When NOT To Take The Gig

three_musicians © 2009 Vinny Ribas

As singers and/or musicians, we get the most enjoyment when they are performing for an accepting and enthusiastic audience. In search of that intense pleasure, we are often inclined to take any and every gig we can find. We play for pay, but we often play for free or just for the fun of it. On our days off we go to jam sessions so we can recapture that thrill again. It is just in the blood!

However, there are times when it is in our best interest to turn down a gig, even if you really need the money. Here are some:

  • It is inconsistent with your image. In other words, let’s say you’re trying to make your mark as a country singer. You may get a call to sing for a rock gig or a jazz gig. You may be perfectly capable of pulling off these gigs, but you might want to think twice if your name is going to be associated with the gig. However, if you’re just ‘the singer in the band’ and you’re name isn’t being featured, then you may be OK taking the booking.
  • It is in a volatile environment. I have regretfully played in places famous for bar fights (including playing behind chicken wire). In one gig several patrons got into a brawl and knocked our speakers over onto our guitarist, pushing the microphone into his mouth and knocking out his front teeth.
  • When you’re sick and risk causing serious damage to yourself. I am not suggesting canceling a gig that you’ve booked unless you’re really too sick to perform. But if you’re not 100% and you get a call for a pick-up gig, assess whether or not you might be wiser passing and resting. Ignoring their health is how singers blow their voices, piano players or guitarists develop severe carpal tunnel etc.
  • The pay is lower than you normally receive, and there is no trade off. Obviously there are plenty of reasons to take a pay cut, such as high profile exposure, filling an off date, convenience (close to home) etc. However, let’s say that you have a wedding band that gets paid $1000 for a 4 hr. wedding on a Saturday afternoon. If you accept a gig or 2 for $500, you run the risk of word getting out that you can be negotiated with. You just may lose your $1000 price tag!
  • It prevents you from taking other gigs. For example, Let’s say that you normally play 2 gigs on a Saturdays (afternoon and night). If you take a gig from 3-8 PM, you will lose out on the ability to book 2 gigs that day. In this situation, it is common to charge 1½ to 2 times your regular rate to make up for your lost wages.
  • There is something risky about the gig. For example, I once played a gig at a Moose Lodge in Connecticut in January. The banquet hall was on the 3rd floor, and the only way to get our equipment in was up the frozen metal fire escape! Ask other bands who have played the venue about unusual circumstances like this.
  • Drugs are prevalent in the audience. The last thing you need is to get caught up in a police raid!
  • The demand on you will be too much. One reason this could happen is because of the distance you need to travel. For example, I once drove 4 hrs. to and from a gig, getting home at 6 in the morning. Of course, I put myself at risk of falling asleep at the wheel. I was also so trashed that I was no good to anyone for 2 days! Another reason might be because it is a very long gig that might make you damage your voice. For example, many casino gigs are 6 hrs. long, 6 nights a week.
  • You don’t play the kind of music they expect. Being mis-booked can be embarrassing, can damage your reputation, and can even hurt you personally. For example, playing in a room where you need to play at an extremely loud volume when you’re not used to that can damage your ears and/or your voice. You may also have to push your equipment harder that it is really built for.
  • Your act or look is not appropriate for the venue. This could happen if they expect a show but you’re a dance band, or if they expect the band to be dressed in tuxedos and all you have a re jeans and western shirts. Forcing your act to be something it isn’t can be quite difficult and embarassing.  
  • The sound system is inadequate. If the house is providing the sound, be sure that it is capable of handling your demands. Does it have enough wattage, monitors, channels etc?
  • The stage is too small. It is both difficult and embarrassing to squeeze a 6 pc. band onto a stage built for 3.

Obviously, the bottom line here is that it is important to use common sense, think things completely through, and do your homework. Not having to worry about all of these negative factors allows you to concentrate 100% on your performance. After all, that is what you’re really getting paid for!

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.