There comes a time in every artist's life where he or she is offered a shimmering, shining, amazing gig – maybe even the fabled Gig of a Lifetime™! There are times, of course, when that's totally legit and it's not too good to be true.
There are other times, however, when a booker is blowing smoke you-know-where to get you to reduce your fee or agree to terms you might not otherwise be comfortable with. It may be hard to resist in the moment, but here are four times you'll be glad you turned down the gig!
1. The booker is evasive about signing your rider agreement
When I first started out, if the gig seemed important enough, I let rider agreements slide. I've known bands who didn't get anything signed (the agreement kept getting “lost” by the booker, it was "in the mail,” or a myriad of other excuses), and they ended up not getting paid.
In at least one case, a band barely had enough gas money to make it home. If it's an important enough gig, it's important enough for the venue to sign a rider – remember, it's good for them, and it's good for you.
This goes double if it's a major event. They want as few complications as possible. If they can't get it together enough to sign the agreement, odds are the show – a much bigger undertaking – is going to be a mess, too. Or worse: If they bristle at the idea, something's very off. Walk away, because you're about to get screwed.
2. The promoter has a bad reputation
If other bands have been burned, stay away! You won't be any different. Before booking a gig, do some internet sleuthing or ask other bands that have played that room or dealt with that promoter. If it's bad, they're going to tell you.
Bad venues and promoters can turn over a new leaf, and if they've been on their best behavior recently, you might want to be a little more open. But don't jump in blind, and certainly turn it down if the venue has bad reviews.
3. The venue doesn't fit your style of music
Granted, there can be some overlap between genres, and it's always possible to win over new fans regardless. But if the place is a major hangout for metalheads and you've got a '70s soft-rock cover band, you're gonna have a bad time.
Remember, just because the venue booked you doesn't necessarily mean its staff knows what they're doing or have done their homework on your band. Unless they're paying you exceptionally well, turn it down. Odds are you're either going to have an angry or confused crowd or be playing to nobody.
4. The room never draws a crowd
There are a few reasons this could happen. Maybe they don't promote, aren't in an ideal area, or it's summer in a college town. Either way, it may not be the gig for you, especially if you don't have a large fanbase to draw from.
But even if you know you're not going to play to a full house, there are a few reasons to take the gig anyway. Maybe you want a practice show or you're trying to make a name for yourself. In general, however, it's not something to make a habit of.
It's not always easy to figure out if the venue draws a crowd or not, especially if the promoter makes big promises, but this is another case where talking to other bands can help you out. Better yet, drive by the place on a weekend to see how things look (provided it's not unreasonable to do so). If it's dead, you might be better turning it down. There's nothing more depressing than playing for the sound guy.
On a side note, don't let the outside appearance or location of a venue close you off right off the bat, at least not without doing a little research first. I played a show that was literally in the middle of nowhere (a building surrounded for miles by corn fields and nothing else), and it was packed because it happened to be a hot venue for teens in the area.
In the end, trust your gut. If something feels off, it probably is. If something sounds too good to be true – the promoter promises record deals, heavy radio play, and millions of fans for everyone – you should take it with a grain of salt. While you might not be in a situation to be picky about every show you play, you should be able to weed out the really bad ones using these pointers as a guide.
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.