One of the odd things about my double life is that hiring and managing freelancers is a substantial (sometimes very large!) part of my desk job. It gives me a certain insight, at least, into the situations of the people who are hiring me as a musician.
I can’t say I had a massive amount of sympathy with the new venue management who decided to only hire pop live music acts from here on, thereby kyboshing my two bookings with an Irish-oriented function rock band over the next few weeks. There may be logic in the decision, but there is a good business case for honouring your agreements rather than cutting people off without a shilling.
I did certainly feel for the band’s frontwoman / manager obliged to tell me the job had gone without any control over the situation though. I’ve often had to announce that the terms – usually formally contractually stipulated in this context – of an editing job have changed (sometimes in such a way that the freelancer has to let the job go as a result, most often because the new start and end dates clash with other work they’re doing), and occasionally that the work simply isn’t going to be done any more, at least in that shape and for the foreseeable future. And I’m far too firmly at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder to have usually had much influence over that taking place (unless I was the one (or one of the ones) that screwed up planning the dates or getting things to the right stage at the right time. That can happen.).
So you apologise cringingly, and genuinely try (as well as promise) to find some other work to send their way by way of compensation – in exactly the way Amanda did to me, though not usually by text message!
I think the important difference is that those venue managers with the radical live music policy won’t, I’m pretty sure, be doing any of that for any of the acts they’ve booted out.
Musicians generally hold each other dear, and endeavour to be businesslike and respectful in their dealings, whether or not they go in for legal formalities of administration. And something similar is true of most of my experience of freelance work in other sectors (certainly including publishing). Unfortunately, from most employers’ points of view, musicians are basically so plentiful, and the stock of willing and naive beginners who will pretty much stab themselves in the chest to get the vital experience and exposure supposedly needed to push-start a musical career so regularly replenished, that there’s no strong motivation to make any compromises. If you upset one lot, there’ll be another you can get to do the same job. Replace the upstarts. Classic non-unionised employment scenario, straight out of Victorian England.
It’s partly a fallacy of course. The MU does do a certain amount of clamping down on bad employers, though it’s very short on teeth, not least because membership is much too far from universal. (Imagine a world where a venue could become unable to book musicians of any seriousness because they were union blacklisted. It did effectively happen in 1940s America, but of course attitudes to unions and corporates have changed a lot since then. Especially closed shops.) And promoters, venues or bandleaders who are genuinely exploitative run increasing risks now that it’s rather easy to publicise the details of their scamming on specialist Facebook groups where they’ll be seen by literally thousands of working musicians (and quite possibly their competitors, members in order to hire people by advert) within 24 hours.
But the numbers of supply and demand, and the essentially unregulated nature of most of the music business, do mean that the average musician has a very weak bargaining position. You can only really change that, as far as I can see, by either acquiring skill-sets that dilettantes with full-time day jobs won’t have the time to achieve (a 500-song repertoire; the technical mastery of a concerto or opera soloist); or seeking out the places where demand and supply are more evenly balanced, for whatever reason (viola players, because not many people dream of playing the instrument as a child; gigging keys players, because you need a lot more equipment than most people, and a car big enough to carry it around in; violinists who can work effectively off chords or by ear, because most of them learn classically or possibly have a very strictly genre-bound traditional folk repertoire and technique). And then stick at it.
After all, if two jobs get cancelled but you still play twelve in a month, that’s going to make you a pretty good income.