Expert Advice: How to Land--and Keep--Those Great Gigs

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By Paul "Chico" Fernandez

This year I performed at the 2015 Oscars. I played timbales with Gary Valentine and his band Malibu Mariachi. He and his group performed at last year’s Oscars as well. We played for the guests and stars as they arrived and/or left the event. Ordinarily a timbalero is not a part of a mariachi band. The clients wanted a “spicier” kind of Latin Music this year, so we played some Mambos, Cha Chas, Meringues and other “Salsa Music.”

What was it, you might ask, that led us to playing this gala event and many other fine gigs, such as a party at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s house; a party at auto sales mogul Fletcher Henderson’s mansion; special effects director Richard Taylor’s birthday at the Pacific Dining Car in Santa Monica, and many others in Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Beverly Hills and more? A long, lasting relationship.

Gary and I first met in the late ‘70s in Santa Monica. He was a fine guitarist, vocalist and harmonica player in those days. I hired him on as a music teacher and we also started playing gigs together, everything from private parties, weddings, nightclubs and bars to corporate functions. He is an especially fine Spanish and classical guitarist who speaks fluent Spanish, after having lived and worked in Spain for a number of years. He is also a consummate businessman and promoter. Over the past few years we have collaborated on many musical projects, including bookings, recordings, teaching music and having a lot of fun while doing so.

Today Gary Valentine is one of the 40 instructors who teach at the Santa Monica and Culver City Music Centers. He gives private lessons and classes on ukulele, guitar and harmonica.

He has had a professional relationship with one of the people who run the annual Oscars event and through the skills developed over many years of being a businessman as well as an accomplished musician he was able to make and develop that connection. This, by the way, is what I and my associates teach in my Music Career Workshop classes at Santa Monica Music Center.

I perform at the Beverly Hills Summer concert series with the Westside Jazz Ensemble in the summer and at the Culver Seniors Center Tea Dance a few times a year. The WJE is a 17-piece big band plus a vocalist. The band is under the direction of saxophonist David Jacques from New Orleans and consists of men and women of all ages. The organization has been in existence for about 40 years and is a good band and a fun social event all rolled into one.

How does all this relate to performing at the Oscars? Here are some timely tips:

1) Utilize ALL of your friends and acquaintances to further your career and, specifically, get gigs.

2) Be kind to those you meet on the way up—they may get a gig for you later, and help you when and if you are on the way down.

3) If you play more than one instrument (I play drum set and timbales) let contractors, bandleaders and others know about it.

4) When you are on the set in a movie or TV show, or at the Oscars, DON’T be a total amateur and ask for autographs, or take pictures of the celebrities, or talk to people you are not authorized to speak to. As an example: at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s party his “people” had us band members sign a three-page legal document instructing us NOT to take pictures, etc. However, Arnold was kind enough to pose for pictures with us when Gary the Bandleader had an opportunity to do so.

5) Turn off and stay off your cell while you are working. There is nothing more annoying than a member of cast and crew or band members talking or texting while working. It also may interfere with sound recording and the complex array of electronics and signals that are present on or near a set. (By the way if you are a member of the musicians’ union, you are considered a part of “Cast and Crew” NOT Atmosphere or Extras). This has its advantages vis-a-vis better food and treatment.

6) Do not drink or eat until the Band Leader or Music Contractor tells you it is okay. When you do, don’t be a pig. Practice good manners and etiquette.

7) Do not EVER get drunk, high or tipsy on the gig. The old saying, “You’ll never work in this town again,” applies.

8) After the Oscar performance, take pictures, selfies and text or call your friends and relatives if you want to.

9) The next day or so, send emails, press releases, texts or whatever to industry people to let them know what you have done and what you are doing in the future.

10) Last but not least: IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE ABOUT SOMEONE, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL!

Paul “Chico” Fernandez is a professional drummer in the Los Angeles area. Fernandez has not only taught drums but has worked as a talent manager, producer, booking agent, photographer and graphic artist. Joined by his brother, he opened the Santa Monica Music Center where he gives lessons and holds career development workshops that feature industry pros who deliver the information and contacts needed for a successful career in show business. For complete information about workshops, see santamonicamusic.com/t-history.aspx.

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