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String Trio playing outdoor wedding.
One of Dream City Music’s earliest gigs. All musicians showed up for this one!

Back in 2017 when my string quartet was starting to grow, I faced the worst possible experience a group leader could ever encounter: one of my musicians didn’t show up to the gig. To understand how this could happen (and how I solved this problem FOREVER), we have to understand how I had been organizing other musicians.

Me along with my then-partner were working extraordinarily hard to book gigs (primarily weddings). We had gotten to the point where we were booking between 3 and 5 weddings a month, and we wanted each of them to go perfectly. After all, a perfect performance leads to more bookings! I also wanted to be taken seriously and to establish a solid reputation in a fairly new city (I had just moved to Milwaukee less than a year prior).

Now that the group was getting booked, we had to manage other musicians and get them to play with us. When we were doing just 1 or 2 gigs a month, it was pretty easy to have a core group of four players since everyone’s availability lined up pretty nicely. With the group growing, we had to add more musicians to the roster.

Getting other musicians to play was a pretty simple process: I would text or email a musician the details of the gig, and ask them to respond to the email with their availability. Most of the time they would say yes, and I never minded the occasional no.

If the musician said yes, I would add them to a gigantic spreadsheet I was keeping, and ask the musician to add the gig to their calendar. I assumed that this was enough to prevent any disasters. But I was wrong.

Along comes a fateful day – a Saturday wedding in the summer. The couple had booked a trio (two violins and a cello). I had gone through my standard process of texting/emailing musicians, and all of them confirmed. I had decided to give myself that day off from playing and had secured an alternate violinist.

But something told me that something was going to go wrong, and sure enough it did. I was going about my normal Saturday business when I had an urge to poke my head in the wedding venue. I drove down to the Black Swan in Milwaukee’s beautiful Third Ward neighborhood, found a nice parking spot, and casually popped into the venue’s lobby during the prelude music.

I heard two beautiful violins playing Delibes’ Flower Duet, but I did not hear a bass line. I looked around the corner and saw two violinists sitting in chairs, and next to them, a glaring EMPTY chair where the cellist should be.

At that moment, millions of thoughts (and swear words) went through my head as I ran back to my car. I called every cellist I knew, and I reached one who was available to throw on concert black, throw their cello in the car, and save the gig.

Unfortunately, they didn’t arrive until after the ceremony had concluded, so they were only able to join in for the cocktail hour. This led to an uncomfortable conversation with me profusely apologizing to the couple afterwards. They graciously accepted my refund for their ceremony, and thankfully didn’t leave a bad review.

But I had learned my lesson, and I wasn’t going to let that happen EVER again. As I was building my app to manage my group, I made it a priority to create a feature that automatically texted AND emailed musicians their performance requests. I didn’t want them to have to think about crafting a response, so I made it so that they could click a “Accept” or “Decline” button instead.

If they accepted, I had the system automatically send several reminders the week prior to the gig.

Once I did this, I never had to personally remind another musician about their performances. It was like I had an orchestra’s personnel manager working 24/7 who could manage my musicians for me!

The best part was that I NEVER had a musician not show up to a gig after that. Even better was that this system automatically sent them their setlists!

Since then, I baked these features into BookLive’s Personnel Management so that every musician can benefit from what I learned during that fateful gig! As Zig Ziglar once said, “Ability is important in our quest for success, but dependability is critical.”