Gig Musicians Vs. Show Musicians

Oct 26, 2012 at 8:56 am

Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship

This weekend, I am playing guitar at a wedding. I do not know the bride nor the groom beyond email formalities, and the material I'm playing is standard matrimonial fare - Pachelbel's "Canon In D," Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" and so on. There's nothing specific or personal about what I'm doing that necessarily qualifies me over any other musician. I rarely play gigs, but this is a gig. Nearly every other time I've played music in public has been a show. Musicians are often sorted by what instrument or what style they play, but nothing separates musicians more than the mentalities of gigs and shows.

As the names would imply, a gig is a job and a show is a performance. Playing covers for four hours at Fast Eddie's on a Friday night is a gig. Playing your own songs for thirty minutes at Fubar on a Tuesday half an hour after doors open is a show. Musicians usually make money during gigs, and rarely expect to be paid at shows. You could stop reading here and conclude that gig musicians do it for the money and show musicians do it for the art, but that would be a gross oversimplification.

99 percent of the people I know who support themselves making music do so primarily by playing gigs, and that is assuming I know exactly 100 working musicians. What they accomplish is pretty amazing, being able to adapt to so many situations and memorize so many songs in detail. Playing drums in a wedding band involves knowing tempos, song structures, and crucial breaks, not to mention the required stamina. You can easily fudge the numbers on your own material, but nobody's going to let that slide when you're playing "Don't Stop Believin.'"

Inversely, if somebody put a gun to a few of these musicians' heads and told them to write a great song, we'd have some blood spatter to clean up. On the plus side, I can recommend a great funeral band.

Much of the conflict between show-ers (hyphenated to not look like showers) and gig-ers (hyphenated to distinguish between giggers, or frog hunters) sprouts from jealousy. The workload for show musicians is huge. They write the songs, rehearse the songs, book the shows, promote the shows, and receive a massively disproportionate amount of money compared to their gigging brethren.