Being booked in for one type of gig that drastically turns out to be another. What do you do? Survive! Here’s an interesting scenario. I was called up recently to fill in for a good friend of mine for an agency corporate gig. Last minute change of drummers that night! It was a weekday; I was free so I agreed. I thought to ask what sort of gig it was though.
“Who’s on the gig? What sort of tunes?” All guys I’ve played with before in other situations (never in this band however) doing background jazz. At this point, I’m thinking I’m up for a fairly cruisy gig, playing with a killer pianist and bassist doing some laid-back jazz. My drummer friend told me the lady fronting the band on vocals would contact me. I knew this singer – she’s great but I’d never actually worked with her before.
When I spoke to her she clarified most of which I already knew from my previous conversations that day. Laid-back jazz and cruisy. She did mention that we might have to do a couple of more ‘pop’ style tunes at the end of the gig and that space was a little limited.
Now, at this point was thinking of bringing a small kit, jazz vibe that I could easily put on the trolley for loading and fit in a small set up space. I decided – just in case – to bring my Yamaha Maple Custom, albeit with smaller toms to be able to cover some pop repertoire at the end of the gig and a couple of other cymbal choices besides just the Jazz rides. No stress! However, as it turns out, that was the best decision ever. I’ll explain.
How Things Change
On arrival to the gig, the agency booking manager greeted me. He told me that I was perfectly on time according to the details I was given BUT the sound guy had expected everyone earlier and was a little unhappy and I should be ‘nice’ to him. Good start.
Shortly after rushing to park the car, I set up my drums in record time only to be greeted by another friend of mine who plays guitar! I was surprised and asked what he was doing at this gig. He told me he’d be booked by the agency about an hour earlier to play a massive party.
At that moment, it was then explained to me that there was in fact about 800 people coming and they’re super keen for a massive party and drinking session. We were in a German beir haus loaded with hot dog stands, a Matrix theme, DJs and waitresses carrying trays of beer! So, not really going to be Jazz gig after all? No way.
Instead, now it was going to be a full rock show – loud and slamming! So, couldn’t be any different to what I was told. Turns out, there were massive communication complications between the venue, client and agency. Battle stations!
What’s the point of my story? Flexibility. I was suddenly faced with a hugely different scenario than what I’d been told. I was thanking my lucky stars that I had brought a slightly bigger kit.
We discussed song choice and set lists. I had to get up there and rock out! Nothing laid back about it. The thing is, whilst this situation might be a little extreme, for the majority of musicians, flexibility is still so important and sometimes, not catered for.
Even a humble wedding gig can require so much differentiation from the musician, particularly when it comes to styles, lengths of sets, playing with other musicians, setting up in tight areas, adjusting sound and volume for the space you’re in, repertoire based on the audience/client, loading in – the list goes on.
The fact of the matter is this – if I wasn’t flexible and versatile enough as a drummer, this ‘last minute’ gig would have been a mitigated disaster. I was so fortunate that I knew enough songs and feels to be able to make a lasting impression on the band I was playing with for the first time and keep the agency and client happy too.
There was absolutely nothing I could have done differently to not encounter this situation but at least I was able to cope with what was thrown at me. This is something that is hard to learn in the tuition room. Only experience can help here. That said, being comfortable with lots of styles of music (try doing weddings for this), and having flexible gear options can certainly stand you in good stead in the event that it does ever happen.
This doesn’t just apply to drummers either! Everyone is in the same boat. Flexible and versatile is the best recipe for a delicious gig. Expect the unexpected!