I had a very strange evening.

I’m a jazz musician, and I like to play local gigs as a side income. I was asked to play at what was ostensibly a cocktail party. I gave my rate, and we were all set to go. I didn’t have a clear answer of whether I was actually playing, since the person asking me was not in charge of the whole thing, but I didn’t mind. Over the course of the last few weeks, the time and location originally told to me changed more than once. The time went from 7 PM, to 8PM, to 7:30 PM. The venue was originally supposed to be a party at a restaurant, then a cocktail party, and ended up actually being a building at our local community college.

I got the final confirmation a few days ago, and let my bandmates know the gig was happening. We got there at 6:30, believing the even started at 7 and we would play at 8, only to find out the event started at 6:30. We had nowhere to set up the instruments, but even worse the actual organizers of the event had no idea we were even supposed to play. The person who “hired” us wasn’t answering their phone, but I figured I’d stick around for a while to see if we could still salvage the evening.

The event turned out to be a graduation ceremony for a local trade school. My contact was graduating; that’s why he didn’t answer his phone. By the time the ceremony was over, my bandmates and I were pretty upset, having waited for around an hour with no clear idea of what was happening. My contact came off the stage after the graduation and asked us to get our instruments out and start playing. We told him it would take about 30 minutes to set up, and we’d only get about 40 minutes of playing time before the event ended. He didn’t apologize, but told us we’d be compensated at the end of the night and walked away.

We eventually went up to him a little later, expressed our frustration, and asked to be paid for our time anyway. He obliged, and we left. The people I’ve relayed the story to have had various reactions, but there’s a common theme in all of them: hey, at least you got paid. I’ve often said this myself. Well, you kind of got screwed over, but you made money, right?

I realize now that I’ve never truly grasped the value of professionalism until tonight. He could have paid me twice my normal rate and I still would have been unhappy. When someone is that unprofessional, it makes you feel like you’re not worth their time, or that you’re seen as unimportant. More obviously, it’s simply a waste of time and resources to come out to a gig that doesn’t happen.

I learned a few lessons tonight, the most immediately relevant being that I should not play a gig unless I have a contract written up at least a week in advance. I was also able to teach a little. One of my bandmates was pretty inexperienced with gigging, so I got to give him some advice, and I felt good about that. I’m glad to have been helpful, even though the circumstances were quite silly. The most important part of the night, though, was learning how important it is to be prompt and professional, and when you screw up, to be apologetic and courteous. I was very offended by my contact’s behavior tonight, and no amount of money can make up for the time wasted by me and my bandmates. But in the end, I did end up getting paid anyway, and I did learn some important things, so it wasn’t a total waste.


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