What if a Band Member Can’t Make it to a Show?

The Beggar Folk. Lancaster, PA.
THE QUESTION: So we have a gig in a few weeks and we promised them we’d bring out our whole band, but it turns out our string player can’t make it. Should we just show up with a smaller version of the band, or should we contact the booker ahead of time and risk having to forfeit the gig…especially if they’re expecting strings.

THE ANSWER: If you’re in a band, or if you sometimes play with a band, this has probably happened to you at one time or another. Here are a few things to consider.

1. Are you being paid. If you’re being paid for a gig, you’re basically being contracted for a project. It’s a way for a booker to use you on their terms. If they hire you as a band, then you need to arrive at the show with a full band. If they hire you as a solo artist, then come as a solo artist.  If they hire you as a band but you come with just two people, that might not go over too well.

If you’re not being paid, then you might have more flexibility…because if you think of it, you’re basically volunteering your time. Feel it out and get an idea of how serious the gig is and how serious your contact might take the change in band size. Just make sure that whatever you do doesn’t negatively affect your relationship with the booker/venue/event for the future.

2. Try a replacement. Sometimes this is annoying – having to teach a new person your tunes just for one gig. But it might not be a bad idea to have a backup plan and to bring this substitute musician into the mix anytime you have a missing member. Substitutes will always come in handy.  It would suck to have to miss a big opportunity simply because one member can’t make it.  It would also suck for your set to sound significantly different because a particular instrument is missing.

3. Just talk to the booker. Be upfront and let the booker know that one of your bandmates has had a conflict in his schedule and can’t make it.  It actually might not be a big deal. I’ve personally had a few instances where this happened to me. Here are a few different ways to handle it.

  • “Hi Ryan, One of our bandmates has had a conflict in his schedule and can’t be part of our gig next week.  I just want to make sure you know this since you are expecting the full band to show up. Please let me know if this will affect your interest in having us perform at the Arts Festival. I apologize for the changeup.”
  • “Hi Ryan, It turns out that my drummer and bassist are both tied up the evening of the event.  Would you mind if I did this show as an acoustic set?   If that will affect pay, I will understand. Please let me know your thoughts.  Sorry for the changeup.

4. What does Your Default Picture Look Like? When people see pictures on your website, myspace and facebook, do they see a picture of your band or of you as a singer/songwriter? You’ll probably get more requests for whatever “face” you show people. And if you show yourself as a singer/songwriter you’ll have much more flexibility and be able to present yourself in solo, duo, trio, and band form.  Just keep that in mind.

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6 Comments on “What if a Band Member Can’t Make it to a Show?”

  1. Jack Says:

    I checked out the band’s website and they have a lot of shows. So that is good. It seems like there was a tour scheduled and then something important came up.

    You never want to cancel a show unless your lead singer has laryngitis. (And even then you have some options) Everyone else is replaceable.

    Given that the band has a couple weeks to work this out, have the string player write out the music for the songs and hire a replacement for the show. Craigslist has lots of people looking for gigs, so run a couple tryouts and see if someone fits. If you’re out of town, find someone on CL in that town (get some mp3 samples first). Agree to payment terms and pray they show up.

    Other types of bands can handle this differently… we’ve had replacement drummers, switched to acoustic, etc to adapt and keep rolling.

    Also, on a similar note, it’s key for booking shows that everyone is on the same page with the dates available and personal schedules. Emergencies happen… but having all your dates (band and life) in a shared Google Calendar helps.

  2. Billy Says:

    Paid is spelled paid, not payed.

  3. My solution is to always have a 2nd and sometimes a 3rd fill in person when a regular band member cannot make it.

    Of course the answer to this is to have 2-3 shows / week booked, so, each band member is making money.

    I have also paid band members to do ‘free’ shows…just to keep the original band working together.

    Ironically, most artist largest problem can be having every band member show up at all gigs…this is something that should be discussed before you bring a ‘new’ member on board.

    For new artist, I suggest play acoustic gigs by yourself or if you can’t play an instrument, have just one other person with you. I have even done a few shows with background tracks….the lest desirable, but, it does get you in front of new potential fans at a lower cost.


  4. grassrootsy Says:

    Thanks Billy! corrected 🙂

  5. Billy Says:

    No problem. I always enjoy your posts, keep it up!

  6. Jake Says:

    This is why all of a performer’s music should be transcribed into standard notation. With good charts, any pro can step in and fill the position.

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