Must Have Gig

Most teachers have some prized nugget they discovered that’s so shockingly effective, they tell everyone.  This is mine.

I require all my students to have an upcoming performance gig scheduled.  If they don’t, they take a break from coaching until they’ve got one.

I’m not picky about what kind of gig it is, and I can help them schedule one if they’re novices.  It could be an audition, karaoke, Toastmasters event, a church gig, an open mic, a choir gig, a club gig, concert or recital, a house concert, a studio session, a conference session, a Youtube video posting, a contest submission, an application deadline, a talent show, an anniversary offering to their beloved, but SOMETHING with an audience, and an actual date picked and circled on their calendar.

You know why:  deadlines motivate.

I would never have instituted this rule, it seems so mean and results-oriented, and I’m nurturing and I value process.  Really, do we have to be on the treadmill all the damn time?   But the evidence from my own students, as well as from the 200+ artists in my local network was undeniable:   the ones who had upcoming performance gigs on the books made progress, and the ones who didn’t… didn’t.

Well, shit.

And it didn’t matter if they were good or bad students, musicians, speakers, or actors, novice or pro.  Age made no difference; it was a 100% predictable result.

The students with upcoming gigs did their homework, asked questions, chewed on things, sometimes panicked or argued, often experimented.  They sizzled in the pan.

The students without gigs apologized, found excuses, and missed session appointments.   And charging them for missed lessons didn’t fix it, but the performance deadline did.  Here’s a solid Duke behavioral psych study about it, and there’s good speculation that it’s because risk to our reputation is a more powerful motivator than risk to our bank book.

I tell other teachers about this “Must Have Gig” rule, and many like it, but I understand why they can’t all do it.

If you want to maintain a full schedule of ongoing students, you don’t tell them they have to take a break until they’ve got an upcoming gig.  No, you keep them paying, you don’t take it personally, and you just wait it out til they get interested again.  But I suck at baby-sitting, and I’m lucky enough to have multiple income streams, so my “I’m an effective teacher” ego wins out.  I do it because it works.

I’ve run into disagreement, mostly from reticent students. I’ve had several people decline to start sessions when I told them up front.  One came back to me with a link to something about the 10,000 hour rule – like, the person wanted to practice for 10,000 hours before performing. I sent back this link.

If you believe in the 10k hour rule, go read it.   I’ll wait.  Good.  So, now you know that the 10k rule is kinda bullshit.

However, the kernel inside it is true:  experience matters.   The “Must Have Gig” rule is about getting that experience, and with a good teacher to leverage it, progress comes fast.

I’ve also gotten this argument from a pro recording artist, which I took more seriously:  he said, “if I put out unpolished work, I’ll do damage to my reputation.”

Yes, you will.  That’s why this works.

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