Every once in awhile you get the opportunity as a musician to substitute for another musician: sometimes it’s a well known community orchestra or a spot in the Kennedy Center pit. What’s important is making the most of these opportunities and leaving the door open for such opportunities again. Below is a list of key things to remember when you are called upon to substitute for someone else. This will keep those call backs coming and keep the person who referred you (often times the person you’re subbing) from looking bad to their boss or conductor.
1) BE ON TIME!! This is probably the most important. A regular personnel member showing up late is unacceptable. A substitute for that member showing up late can result in burnt bridges at the very least or losing the gig entirely at the very worst. Give yourself way more than enough time to arrive at the rehearsal or performance site. That includes unpacking and warm up time. If you’re sitting around for half an hour waiting for the rehearsal or gig to start, that’s a good thing. If you’re the first person to show up, that’s also a good thing. It shows dedication and that you take this job seriously. So many subs don’t show the same dedication and you will quickly become a favorite of the ensemble and escalate to their “first call” slot when openings arise.
2) Being a substitute is an audition. When you are subbing for a regular member of the personnel, look at this as an opportunity to audition for the ensemble (or for others who see you perform with them). Wrong notes are not an option. This is the time to bring out the best you can in your playing. Ramp up your practicing and warm up time to make sure your stamina exceeds what you need for the gig. You never know when there will be a vacancy in an ensemble and the first people called to audition for (or out and out take the vacancy) are the best substitute players on their list.
3) Make friends with the other people in the group. This is networking gold. You don’t need to be overbearing or crazy cheerful (that can be a turn off) but make yourself available for conversation and stick around to chat with people after rehearsals if the opportunity arises. This is how one gig leads to many other gigs.
4) Introduce yourself to the conductor. Out of respect for the leader or conductor of a group, make yourself known. Introduce yourself; and thank them for allowing you to sit in with them. This is the least the conductor or leader deserves for putting faith in you to step into a trusted personnel member’s shoes.
Above all, treat every substitute opportunity as more than just another gig or paycheck. Treat it as if the whole world is watching you play (because quite a few people are) and you will always reap the benefits.