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My Worst Gig Experience

October 3, 2013

This post is going to be a bit of a rant. The reason I chose to write about this experience, is I want to remind other musicians, vocalists, actors, and entertainers that not every gig, job, or audition is going to be perfect. We have to work with various types of people in our careers. Some are professional and a joy to collaborate with. Others? Well…. this was my experience…

My band recently received a call from a venue owner interested in having us perform at her restaurant. We were asked to come to the restaurant to meet with the owner and discuss the gig further. The night we were supposed to meet the owner, my guitarist called her to remind her of our appointment as we had been instructed to do. We had no luck reaching her, as we continually got her voicemail and her mailbox was full. So we went to the restaurant- assuming the appointment was still in place. When we arrived, we were told by the general manager that the owner was not there and they did not know when she would be arriving. My guitarist and I decided to wait, since we had travelled almost an hour to get there. We sat at the bar, sipping watered down sodas and watching the nature channel on the TV screen above the bar.

We waited for at least a half hour until we finally got ahold of the owner on her cell phone. She had “forgotten” about our appointment- even though we spoke with her on the phone to schedule it only two days prior. After speaking with her for a few minutes over the phone, we were offered the gig. We were very happy to not be driving home empty-handed, however we were a bit concerned about the unreliability shown by the owner so far. We were booked for a total of 3 shows at this venue and were told there was a possibility of a steady gig in the future.

The venue wanted a trio, so we contacted a bassist to join us for the three dates. I began to worry as we were hiring the bassist. You hear stories of musicians being stiffed at gigs and having to pay the other musicians out of their own pocket. It’s a shame, but there really isn’t anything you can do. Musicians rarely have contracts at the venues where they are performing. It’s usually just a verbal agreement as in this situation. So I knew there was always that possibility.

The night of our first gig, we arrived an hour early to set up. There were no customers in the restaurant at that time, but we assumed the locals would come in later in the evening. We had advertised on our band sites, however we knew most of the people invited wouldn’t feel like coming to the venue, as it was a far drive. We set up our equipment and began performing at our scheduled time. Except for 2 people who came and sat at the bar at one point during the night, there were no customers. Two friends of ours came out to support us, but otherwise we basically played to the staff for 4 hours.

At the end of the night, the owner still hadn’t showed up- not even to hear us play, so we began to worry. The general manager had left after showing us where to set up at the beginning of the night. Who was going to pay us? We approached one of the bartenders, asking if the owner had left anything for us. She said yes, pushing a white envelope across the bar to us. However, she then added that it was not the full amount we agreed upon. Instead, it was about half the amount. When we questioned her on why we were not receiving the full amount- she simply replied that her boss had called and instructed her to give us half now, and we would receive the other half tomorrow. To drive for at least an hour to pick up the other half the next day would have been ridiculous. Plus, this was not our original agreement.

The phone rang again, and it was the owner. My guitarist took the call. Within seconds, we were already being accused of refusing to accept the money (which we did not, we only questioned the amount) and not meeting the quota supposedly mentioned of bringing 15 people (which was NEVER even mentioned in our previous conversations). I was furious and immediately told my guitarist I thought we should cancel the next gig. The owner said we would be paid the second half at our next gig, but looking at her track record, I did not believe one word she said. We paid the bassist what we originally promised him and left.

On the car ride home, my guitarist and I discussed the situation. He was ready to give the owner a second chance. Personally, I didn’t feel so forgiving. My guitarist was hoping if we toughed it out, we would get the opportunity to become the house band at the restaurant, which can be a difficult feat to accomplish. The venue had just begun having jazz, so it was a good time to get involved. We also felt it would be a good opportunity to film more footage and take more photos of our performance for marketing use. I felt my guitarist had some good points, plus I didn’t want to be the sour puss of the partnership- ready to give up at the first sign of stormy weather.

So we agreed to do the second gig. We even made flyers and mailed them earlier in the week to the venue, so they could post them in their windows and draw some business. We re-sent our picture and bio for their website, which had never surfaced for the first gig. The night of the gig, there was still no sign of our performance on their website, and the flyers had not been posted in their window. We walked inside to find there were no customers again either. We unloaded all our equipment and had just begun setting everything up, when the general manager walked over. She said she needed to speak with whoever was in charge. My stomach dropped, this didn’t seem like a good sign. She then went on to explain that if WE weren’t going to bring anyone, they were going to cancel the gig. We couldn’t believe that we had driven all that way just to be told they were canceling the gig. Their explanation for not calling us or giving us any kind of earlier notice? The owner’s cell phone was dying… Yes, folks. You read correctly.

The general manager went on to explain that they had another band the night before, and even though the band said they sent out 5000 invitations- one person came. I can believe that. The general manager told us they just couldn’t continue to hire bands if no one was going to come. The pressure shouldn’t be entirely on the band to bring in the crowd. The venue needs to advertise as well. From what I was seeing, the restaurant seemed to have no regular customers, and they were depending entirely on the bands to bring people. We had not been advertised on their site, our flyers were not hung in the window, and when we asked the general manager where they had advertised our performance- she said she didn’t know. We did our part. We advertised. We can’t force people to drive long distances to come to a show. We can’t guarantee a crowd. However, this is what the venue expected.

We were paid the remaining amount from our previous gig (amazingly), but were not compensated in any way for coming all the way out, just to be told the gig was cancelled. Thankfully, the bassist didn’t live far from the venue- and we were able to reach him before he left the house. The venue was very unprofessional from start to finish. Sadly, I know this probably won’t be the last unprofessional venue we’ll have to deal with, as I’ve heard the horror stories told by other musicians. The experience could have been worse. We could have performed the whole 4 hours again at the second gig and THEN been told they couldn’t pay us. We could have been stiffed the entire amount for the first gig. In the end, we probably lucked out- as difficult as that is to see.

The Growing Artist Signature

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. California Triple-Threat permalink
    October 3, 2013 2:38 pm

    THIS IS HORRIBLE! And yet I’m not surprised. We are far too forgiving and giving when it comes to sharing our craft. I wish you lots of awesome new gigs that don’t abuse you like this!!

    • The Growing Artist permalink
      October 5, 2013 10:55 pm

      Thank you! That’s very true- I think I am way too forgiving. I am in the process of finding better gigs, and even though I’m sure this won’t be the last rotten gig- I hope to have many more GOOD experiences 🙂

  2. October 3, 2013 3:51 pm

    What a nightmare! Unfortunately, this kind of stuff happens all the time, even on major contracted stuff. Recorded a Broadway Cast Album back in August, still haven’t been paid 😦 To be fair, there was no time frame specified in the contract, but it’s a little disheartening considering it’s October now and the album is coming out this month.

    • The Growing Artist permalink
      October 5, 2013 10:57 pm

      Thank you for your comment. Sorry to hear about your experience. I hope you get paid soon! Even though it wasn’t specified in the contract, it’s unfair to you as an artist. I wish you all the best!

  3. October 3, 2013 3:53 pm

    Tried posting earlier, but not sure if the comment went through. Anyway, I’m sorry you had such a terrible experience. Unfortunately, it happens all the time, and we artists always seem to get the short end of the stick :/

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