There was a time when one could be a regularly working musician and play with one band. Sometimes this is still the case, but those situations are pretty rare these days. Many weekend warriors still adhere to the one band mantra for various reasons, not the least of which is time available to devote to the band. It does simplify the issue in terms of booking and juggling set lists and scheduling. Booking alone can be a source of angst even when dealing with players who are dedicated to one band. If the band consists of five people, then that’s five families’ worth of scheduling as well as day-job complications. When you add factors like limiting the number of gigs per month to two due to spousal peace keeping it builds in heavy frustrations for whomever is booking the band.
Today, most musicians who are steadily working do so by performing with multiple groups. They prioritize simply by the order in which the gigs come in: whichever band books the date first gets the player. This can complicate the lives of the members of the other bands, unless there is a web of potential subs available, which is often the case when the bands themselves are built with a core of working musicians. They know the score and book the gigs relying upon subs to fill gaps as needed which feeds other folks’ gig bookings through being able to fill in when group members are gigging with other bands.
Gigging with and being a member of multiple bands can be quite rewarding not only from a wallet perspective. It can also create a very healthy amount of variety into the mix. Often the different bands have different focuses and might fit very different niches. What you do is only limited by the amount of time you have available to dedicate to the repertoire, and your ability to fulfill your role in the different genres. It’s not unusual to play in an R&B band one night, a Blues band, another, maybe an original band in the mix, and possibly an Alt Rock band or Variety dance band as well. The important thing to keep in mind is that when you agree to do these things you need to follow through and do them to the best of your abilities. Don’t spread yourself too thin! That being said, doing work of this sort builds valuable repertoire that sometimes can carry over into any pick up work you might do as well.
Along with variety and increasing the odds of better stuff to be found in your wallet, playing with several bands increases your visibility as a player as well. If you do your job in all of the bands, do it well, and are easy to work with, the word will get out and you’ll find your phone ringing for sub work as well on your off nights. People need players that they can count on to deliver the goods and the word does get around the more you do. This can also lead to bigger and better things in the form of offers from more well known acts that need players, to even a national level if you’ve been diligent enough. The only way to open that door is to get out there and build a positive reputation. Granted, there are no guarantees, but a large part of having good luck is opening the door for it through hard work and proving your reliability regardless of the circumstances.
The important thing to remember in all of this is to know your limits. Any time you join another band there is going to be time required in the woodshed working up tunes you’re not familiar with. Make sure you understand what is expected of you and be as transparent as possible about your involvement with other groups. If you don’t have time to do the woodshedding, then you really shouldn’t take the gig. Many bands have rehearsal expectations in addition to the gigging requirements, so be up front with everyone about what you’re willing and able to do. If it’s not going to work, then accept that and either look for another opportunity elsewhere or if something you’d really like to do, carefully take a realistic look at what your other commitments are before you make the decision. What you can handle in an all-pro manner should be your guideline.
If what you want is to stick with one band, then there’s nothing wrong with that. Many people happily go about their lives that way, finding the one group and whatever gigs that come or don’t come from it enough to satisfy their need to perform and make music. Often much of the local music scenes are made up of individual groups that don’t stray into polygamous musical entanglements, and those groups tend to make it very clear when they’re looking for replacement band members that they don’t want “jobbers,” musicians who perform for a living. They associate this with difficult schedules that don’t allow for a regular weekly commitment to rehearsing and complications when it comes to booking the band. Whichever way you choose to do it, whether it’s the multiple band scenario or the one and only, transparency on your part and a personal commitment to do all of the work required are absolute necessities.