The Gig Triangle: two out of three ain’t bad. Or is it?

Posted April 12, 2012 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

I wrote about this a few years ago but have had multiple conversations over the last two weeks, so I’m dusting it off for our new readers.  As many of you know, my husband is a bass player and, many years ago, educated me on the term “gig triangle” (courtesy of an article in Bass Player magazine) to explain his dissatisfaction with a particular band he was playing with.  It goes like this: for a band experience to “rock”, you have to have 3 elements – great tunes, great money and great hang (band mates).  According to the author of the original article, two out of three are enough to make it workable.  I’ve been thinking about the gig triangle for a while and how it relates to those of us working stiffs and I’m questioning whether 2 out of 3 is actually sustainable.  Here’s why…

When you think about our world of work, the gig triangle adapts a little to be more like this: great money, great work and great environment (people/culture/work space). With two out of three factors being hit, your inner voice may go something like this…

  • I can put up with these twits because I’m doing what I love and they’re paying me fantastically well!  (money/work)
  • Even though the money’s not great, I love my colleagues and every day feels like play because I’m doing what I LOVE LOVE LOVE!  (work/environment)
  • I may not be doing exactly what I want to do, but the money is awesome and the people I work with are fantastic.  I’ll pursue my real passion in my side business. (money/environment)

Having lived through several of those career gigs myself, my opinion is that you can put up with two out of three for a bit, but chances are, you’re not going to be able to put up with it for long.  Something’s going to have to give.

Twits or a lousy work culture may be tolerable when your work is fun and your paycheque is fat, but eventually all the money in the world isn’t going to make it worth the stress or toll that it’s probably doing to your health.  If you love your job but the money is limiting your options in the lifestyle department, eventually you may need to move on and stop living like a student.  And, if you’re pursuing your real passion/talents outside of work, that may eventually turn into your new full time gig.

Bands like Kiss and the Rolling Stones may be able to sustain the “gig” triangle with two out of three things being covered (or maybe, in the Stones case, with one out of three if the money is big enough), but most bands and careers will eventually implode with only two out of three being hit (after all how many ‘original’ band line-ups are there anyway?  Someone usually gets punted for bad “hang”… which makes you think that the people element probably carries more weight than the money and the tunes when push actually comes to shove.).  For a short-term project, the two-out-of-three mantra may work, but any longer and chances are – like the Stones Bill Wyman – you’ll be moving on.

So, how’s your gig triangle?  Are you living a 1/3, 2/3 or 3/3 career life?  What’s the conversation you need to have to get a better balance?  Afterall, you only get one go-around in this lifetime so you might as well make the best it can be.

Happy leading!


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  1. Mark says:

    Phenomenal post.
    I don’t know of too many bands that have endured with the same lineup..except perhaps ZZ Top, who ironically, have a band member named Dusty – which he surely is.. after churning out 14 studio albums since 1970 w the same three dudes.
    Even with that amazing longevity, I’m thinking the boys from Houston indeed had a broken Gig Triangle back in the early 1980’s. While they may have alienated their original followers (I stopped caring after 1981’s El Loco P) they started rolling in the dough when the left their blues roots for a more ‘contemporary’ sound. I suppose around 1980, the band’s triangle might have looked like this..
    • Money is awesome and we are rock stars
    • My band is great, and none of them steal my beer
    • If I gotta encore with ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ and ‘La Grange’ for the next 20 years, I’ll kill myself. .
    Perhaps the only way they could keep all sides of the triangle intact was to change-up their style. They abandoned their shaving regimen, and end up releasing an album that sells 40 million copies – that’s 40 times more successful than their last studio effort.
    Now the band encores with ‘Legs’ & ‘Gimme all ‘Your Lovin’.
    Where would the band be today if they hadn’t started spinning their guitars and starring in (admittedly) some of the coolest videos of the 80’s?
    Busted Gig Triangles spell the end of the band. Two outta three sides at work is the kiss of death – because you aren’t a rock star, and you aren’t paid as well either.