The Art of the Hang

Every person is unique, and musicians are perhaps the most extreme example of this. It’s the similarities that bring us together, and the differences that make life interesting. When a group performs together, they are working as a team to reach that common goal – entertain their audiences. But to create that magic of a special bond onstage, that group really does need to know each other very well, and that is done OFF STAGE during the “hang” time.

Sure, I can put together a group of players who have never met, have maybe one rehearsal and sound check, and pull off a performance. But I can guarantee that the performance would be MUCH better if those players knew each other better before the show. The more people play together, the more they can blend, adapt, and work together to create a memorable show for the audience. It’s true for symphony orchestras and rock groups alike.

It’s NOT just about the playing ability and the music.

As a dear friend and contractor says, “I can get notes from just about anywhere and anyone. It’s the attitude I care about.”

Musicians tend to forget this. They get so caught up in the notes and think that people are hiring them solely based on their playing ability. Truth is that you may be the best player in the entire world, but if no one likes your attitude, you will not have much work. And whether or not it’s “right,” music contractors hire people with whom they WANT to work.

I have had this discussion with many contractors on multiple occasions – why did you hire this person when s/he is always bitter and mean to all the other players on the gig? Answer – s/he is a good player; but I will never hire him/her again after how s/he has acted here.

I like to spend time with other musicians to get to know them better. This determines if I want to spend weeks on tour with them, or even do a long-term project with them. I know I am also being judged, ALL THE TIME. Do they want to spend time with me? Perform with me? These decisions to continue relationships and continue to be hired are usually based on the social time, not on the stage.

The “hang” time usually happens between sound check and show, and after the show. When it’s between sound check and show, we are usually pre-occupied with reviewing parts, lyrics, etc. and are working on getting it all together. When it’s after the show, it’s more relaxed. Yes, you should relax during this time, but still always keep in mind that others are watching. When the contractor/boss is there, be casual and have fun, but don’t lose control and do something you will regret. I have seen people I have hired on a gig lose control, and have been told by my boss to never hire them again. So I don’t hire them again for that boss. Period. And I may not ever hire them again for me.

As I stated in the title, there is an “art” of the hang. When invited to go out with the group after a gig, GO! Even if you can only stay 5 minutes, it shows that you care about the other people involved. If you can stay longer, DO! Listen to the conversation; engage when you have something to say, not just because you have to keep talking. Be sociable and have a beverage (even if it’s just soda or water). When the hang is at a public place (bar or restaurant), make sure you don’t drink too much alcohol so you can safely get back to where you need to be (NEVER drink and drive). Also, make sure you have enough CASH to buy your own items. It can take forever to process a credit card, especially when there are 10+ separate checks. Plus, you don’t want to have to ask a fellow band member to “cover” your tab – this is very bad for relationships and future work.

When the hang is in a hotel room, don’t show up empty-handed – bring something to share. I like wine, so I bring a bottle to share and some extra cups from my room since the host room only has a few cups. If I can, I stop by the grocery or drug store and pick up some chips or other munchies to share. When you are the hosting room, make sure that your personal items are put away so there is no embarrassment when others visit (like underwear on bathroom floor, or bras hanging on a chair). You need to make your room comfortable for visitors since they will usually be sitting on beds, floors, desks, etc. And be prepared to stay up a while if you are the host room. You don’t want to be rude and “kick out” the other band members before the party’s over. It always seems to happen that everyone knows when it’s time to get to bed, and the party ends naturally. When you are a guest and not the hosting room, be sure to pick up after yourself with your empty bottles and trash. Of course, be careful of overstaying your welcome, too. You have to “observe” when it’s time to go, too.

It is a social time, but also can determine if those other members will want to work with you again. Also, it will show you their true colors and you can decide if you want to work with them again or not. Once you have established these connections, it almost always comes through on the stage. As an audience member watching the show, I can tell when the people really know how to work together by how they blend, how they sound, how they interact with each other onstage. It really is a special magic that shines to the audience when the band has those connections. And those connections come from the art of the hang.