anyway, the Hilton is Lovely and you should all go there for afternoon teas Saturdays and Sundays 2-4pm for the fantastic staff, great food and incredible live music *cough cough*, that is if I’m still working there when you read this and I’m not Adele but with a harp… (I have dreams!)

Sunday, I left 4 hours to fix this problem, so I rang the AA at 9:30. The mechanic came, fixed the problem and went by 10:30.That was easy! Being a grown up is really simple about 60% of the time, it’s just filling out forms and calling other people to do things that you don’t know how to do (within reason).

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awww’Cold Snap

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this week, but it is freezing! and I can not function in this level of cold. It was alright on the weekend but this week has been a chilly one (Only one string broke in my epic Hilton walk, just for those of you still wondering).

It’s the same temperatures we normally get in January, but because of the crazy mild winter it feels like death has finally come to claim you! Quite far from the roses currently blooming in my back garden:

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Today (Tuesday, I’m doing the magic of scheduling my posts, internet trickery I know!), It was -1 and 0 for most of the morning busking. this has been the case for most years I’ve busked in the winter in Cardiff. This year, however, prepared so well for it, I bought a new wool coat and thermal socks and it never got chilly! I even bought snow boots this year and guess what; It snowed everywhere in the UK except Cardiff… Just my luck! (Although busking in the snow is not as much fun as it sounds, I did it about 3 years ago!)

So I’m 50/50 about this cold snap, it means it’ll be chilly but it also (and very sneakily) separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of buskers. For the seasoned ones of us who have been doing it for years and have built up, not only the tolerance but the appropriate outerwear, this cold weather is exactly what we expected the 8 months of winter here in Cardiff to be like! I jest! 10 months of winter. It’s the UK after all.

But this Cold snap means that those guitar wielding ‘Singer/songwriters’ are less likely to come and populate the good pitches, mainly because urban outfitters doesn’t fair well in freezing temperatures!

 

Being a Grown Up.

My personal New Years Resolution was to learn how to be more of an adult, in terms of feeding myself, doing my taxes properly, and finding the best deal for a mortgage… So not the fun adult stuff like sex, drugs and … ummm…. Voting… I guess!

So 19 days into 2016 I have done about… -2% of the things on the list. But I’m sure by the time this publishes I will have set up my mortgage appointments with my banks (Future Sam don’t screw me over on this one, you beautiful fool!).

The Silver lining is that I did my taxes in the summer. Sure, I didn’t do them to the best way that would suit my swanky Wall Street Alter-ego but I did them correctly and paid my taxes so that’s the main issue here!

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‘Helpful Tips’ For Young Musicians

I thought for my final section I would finish with more tips for young musicians aspiring to the heights I have reached. Here are my Thoughts this week:

1)You’ve Got Time. You will probably work 10-20 hours a week, maybe 30 if you get a good gig or nice side job to support yourself, (40 if you live in London, haha suckers!). You have so much time that you don’t need to rush places and you are NEVER ‘busy’. Any Musicians or Musical person who says they are ‘busy’ is lying! I know this because I have used this word to describe me sitting in my Pyjamas watching South Park from start to finish. If you are talking to a Musician who is actually ‘busy’ they are on their way to a fabulous event or have just come from a rehearsal and this is their 15 minutes between one thing and the next. Musical people do this very irritating thing where they think are the most important and busy working professionals alive, which is sometimes true if you are Joyce Didonato, and not at all true if you are a Cardiff Music School undergraduate in between your 4 hours of lectures a week. I won’t go into the things I dislike about musical people now. That’ll be for another time. The Point is You’ve got 112 waking hours in a week, if you are only working for about 10-30 you’ve got time. Slow down buddy.

2)Always be Early, not ‘On time’, Early. Another thing I noticed in my undergraduate was that everyone was always ‘on time’ for lectures, this is fine for an academic setting where you can wander into class at bang on the hour but absolutely unacceptable for professional musicians (unless, again, you are Joyce Didonato, then you can do whatever you want). Because I didn’t grow up being a harpist and only really started properly after graduating I have always been suspicious of my instruments. I always arrive anywhere from an hour to 30 minutes before because I like to have ‘Harp Faffing Around’ Time.

It’s the time it takes to get to a venue, get into a venue, unpack, re-string if necessary, set up your stand, have the staff ignore you when you try to get a drink, find the bar, wait at the bar for the staff to notice you, get the tap water you wanted (I know! WHAT A DIVA!?!?), find your music, tune and then have 10 minutes remaining to find the venues wifi and take pictures of your harp to post online so other harpists and musicians can get venue-envy (a term I just made up). So I arrive early so I can do all of this in a nice relaxed way. It has made life basically feel like a yoga class and a spa, which is then hammered home by the fact I play harp. Basically Always be early for things.

See! Venue-Envy!

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3) Never Show Up Unprepared. I have only ever shown up unprepared for busking, which is the only place it is acceptable to show up unprepared for because it is effectively ‘paid rehearsal time’ in a safe environment. I try out all my new pieces busking. When you are working on a big professional project, be it audition, concert or show if you turn up unprepared you will be the only one. If you are the soloist or sole performer of your instrument it will show. I did a National Youth Choir of Great Britain concert a few years ago where the organist hadn’t prepared all the music properly and he was cut from the concert and a replacement was brought in. yeah! the musical world is a tough one Kido! So, repeat after me, ALWAYS BE PREPARED!

And That’s where I’ll leave it this week, here’s a picture of me being my amazing-self at a tiny gig on sunday night.

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New Year; New Resolutions.

For my Lovely Followers and Friends

First off, here is Elaine Stritch winning an emmy in 2004

Elaine Stritch winning everything!

 

Now if that’s not how you feel waking up everything morning then you’re doing it wrong! Oh course I have my housemate wake me up every morning and jump on me because otherwise I would not see sunlight in winter.

If someone didn’t come and wake me up at 8am every morning then I would sleep right through till March! This is the life of a free-lance musician when you’re just starting out. Last year my friend turned to me at christmas and said ‘so what do you actually do when you’re not working? you’ve been free-lance for 6 months now…’ and I honestly had no idea… but I knew I’d watched A LOT of TV! so last year for my new years resolution I decided I should probably try and do more with my days, because while I can make my life look glamorous and fabulous:

like this!

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Continue reading “New Year; New Resolutions.”