Ten Things I Wasn’t Taught About Show Business

Or, ‘It would have been so much simpler if I had just grown out of it.’


Two weeks into the new year and I’m feeling antsy.  Why?  Because I’m an artist.  Unfortunately for me.  I’m not happy until my diary is filled up with performance dates and I can see the next ten shows that I’m doing from here. I don’t have days off; I have days I feel guilty for not doing more to book a couple of gigs.  Huh?

I may have gone from a starry-eyed little girl to a performing arts graduate but there’s still a lot that I seem to have missed when it comes to being in the ‘biz.  I’d love to believe that this doesn’t apply to the blessed few that are plucked from obscurity to full-time performance and secure paychecks, but for those of us who are still struggling artists, this is for you.

Ten Things I Wasn’t Taught About Show Business

10. It’s not about what you know, it’s who you know.

For years I tried to trick myself in to believing this wasn’t true.  I believed that having the talent and the chutzpah was enough.  Turns out that this is wishful thinking.  This was seventeen-year-old mooning after some Hollywood ideal (like most seventeen-year-olds are wont to do) and believing that the right opportunity would just come knocking on my door.  Yeah, right.  The truth is…

9. You have to do the chasing.

Back in the days when I believed that connections weren’t important, I also believed that I could just sit tight with my talent and someone would come and find me.  (I’m still waiting.  If any major record label is reading this and would like to sign me immediately and distribute worldwide, enquire within).

In reality, it was only recently that I finally started knocking on people’s doors, and that’s when opportunities began to slowly trickle in.  Because, as I have discovered, if you’re in the business of marketing yourself in the slightest, the onus is on you.  So sorry to all the venues that I bug with emails and all the friends that I bother to see if you need someone to fill that opener’s spot.  No one else is going to do it for me.

8. You will never have a day off.

Ordinary people go to their jobs, then go home and veg in front of the television.  I usually sit in front of the television too, except with a laptop or my phone in front of me.  I’m constantly sending emails to venues, checking in with my collaborators, updating my social media…in the age of the internet, I’ve gotten gigs through being ‘Google-able’, and so it becomes my job to keep promoting and updating at all hours.  So, yep.  I can’t clock out of this job.  Ever.

7. Don’t do it for the money.

I’ll say it again: Don’t. Do. It. For. The. Money.  Because it’s not there.  If you’re expecting anything more than the joy of getting up in front of an audience this may get old quite quickly.  Fingers crossed this is just a new-on-the-scene problem, but seriously, the few times I get a gig that is not only paying but actually paying a decent amount, it’s like all my Chanukahs have come at once.

6. Sometimes people are nice.

Some of the loveliest people I have met I have met backstage.  When you’re in the dressing room or green room or rehearsal room or anywhere you spend time with fellow creative types, you find some kindred spirits in those ‘crazy arts people’.  It’s a unique brand of insane and it’s nice to know that you share it with other people.

I have also played gigs with bands that have left me in complete awe of their talent.  Fellow artists can be the best inspiration, and it definitely gives me the impetus to work even harder to improve my own act.

5. Sometimes people are nasty.

I have also played gigs where the backstage space was as frosty as the North Pole.  I always thought it was common decency to introduce yourself to the other acts and shoot the breeze a  little, but apparently some people think it’s better to keep to themselves.  Or not just keep to themselves, but actively repel their fellow artists like they are just little people getting in the way of their talent.  I’m sorry, but if we’re playing the same gig, or we’re in the same show, we’re equals, no matter how big you think your name should be on the marquee outside*.  That old saying about being nice to people on the way up as you’ll meet them on the way down has never been truer.

On a more personal level, I truly believe that being a performer is not just what you present onstage, but your behaviour in the dressing room, in interviews, how you interact with other people. It all affects how people are going to perceive your act, and if you drop the smile the second you get offstage, I’m not going to believe it when you’re on it!

* Yeah, I have never done a show that involved a marquee outside.

4. It’s only glamourous when you’re on the stage.

One show I was so sick with some crazy flu-type ailment I literally couldn’t stand up to sing.  I asked for a bar stool to sit on while I performed my set, and I managed to get through it.  For some reason I felt alright while I was singing but terrible when I stopped!

The point is, the only thing that ever looks glamourous is the publicity shot.  But in reality, people get sick in production week, costumes break, props get lost, things spill on stage, you’ll forget your lyrics, your instruments will get out of tune, you’ll forget your keyboard’s power source, your set list, and the directions.  And did I mention that you make no money from any of this?

3. The show is just the tip of the iceberg.


No one knows how much work you put in behind the scenes and the worst part is you can’t fake it because it shows.  The times I feel worst about my shows are the times I’ve performed and felt completely unprepared.  But the times I do get paid for a gig (those glorious, glorious times) they still only ever pay me for the performance.  Getting paid for two hours of singing and looking pretty is boss, but the eight hours of preparation, research, rehearsal and gettin’ dolled up that went in to the performance kind of get swept under the carpet.

2. You can’t quit.  It’s in your veins.

It doesn’t matter how sucky it seems, it doesn’t matter how long of a break you take, once you catch the bug you will always crave more.  Like heroin (or so I’ve been told). You only need to taste it once to crave it forever.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to feel satisfied with my MMJ (money-making job) enough that I could give up the game and feel content.  But it’s never going to happen.  My aim is to get my performing to be  my MMJ.  I have friends who had to give up performing for a few months and they’re practically bouncing off the walls.  We’re a strange breed, performers, and we’re not satisfied unless we’re creating.  Even if I play a bad show I want to play more so I can make the next one better.  When I play a good show I want to play more because…

1. The applause makes everything worthwhile.

When the curtain falls, or the set is over, or you take a bow, every little part of it was worth it.

…but I do live to create.  It lets me be free and confident and express who I am (yeesh, this is getting mushy) and when people appreciate what I create it’s pretty special.

I guess that’s it for my show ‘biz musings.  Have I missed anything that you weren’t taught? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Yours & c.,

Published by ilanacharnelle

Your postcard from the past; a vintage inspired crooner straight from the heydays of traditional pop.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: