What to Do When They Don’t Give You the Gig Details

Bassist on Stage

Q: I recently had a strange experience when I got asked to play a gig, but was given practically no information. When I asked for more details (when, where, how long, how much, etc.), I got vibed hard by the guy, as if I was only in it for the money and why couldn’t I just say yes or no to that date. It really threw me for a loop and made me wonder if I was being unreasonable (and, of course, as I stewed on it, I quickly decided that I was not in the wrong (far from it). Has this happened to you? How do you deal with it?

A: Oh man… yep. Been there and, as hard as I try to avoid miscommunications or state my questions/needs clearly and diplomatically, sometimes things just get…. weird.

I defy anybody to think of any job they might take without knowing how much time is in involved, how much traveling is required, and how much money you’d be making for said time and energy. It defies logic but I know more than one bandleader who seems to give as little information as possible when asking about dates and then treats local players like spoiled children if they dare ask how much a gig pays, or practically anything regarding the gig before committing themselves.

I once even had a bandleader get mad because I didn’t know about a date (and had another gig) and when I said, “I’m pretty sure that you never asked me about the date” was told, “yeah but it’s on the website, you should’ve seen it”. What?? I play in dozens of groups, how could I expect to just cruise every band’s website? And to assume that I’m on every gig posted? weird indeed.

I recently got asked about a gig and was given no information beyond the date. I replied by saying that I was indeed open later but had some things booked earlier in the day and requested time, location, load-in, and asked about the ‘bread’. He replied with, “it’s local”. As someone who typically works as a sideman but also hires musicians once in a blue moon for this or that… it confounds me.

I also know quite a few band-leaders who won’t even ask you about your availability until they have solid details to present to you and every inquiry includes money, time, location, dress and anything else that’s pertinent to that particular gig. That’s what we hope for.

As in all facets of life, one cannot really avoid the strange, surprising, seemingly otherworldly, or unprofessional. All you can do is try to be your best self along the way and, when it comes to band-leaders or your peers, try to state your needs clearly, in a timely manner, and professionally.

There was a time where I considered answering every vague request with an equally vague or unrelated response.

Them (for example): “You around the 16th?”

Me: “In and out… here and there. Laundry day”.

But, I quickly realized that when you fight dumb with snark… no good can come of it.

Instead, I say: “Yes, I have a thing or two but I’m mostly free. Can you give me details? Load-in time, location, gig start/end, money and anything else that I need to know for the gig”.

Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to do it. Be kind, no attitude of any kind, just state my requirements or at least ask for everything I would like to know. I tend to try and tell someone when there’s something that doesn’t work for me because it’s always better to educate someone about your needs than continue to get annoyed that your needs aren’t being met. I think it was Oprah who said that “you need to teach people how you want to be treated” (Oprah quote?!! who am I?)

The main point that I’d like to make here is that professionalism is a two-way street. If you want to be treated as a professional, make sure that you hold up your end of the bargain. In fact, I notice that the busiest musicians in town also tend to be the most professional. Sure, the busiest players will, of course, be more seasoned but I think that there is a direct correlation and it’s a cycle that feeds itself from both directions. I think the 100% together and professional cats tend to make a greater impression, work more, which also serves to make them improve faster. It’s a positive (or potentially negative) cycle that reinforces itself.

Indeed, the higher the bar that the local musicians set (on average), the higher the bar will be for the band-leaders. If everybody works for no money, band-leaders and clubs won’t pay. If everybody is late to the gig, the band-leader isn’t going to work any harder than they need to in order to keep the band happy. If a band-leader is a drag to work with, musicians won’t take the gig seriously.

Every way in which we hold ourselves serves to help educate those around us how we should expect to be treated.

As with life, know how you would like to be treated, spoken to, employed and treat others with the same respect and professionalism. If someone isn’t giving you what you need, use it as a teachable moment and tell them what you need, in a polite, professional, clear-and-concise way.

There is no way to keep your life completely free of awkward band-leaders, socially unaware musicians, and whatever else floats your way but we can learn how to deal with a variety of situations with grace and respect.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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