Dave Cool

Musicians: Just Say No! Tactfully Responding to Uncomfortable Situations

This is a guest post from Joy Ike. Joy is a full-time singer-songwriter who has been recognized by NPR's All Things Considered as "a truly compelling act to watch in person, with the ability to create an intimate setting in locations big and small." She is also the founder of Grassrootsy, a twice-weekly music marketing blog for independent artists. She believes the greatest tragedy in the world is having a talent and keeping it to yourself.

In this post Joy gives some great advice about what to do when you’re caught in an uncomfortable situation where you need to say “No”. Enjoy!

In my fairly short life, I’ve learned that maintaining good relationships with people has alot to do with with how you respond to awkward situations or unwanted propositions. “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” So here’s a short list of some of those awkward moments and how to tactfully say NO!


“We can’t pay you, but can you still play the show?”

Response: Thanks for asking. Can you check back with me two weeks prior to the event? I try to make an effort to first leave my calendar open to gigs that can help sustain me financially…especially on the weekends. If that day is not booked nearer to your event, I may be able to play this particular event.

note: I’ve noticed that, if someone really wants to confirm you for an event after you’ve respectfully declined, they will proceed to ask you your booking fee. The above is a great way to let them know that you are serious about music as a “job”, not just a hobby.


“Want to write/record a song together?”

Response: That would be fun sometime. Honestly, I have to respectfully decline at the moment. I’m trying to be more strategic about the music I release and the projects I choose to take on. Perhaps in the future something can work, but right now its not something I’m able or ready to add to my plate.

note: its very important to carefully choose who you collaborate with. You cant just shell out song after song that you’ve recorded with various people. After a while you’ll have too much media out there .


“Can your whole band play this show?”

Response 1: Id really love for my whole band to come out to this show. Unfortunately I want to be able to fairly pay the musicians who play with me, and I’m unable to do that for this performance. Perhaps they will be able to join me in the future.

note: in most cases, the venue or event booker will understand. In a rare case, they will ask you how much you charge for band shows. Its a respectful way of telling them they’re not pay you enough for 3 more people.

Response 2: We’d really love to, but perhaps in the future. I try to space out how often we have full band performances since it is a huge commitment from my bandmates. We often keep band performances to summer music festivals and larger venues that demand a bigger sound. In between those, I play stripped down sets as much as possible.

note: this is an especially great way for singer/songwriters to decline bringing their band to an event that won’t be worth stringing 3 extra people to (i.e. farmers market, background music in a corner of a bar, house show).


“Will you promote my event through your Facebook wall and newsletter?”

Response: Your event sounds great…but I try to keep my Facebook wall and newsletter just for personal and music posts. People often ask me to promote their events on my wall, but I don’t want it to become too much of a bulletin board and advertising space. Sorry to disappoint but I hope your event goes well.

note: the more followers you gain over the years, the more people will post their own event on your page/profile, in the hopes that your fans will see it. I call it FB Spam. If that bugs you, be sure to consistently delete all attempts at 3rd party “advertising” on your page. It clutters your FB page and looks ugly.



“My band is coming through town in a few weeks and we’re looking for a local opener to split the show with us at XYZ. Can you play?”

Response 1: Hey guys, I checked out your music and your sound is great. Can I suggest a few bands for you to contact? My sound doesn’t necessarily compliment yours but i can recommend a band that is more compatible. And it will probably help your draw.

Response 2: Hey guys , I checked out your music and I really like it. Unfortunately since I play in my city alot, I am really trying to space out how often I do a local show. I can’t do the XYZ show because I have another local show a few days later. I don’t want either of the shows to detract from the other’s turnout.

Response 3: Hey guys, I checked out your stuff and it sounds great. I’m sorry I can’t play the show in a few weeks. XYZ isn’t a venue that works for my style of music. In fact, I think your show will be great, but if you’re ever swinging through town again, please hit me up and I can suggest some better venues for you guys. All the best!

note: you should always respond to traveling artists/bands when you can. They need your support and you will need their support when you go to their town. If a show doesn’t work for you, just tell them the truth. And if you can play the show, then play the show and help them by bringing out a few people.


So what do you guys think? Have you ever been put into uncomfortable situations and had to say “No”? If so, how did you handle it? Let us know in the comments.

Posted by Dave Cool on 07/09/2012 | 15 comments

Comments

D. Anson Brody
Posted by D. Anson Brody on Jul 9 2012 7:47 PM
The more I learn the more I realize what I don't know. The subtlety never ceases to amaze me. I could definitely use more tact like this. In the past I've taken an integral approach of honesty without trying specifically to word things more positively. That will be a hard thing to give up as it's part of my personal artistic philosophy. Love the post though, for me it goes deeper than just try to be nicer in emails. Thanks Dave, Thanks Joy.
Dave Cool
Posted by Dave Cool on Jul 9 2012 8:57 PM
@D. Anson Brody: Wow, well said! Glad you enjoyed the post. Cheers, DC
Ben J. Gross Fine Art
Posted by Ben J. Gross Fine Art on Jul 9 2012 10:45 PM
brilliant, lucid, universal post! (I once wrote a song, it's somewhere on my site, called "How To Say No", when I was mulling over this particular issue!) Cheers!
The Rhythm
Posted by The Rhythm on Jul 9 2012 11:27 PM
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. When it comes to booking, I try to live and die by that saying. I've heard other bands diss venues and trash club owners in general, then wonder why they don't gig. And as Joy said, when they ask if you can play with a full band, a diplomatic response can lead to the question of what your rates are for a full band. I once went from guitar/conga two piece to 5 piece band for the same gig that way! They were willing to pay $150 a piece for just two people and due to the rapport I built, I talked them into $225 each for a 5 piece! It was a great show:D
Larry Wimmer
Posted by Larry Wimmer on Jul 11 2012 10:06 PM
One thing that never changes is club owners and under-cutting bands. No matter whether you own the joint or you're the band,professional is professional. Keep your ego in check and expect nothing less than professionalism in return. If making them happy compromises your happiness,then the relationship can do nothing but get worse from that point on.Don't fret about being undercut.In time,they will lose enough business by hiring a crappy band and their business will suffer.Even when that happens,some of them still don't get it.That's when you have to ask yourself the question,"Is it worth it,in the long run?"
Wilton Said...
Posted by Wilton Said... on Jul 13 2012 12:57 AM
Professional is the way to go. Plus you don't want to burn bridges by being rude. You never know, one day that event organizer that wanted you to play for free may have a paid gig and they'll remember those that were professional and polite rather then those that were rude. Good subject matter.
Larry Wimmer
Posted by Larry Wimmer on Jul 14 2012 1:06 PM
I will never apologize for,or compromise being, professional.Venue owners need to be educated on what it costs and just how much work goes into even a corner bar gig.Recent example,I was recently approached by a club that was having an outdoor thing that was to precede a local downtown event.I worked out a price and they said they would get back to me.Then, a week later, they call me back and asked if i was still available.i stated yes.I then asked what happened.She admitted that she initially hired another band( probably because they were cheaper !)but they couldnt start as early as she wanted and then asked me if i could be there early so i i could let a DJ use my PA to entertain before me.No mention of compensation for the use of the PA.( what DJ doesnt have his own system?) Then i asked about the stage and a canopy.Then she said ,"Well we dont have one. i thought you would provide it". So,we go in very cheap as it is,then im asked to provide staging and tents and showing up early to lend our PA to a DJ ?  Had I not asked the question, we would have played on rugs strewn over blacktop and baked in the sun.It is atypical of how little knowledge venues have of what we go through but equally frustrating is the lack of respect. I probably would have personally played for nothing if it was handled more professionally. Just another chapter in the long story of artists and how we are perceived.This happens to us quite often, early in our careers because the ego and the drive to play gets to too many of us,so we undercut other bands or bust our butts for a few bucks and some exposure.The owners got used to us doing that,so they think its the norm.If we all stopped compromising our integrity and stood up for each other,we wouldn't be playing for peanuts and killing ourselves in the process.
D.C. Coast To Coast
Posted by D.C. Coast To Coast on Jul 14 2012 1:54 PM
From D.C. Hathaway, host of D.C. Coast To Coast on internet radio writes: I couldn't agree MORE with Larry and couldn't have said it better myself!! I've lived ALL OF IT!!! No respect!!! Club owners also have this $50 a man figure stuck in their head for decades!! When I was a teenager in the early 70's I was making $50 a night for a 4 hour show. Club owners STILL want to pay this figure!!! You know the cost of living goes up for us musicians too!!! CLUB OWNERS.....WAKE UP!!! Your drink prices go up all the time. You make more money but us musicians still get to eat soup from a can. I will never apologize for,or compromise being, professional.Venue owners need to be educated on what it costs and just how much work goes into even a corner bar gig.Recent example,I was recently approached by a club that was having an outdoor thing that was to precede a local downtown event.I worked out a price and they said they would get back to me.Then, a week later, they call me back and asked if i was still available.i stated yes.I then asked what happened.She admitted that she initially hired another band( probably because they were cheaper !)but they couldnt start as early as she wanted and then asked me if i could be there early so i i could let a DJ use my PA to entertain before me.No mention of compensation for the use of the PA.( what DJ doesnt have his own system?) Then i asked about the stage and a canopy.Then she said ,"Well we dont have one. i thought you would provide it". So,we go in very cheap as it is,then im asked to provide staging and tents and showing up early to lend our PA to a DJ ?  Had I not asked the question, we would have played on rugs strewn over blacktop and baked in the sun.It is atypical of how little knowledge venues have of what we go through but equally frustrating is the lack of respect. I probably would have personally played for nothing if it was handled more professionally. Just another chapter in the long story of artists and how we are perceived.This happens to us quite often, early in our careers because the ego and the drive to play gets to too many of us,so we undercut other bands or bust our butts for a few bucks and some exposure.The owners got used to us doing that,so they think its the norm.If we all stopped compromising our integrity and stood up for each other,we wouldn't be playing for peanuts and killing ourselves in the process. [/quote]
Chuck Maiden
Posted by Chuck Maiden on Jul 14 2012 1:56 PM
Thanks for the article. Great suggestions. I find the pay issue to be especially challenging in Los Angeles where there is so much competition. But we need to all stand up for ourselves. It starts with us!
Mwai
Posted by Mwai on Jul 17 2012 9:53 AM
"You catch more flies with honey than with Vinegar" Very true! I used to think this happens only in Kenya, guess it's a worldwide phenomenon. I had to learn that being caustic and parading my ego will not lead to more work. Now, I work on my craft, work on the professionalism of my offering, and strive to be tactful and accommodating while remaining firm on what is required to make things work. Venue owners and Event organisers and generally most of the people who seek you out to perform do not understand the intricacies involved. If you run a band you know what I'm talking about! Many think it's just plug and play just because you make it look easy! You seem to always have fun while up on stage. I find myself always educating them on how to approach the thought process required to ensure a flawless performance. It seems to be working. Realise that while as an accomplished recognised musician you have a career, many of them have "jobs." They think it's about simple buying and selling. They don't quite understand what you sell is actually priceless. Understand for yourself that what you are selling is a moment of happiness. It is emotional. It is intangibly tangible. Artistic minds have no problem with this kind of "wrapped" thinking.
Bruce Sokolovic
Posted by Bruce Sokolovic on Jul 24 2012 12:29 AM
I load my SUV with enough gear to buy another brand new SUV and im just the guitar player. I don't play for free, period. 20 year old kids who got instruments for Christmas do. Go call them. After they chase all your clientele out of the bar, we can talk business.
Larry Wimmer
Posted by Larry Wimmer on Jul 24 2012 1:13 PM
[quote="BruceSokolovic"]I load my SUV with enough gear to buy another brand new SUV and im just the guitar player. I don't play for free, period. 20 year old kids who got instruments for Christmas do. Go call them. After they chase all your clientele out of the bar, we can talk business. [/quote] Short, sweet and directly to the point Bruce!!!They reap what they sow.
The Goshen Theater
Posted by The Goshen Theater on Jul 26 2012 5:16 PM
As a venue operator, (one of those "club" guys) I have also been asked a few pretty uncomfortable questions. Last week I had a rapper come up to me while I was running sound and ask if he could sneak off to the balcony to have sex with his girlfriend. That's seriously awkward. I tried to make a couple of jokes about him not having enough room in his car, etc... but ended up just having to be direct and just say no. He played it off at this point by saying he was kidding (right), and just seeing if I was "cool". I responded with a laugh that I was definitely not cool, ever. Smile. Don't be mean, don't be an asshole, but don't be afraid to stick to your guns if something is going down that makes you uncomfortable or puts you in a bad situation. I guess sometimes you just have to be ok with not being cool. Also: as a performing artist, my bass player has this great way of dealing with people who ask us to play for free. "We always play for free! You don't pay us for playing, you pay us for maintaining our gear, setting it up, driving to the concert, promoting it, and helping your event have a good reputation." :laugh:
lovecreature.com
Posted by lovecreature.com on Jul 26 2012 5:54 PM
[quote="TheGoshenTheater"]As a venue operator, (one of those "club" guys) I have also been asked a few pretty uncomfortable questions. Last week I had a rapper come up to me while I was running sound and ask if he could sneak off to the balcony to have sex with his girlfriend. That's seriously awkward. I tried to make a couple of jokes about him not having enough room in his car, etc... but ended up just having to be direct and just say no. He played it off at this point by saying he was kidding (right), and just seeing if I was "cool". I responded with a laugh that I was definitely not cool, ever. Smile. Don't be mean, don't be an asshole, but don't be afraid to stick to your guns if something is going down that makes you uncomfortable or puts you in a bad situation. I guess sometimes you just have to be ok with not being cool. Also: as a performing artist, my bass player has this great way of dealing with people who ask us to play for free. "We always play for free! You don't pay us for playing, you pay us for maintaining our gear, setting it up, driving to the concert, promoting it, and helping your event have a good reputation." :laugh:[/quote] Quite true. I always state that I play for free, it's my prick of a sound guy that charges $300, and I can't do it without him.
5th PROJEKT
Posted by 5th PROJEKT on Jul 31 2012 3:09 AM
Really, really appreciate this post, folks! Thanks to Joy Ike and Mr. Cool! :)