The 5 Sub Surprises: What happens when playing with a new band

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 a gig.

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 ringing.

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