One of the things that makes booking gigs overwhelming to some people is that there are a LOT of variables. That means there’s a lot to learn, a lot to “handle,” and a lot of points in the process where something can potentially go wrong.
That’s why, for teaching purposes, I like to use real-world examples as much as possible. It’s the fastest way I know to learn a comprehensive topic like booking.
So, today I want to talk about an issue that often comes up in booking by using a real question posed to me by one of my Ultimate Booking & Touring students.
I’ve already answered this student personally and have gotten their permission to use this particular situation for the blog post. But I’m not going to use their real name (or their gender pronoun) so there won’t be any fallout from the venue owner. I’ll just call them “Chris.”
“Last May, I booked two gigs at a local bar. The first gig was for my full 4 piece band on a Friday in September and the second was for me as a solo act one week later. After a lot of back and forth with the owner (just to confirm we were playing) he finally sent me a photo of his calendar—just 2 days before the show—where it showed our band was indeed booked . We basically had no time to invite people or do other promo.
Anyway, when we showed up at 8 (for a 9pm show), another band was all set up and I found out right then that there was also a third band ready to go after the band that was all set up. Plus a DJ was booked from midnight on. I found the owner and told him that after consulting with my band mates that this was not acceptable – he was triple booked!
He basically shrugged his shoulders and muttered a weak apology. He just seemed amazed that so many bands were showing up at the same time, without taking any real responsibility.
I explained we were not going to play because it was not worth the set up/tear down etc., so we left. My band mates were not happy and they don’t want to play there again.
I texted the owner the next day to say I am also not playing this coming Friday as I was not pleased with how he handled our band’s booking. He just sent me the following text this morning: “Would appreciate if you played tonight. I do love you and your music here. I am sorry about that last happening.”
My question is would you consider playing? I don’t like burning bridges or opportunities to play but if people are unprofessional it is frustrating and I also do not like condoning that behavior. All said, I want to handle this as professionally as possible. Please let me know what you think.”
And here’s my take on this…
The first lesson here is that there isn’t an “easy” answer to this situation.
So, if you find yourself reading this and already judging Chris, the band, and/or the venue owner for their reactions, I invite you to set those judgments aside for a moment while we analyze this more closely and see how, why, or even whether things could have been handled differently.
NO ONE likes to be double — or triple — booked!
It’s definitely frustrating. But the reality is? Shit happens. Sometimes it happens due to incompetence. Sometimes it’s just an honest mistake. Which is the case here? I’m not sure. Could be a little bit of both. Regardless, one booking mistake is not necessarily a reason to throw in the towel.
The real question is — Is this the first time you’ve been double booked here?
If so, maybe you just want to chalk this one up to miscommunication. You can make adjustments with the next booking — i.e., put more things in writing, confirm earlier in the process, cancel it yourself if you’re getting too close to the gig date and don’t have a firm confirmation, etc.
Of course, you may do all of the right things and still get double booked! So, then the question is — Is this a pattern with this venue? If you’ve been double booked more than once at the same venue, perhaps it IS time to move on.
How important is this one venue to you? Do you need to play here for some reason? Are there other venues in the area that you could play instead?
It’s rare that one venue would be critical to your musical success. So, if this one is driving you crazy, for whatever reason, you ALWAYS have the option of finding another location.
But let’s back up just a little bit here.
One of my first questions for Chris was why did it take so long to confirm the gig? What happened back in May when you “booked” the gig? Did you get some kind of confirmation in writing? If so, then why didn’t you start promoting the show ahead of time?
I’m not entirely sure what happened in this case. Chris and I didn’t discuss this part in detail. But the fact that there was “a lot of back and forth” with the owner so close to the gig date tells me that there were problems brewing long before that fateful Friday when three different bands showed up. Since Chris’s band had not started promoting the show, they must not have been certain that the date was actually confirmed.
It’s up to YOU — the artist, the band, the performer — to make sure the gig is “confirmed.” I know a lot of local bars don’t use contracts. But that doesn’t mean you can’t send them an email with the details that you agreed upon clearly laid out.
Make sure to include all the basic details like how many sets you’ll play, how long each set will be, load in time, load out time, and how much you’ll be paid. But feel free to also include some additional verbiage about what happens if the gig is double booked, if you or the venue cancel, if it snows 12 inches or you get hit with a hurricane, etc.
Ask them to return it with an “electronic signature.” You can use an actual electronic signature service, such as HelloSign, DocuSign, Adobe Sign, or eSignatures.com. Or simply ask them to hit reply and type in “I agree” along with their name for their response. Yes, I realize that it may not be legally binding. This just makes sure everybody is on the same page. And sometimes that’s all you need.
Also, here’s a key point — give them a deadline to respond. And make sure that the deadline is at least 4 to 6 weeks in advance of the gig — leaving you plenty of time to prepare for and promote your show.
If you don’t receive a positive response back by your deadline date, then you inform them that the date is cancelled and ask to reschedule. If they ask why, tell them that the agreement wasn’t returned by the deadline and that you don’t have time to properly promote the show. You are free to book that date elsewhere if you wish.
On the other hand, if you do receive an electronic signature back, then the date is definitely confirmed and you can (and should) proceed with promoting the show.
This won’t stop a disorganized talent buyer from confirming, even in writing, with more than one band. However, in my experience, it will make double bookings less likely. So, put the odds in your favor by putting things in writing.
Now, once you get to the gig and realize that a double booking has taken place, there are different ways to handle it: You can ask to have the gig yourself. You can concede the gig to the other performer(s). Or you can split the gig.
If you’re organized and are the only band or performer with something in writing, then you might feel that the gig is rightfully yours. But often the first act to arrive gets dibs.
Since another band had already arrived and set up, it would have been difficult and awkward to make them tear down just to have Chris’s band set up…especially when it was quite apparent that Chris’s band was not going to be playing the entire night, as originally expected.
So, in this case, I think Chris’s band made the right call in deciding NOT to play. Clearly, there were plenty of musicians available to fill the evening with entertainment. So, the venue wasn’t being left in the lurch. And Chris’s band cut their losses by at least getting their time back. Staying would have only aggravated them further.
Does that mean that they would’ve been wrong if they had decided to play? Not at all. If you find yourself in this type of situation and you WANT to play, then by all means, PLAY! And enjoy yourself!
But in this case, the band was disappointed, frustrated, and somewhat perturbed at their predicament. So choosing NOT to play was a perfectly valid and appropriate decision.
I also feel that it was important that Chris communicated with the owner that the situation was unacceptable and that it wasn’t worth setting up for the short amount of time to play.
Venue owners, talent buyers, promoters, etc. are just people. And your relationship with them is a two-way street. They need to respect you just as much as you respect them. Sometimes, that means you have to set boundaries. And in this case, the owner had clearly crossed a boundary for Chris’s band.
Now, let me be clear. It is NOT OK to fly off the handle, make a big public scene, or use rude or foul language with them. I don’t care how pissed off you are. But it is totally OK to calmly and clearly explain that the situation is not what you agreed to or that something is not acceptable to you.
Where I disagreed with Chris’s approach was with automatically cancelling Chris’s solo performance for the following week. In my opinion, here’s a better way to approach this type of situation and still maintain your professional integrity and boundaries:
Follow up with the owner the NEXT DAY. Not two days later. Not a week later. The very next day! And do it either IN PERSON or via a PHONE CALL.
This type of follow up is best done with voices, body language, and a true conversation. Going in person is not always feasible, though. I get that. So, a phone call will do in those cases. The point is to NOT do it in writing, i.e., email or text.
If the venue is a bar or restaurant or other facility that has business during the day, make sure to follow up during non-peak hours. Mid-afternoon, like 2 or 3 pm, is often a good time. And mid-morning can also work. Just make sure you’re not showing up during a lunch or dinner rush or calling in the evening when there might be other entertainment going on.
Start the conversation by saying something like “I realize that there was a pretty huge mix up in the booking for last night’s show. Because of that, I’m concerned about my solo gig next week. Should I reschedule? How can I be sure that I won’t be double-booked next week? And what can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future?”
The point is that you’re trying to find a solution so that everyone, including the venue owner, can feel good and confident about future gigs. This approach is less confrontational and accusatory, and usually gets a more open response.
Of course, as I said previously, you always need to set boundaries and know where your bottom line is. So, if you don’t feel like you’re getting a good response or you just prefer to cancel, you can always say “I think it’s best if I cancel my performance for next Friday. If you can resolve the double-booking issue and restore my confidence that it won’t be repeated, then I’d be happy to re-schedule for some time in the future.”
If the person you’re dealing with questions how they can restore your confidence, make some suggestions. For example, that might mean signing a written contract and/or providing you with a nominal guarantee that you get even if you don’t end up playing due to a double booking. Or anything else that would make you feel more comfortable and confident booking another show.
Being a “professional” means maintaining your integrity and objectivity as much as possible, and NOT just having knee-jerk reactions to things or making emotional decisions. It also means viewing the situation from the other person’s perspective and not just your own — even if they are the one “at fault.” It means looking at the big picture and not just one frustrating gig.
What I loved about this real life example is that Chris managed to keep things professional throughout the whole stressful and unpleasant situation and thus has maintained a positive relationship with the venue owner.
And even after that, Chris was asking the question “what’s the best way to handle this?” so that Chris, and the band as a whole, could learn from the experience. That, in and of itself, was a very professional thing to do.
What do you think? How would you have handled it? Would you have played the band gig anyway? Would you have cancelled both dates? Would you even attempt another booking at this venue?
Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions in the comments below. I look forward to reading them.
p.s. Do you have a question that you’d like me to answer in a future blog post? Send it to me here. I read every one.
About the Author
is a singer/songwriter, artist development coach and co-founder of Azalea Music where she teaches and mentors musicians, singer/songwriters and indie artists how to activate their "inner music mogul" so they can change the world through music! She specializes in working with the not-quite-mainstream and those "second-timers" coming back to music after a long hiatus. She's even been known to work with actors, writers, storytellers, and other creatives because the principles of pursuing a creative life are often the same regardless of the medium. She believes that the world needs to hear you and your music...whatever it is...because we would all be less without it.