I’ve been looking around lately for some new musical partners. It’s like dating, only much much much more awkward.
That’s particularly true in my case because, with some exceptions, I’ve been playing with the same group of guys for nigh on 18 years now. That simply doesn’t happen in the music world — in fact, 18 months isn’t a bad run for a musical partnership — and I feel like a widower who decides to put himself out there again after a long marriage. (I continue to play a bit with my longtime music friends, but they all have other projects and we’ve all gotten lazy about bookings, so I need to expand my circle if I want to keep playing out.)
Being out of the game for so long means I’ve forgotten what to do when it comes to chasing down work, and anyway, the rules have changed. Example: I showed up at for a tryout today and everyone else was reading music off of iPads. I brought along sheets and an old-fashioned music stand.
It’s also just harder when you’re a harp player because of Musician Math. Musician Math often dictates that you use the fewest number of players possible when you put a band together, because you’re not going to make much money and you don’t want to split the ridiculously low payment too many ways. If you start with the assumption that you need a guitar, bass and drums, then everyone else is potentially expandable. And so rhythm guitarists, percussionists, keyboard players, horn players and so on all get squeezed out by many bar bands.
I fight back against this math by singing, and by playing decent hand percussion. I also point out that if a band has a good harp player, it isn’t going to sound like 147 other bands out there. But it’s a hard sell, and even musicians who like you will dump you and your payroll cost if they’re trying to play for a living.
I’m easygoing and undemanding as a band member, but I do have a rule: I won’t play with assholes. Trust me, the music world is filled with people who have more ego than talent, and I have very low tolerance for that sort of nonsense.
I’ve tried out with a few groups in recent weeks, and I’ve gotten to put in some time with some nice players, and hopefully something will happen. But I always keep in mind the great advice from the mysterious and fictitious Del Paxton: “Ain’t no way to keep a band together,” he said. “Bands come and go. You’ve got to keep on playing, no matter with who.”