Every musician has played some lousy gigs, and some more than others. Small crowds, weak sound reinforcement, cramped space, short money, high drama, the list of the stuff that can make a gig lousy goes on and on, and is enough to keep some people from ever playing out. Dealing with gigs that don’t cut it is as much part of the process as rehearsal, glory, and getting paid.
There are so many more bands than venues to play, and gigs are much harder to find than people to play them. Maybe it’s because anyone can grab an instrument and book a gig. Maybe people don’t care about integrity. Or, as the skeptics say, maybe some people are just evolutionary dead ends. Regardless of the circumstances of any gig, I am baffled that bands cancel gigs at the last minute without a reason involving well-being, or natural disaster. I am talking about local gigs, which is a completely different game than being a touring musician, where routing and expenses can often cause tours to fall apart weeks before they get started. I have compassion for the challenges of creating sustainable touring.
Imagine you’re at a venue. People have paid a cover, bartenders are working, electricity is being guzzled almost as fast as beer. Promoters and management are running around getting the room set for an evening of fun. And a band calls at the last minute saying they don’t want to play, they’ve booked another gig, or they’ve changed their mind about playing. Cue empty stage, disappointment form everyone involved, and another failed event.
This is the entertainment business. Our job as musicians is to provide entertainment. How upset would you be if you showed up at the movie theater and they decided at the last minute to not air the film… after you’ve bought your popcorn and soda?
While I agree that bands often get the short end of the stick, I don’t believe that justifies blowing off a commitment to provide entertainment when your job is an entertainer. I’ve never seen a band forced to take a gig. It seems obvious to me that if you agree to take a gig, you play it. I’m unclear how people who don’t do that will ever draw 1,000 people per night, or perform regularly.
When a band changes their mind at the last minute and bails on an event, the impact is on the venue, the promoters, and the audiences; in short, the entire music community in that area suffers for it. It’s easy to say “Oh, but that’s a lousy gig, it doesn’t matter anyway,” and circumstantially that may be valid. Any band that wants to be taken seriously might be interested in having an impeccable reputation as a professional. I’ve seen many bands cancel at the last minute, or just not show up.
It is unprofessional to cancel a gig at the last minute. People who get paid in the music business are called professionals.
As a semi-professional musician myself, I can understand why people are so hesitant to pay musicians for their work. Perhaps if bands up the level of professionalism, they can command more.
If you don’t like a gig that’s presented to you, don’t take it. Every time you leave someone scrambling to cover your mess, they remember your name. And it’s a fact that people are ten times more likely to share a bad customer service experience than a good one.