I have taught many people throughout the last 17 years. A lot of my students have been intrigued by the thought of playing for money. My colleagues and I in the bagpipe performing business have seen a lot of people come and go in that time. The problem is that many bagpipers believe that all they need is a set of pipes, a kilt and some business cards and then they’re in business, ready to play for money. So, for all of you who are thinking about entering this market, I thought that I would give you a preview. Don’t quit your day job yet.
The first thing that you MUST be before entering the market is an accomplished bagpiper. What does that mean? You, as a piper, should be able to play all genres of bagpipe music. That means, in addition to the 4/4 march, you should be able to play marches in all meters, strathspeys, reels, hornpipes and jigs, and maybe even a little Piobareachd to develop your musicality. You should have a very long list of tunes that you can play to cover any type of event. Playing “Scotland the Brave” over and over again won’t cut it. You also need to be an experienced bagpipe technician as you can’t afford a bagpipe failure during a performance. If you are a truly honest individual, you will make sure you can do all of the above before taking your first paying job. I’ve seen too many people enter the market who shouldn’t be in it, taking advantage of a customer’s naiveté about bagpipes and bagpipe music. That’s too bad as the public should get the best of what the bagpipe world has to offer..100% of the time.
The majority of our gigs are once-in-a-lifetime events for most people: Usually they are funerals, weddings and parties. If you’re not the best bagpiper and performer that you can be, you shouldn’t be in the market. It’s not easy money. This person is paying you to do something almost sacred for them. For example, there’s a certain demeanor that you must have when discussing a funeral with a family member of the deceased. You need to know what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. In most cases, this person has never hired a bagpiper before. You need to make them feel that they are getting the best person for this job. If you think that maybe you can wing it, you will be one of those people that we’ll see come and go. In the funeral market, the funeral directors know who we are and what we can do; they know who is good and who is not. They are the gate keepers in this market as the majority of funerals are booked through them.
Weddings are another story. Again, most people have no idea what a bagpiper does at a wedding and how the piper and pipes should be used. It’s my job as the bagpiper to educate the bride and groom on how the bagpiper works into their wedding. I do what an organist would do if they were at a church. The bagpipes, in a lot of situations, are the only music played at a wedding, especially if the event is outside. That being the case, I explain exactly how the process works before I give the price. (As a business person, if I am going to invest 5 hours away from my family on a Saturday and drive umpteen miles to the gig, I’d better be in charge of the rate of return on that investment.) You might consider taking a Sales 101 course. If I explain to the bride and groom exactly what I am going to do, it is only then that I give them the price. To be honest, any price that I quote them is miniscule compared to what they have already been charged by the florist and caterer. I personally want to get as much as I can on a Saturday trip away from my family. I also want to be fair. I also tell all prospective brides and grooms that they shouldn’t hire anyone that they can’t see perform first. Sometimes hiring that “friend of the family” is a bad idea.
Look, I’m realistic too. There has to be a point where a new bagpiper can come into the market. If you think that you’d like to compete for business someday, maybe you should consider competing in solo competition. Knowing that you have to prepare music by a certain date is a goal. It gives you a reason to practice and learn new music. Remember, you’re only as good as your last performance. The bottom line is that the market place will determine your success or failure and whether or not your are ready to play for money on a regular basis!