Monday, December 04, 2006

Three months in the life of a bandleader

Consider this entry, written a few weeks ago when I was in a particularly foul mood, as a personal testament to the oft-made claim that live music is dying a horrible death. It’s a blow-by-blow account of the sort of nonsense that has gone on behind the scenes as I’ve been booking our upcoming east coast tour. Which is not to say that I haven’t come across / worked with some wonderfully helpful people in the process (Darcy James Argue comes to mind, and Tom Lubelczyk, and Mike Baggetta, and Curt Howard, and Jill Knapp, and a few others). Still, I don’t know what it is, but the ratio seems to be really skewed toward the assholes and incompetents these days. It’s sorta like politics, I guess (you know the old argument about how the system drives away all of the truly qualified people?).

Keep in mind that what follows -- a sort of transcript of my attempts to book us into this one club -- is just one slice of the overall panoply of booking tasks for this tour. I was simultaneously going back and forth with numerous other venues (probably about thirty altogether) throughout the same period, in the hopes of maybe having four or five of them come through with gigs for us. Keep in mind too that I wrote this at a particularly desperate moment -- it appeared that we were going to have a very, uh, leisurely tour. Usually I’m able to maintain a kind of zen-ish calm in my role as booking agent for the band, but this guy really gave me a run for my money. Check it out:

September 6: I send an email to two east coast DJ friends asking for recommendations for places to play in NJ. They both resoundingly endorse a venue that will for the purposes of this tale be given an alias. Let’s call it “The Flouncing Boat.” Contact information is relayed, and I send out an introductory email almost immediately. Keep in mind that I am trying to book a date in January, which at this point is still four months away. Like a fool, I assume I am way ahead of the curve.

September 11: I receive a response from the booker at the Boat, who for the purposes of this tale will also be given an alias. Let’s call him Dickhead. Mr. Head requests that I go through the usual routine: send in a CD and press, and we’ll see what happens.

Ha! I’ve had a stack of press kits, a stack of CDs, and a stack of large envelopes, all ready to go since April. And in fact, Mr. Head, I already sent a package in to you as soon as I got your information from my DJ friends back on September 6. So you should probably have received it already. Like I said, ahead of the curve, right?

Dickie also asks if we have an audience out east. My reply is instantaneous (for you booking people who might not know, that means I replied right away): “Yes, we do have an east coast following. This will be our second trip out your way -- we toured NY / NJ / DE in spring of 2005, and at our NJ show we had around 60 people. I actually think we'll do a little better this time because of IAJE.”

September 14: I send a followup email to make sure Dickhead got the package of our materials.

September 19: I get a response which reads (and I’m quoting): “u did not reply to the question of a nj following //how many people can u pull into [the boat]?????”

Never mind the irritating use of letters for words (I thought only Prince was allowed to do that with impunity?). Never mind the excessive punctuation (do five question marks somehow signal greater curiosity than one?). The real issue is how did he miss my response to his question?

No worries. I will assume that I made some sort of mistake; I’m in no position to quibble, since I’m the one who wants the gig (read: I am at his mercy). I make this assumption even though I can easily go back and check my sent mail folder to see as plain as day that I did indeed give him information about our draw in my initial response.

Once again, I respond instantaneously, beginning with the following self-effacing nonsense: “Sorry -- I thought I had sent along another email but possibly I forgot.” I then proceed to re-articulate the relevant data, more or less exactly as in the email quoted above.

I get an uncharacteristically quick reply from Dickhead. (Woah! Maybe you do know what “instantaneous” means!) Here it is: “send 4 dates that could work 4u,,,asap.” Okay, if five question marks are confusing, three commas are even more so. But no matter -- I have this in the bag now, I can just feel it! I respond sometime in the wee hours on the morning of the 20th that we are available for the whole week of the IAJE conference. Hooray!

September 25: No response from Dickhead. The silence has motivated me to send him a “checking in” email to see what’s up.

September 29: More silence. I send out another email. Where is this guy?

October 4: More silence, another email from me. (Several times during this period, I also try to use the telephone to reach Dick. No dice. The recorded voice on the other end always tells me the number is no longer in service.)

October 13: The silence continues. Does he get paid for this? I send out another email.

October 15: Do you see a pattern here? (That’s right, I send out another email.)

I must clarify: my complaint is simply with the lack of a response, not the hypothetical content of that response, should it ever come. In other words, if Dick had gotten back to me within a day or two of my last email and said "Look, I've changed my mind. We can't book you because we don't like your music," I would have much preferred that to this inexplicable communication vacuum. Booking a tour is mostly about transforming variables (e.g., "we might be able to play this club") into concrete, reliable data (e.g. "this club wants us to play on this date or that date"), and then manipulating that data in such a way that you have an optimal schedule. But when there are only variables, and when they seem intent on remaining variables, you can't do much, and you get stuck in a kind of limbo. (And the longer you wait the more difficult promotion becomes -- but that's a topic for another post.)

October 17: It has been almost a month since our last contact, so you can imagine my joy when I see that I have a message from Dickhead in my inbox. I open it up. Cue my jaw hitting the floor. Here’s the missive: “STILL NO MENTION OF HOW MANY PEEPS YOU WOULD DRAW INTO MY CLUB/CANT CONSIDER A BOOKING.”

All caps! Are you serious? Are you?????????

My response is a little less generous than it was the last time he lost our information. I go so far as to point out the fact of that previous loss, forwarding him both of the emails I sent with answers about the question of a draw. I’m not rude, but I think I convey a sense of urgency, because once again he goes against the grain and actually gets back to me the same day with this: “SEND DATES AGAIN /THEY WERE DELETED DY MISTAKE/AND I WILL TRY TO HOOK U UP.”

I’m done commenting on the syntax, grammar, and so on of these fucking emails. I foolishly give Mr. Head the benefit of the doubt, allow myself to have hope anew, and restate the dates that we’re available in what I hope is one of the last emails I will ever have to send to him.

October 19: Oh, no. I’m not letting you get away, fucker. Here’s my courtesy follow-up email reminding you that you at least owe me the decency of a response, even if you aren’t going to book us.

October 23: Each time I send out one of these “Hi! Just checking in! What do you think about a booking?” emails (burying my annoyance under the rosiest demeanor I can muster) I have to include all the relevant information (availability, potential draw) because I just know this guy is preparing to lose it all again.

October 24: I’m really working it now. Two emails in two days! Both of them saying the same thing! Neither of them getting a response!

October 30: Again, I ask: what exactly do they pay this guy for?

November 9: There are still two months before we’re out east. Thus there is still hope, right?

November 14: A few days after my last email, I had gone back to my DJ friends to see if they knew what was up. Shortly thereafter I learned Dickhead had been canned, and was no longer booking at the Boat. (Hey, Dickhead, thanks for telling me.) I was therefore not surprised when I received this final (I hope) missive from him (sorry, I can’t resist quoting verbatim one more assinine email): “THE BOATBIS PROB GION UNDER OR BEING SOLD SOON /MAY HAVE ANOTHER VENUE /WILL KNOW IN A FEW DAYS /U DONT WANT DO THE BOAT.”

Well, whether I want to or not turns out to be irrelevant -- by the time I track down Dickhead’s replacement (who is also fairly slow in responding to emails from out-of-town musicians), the moment for setting up an IJG show there has passed.

So there you have it. Three months, sixteen emails (at least), a buck-fifty on postage, and a lot of stress; all of which seems to have been a more or less complete waste of my time. Whee!

Later that week, while crawling off to sleep in the bath, I have a vision of a time, perhaps hundreds of years from now, when bookers and musicians will realize that they are both actually after pretty much the same thing, and that a little civility can go a long way toward making sure it is achieved.

1 comment:

Kris Tiner said...

Hilarious and infuriating, and all too familiar...