It’s a common occurrence in every pro musician’s life.
You get a call or text that you’re needed to fill in with a band you’ve
never played with before. Naturally, you try to get all the information you’ll
need; compensation, songs, style, time and place. You may even get a rehearsal
with the group. Despite all your efforts to prepare, you can’t avoid some
unexpected twists. Here’s five common surprises that happen when you are
subbing on a gig.
1. The Surprise Super-Long Setlist
When you look at the set list for the gig and it has grown from the 30 minute
list you prepared for, into a summary of War and Peace. (If you get this list
before the gig, consider yourself lucky.) Unless every tune is only 23 seconds
long, the gig may last til next Tuesday.
2. The “Take Another Solo” Syndrome
When the artist / MD is out of ideas / songs and you still have time left to
finish the set, and they turn to you and motion for you to “take another
solo”. This usually results in playing ten solo choruses on the same song
until you have exhausted every lick, fill and riff you have ever practiced.
While you appreciate the trust, you grow cautious about asking for a solo again.
3. The “Let’s Try Something” Adventure
When your artist / MD is feeling adventurous and announces to the audience
that you haven’t rehearsed something but he just has to attempt a particular
song. This is accompanied by hurried whispers of suspect chord progressions
and an order to “follow me.” Sometimes this leads to amazing improvisational
moments. Other times the music following this announcement is an absolute train
wreck. At least they warned the audience.
4. The “We Forgot How We End the Song” Ending
When the band members have learned several versions of an arrangement but no
one remembers which ending to use. This surprise usually ends up with the awkward
last note played by the unlucky musician that didn’t get the memo by the
time the band figures out an ending.
5. The “One More Song” Unpaid Encore
When the last song is played and the audience
begins the “one more song” chant. This chant either
feeds the band-leader / artist’s ego, or makes them
feel obligated to do an encore. Meanwhile, the musicians have
checked out and no one wants to stay overtime. Usually, this
surprise involves dirty looks from the band and a mental accounting
of how much the gig was worth per minute. But we play on,
because no one wants to be known as the one that deserted
While all professional musicians have experienced
something on this list, the majority of us are willing to
deal with these surprises – as long as the phone keeps