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Here's Why I Hate Subbing


dan88z

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My guitar player is the only guy who makes a living playing music. Once in a while he has a gig opportunity that he'll ask me to make an exception for. This weekend is one of those exceptions. He's playing with a Queen tribute band in MA on Saturday, a high dollar gig that will pay a lot of his bills for one night's work. We have a small gig at one of our regular restaurant type places. So I said sure, take the Queen thing, I'll get a sub for you. This was about a month ago.

 

Talk to a guy that a couple of us know. He's on board. Says all the right things when I talk to him about what we do and what we expect. He's a pretty good player, active in a couple bands, not a slouch by any means.

 

I send him a set list and say here's what we typically do, and here are all our extras- if you know any of the extras, let me know and I'll sub them in for stuff you don't know on the set.

 

Never hear from him. 2 weeks go by. I call him a couple times and finally get him. He says yeah, I'm working on the songs, it's a lot to do. I say you don't have to learn them note for note, just the arrangements as I noted in the list I sent you.

 

I tell him we want to get together at least once with the band. I'll work with you one on one and then we'll do one practice with everyone. He says great, no problem. I email him the 2 dates to get together. Never hear from him.

 

Finally last Weds, the day of the full band practice (no call from him at all on Tues when he and I were supposed to get together, after 3 calls and an email from me). He says he needs recordings of some of the songs. I say cool, email me back the set list I sent you with what you need, I'll make a CD and drop it in your mailbox tomorrow. (he lives pretty close by). He says what's your schedule look like for Sunday (yesterday), I said I'm open, call me and you can come down and we'll go over everything. Never got the email with what he needed. Never got a call yesterday. By yesterday I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that he didn't care and plans on coming in and hacking his way thru the gigs, which isn't going to happen. I left it on him to contact me because it was his date he set.

 

One of his bands, my drummers son plays bass in (he has 2 sons who play bass). They went to see him play recently, and they talked about our gig, and the guy was all gung ho about how excited he was to play with us. WTF? If I were sitting in with a band and they gave me a month notice, I'd have all the stuff learned by now. I've learned 40 songs in 2 days before to fill in for a gig. Why would you say you are excited to sub and then do NOTHING that was asked of you to prepare for the gig? Why would you not communicate with the band leader when he asks how you are making out, do you need anything, how can I help you get on board? It just baffles me.

 

This morning I called the venue and did the most unprofessional thing I've had to do yet for this band, cancelled a gig with 5 days notice. I'd rather do that than go into the gig with anything less than a professional sounding product. When someone doesn't know half of the songs you are playing, hasn't played them at home, and hasn't practiced them with the band, that's not something I'm putting on stage. I'll never use this guy again, no doubt about that.

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Subbing adds a layer of anxiety to a bandleaders life that is excruciating.

 

I think you probably did the right thing, although maybe you could have explained the situation to the bar owner, and said "Hey, I'm uncomfortable with this guy subbing, would you rather I try to make a go of it, or would you rather find a replacement band". But in the end, you were in a crappy situation, and you did what you thought was best.

 

We had a gig this past weekend where the sub called in sick the day before the gig, so I had to strap on my electric guitar and fill in on lead. It took a lot of the enjoyment out, especially on such short notice. I think in the future I'd rather just not take gigs unless I know the guys can be there. Subs are so iffy.

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Ward, I explained that to the bar owner when I called them. I said I wasn't going to bring in a hacked version of the band. He's got plenty of bands to pick from so I'm sure he'll find someone. Most places I play wouldn't be comfortable with the cancelling band providing a replacement- they have a rotation of bands they use. Even if he did want me to find someone, I don't know anyone who could take the date on this short of notice.

 

kmart, he's definitely going to hear from me and no words will be spared. Maybe I should not call him at all and see if he calls me to ask for details on the gig. Or when he calls me from the venue on Saturday, I can say that I left him a message on Monday, but I figured he got it and he didn't call me back just like all the other times I asked for a call back. :)

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Dealing with subs is a big pain in the neck, no question. In this case, though, it seems like the problem is more with this specific guy than with the concept of "subbing". I'm lucky in that most of the subs I have to find are horn players, and we have charts for almost everything (and most of them are still accurate with regard to our current arrangements! :D). That doesn't require a lot of prep for a good player, and an all-instrumental ska gig is a pretty easy sell to a horn player who doesn't already have a gig that night.

 

In your case, though... how well do you know this guy? Based on what you've said, he sounds like kind of a flake. Have you ever actually worked with him before? Hindsight is always 20/20, but when the guy flaked out on you last Tuesday (or before that, at the point where you said "I email him the 2 dates to get together. Never hear from him."), that might have been the point where I would leave him a message saying something like "It sounds like you're having trouble making the time for this... should I find someone else?" I would try to be polite, but leave it that I'm going to start calling other people unless I hear back from him right away. That puts the ball in his court to get his {censored} together (and at least call) if he actually intends to do the gig.

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What a clown. People like that give musicians a bad name. I'd send him an e-mail and say you cancelled the gig due to his lack of professionalism or even decency.

 

But don't knock yourself down as a person down a peg and just let him show up - that's just as unprofessional. Think of it this way: sometimes being professional entails firing someone. You don't just have them work and wait for them to realize there's no paycheck.

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It's really interesting topic to talk about @dan88z.

Have you heard about the Parkinson's Law?

 

I used to work with people like this one you described. Now I'm always giving them short deadlines. Two reasons: (A) i can figure out if they will cope with tasks and learn the songs and (B) keep them motivated by short deadline :)

 

Cheers

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Most of the subbing that I've done did not include rehearsals, except for what I did on my own, which I think is pretty typical around here, and I've done quite a bit of subbing over the years. Did you intend to pay the guy for rehearsing?

 

 

I think you're missing the point. Being a decent human being and returning a call or e-mail is the sub's issue, not whether the OP was going to pay him to rehearse.

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I think you just need to keep a back pocket of guys who fill in on each instrument. The classic rock band I play with frequently has to find a fill in drummer and the band leader has two guys he can go to. One of them is actually the guy he wanted in the band, but his wife won't let him play in two bands. I'm not sure where he found the other guy, but he is a great player and his style is different than the other two. I guess he is less of a traditional rock drummer. I actually want to get something started with him, but I'm kind of intimated because he is so good and I have never started a gigging band from the ground up. I'm shocked the guy doesn't play out more often.

 

Sounds like your guy might be more on the "dad band" level. :confused:

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It was a paying gig. One of our lower paying ones, but typical of what he makes in his bands. Around here, most people who sub don't ask to be paid for a rehearsal. We're talking about him going from his house to my house- walking distance. If we had done a full band practice which is 15 miles away I'd have driven. I was going to drive him to the gig too.

 

I've never played with him before but I've talked to him a lot, he had asked me to sub for his band one time and I wasn't available, but we had a good conversation and he seems relatively sane.

 

You are right- I should have known last Tuesday this was going to happen, but by then, I had no other options so I figured I'd give him his Sunday date he asked for and go from there. And I did talk to him at one point and asked him if he was going to be ok for the gig, and he said yes, and the drummer also talked to him over Labor day weekend when he went to see his band that his son plays in, and he was on board at that point.

 

I've done a lot of subbing with no practice, but I spent a lot of time on the tunes and was in constant communication with the people who were hiring me. I definitely put in my time to make sure I do my best, as it's my reputation on the line if I don't play as well as I expect to. If I wasn't interested in doing a gig I always said so from the start.

 

I sent him an email today pretty much saying that I cancelled the gig because I wasn't comfortable with the lack of communication and the perceived lack of effort on his part in getting me what I needed to help him learn the songs, with his no show yesterday being the final choice maker for us. It was professional but not pulling any punches.

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If a sub can't come in with no rehearsal and pull it off, I don't want him/her. I don't expect people to learn a bunch of music for one or two gigs. Even if they pay a lot of money. 30-40 songs? It'd have to be a lot of money for me to learn forty songs, or I'd need to be desparate to play with those particular players. Last time I had to learn 40 tunes it was for a full time road band. LOOOOOng time ago. The guys I hire as subs are either percussion guys who have tons of experience and can just lay it down, or soloists who can blow great solos over whatever. If I had to sub out a guy who needed to know the band's whole trip, forget it. No one can do that with enough confidence for me to relax and enjoy myself.

 

I'd do what the op did and bag it. Not worth the stress and the grief when they fall short. I have the same issue- A guy in the band who goes on the road once in a while because he's a full timer. This is the one guy I can't sub. Once I hired three guys to replace just him and it was such a comedic disaster that we still joke about it fifteen years later. My plan "B" is not to sub him, and go with three guys instead of four, and change the nature of the music. Works better than trying to ask a guy to step into a band that's been working together for 20 years and pull off that guy's gig. It can't be done. At least not by anyone I've ever tried.

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Maybe I should not call him at all and see if he calls me to ask for details on the gig. Or when he calls me from the venue on Saturday, I can say that I left him a message on Monday, but I figured he got it and he didn't call me back just like all the other times I asked for a call back.
:)

 

Do not call. Do not return calls. Ignore. You are done.

 

If you feel like sending an email to tell him the is cancelled, I GUARANTEE you he will respond. {censored} him. Teach him well.

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If a sub can't come in with no rehearsal and pull it off, I don't want him/her. I don't expect people to learn a bunch of music for one or two gigs. Even if they pay a lot of money. 30-40 songs? It'd have to be a lot of money for me to learn forty songs, or I'd need to be desparate to play with those particular players. Last time I had to learn 40 tunes it was for a full time road band. LOOOOOng time ago. The guys I hire as subs are either percussion guys who have tons of experience and can just lay it down, or soloists who can blow great solos over whatever. If I had to sub out a guy who needed to know the band's whole trip, forget it. No one can do that with enough confidence for me to relax and enjoy myself.


I'd do what the op did and bag it. Not worth the stress and the grief when they fall short. I have the same issue- A guy in the band who goes on the road once in a while because he's a full timer. This is the one guy I can't sub. Once I hired three guys to replace just him and it was such a comedic disaster that we still joke about it fifteen years later. My plan "B" is not to sub him, and go with three guys instead of four, and change the nature of the music. Works better than trying to ask a guy to step into a band that's been working together for 20 years and pull off that guy's gig. It can't be done. At least not by anyone I've ever tried.

 

 

For me, subs are definitely an "it depends" sort of thing.

 

It depends on the gig (a Saturday night at a local bar is WAY less important than a festival gig).

 

It depends on the material (a playlist of blues and/or typical classic rock stuff that pretty much follow the original format - is WAY different than a playlist of medleys, seques and mashups)

 

It depends on the instrument being "subbed" (bringing in a guest soloist horn player is WAY different than trying to replace a guitar player or keyboard player who is a critical component of a band's rhythm section.

 

It depends on the musical stability of the rest of the band (a band with a rock solid 4 piece rhythm section can often "carry" a sub who's not 100% certain about starts and stops, etc. Conversely, I've played with rhythm sections were likely to implode if that one guy who was the musical leader onstage was there.)

 

If bringing on a sub is going to significantly increase the amount of time I need to invest in preparing for the gig and/or mean that I'm likely looking at a miserable night because of the sub - I don't want the sub there and would frankly, rather stay home myself. None of the gig I do pay me enough to want to deal with the headache.

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But, as a guy who does A LOT of subbing, there is a right way to do it. Out of 10 to 15 gigs a month, maybe 4 or 5 are sub gigs. Some are jazz gigs where you just show up and play thru THEIR book. If the charts are tough, I'll get them beforehand and work on them. The occasional sub for a player in an artist gig is another level of playing and preparation (and pay!). Chart it, memorize it, and play it note for note. Usually a 30-45 min set. But for cover band club stuff, I've got TONS of charts for the gigs I have done over the years. I am glad to learn tons of songs cuz it just adds to my collection of charts. And I chart everything I've never played before. I've gotten pretty good at doing them, so generally I can do em quick. When I get the set list, I'll go thru and mark the ones I know and can do without prep. Usually it is about 1/2 the list. (We all know the same 20 songs don't we?) Then I'll grab the charts of tunes I have done but don't remember every detail, and I'll make new ones for tunes I haven't done, and hammer thru them before the gig. Some tunes once, some more than that.

 

And unless a solo is a bakelite signature or a specific melody, I'll usually improvise them. Appropriately, of course.

 

If a band has lots of special arrangements, medley/mash ups etc, I'll do a gas money rehearsal. Otherwise, nope. I ALWAYS have my {censored} together. This makes some bands who have never used me worry, but that is over after the first set. And without fail, most bands, knowingly or not, play some tunes wrong....

 

And the reason I got a rep as a reliable sub is cuz I ALWAYS do a great job for whatever band I am subbing for. I always get call backs. The goal is to take the pressure off the band....to get them to just relax and play like they always do cuz the sub is killin it. Make it so that it is fun to play with someone who knows their {censored}, does it well, and has fun doing it. And of course, smokes your regular guitar player like a cheap cigar.:rolleyes::lol::wave:

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If a sub can't come in with no rehearsal and pull it off, I don't want him/her. I don't expect people to learn a bunch of music for one or two gigs. Even if they pay a lot of money. 30-40 songs? It'd have to be a lot of money for me to learn forty songs, or I'd need to be desparate to play with those particular players. Last time I had to learn 40 tunes it was for a full time road band. LOOOOOng time ago. The guys I hire as subs are either percussion guys who have tons of experience and can just lay it down, or soloists who can blow great solos over whatever. If I had to sub out a guy who needed to know the band's whole trip, forget it. No one can do that with enough confidence for me to relax and enjoy myself.


I'd do what the op did and bag it. Not worth the stress and the grief when they fall short. I have the same issue- A guy in the band who goes on the road once in a while because he's a full timer. This is the one guy I can't sub. Once I hired three guys to replace just him and it was such a comedic disaster that we still joke about it fifteen years later. My plan "B" is not to sub him, and go with three guys instead of four, and change the nature of the music. Works better than trying to ask a guy to step into a band that's been working together for 20 years and pull off that guy's gig. It can't be done. At least not by anyone I've ever tried.

 

 

That's my take on it too. Sub dude should have declined right away if he wasn't prepared to do it, but expecting somebody to spend a month learning 40 songs for a one night $100 gig isn't realistic either. The only sub I'd consider is somebody who knows 90% of our material already.

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I wasn't expecting him to spend a month learning the songs. But, he had a month to get it together. Even if it took him 2-3 days to work up the songs, he had 30 days to find those 2-3 days. He said he knew about 20 of our songs, so he only had to work up another 20 or so. Any competent player can do that, as I'm sure he could. It just seems he elected to not do anything about it and figured he'd come in and wing it, and that's not the kind of band we are.

 

We don't like to sub at all, ever, but this was a circumstance where we felt it was ok. Low key bar/restaurant gig, not much pressure like at a casino or something. At the same time, we were not going to halfass it.

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I have subbed a lot. I would try to learn songs that maybe I had never played,before,but learn an entire 4 hour show for a hundred dollars,one time. No way. I agree the dude should have kept a better line of communication open with you,but in the end you might have learned some of his stuff as well (was that even brought up?).Any time you change a member it becomes a different band,and to expect a seemless asymilation is expecting a little much IMO. I don't mean to dis you at all as you did what you thought best in the situation,but there are two sides to every story. Maybe he got the material he needed on his own,maybe he has a ball busting bitch that gave him {censored} for being on the phone. All I'm saying is you are assuming alot.Of course,he left you no other option but to assume... and thats kinda how it feels,huh? Just hope you didn't do any damage to your band with the club by the cancellation.

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gonzobassman, I gave him a list of 70-80 songs. I gave him a lay out of 3 sets, songs that we'd typically play at that place. I said if there is anything you know on the extra songs that are not on the actual set list for the show, tell me and we'll put them in. Stuff like Mustang Sally, Proud Mary, Ain't Too Proud To Beg- easy 3 chord stuff that everyone has played that we wouldn't normally do at this place, but could do rather than have him spend time learning songs he didn't know.

 

The point is he never got back to me with any of that information. All I ever got out of him was he knew about 20 of the songs on the proposed list for the show. I wasn't expecting him to learn 40 songs. I called him because I knew he played some of the same songs as we did and that it'd be easy for him to work in. Apparently not.

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I usually have the opposite problem. I get asked to sub, and then ask for a CD I never get, a set list that comes a week before the gig if I'm lucky and only after repeated pestering, and maybe a rehearsal after again asking for one several times.

 

 

 

Same here.

 

And I'm not lugging my kit to the venue to have the night be a train wreck, feel uncomfortable while playing, and generally not have a good time of things when they start calling out songs I've never heard, or that they've changed since the last time I heard them.

That's why I stopped doing a lot of subbing; I pretty much only fill-in for one set of 3-4 players who all rotate in & out of several of the same bands anymore; I know they've generally got their heads together enough to make things work.

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