Author: Campbell, Bruce

Herding Cats and Other Difficult Endeavors

Picture if you will, this commonplace scenario:

You get a phone call, from someone who has a potential gig for your band. Venue’s cool, pay is good. You politely tell the caller you need to check with the other bandmates to verify their availability on that date. You promise to get back with an answer by tomorrow, at the latest. And you mean it. Then the fun begins.

You send 3 or 4 emails, and leave 3 or 4 voice mail messages (in this day and age, you can't just call somebody!). If you’re lucky, you’ll get one response within an hour. Maybe two. Then the third comes in, not with an answer, but with a question. Did you mean the Plough and Stars, or maybe the Starry Plough? Maybe you got your dates screwed up – did you mean Saturday the 5th, or Sunday the 6th? Do we have to provide sound? Back to square one - new round of emails and voice mails.

Then certain strategic decisions must come into play. How many positive responses will you require to get back to the potential client? Will you require 100% assent? Will you accept a certain percentage, as a quorum -- say 80% -- and hope to get the final answer or find a sub before the gig, if required? The strategy changes depending on the venue, too, probably. A high profile gig should probably require the whole band – there are fans and the promoter to consider. If it’s a barbecue or something like that, maybe only 3 our of 5 commitments are needed to book the gig.

Multiple this by 20 times a year, and by 4 or 5 bands, and you have a mathematical probability problem that approaches the intricacies of global climate forecasting, or deep ocean wave hydrodynamics. Dealing with this complex dance can cause a band to break up as surely as excessive travel or intra-band wife swapping.

Playing music is SO rewarding, and playing fun venues with a well rehearsed band of fine musicians is absolutely sublime. So it’s so unfair that bringing everything together can be so difficult. In a quintet, there are 5 lives, intertwined with family pressures, job pressures (because real musicians have day jobs, right?) and other myriad messy details that make up a life. Even with carefully laid plans like a band calendar, advance notice, and all that, it can still be an exercise in frustration to marshal those musical resources for a given date and time.

So, why do it? Well, lots of folks don’t. They throw in the towel. Hours of rehearsal, hard work, tons of effort to get great songs, with interesting arrangements, and tightly presented – it can seem like a waste of time if you can’t bring the product to market. Lots of very good musicians choose instead to just do the jam scene. It’s a lot simpler – the “gig” is there, whether you are or not. All you have to do is show up, and you know lots of other players will show up, too. The revolving cast of players can be a lot of fun, too.

Well, I guess both have their rewards. But some of us just have cat-herding in our blood...

Posted:  7/14/2010

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