Work and Music: Perceptions and Realities

Our street out front has been out of commission for the past four months. The village has been on an infrastructure improvement mission and two blocks of our street were slated for both sewer and water main replacements as well as rebuilding the entire street in the process. It has been a long four months and the past couple in particular have been a challenge. The house has been shaking and the windows rattling from all of the heavy equipment creating seismic activity that has made me rethink possibly moving to California: minor tremors? No big deal. I’m used to having a fairly quiet space, aside from my dog alarm notifying me of the postal carrier’s arrival, and that’s despite living in a highly urban environment. Today they’ve started paving which tells me we are in the end stretch of the project. There’s obviously still work to be done and more layers of asphalt to be laid, but I can see the end of the noisome project, which is a definite improvement.

In some ways being a musician is very much similar to the process that we’ve undergone with the rebuilding of our roadway out front, but in other ways it’s very different. In a few weeks there will only be a smooth road for people to drive on. People who don’t live on my street who chance upon it and drive down it will use the finished product and appreciate it as a nice road surface, if they even think about it. However, so much work went into the preparation for that final presentation, and unless you were there while they tore up the old surface, hauled it away, dug and replaced one main after another, refilled the holes than dug them up again to attach the mains to the feeders to the houses, then filled them in again, crushed the old curbs, dug those out, set the molds and redid the curbs and curb sidewalks, then laid the roadbed before grading and then finally starting to lay the asphalt, you wouldn’t think about everything that went into that nice smooth ride that you’re currently experiencing.

When people go out to hear a band at their local watering hole, at a festival, or formal concert, what they are experiencing is the final road surface, that clean fresh ride and the sound of tires on new pavement. They don’t see the years spent learning to play the instruments, the countless hours of rehearsal, equipment purchases, perhaps costume designing and all of the various other factors that go into producing that show they just saw. They see the culmination of the project to that point. When they judge what they’ve seen, they’re actually judging all the work that went into producing what might add up to three hours of performance, and that’s what the people that made it happen take home with them, along with whatever their monetary take was for the night.

Where it is most different, however, is that the folks who have done the water and sewer main work, then finished the project, were being paid while they created the road. For those four months the workers were receiving wages that paid to send their kids to school, kept a roof over their heads, provided benefits and sick time wages, as well as paid for their vehicles and whatever else they needed. They were making a livable wage while they worked. This is not the case for those musicians. On the local level musicians are actually getting paid less per gig than they were thirty years ago, particularly when you look at what the dollar can buy now versus thirty years ago. In suburban Chicagoland the usual take for a performance varies between sixty to one hundred dollars per musician per performance. Usually these performances run from 9pm-1am and entail about another three hours of set up, tear down and travel time. This ends up resulting in an hourly wage of about $8.60 to $14. There is no pay for the hours spent rehearsing, equipment purchase compensation, or other business compensation, nor is there such a thing as paid vacation or sick time. If the local musician gigged 28 nights a month for an average of $100 per night for a year, the gross would come to $33,600. Since he or she would be considered self employed the withholdings are greater than those for someone who grossed the same amount but was employed by a company, so the net take would be less for the musician.

In this area, the end result would be difficult for one person to live on, let alone a family. It would also entail working 336 days out of 365, if one played one gig on each of those 28 days per month for $100 per gig. Of course this also ignores all of the work that would go into booking those gigs, which, once again, is unpaid labor. If the musician is lucky and has a good booking agency, then a minimum of 10% of the gross payment for each gig goes to the booking agent, so if the venue pays $100 per musician for the night, each musician receives $80 before expenses and tax deductions. It’s very difficult to even get to the point where one is being booked that many times a month on the local level anyway, particularly when many venues either don’t pay anything or only promise the door, which can be a disaster for various reasons.

When people aren’t conscious of the amount of work that went into creating that road and everything underneath it, they have a tendency to take it for granted. They question the funding for infrastructure projects, but complain when the roads fall apart, sewers can’t handle the overflow from spring rains, and the water mains break after 100 years of service. However, this is the only way those improvements are going to happen. No builder is going to offer to work pro bono for “exposure,” but when it comes to musical entertainment it’s an entirely different story. A band I’m in recently had auditions for a new drummer, and one of the drummers asked about money, in a very apologetic manner. He’s trying to make a living as a musician, and due to the current climate surrounding the arts money is an incredibly touchy subject. Amateurs are all too willing to play for free, which creates an environment where venues start to expect this from all levels of musicians. Often bar owners complain about paying bands, and when the amateur bands respond by playing for free, this creates a sucking chest wound in the vitality of the professional musician pool.

When I look out at the road in front of my house, I’m going to remember for years just how much work and effort went into building that road and everything that was built underneath it. I’m going to remember the long weeks of heavy machinery and construction workers laboring through the rain, heat, snow and cold to produce an end result that is far better than what was there before. Just as I remember the years and decades of work that went into my musical practice and performance. While there are definite differences between the two, the similarities still exist, hard work, dedication and perseverance. I just hope everyone else sees this as well.


Dreams and Realities: Moving through A Life Long Musical Career

Last night as I was sleeping on the pull out sofa bed at my in-laws’ I dreamed I was playing guitar with Elton John and when he left the stage it became an open mic night.  Did I mention it was a dream, heh, heh?  We didn’t have a plan on what to play; after all what do you play after doing a set with Elton John?  So we went into a basic blues shuffle and I started to take a solo but the neck on the Strat I was playing felt like there was something wrong.  At that point I awoke to find my left hand wrapped around the metal tube that made the frame of the bed, trying to form a bar chord.  No wonder the “Strat” neck felt wrong!  Occasionally, like last night, I get lucky in my dreamscapes and get to play with some great folks.  Another night I dreamed that I was sitting on the floor playing with Emmy Lou Harris and Ricky Skaggs.  These are the type of dreams that I don’t want to wake up from, but when I do I count myself lucky to have had the dream for a couple of reasons.  First, they’re really cool dreams, and second because they remind me of the level that I really want to perform on; they are literally my dream playing positions and inevitably show the variety of my musical interests in the process.

Last night’s dream was unique in that I was playing in two very different situations, one of which was high function pro level and the other was very much local get together and see what happens.  It was an odd juxtaposition because they were drastically different on so many levels, but it was a dream that within itself was portraying a dream versus reality situation.  What I want, vs. what I get.  For most of us our realities don’t match our dreams so we find a way to accept our lots and move on with them.  Others actually get to live their dreams, but who knows, maybe they dream about having a week where they can simply hang at home and not have to hop on a jet to the next venue.  All I know is I’d like to have that opportunity on a regular basis at some point before I shuffle off this mortal coil to paraphrase the bard.

When our dreams and our realities are out of phase and we have the opportunity to reflect on this disconnect we can either take the opportunity to try to figure out what is standing in the way and come up with a plan to get us closer to those dreams, or we can settle into acceptance of our lot in life and try to be content with it.  A third possibility, of course, is to find the disparity between the two to be too great to overcome and too depressing to deal with, so we quit.  This third option is clearly the most self-defeating because in allowing this perspective to cloud our minds we find ourselves losing something that has been a very important part of our lives.  Yet another option is to do everything in our power to perform at the level we desire to, whether we are on the national stage or in a local corner pub.  In many ways this is what separates the true pros from the amateurs.  I once heard an interview with Huey Lewis where he stated that all he ever wanted to do was sing and play his harmonica, whether he “made it” or not.  Obviously he made it to the international star level, but what drove him there was his love for what he did as much as anything else.  He was committed to his art and craft, and was going to pursue it regardless of where that pursuit led him.

I truly believe that if we took a survey of most of the folks my generation considers as our idols (I was born in 1962), most of them were in it for the long haul whether fame came or went.  In fact for a large percentage of them fame was fleeting.  They were big names for awhile but were mostly forgotten yet most of them continued regardless, some hoping for the next big hit, while others kept going simply because that’s what they did and how they identified themselves.  Some did go on and pursue alternative careers, but they were probably the minority.  There is much that goes into becoming a famous musician, not the least of which is a hefty dose of luck.  Sometimes musical skill wasn’t even part of the equation but the artist had something to offer that appealed to a group of listeners at the right place and time to elevate them to idol status.  Regardless, most of them continued and many grew throughout their careers.  If we look at The Who’s music from when they started and compare it to their peak performance levels there is no argument that they continued to push their boundaries throughout their careers as a group and as individuals.

Not all of us are going to become household names, in fact a very small percentage of musicians or performers of any kind do.  If fame is what drives us to be musicians then we’re dealing with a very shallow motivator that will eventually in all likelihood break down and leave us lost along the roadway.  Music itself, a love of performance, and the desire to make the best music we can make are motivators that can take us the long distance of our lifetimes regardless of what fame we might garner along the way.  Love of the medium and the journey itself is where we should find our rewards, regardless of whether we’re actually making a living at it or not, and surrounds ourselves with the best like minded people we can work with does a lot to make that a reality for ourselves and move us toward our ultimate goals one way or another.


Some Thoughts on Work Prioritization

So, I’ve got four bands that I need to prep for.  How do I do it?  First I need to look at the volume of work in relationship to when I need to be prepared by and then I can set my prep schedule accordingly.  Fortunately one of the bands is pretty much set.  For that one I can show up when we have a rehearsal scheduled and I’ve already got much of what we’re doing under hand.  It’s really almost a show up and gig band as it stands, with nothing actually on the books right now.  Another one is a start up that just lost the drummer, so it’s in a holding pattern.  No problem.  The other two, on the other side of the coin, are where I need to focus right now.

The one, which I gigged with last weekend, just handed me five cds with a total of 75 tunes on them.  About twenty of those really need my attention because I’m not familiar with them, can’t hear them in my head if I push play on my internal stereo system, and really need to get the under hand.  I have a rehearsal with them tonight.  Tomorrow night I have a rehearsal combined with a keyboardist coming in for an audition.  I’ve got about four tunes to get in hand for that and a gig with them Friday night.  So between the two of these is where I need to focus my woodshed time.  We’ll see how I divide the time from there.

Often I find myself in these situations prioritizing based on which fire needs to be put out by when and allocating time accordingly.  I’ll put some time in for rehearsal tonight, but what is going to get real priority is going to be the band I have the gig with Friday. I need to brush up on the material we’re performing then as well as nail down the tunes for the audition so I can focus on appraising the keyboard player.  The other band I’ve got a few weeks before the next gig so I can pace myself a bit easier there.  I’ve also got other irons in the fire, which need their own prioritization, not the least of which is finding a more reliable source of income to support my family with, as well as keeping up with my writing responsibilities.  So the pressure is on from multiple perspectives.

My situation here is far from unique; in fact it’s a pretty common one with players who are trying to make a living doing what they do best, performing.  Juggling multiple bands, their repertoire, rehearsals and performance dates can become quite the complicated process in itself.  It requires constant attention, keeping an accurate date book, constant sharing and updating your booked dates with your colleagues, and making the best use of the time you have available to meet your obligations and show up prepared for the rehearsals and gigs that are scheduled.  This is also while keeping in mind that you have other important obligations as well, such as your family, doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and all of the other things that go into having a complete life.  Sometimes it can become overwhelming and requires a step back to reassess and breathe.

You also have to ensure that you work in time that is entirely for you in some shape or form.  You might need some time where you actually don’t even do anything, some time to download and process or simply sit and breathe, meditate, check out for the moment.  This is reasonable and quite often required in order to be able to maintain a positive attitude and be able to actually make progress with the seemingly impossible pile of work in front of you.  That being said, there are also times when you have to be able to accept that perhaps you have bitten off more than you can handle, which requires tough decisions to be made in order for you to create a more manageable balance.  Everyone should be able to handle periods of “oh my God, I’m so busy I’m pulling my hair out,” without coming unglued.  It’s when there is no ebb and flow that we need to make changes.

Currently I still have hair left and I can make the balance work, as long as I stay on top of it, and don’t zone out, get distracted or start ruminating on the ills of the world too much.  I know that on good days I can really get quite a bit done, so I need to take advantage of them.  The bad days I still usually get something done despite the emotional drag.  It really does boil down to planning and prioritization, preferably before it gets to the putting out the largest fire point.


Making Your Own Luck

This past Saturday night I played a gig in a bar north of Chicago as part of a blues/rock quartet. I played bass. The other instrumentation was pretty much the standard format I’ve been playing with for the past four years or so, guitar, keys and drums. There wasn’t much of a crowd, but we had the people who were there up and dancing for most of the night until it was time to pack up and head home. The owner and bar help were happy and so were the customers. We collected our pay, parted ways cheerfully and I was home by a little after 2 a.m. When we started at 8:40 things were sparse, but we made the music and brought it together, which is what professionals do even when it looks like a losing bet. You never know what is going to happen, or who is going to show up, so you do your best regardless.

We made our own luck with the situation we were given because we delivered the goods regardless of how many people were there. This meant that the people who were present responded and we pulled them from the room where the bar was into the one where the band was set up. We were fortunate that the place was set up with a large open area between the two rooms. Some places I’ve performed in, quite a few of them really, aren’t set up this way and the bar area is almost cut off from the dance floor and band stand. The places with that set up generally are ones that weren’t designed to be bars, and are often a couple of store fronts that have been rented and combined to produce a larger capacity. This can create a difficult situation for bands performing in these venues. People like to have easy access to their libations.

You also never know who is going to show up where you’re playing. This may sound like a cliché but as with most clichés there is a kernel of truth there. I have an acquaintance who is a very skilled guitarist who lives on the east coast. He and his wife have a duo, kind of a Tuck and Patti type of thing where she sings and he plays. They play restaurants, corporate gigs and various other events together. They were playing somewhere a couple of weekends ago and in walked Stevie Wonder who was so taken with what they were doing he asked if he could sit in with them. My friend posted footage of one of the tunes they did together on Facebook and it was clear that the three of them were having a great time together. Will it lead to them moving up in musical circles? Maybe yes, or maybe no, but it certainly made for a cherished memory that they’ll have for the rest of their lives.

Granted, we’ve all done gigs in tiny little towns where the only folks who are present are locals who don’t have anywhere else to go. I was in a band in Peoria, Illinois that specialized in doing gigs in tiny farming communities where there would be only one or two establishments at a crossroads or two street town. They were fun gigs and the audiences were always appreciative. They were also almost always tiny clubs where the crowd was made up of dedicated regulars. We’d play our hearts out just the same, regardless of who showed up or didn’t for that matter, and we’d get asked back because we did it. It really doesn’t matter, you perform every time to the best you are capable.

Many of us do, however, have stories like my friend’s though, enough so that we should all listen to them and heed them well. After the movie “Walk the Line” came out I was playing with a cowboy rock and roll band. I was loading my bass rig into a club in Texas owned at the time by Willie Nelson’s stage manager, and there sitting alone at a table was Joaquin Phoenix. I was busy, but we locked eyes and nodded hello to each other and I finished my load in. You really never know and you really don’t want to be surprised on a night when you’ve decided nobody is there so why work it. You work it every time you open your case and set up to play. It’s what you do and who you are, so whatever you do, don’t mail it in.

Preparation, Desire and Pursuit: Making Opportunities Happen

Opportunities often occur when we least expect them to, and sometimes they are things that we’ve dreamed of happening but had all but given up hope on. The key to being able to take advantage of these opportunities when they appear is simple preparation. We need to ensure that if the opportunity ever happens, we are ready for the challenge and can step in to move forward. This pretty much extends throughout our personal lives as well as our professional lives. We’ve all experienced opportunities that we have let pass by because it wasn’t the right time, or we weren’t prepared to the point where we were comfortable taking the leap. For most of my life I’ve had seeing Big Horn Sheep in the wild on my bucket list. When I did it was when I least expected to. We were on our way back from Devil’s Tower in Wyoming to our hotel in Custer, SD and I had put my camera on the dashboard of the car before we left, just in case. We rounded a curve close to the Jewel Cave National Monument on 16A when we came across a herd of about 20, with lambs, right beside the road.

Preparation for an event, even when it isn’t expected, makes the difference. If I had left my camera in my backpack in the trunk, I wouldn’t have been able to document my bucket list moment into my person digital history, which I would have sorely regretted. For me the experience was an awe inspiring moment, which I would have cherished with or without the photographic documentation, but being able to take the photos made it that much better. That was made possible simply by making sure before we started back to our home base that the camera was available in case a photographic opportunity presented itself en route. So too we must ensure that we are prepared professionally for any opportunities that might present themselves, that we aspire to or always wanted to do but didn’t have the chance for.

In terms of preparation there are many things to consider, but they basically boil down to having the right equipment and the musical skills, and ability, to take advantage of opportunities. Of the two often having the right equipment is not the prime barrier. Equipment wise, there’s always a legal way to accommodate the need one way or another. The one that most frequently rears its head is a lack of musical preparation in terms of skills and abilities. When we start out we are filled with hopes and dreams, and since we’re young when we start we often don’t view anything as impossible. We work at our skills and push as hard as we can to succeed. As we age and the years go by, as well as opportunities, we tend to slow down and often don’t put in as much time as we should, or we find other distractions in our lives that pull our focus away. Then an opportunity shows up and we find ourselves thinking “ten years ago I would have been all over that, but I don’t think I can pull it off now.” We’ve let our skills and abilities slip to the point where the dreams are shelved.

We all change as we age. What is important to us at 50 is often not the same as it was when we were 25. This is one of the simple realities of life, but we still have room for passion, goals and hopes. If we no longer really want the opportunity that presents itself, then that’s perfectly fine, but if the opportunity is still something that we strongly desire and still pine for, and we cannot move on it because we’ve let ourselves slip, then it’s a very sad thing. Which also brings us to the other end of the stick. Most frequently opportunities happen because people make them happen. We set the stage for them as opposed to sitting back and waiting for them to come our way. If I never went to where Big Horn Sheep lived and sat home waiting for them to come to me in the Chicago suburbs, then my opportunity to see them would be non-existent. I had to do what was necessary to make the opportunity eventually present itself.

Opportunities happen most frequently when we make the moves to ensure that they can present themselves. We do this musically through tons of preparation, networking, performing and more networking and preparation. We go where the opportunities exist and then do our best to keep our ears to the ground and our feet and hands moving. Some start making excuses as they get older, stating that it is a younger person’s game, but the reality is that it’s everyone’s game. When we start setting limitations that deny access to our dreams we do just that, we limit ourselves and our abilities to continue dreaming. We limit our abilities to sink our teeth into our lives and what matters to us most. Remember, preparation is the key, and most of all, if the opportunity doesn’t appear, make your own opportunities!

Perspectives on Performance – Finding the Spiritual in the Visceral

Different musicians have different approaches to performances, and how one approaches performance can say quite a bit about how one views music. Many of the musicians I have worked with have a more blue-collar approach and perspective. They do care about music very much, and it is their passion in life, but they approach the gig in the same manner as one would go to work. You arrive, set up, maybe socialize or get something to eat before starting, and when start time arrives, you go up and go to work. This is a very common approach, and is one that gets the job done while maintaining a level of professionalism and decorum. You’ve been hired to perform a service, and you deliver that service just as anyone would in any business relationship. It does employ your creative energies and specific skills, and you do get something more from it than the money, but it’s a job. There are also many musicians out there who carry a somewhat different perspective and approach to their performances. Most of these individuals tend to move in a higher skill set and mental attitude toward their profession than the usual bar band mien.

For these musicians, and while this is more common in classically trained circles it does extend to higher level musicians in most genres, each performance is a significant event that requires spiritual, emotional and mental connection and preparation going into the performance. The musicians prepare themselves as if they are performing a sacred duty, often following pre-performance rituals such as meditation, stretching, and centering prior to the performance. Every performance, regardless of the venue, audience, or any other venue is of equal importance and requires total focus and 100% dedication to giving the best possible delivery of the music to the audience that the performer is capable of rendering. There is an element of love and respect for the medium that goes into the preparations and intent behind this perspective that infuses the experience with a deeper seated meaning, making each performance an event in the performers’ lives as well as, hopefully, the audiences’.

From this type of perspective, each performance is both carried in the actual moment of the performance but also into the hearts and memories of all present, and if it is a successful moment, then it will be carried for years by those on the receiving end. It’s not over with the last note of the night. It nurtures the souls of the performers and the audience, leaving both better than they were prior to the performance and with the sense that life is best lived when one has the opportunity to have a long succession of such fulfilling experiences. For this type of musician, it’s not simply an evening of work, enjoyment, and some cash at the end of the night, though it is that as well, hopefully, but rather a fulfillment of their purpose in walking the planet and extending that relationship to whomsoever is willing to take the journey along beside them.

From the blue-collar working band performance perspective this train of thought might be met with a defensive perspective that the other approach is just a bunch of romantic drivel. So you have a performance, get over it and on to the next one. But herein lies the rub, why are you doing this? What are you getting out of it, and wouldn’t you like to get more than you are? One of the reasons for the difference in perspectives does lie in the types of performance situations the players find themselves in. Most classical and higher level popular genre performers are doing their jobs in venues that cater to specifically music. People go to these places solely for the music and with the intent of giving their focused attention to the performances. They’re not going to dance, meet and talk with friends, or find someone to go home with. They’re not going to drink away their troubles, worries, and concerns, nor are they going to watch their favorite teams on the big screens while the bands are doing what they can to garner their attention. They are there for one reason only, for your performance and the music you are presenting to them, for them.

How we go about things as performers does have an impact on the outcome and so do our expectations and perspectives on things. If you are happy and content as things as they are do you need to change your approach? Not if you are truly content and desire what you are reaping from your performances. For many years I have been performing with bands and musicians who have the more blue-collar approach to performance. They have a definite passion for music, and they do well with what they do, but it is definitely a more informal perspective on making music than what I encountered so many years ago at the conservatory. In some ways this has led me to experience more freedom, specifically from performance anxiety, and has led to some risk taking that I wouldn’t have taken in a classically oriented situation. For the last two years I have been straddling both worlds and have been encountering both perspectives on a more regular basis. This has led me to reconsider the approach to performance that I want to take because if the medium is my passion, shouldn’t I dedicate myself to presenting it in the best manner I can every time I perform? Doesn’t it deserve my full focused attention and abilities? How one approaches something often dictates what one gets or achieves from the experience. Go beyond the immediate, and look to the world.

One Band or Several: How much work can you handle?

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.