Ever had a gig cancelled within 48 hours?
As someone who's played in bands of varying sizes for over 20 years, I can faithfully say that there's nothing more frustrating than a venue owner (or private client) cancelling a gig within 48 hours of the event - no matter how long it's been in the diary for.
Thankfully, I've had very few last minute cancellations (and one double booking) that I've had to deal with but there's usually very little consideration for the musicians involved during the conversation.
I've had to cancel even fewer gigs myself at the last minute, but in every case I've done as much as I could do to fill the gap to avoid the venue or client being left without a group for the night. How many venue owners have called up to cancel the gig, but still offer to pay the bill?
If a venue owner has to cancel a gig, consider this:
• A band may have spent time and money rehearsing for the gig.
• A band will have spent time promoting the event to their friends and contacts.
• Band members may have spent money replacing strings or heads for the gig.
• A band may have turned down alternative offers of work for the night that was booked.
• Within 48 hours, it's very unlikely that a band will be able replace a lost gig, and therefore, their income.
Not all bands rely on the income from pub gigs. However, many musicians do and consider it a vital part of their income. Usually, the budgets for pubs, clubs and small venues isn't large enough for a band of 4-5 musicians to make a full living from.
The venue may think that £250 is a lot of money, but split 4 ways it's £62.50 each and split 5 ways it's just £50 each. If a musician plays 8 gigs a month at a pub, they're only going to be making £500 / £400 a month. Maybe a little more at a club, but minus the agency fees it's going to be pretty similar.
Taking even one gig away is a significant part of that income.
Pro musicians use these gigs to keep active when there are no other gigs in the diary and pro bands consider these gigs advertising for private hire events. They certainly don't do it for the money!
So what can musicians do to protect themselves against the loss of income when a client cancels a gig at the last minute.
1. Write up a simple contract and have the venue confirm in writing.
The written agreement should state the date, the agreed fee, the start time and end time. It should be signed by the rep for the band and the venue owner. You don't have to visit the venue to get them to sign it. Delivering the document by email would be enough and having a scan returned is enough. Hell, even an email stating the terms - returned with a message of agreement would be enough.
2. State a last minute cancellation fee.
It's unlikely that you'll get your gig replaced with another if it's cancelled last minute. The agreement between the venue and your band is a business agreement - nothing more and nothing less. Businesses are entitled to impose fair cancellation fees if a cancellation if there is no chance of that business being replaced. Studios do it. Rehearsal rooms do it. Teachers do it. It's business!
State in your terms that if the gig is cancelled within a certain fair time frame, the full fee is still due.
3. Request another date in lieu of the cancellation fee.
This solution works for both the venue and the band. Ask for another date soon after the cancelled date. If there's no income lost, no cancellation fee needs to be charged and there's no problem. Of course, if you're booked already or the venue is fully booked then nothing can be done, but at least you're suggesting an alternative solution to charging the venue the cancellation fee.
If no nearby dates are available, suggest 2 additional bookings at the earliest possible time to compensate the band for the inconvenience. For 50% of the cancellation fee plus another gig 2 or 3 months down the line.
There are numerous fair alternatives. Think of the one that suits you best.
4. Is one of the members part of the Musicians Union?
As long as one member of the band is a member of the MU, in the event of a contract dispute, MU members are entitled to representation who can help mediate between the band and the venue. The MU are also fairly active in warning musicians about venues that constantly flout contract terms.
Of course, you should be prepared for the fact that the venue would be unlikely to hire the band again if you take action against them so you should think very carefully before losing yourself future work.
5. For balance - what if you cancel the gig within 48 hours?
In my opinion, it would be professional courtesy to pull your band out after arranging for another band to step in. Try appropriate bands and musicians in your network first. If no-one's available, take to social media forums.... there are tons.... to find a band to replace your gig.
Then call the venue to give them the bad news, but pass on the details of the band willing to step in. Your almost fulfilling the terms of your contract. It would be sensible to state in your written agreement that in the event your band isn't available, every possible effort will be taken to find a replacement. It would be unlikely you'd fail in finding someone to step in, therefore fulfilling the terms of your contract.
When it comes to a contract dispute (but you have to have a written 'contract' in place first!) it's best to be prepared with as much ammunition as you can get for the dispute to be either settled in your favour or for it to be settled in a mutually agreeable way.
You should remember that all levels of the music industry is a business and your 'contract' between the band and the venue is an agreement between two businesses.
You're agreeing to arrive, play and leave within certain times on a certain day. The venue is agreeing to hire you within the contract terms on a certain day and recompense you for your service. That's it at it's very basic. Additional terms are at your own discretion.
In the past, I've negotiated free soft drinks (soft drinks cost about 4p per glass in post mix) and food for the band as part of the contract. All you can do is ask, and if they say no then that's just part of the negotiation. If it's agreed though, get it written and agreed in writing.
Only if it's in writing can it be referred to during dispute.
As a ancient pedant once said; "It ain't real 'til it's written"