The Quest For Excellence

It’s a given – we’ve all learned enough about our instrument/s to get up the courage to go out and start gigging. Forever after it’s a constant struggle to be better at what we do, to hone our craft. That is every musician’s lot from the beginning to the end of our careers.

Why doesn’t this apply to other people in our industry?

I had contact back in June from a lovely group of people up the northern end of Tasmania who want me to come and play a solo concert show for them next month. (Friday Nite Folk – I can’t wait – it’ll be great fun!) In order to make sure  I cover my costs, I put out feelers for another gig in the region. I got in touch with a  young man I’ve met a couple of times for a regular night he books and we settled on the date I needed. That date was confirmed by another musician friend of mine who lives in his area a few days later. Fantastic! My mini tour is set up, and I know my costs are fully covered.

Last week (six weeks out from the gig) I found out my covering gig hasn’t been booked. There is no apology, attempt to explain – all I’m told is the night is booked – and not for me. With a bit more investigation, it seems I’m not the first musician to have their dates canceled without notice. Now don’t get me wrong, this guy is (in my experience of him) a really nice young fellow. “He’s just a bit disorganised”, is what everyone says of him.

A friend told me during the week of his experiences in northern England back in the 80’s, though I think you could transfer this to any part of the planet and any time period. Young guys who ended up as bookers for clubs because it provided them with entertainment in their local bar, free booze from the venue and a chance to “pull birds”. The actual  booking and management of their work was an afterthought, and my friend had several experiences of turning up to play a show only to find they’d been double-booked by someone who couldn’t keep their schedules straight.

It’s something we’ve all been through I’m sure but it’s caused me to think about the levels of professionalism that exist in our industry for people out of the spotlight – bookers, managers and agents – and how we as performers can help improve them.

There are quite a few organisations and publications that cater to this: in Tasmania CMST have run management forums and I know are interested in improving local standards, MMF Australia which is linked directly to the IMMF and provide brilliant workshops and resources to people at all levels.

At a base level however, all the workshops and books in the world won’t change ingrained habits. It’s the old “you can take the horse to water but you can’t make it drink” scenario. People have to want to change their behavior.

And that’s where we come in, we have the power of the word……. if you as a performer are unhappy with your treatment by a booker – complain to their venue management.

Speaking up is so important not only in our self management as artists but also in being clear in our business communication. I know people are often unwilling to complain because they’d rather have a badly organised gig than no gig at all and they’re frightened of being punished by a booker for complaining to their management. Anyone who threatens a performer in that manner is engaging in workplace bullying and should be reported immediately.

So friends, be clear in your communications, and if you have cause to complain keep it on a business footing – don’t get personal, it’s tacky and unprofessional. Speak up and be heard, for the sake of improving your business dealings as well as your music!

Live at The Peacock Theatre, Hobart (Photo by Saria Philips)

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