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When to Disengage

Occasionally I get calls for gigs in my hometown of San Diego California.  I am occasionally out there due to a number of reasons, and if I am able to spend time there I usually do.  It’s a really beautiful town and I have many friends there.  So I go out whenever I can.

I’ve been out of the music scene there for a while now. There are some great musicians there, but there aren’t many places left to play. So it’s rare that something comes in that is a “fun” gig. In my experience making a living in this business, many times you play for very little or no money but the gig is fun so it’s OK. Other times its the opposite. At this point, I have a pretty good idea of what I enjoy gig wise, and I have no problem turning something down if I am not going to at least enjoy playing. The problem with that town is that they HATE when musicians play out in most of the venues, so most of the club gigs are not much fun. I remember hearing about a bartender in a club there called “Jimmy Loves” who told the bands that if they gave the drummer a solo they would be fired. Whats even more amazing is that these bands continued to play there. I experienced a lot of this growing up, so you can see why I would be a bit skeptical about taking gigs there.

Turns out that I was in SD for a project that lasted for a couple months, and I wasn’t going to be able to leave. Some people that I know called me and asked about playing some gigs. The project I was doing was quite time consuming so I am unable to do most of what I was called for, but one story was interesting. I got a call from someone i didn’t know to play a club gig. I didn’t know anyone else in the band, and I didn’t know the person calling me.  I dropped the name to some friends and they told me that this particular band would play overtime for no extra money, and basically did whatever the club owner said. It was a very “Local” mentality, and I knew I probably wouldn’t take the gig. This mindset is common there because everyone thinks that if they say no they’ll lose their gig at that club, or be branded as “uncooperative”, etc. Despite this, I ended up speaking to the guy and asking some questions out of my own curiosity.  I should have known better.

When I got the guy on the phone, I noticed that the more questions I asked, the more touchy the he became. Simple questions…like whose playing bass, what kind of music…he was fine with that. But when I asked how much it paid his voice changed a bit, like I wasn’t supposed to ask that question. It was pretty low. I said “how long is the gig?”… he said… “its the standard amount of time”. I said “what is that? a couple hours 3, 4 hours?” “No…it’s five hours long…all club gigs here are five hours long now”. I didn’t know if that was true or not, but I felt it was way too long for what the guy was offering to pay. So I politely said I wasn’t interested but thanked him for calling me.

The guy launched. The next thing he said was “Look I have to be honest with you, I don’t know your playing, but I’m going by what some people told me about you. It sounds to me like you have an attitude problem. You should be happy I’m calling you to play….the only reason I’m calling you is because the 4 other guys I called first are too busy, and they are really good drummers, and they don’t ask stupid questions when I call them for gigs.”

My response? In my mind I was thinking what the F^&k is this guy talking about? My first instinct was to get pissed and yell at the guy, but I took a deep breath and said “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I simply don’t take gigs below a certain amount of money. It’s nothing personal.” I may as well have told the guy he was an idiot…because then he REALLY got mad at me and demanded to know how much I felt I “deserved” to get. When i told him what I thought was fair he laughed and told me I was crazy to expect someone to pay a “Musician” that kind of money. As soon as he said that, I knew the band probably wasn’t very good, and I got the impression that it would be a really frustrating experience to play with them. It was obvious that they didn’t even respect themselves enough to get a decent fee for the gig. It reminded me of another guy years ago when I was 19 or so who expected me to record with him for free.  When I told him he needed to pay me, his response was “If I want Vinnie or Jeff for this session, I can make one call right now and get them”. I responded by saying “Then why don’t you call them and leave me out of this?….and by the way they will expect to get paid for it”. This turned into the guy accusing me of thinking I play as well as those guys, etc.  Now granted I was young and hadn’t played any real gigs yet. But I took the bait, and I ended up paying for it. The same thing happened recently on my membership site when a guy hadn’t read the terms and conditions. After numerous attempts to fix the problem, offering everything we could to help, his words to us were “Ask any lawyer and he’ll explain it to you”. This was frustrating to us because we go out of our way to give discounts, extra material, or any extra value to our members on the site. So, when someone is doing things for the sake of an argument it’s difficult to deal with. He had agreed to terms and conditions that defined the problem clearly before he became a member, and the whole thing could have been solved by reading them again. Somehow my guys kept their cool, and soon It became apparent that he was much more interested in an argument than actually solving the problem. Finally, after numerous attempts to explain these conditions he read them and disappeared. All of these scenarios were made much worse by engaging in the argument in the first place.

In a nutshell I’ve learned it’s stupid to let someone bait you into an argument over your fees or your ability. Everyone has dealt with a version of this at one time or another, and we all have to do our best to handle these things tactfully. I totally understand that people get upset sometimes when you say no to them, but when a guy like this really starts to freak out, why even bother engaging with them? This used to really frustrate me when I was growing up. Ten or so years ago I would have thrown everything at this guy.  Any credit or gig of note, just because he was being insulting, and I was tempted to say anything cocky just to stick it in his face. However, I’ve learned that by engaging with someone who is bringing unnecessary emotion into the argument and taking things personally, you may as well be talking to someone who’s deaf. Most of the time you are giving them some sort of credibility by even having an argument with them. Not to mention, if they have the guts to insult you for asking for a reasonable fee or conditions, they must not respect the field you are in in the first place. For some reason, most people would know instinctively not use that logic on a plumber,electrician etc, but somehow in their mind the arts are different.

Next time you (and I) should keep our mouths shut.