Awkward, annoying and sometimes downright embarrassing things happen in the real world of work-a-day musicians. Last weekend I experienced one and it brought to mind a few others things that I thought readers of this blog might find helpful, especially those who are just beginning to play out or do it so infrequently that glitches come as an unwelcome surprise.
So, I arrived at my gig and began unloading equipment. But soon a vehicle pulled up – loaded with musical equipment. The driver got out and approached me.
“Uh…. Are you playing tonight?” asked the man.
“Yeah, I am,” I said. “This was booked a few months ago.” Fortunately I had my phone with me and could show him the emails from the person doing the bookings confirming the date.
“Well, I played last weekend and they asked me back for this weekend,” he replied. “I’ll go find someone and figure it out.”
This was an embarrassing situation, to say the least. Long story short: As far as the owner of the place was concerned and according to their web site schedule I was definitely the scheduled performer. No only that, the other musician was under the impression he was also playing at the end of August on a night that I had confirmed! How this whole mess came about I have no idea – the other people at the establishment who supposedly are in charge of the bookings claimed no knowledge of the mix-up. In any case, I did the gig and as per the adamant declaration of the owner, I will also play the date next month. I asked the lady who does the bookings to PLEASE be sure to email or call the other guy and reiterate that he was NOT booked on the other date. I will most certainly follow up on this before the gig!
In almost four decades of performing as a single and with various groups this is only the second time this has happened to me. I guess the take-away here is simple: always confirm your gigs. You can be sure I will be more diligent about this in the future.
Here’s another one that is tough but all too common:
“Hey man, I play the guitar, can I sit in with you?” or even worse, “Hey man, can I try your guitar?”
OK, at the risk of sounding like a jerk, the answer to question one is almost always no. The person asking may be a fine player – but I don’t know that. I take great pride in my performance, my material is well learned and well rehearsed and a stranger sitting in is never going to make for a professional performance. Also, no self-respecting pro musician would ever ask such a thing because they understand the parameters I just mentioned.
Question 2: Absolutely, no freakin’ way. Unless of course you are Eric Clapton (not in your mind – Eric himself!). Usually a goodly amount of drinking has preceded this request, making for a huge risk to your guitar. Again – no REAL musician would EVER make such a request.
Of course, if you happen to see Eric sitting at a table it is perfectly fine to ask him to play a few tunes – ha!
Now this last one may be my own issue but I think many professional musicians feel the same way. It’s about trying to get paid at the end of the gig. Even after all these years and hundreds (thousands?) of gigs I find it awkward to ask for my pay. A good manager makes sure that the performer doesn’t have to go through this and is right there at the end of the night with cash or a check. But I would estimate that perhaps only 50% of them fall into that category. The rest are either too busy (and frequently annoyed that they have to stop what they’re doing to pay you) or in some cases almost resentful that you need to be paid. Amazing, but true! I’ve even played gigs where the manager was literally hiding in some dark back room when I came looking to get paid. Some even want you to come back a day or more later to get paid. This is entirely unacceptable and when I ran into this years ago at a chain of restaurants that were unfortunately very numerous and hired acoustic groups and performers I quickly made the decision to forget about playing any of them after a couple ugly incidents. In one place I was even underpaid with no explanation. Bad on me, lesson learned.
So here are your take-away points today, folks. Always confirm your gigs. Act in a professional manner and expect the same from others (but don’t be surprised if that is not the reality of the situation). And always, always count the money!
Peace & good music,