When The Gig Gets Canceled…

Concert canceledLet’s face it, we usually don’t enjoy picking up the phone and finding out that our gig is canceled. Hearing the news via email or text doesn’t make it any better, especially if it’s short notice. On one hand, the middle-schooler in us delights in the fact that we can stay home in our PJ’s, watch movies and maybe even bake cookies. On the other, the adult in us realizes that we just lost our gig (and perhaps the ability to pay our rent this month).

Given the recent meteorological events, particularly Hurricane Sandy, as well as the threat of snowstorms during the approaching winter season, I figured it was appropriate to tackle this topic. The weather is just one of the curveballs that may get tossed our way… artists, agents and club owners tend to mess up our plans as well. Plus, every now and then, some ridiculous scenario completely beyond our control manages to creep up and surprise us.

That said, there are many possible reactions to your gig getting canceled, and unless you have the luxury of going with the “snow day” approach, it takes a certain amount of strength to be able to deal with it in a level-headed manner. Most of us will experience cancellations of various levels, from annoying, to unfortunate, to infuriating, and our response to the cancellation is often proportionate to the importance of the gig.

To break it down a little bit, let’s define these types of date-book demons.

“Annoying” cancellations may include rehearsals, low (or no) paying local gigs, or anything that had been scheduled and just happened to fall through. It forces you to rearrange your day and may make you wonder why you even bothered to do it in the first place. Plus, if you had to turn something else down in order to fit the gig into your schedule, it’s can be a double-whammy. Thankfully, this cancellation probably won’t impact you too much. And, aside from the fact that you had planned on doing it, you’ll probably be able to make other plans or take some time for yourself. If it becomes a reoccurring problem with a particular artist, consider discussing it or rethinking your involvement in the project.

“Unfortunate” cancellations may include decent paying or high-exposure gigs, lessons, recording sessions, or anything else that may impact you financially or professionally. You may miss out on a decent pay-day, a high-profile playing situation, or perhaps a gig that you’ve really been looking forward to. It’s unfortunate in the sense that you may have to put in more hours at your day gig, but hopefully it won’t make a huge difference in the long run. If the unique playing situation falls through, you’ll just have to stay positive about it and remember that something else may come along.

“Infuriating” cancellations are no small potatoes… missing out on a particularly important gig (or an entire tour) can create unanticipated drama and financial stress. When the big gig gets canceled, you may find yourself at a loss for words and you’ll probably have to take a few deep breaths. If you’ve had to turn down other opportunities or make lifestyle changes in order to accommodate the gig, the last minute cancellation may bring about the dreaded question, “what am I doing with my life?” Once you get past the initial reaction (which may or may not include punching a wall, slamming a door, or screaming at the top of your lungs), try to come up a silver lining.

While it’s easier said than done, think about how you can salvage your time if the gig falls through. Whether it was supposed to be a few hours playing at a local restaurant, or a three-week tour on the opposite coast, you’ll still have to rationalize the situation and recover from it. Perhaps you’re now free to be around your family for the holidays, you have enough time to finally work on your own music, or you’ve got a free night to check out a friend who’s playing in town. If you’re hard working and determined, you’ll find some other work opportunities if you put the word out that you’re available. Otherwise, you can take advantage of the time by practicing, networking, or baking those cookies.

As a professional musician, it’s hard to rationalize the cancellation of an important gig, especially if you were depending upon it financially. That said, make sure you have a cookie jar set aside so, worst case scenario, you can dip into it until you can salvage your schedule. Although many of us live paycheck to paycheck, remember that you need to have some kind of back up plan… a cash stash or emergency savings account is just like having car insurance when someone rear ends you. It may take a bit of penny pinching in order to put the money away, but you’ll be glad that you have it when Sandy’s sister Mandy rolls through town.

And finally, remember that gigs get canceled for all sorts of reasons… low ticket sales, baseball playoff games, double bookings, natural disasters, and who knows what else. It’s easy to get angry about the situation and to try to place the blame on someone, but ultimately, you’ve got to put things in perspective and figure out how to make the best out of the situation. Also remember that whoever hired you once may hire you again in the future, depending on your reaction.

What are some of the ways that you cope with cancellations? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

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  1. thank you, this was a very usefull content.

  2. If you’re a working musician, at some point a gig will be canceled for any of a multitude of reasons beyond your control. Have to accept that as “comes with the territory”… keep the infuriation to a minimum, don’t personalize it, and go to the next gig or practice as planned. If it’s “the last straw” based on recurring events and previous track record… well, you needed a new gig anyway, and it’s the out you’re looking for.

    • had an audition just cancelled today: drummer’s needing a surgery, so it’s cancelled to next 2 weeks, i’ve got an evening off, probably lost other opportunities but… anyway, it doesn’t matter, you can’t control stamina issues from other persons. “Lacher prise” as we say in france, and do anything else ! not really annoying cos’ it wasn’t paid indeed.

  3. When I book either a party, restaurant, festival or club gig for my band, I explain that, as a leader and based on their confirmation of the gig, I have promised my musicians that they will be paid, even if the venue cancels on us. I also tell them that as a result of the musicians confirming the date, from that point forward, they will be turning down any requests for their services that conflict with the timing of the gig. As a result, most of the time when they cancel, we get paid. It’s not failsafe but is effective enough for me to have used this technique for many years.

  4. Just happened to me, after the no-refund train ticket was booked…
    Good read!

  5. Do we really need an article telling us what to do if a gig gets canceled?
    I have never stood helplessly confused after a cancellation wondering what I should do next.
    You deal with it like an adult and move on. Give us some stuff we can use. This is the type of fodder that’s been printed over and over in musician magazine’s for the last 40 years.

  6. Ron Harris

    Sometime legal recouese is nec. Bad things continue to happen in this business with bookers that take all sorts of advantages with musicians because musician refuse to do anything. I want to know my legal recourse. I want to know how I can cripple their business as they have crippled mine. I want to get the booker thrown out of his/her job, because they are not good at it and they make musicians and their hard fought for fan base pay for their mistakes. I want to know how to get retribution and how to make it more difficult for these bad bookers to get out of honoring their word… Surely if National touring acts can assure payment, I can as well…