A couple weeks ago my live band , In Stereo, was faced with a situation that you hope you never have to deal with. We had an important gig scheduled and one day before the gig our drummer, Ted, came down with a life threatening staff infection in his ankle. It was very obvious as soon as he was admitted into the hospital that there was no way he would be able to play the gig. That left us with a commitment to fulfill with the club that had us booked and as you know, the show must go on. So what are your options in a live band when one of your core members goes down?
I’ve written an article detailing the importance of having a stable core group of musicians where I talk about the three or four most important positions in a live band. Obviously, the drummer is pivotal in any live band and if your drummer goes down the gig is usually over. But you do have options, with the most obvious being gig cancellation. Cancelling a gig is never a good thing because it leaves the club without an act for the weekend which is when clubs make the bulk of their money. There are other, much better options that you need to think about and prepare for.
The first option is to find a musician that can fill in for whoever you are missing. The best way to do this is to have someone that knows your band’s music and can simply step in and play. We were lucky in my band In Stereo to have the original drummer, Frank Lee, available and willing to step in for Ted and play the weekend show. He knew enough of our songs that he was able to simply show up both nights and play 40 songs with us. That’s a pretty tall order for a musician and it can be a challenge to keep the quality up to a high level. You definitely don’t want someone up there that is guessing the entire night and making your whole live band sound bad. It’s very important for everyone in the band to network with other bands and musicians so you have a list of people you can call when you need someone to fill in. You may even be able to borrow a musician from another band to fill in with your band for the weekend. Most musicians will rise to this challenge and it ends up being fun for everyone.
Your second option is to find another band to fill in for your band. A lot of times this is the easiest and best solution simply because the quality will stay high and you will look very good getting a fill-in band lined up for the club. Again, this is why it’s so important to network with other local bands that play in the same clubs you play in. You should always have a list of other bands you can call to fill in for you in case you face a situation where it will be impossible for your band to play the show. If you have a booking agent, they may have some contacts with other bands that could fill in for you in an emergency as well.
Remember how important it is to keep a good relationship with other bands and musicians in your local scene. It’s always a good thing to network on MySpace and Facebook with other local bands so you have someone to call in a band emergency situation. Lucky for my band, Frank was available and did a fantastic job saving our gig. Ted is now recovering and it looks like he’ll be back up there behind the drumset soon.