After 25 years of playing live music, I have a stockpile of horror stories of gigs gone wrong, but I think I can count the number of cancellations I’ve had to deal with on two hands. Most had to do with weather, but not all of them.
I can’t say that I know a lot about how things roll out in the big leagues, but down here in blue collar band land where lawyers and contracts are as rare as drink tickets, etiquette and reputation are the law of the land. It’s difficult to make money making music, and 100 times harder to make a living at it.
This is why it’s common for bands these days to be made up of one or two regular members and a bunch of hired guns. Those hired guns have their own projects, and those with projects are for hire. It’s not uncommon for the same band members to open a show for themselves as another band—give or take a few players. The fewer people to pay, the more everyone takes home.
Another thing that is not uncommon is to get multiple offers to play on the same day. Often times these offers conflict and you have to turn one or more down. Offers don’t usually come in at the same time, so first-come, first-serve is usually how it plays out.
As you might have deduced, it’s quite easy to commit to a shitty gig, only to be offered a better one later. This is where that etiquette comes into play. Sure, it’s tempting to try to weasel out of your prior commitment for a better paycheck, but that is a great way to build a reputation of flakiness. This behavior will not serve you well in the long run.
I’ve had lengthy conversations about these very scenarios with many of my musician friends, and the overwhelming consensus is that you stick to your commitments. Scheduling is hard with so many moving parts. Cancellations can cause chain reactions of lost gigs and money. Thankfully, most of the people I play with know this, and hold dependability in high regard. However, this isn’t always the case with the people booking you.
This week, a regular annual gig with one of my main bands was canceled by the booker. More accurately, a large number of the bands scheduled to play that day were canceled due to lack of funds. We were given five days notice.
Five days notice is actually not too bad, considering some of the details unique to this particular gig, but I bring it up as it is a good example of how last-minute cancellations can potentially cause chain reactions of hardship for musicians.