As I move forward in this so-called career of mine it feels increasingly good to turn down work that I don't want to do. Just yesterday I quit one playing job and said NO to two other things. In the past I pretty much took any gig because...when DON'T I need the money?
Its been a given that I don't work in bars for "the door" anymore; haven't done that in a couple of decades. I don't go on the road because I have a family and other responsibilities in town. I have a minimum fee for recording and live "commercial" work (private parties, corporate events, etc) and, if that is not forthcoming, then I have learned to say no thanks.
But it is only in the last year or two (and I keep having to learn this) that it has felt very powerful and "right" in my bones to politely decline offers for things that I really don't have time for or just don't want to do. I can be bought, of course, musical whore that I am, but there's even a limit there. Usually, however, the things I enjoy saying NO to are low-paying, highly time- or attention- intensive gigs.
For instance, yesterday I got a call from a very fired up sounding woman who wanted me to do some music copy work for her original music. When I asked what form she had the music in (handwritten sheets or a recording I can transcribe from are the normal answers here) she told me that she would come over and "sing it to me". Well, my friends, that just screams lose-lose proposition. She told me she had been working with someone "very good" but that he had gotten busy and just didn't have the time to finish the project. Yes, I understand, my brother.
I also enjoyed quitting a gig yesterday that I was supposed to do for the next 12 Sundays. Man, just writing that makes my skin crawl! It was at a certain sort of medieval, guilt-inducing, pompous religious venue (how's that for PC?). I played a rehearsal, which consisted of me trying to decipher printed sheet music for voices and organ (no bass part, of course) and of the music director telling me things I didn't need to know and failing to cue entrances so that I would have some idea when to start playing. Then came the actual m--- , uh, service. All for a fiendishly low stipend. I derived a tremendous sense of relief when I emailed them with some names of other bass players who might want to take over the gig starting next week.
The power of NO extends into one's civilian life as well. (I could have gone Mike Ditka on you and said "In the music business, as in life...") It can be challenging to set aside time for things that aren't income-producing, responsibilities, family duties and so on. But, the older I get, the more I find that carving out time for what I WANT to do as opposed to what I MUST do is crucial for my well-being. I'm also learning to respect people in my life who know how to do that, even if it means they're not doing what I want them to do! Damn that equality thing!
More generally, it seems like this has to do with creating good boundaries for oneself. I'm not going to wax self-help aisle here but suffice it to say that, for me anyway, it is an excellent life skill to be able to choose, to order my own time, and to say NO when my gut tells me to do so.