As a working sideman the most common problem I hear bandleaders complaining about in their groups is schedule management among rotating members. Likewise, as someone who manages my own booking (relatively flawlessly - if I do say so myself) I too, sometimes also seem to get a little slack from some of the groups that I play with due to my ‘lack of availability’. I know I can’t be alone here, so with this topic in mind I’d like to use this weeks post to discuss a few things that will hopefully clear up a few misconceptions regarding a working musicians schedule, how to perhaps manage one's schedule better, and also offer my point of view on how those that are booking full time working musicians could potentially see booking conflicts from the musicians point of view.
Let’s start with the last of the aforementioned subjects - scheduling conflicts among potential rotating band members. I personally think it’s fair (and in my numerous conversations with other working musicians, so do many others), that as a band leader you simply cannot expect complete commitment ‘schedule wise’, from any of your band members unless they are put on some type of monthly financial retainer. I know this is common practice among many national touring acts, as well as in cities like Austin, but it’s not the norm everywhere yet (hopefully it will be one day), but unfortunately as inflation goes up and budgets go down, chances are it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Obviously if its an original project and discussions as to what each members role is within that band have be agreed to (perhaps you’re chasing the goal of becoming the next Motley Crue together), well then that’s a different scenario - but as a working club band that can sometimes change line ups every few gigs, to expect complete commitment from any member might simply be juvenile. People need to eat and therefore they need to make a decent living. Everyone has the right to earn, and what they may want to earn will be down to their personal wants and needs. So, if your band only gig once or twice a month and the pay from those gigs can’t add up to an expected individual salary, then people in that band who are working as professional musicians will need to take additional earning work elsewhere. This is just part of the weight that comes with working with working musicians. It’s best if this is accepted and we move on.
Now for some ‘scheduling etiquette’ for the musicians...
If you (like myself) find yourself wearing different hats to earn that previously mentioned salary, here are a few pointers that I have found to be quite useful over the years, that I hope may help you keep a pretty ‘drama free’ diary/schedule.
1. Be honest and upfront with the people who book you about the fact that you intend to play with other artists/bands/groups/whatever and may not always be available because of this.
2. Have integrity when agreeing and confirming a date for someone. Don’t be one of those guys who book a date with Artist A only to cancel because Artist B offered you a better gig for that same date. Be honorable and do the dates that you said you would do, put the ones you can’t do down to losses that hopefully you may pick up on next time and trust that the artists that book you will notice your efforts and continue to book you because you do a great job and show class in regards to doing what you said you would, make your word your bond.
3. Write all dates down, and keep a backup! I’m old school, I still like to write all my gigs down in a diary (usually in pencil, in case something changes) and I keep that diary with me pretty much wherever I go. That way, when I get calls to do a gig, I can reply instantly as to whether I’m available or not. I also keep the same schedule on my phone's calendar just in case I lose the diary or vice versa - which actually did happen to me once, when I had my phone stolen. Thankfully I had all my bookings and who they were with, written in my diary at home at the time.
4. Remember, although it’s not always possible. Try to be as diligent with your scheduling information as possible in order to prevent the need to bug the artist that booked you in the first place. Write down the date, venue, load in time, gig time, performance time and even the agreed fee with every booking that comes in, this way you have more clarity on how flexible you may be on those same days should other opportunities arise and can possibly even get more of an idea as to how much you may be earning from the various acts that book you each month too.
5. If you’ve sorted out your scheduling to the point that you feel like you’re managing it well and still seem to be getting a little slack from some of the artists that book you about your ‘lack of availability’. Let them know that you have to work (as mentioned above), or if you feel like the band in question can keep you satisfied (mentally and financially) without you having to book yourself silly, then make the choice as to what exactly you wish to achieve by staying so booked up. Just be honest as mentioned in point 1.
In conclusion, remember. Communication is key across the board when it comes to keeping a good schedule so be real with yourself (and those that book you) and you’ll soon find yourself on the path that it is you’re hoping to travel, but as mentioned in a lot of the blogs I write, be as diligent as possible and try to make your and everyone else's life as easy as possible and don’t forget to have some fun.