Giving the phone call
My band auditioned a singer and keyboard player yesterday. The keys player was good, exactly what we were hoping for. Plays nice accompaniment, some decent soloing. He'd come in cold, so we told him the chords / riffs and off he went. Very likable guy, too.
The singer turned out to be not what I had hoped for. Found him through a forum, and in his defense he had a mere 2 days to prepare. But he picked 4 songs he said he knew, yet his timing was all over the place, like you wouldn't believe it. He did play a mean, mean blues harp which we were all very impressed with.
We played "Messin' With The Kid" in G first, and he later requested we play it in E, which we did. It sounded a lot better, but it also raised a red flag with me - the one-key-fits-all type of singer. Based on his delivery and tone of voice, I got the idea that he will not fare well on the (blues)rock tunes we want to do.
He started playing my bass while I went to the loo without asking me if it was okay (another red flag) and started playing a simple pentatonic lick in E (on my B-string), asked if "I got it" and then told the band "OK this is a blues tune in A" ... I get that not everyone is familiar with a 5-string bass but I'd at least expect him to hear the difference between an A and an E.
At one point he asked the guitarist why he didn't play a particular riff "all on the 5th square". For someone who claims to have played guitar for 20-something years he sure don't know a single note. Or the word "fret" - which is the same in my native tongue :p
Anyway, I called him today and told him we will continue looking for a singer. Told him I loved his harp playing (which I did) and that his vocals were good for traditional blues (they are) but that we are looking for more of a rock singer. Also said I would recommend him whenever I heard people look for a harp player and I did just that a minute ago. A friend of the band is looking for just this type of singer/harpist so I gave him the guy's contact details.
I have to say, I've never given this type of call before. I did not enjoy it, but felt that since I'd found the guy and made all the arrangements, it was also up to me to tell him that he wasn't in. I'd given him the more rock-oriented tunes and he said he liked them but you could tell he would pull the band in a straight blues direction, which we do not want. He appreciated the honesty :)
Yeah, that kind of call is never easy. But I'm sure he appreciated a timely, professional callback. That speaks well of both you and the band. Good look with the search!
Good for you, you did the professional thing. Many bands never bother to make that rejection call and just leave people hanging.
I always make the call. I never sugar coat it that much. "We've decided to go with someone else," is about all I say. I think you give the person the respect of letting them know they're not in; after that, it's all in a day's work, and nothing personal. If they ask for specifics, I don't really give any. I'm not their freaking career coach, and I may not know squat about what they should or shouldn't be singing.
I'm never going to say, "you just aren't hitting the pitch," or "your tone made me want to kill myself," or anything such as that. Just, "you weren't the right fit." That's IT. That person may be GREAT, or they may be AWFUL, but again, I am not a critic. I am only out to find the player or singer who fits the project, and to make great music.
I try to keep it friendly; you never know when you might meet up with that person again.
It's kind of like when you're single. You didn't like this one lady, but you were nice, and respectful to her, and then one day she thought you were perfect for her hot friend, and introduced you.
Gave him the opportunity, he wasn't a fit, and you found him a great lead.
You are a stand up dude.
I think it's a good idea to give as much positive feedback as possible or reasonable in such a call, speaking as one who has has received such calls. In my last rejection notice from a rockabilly band, I was told they were very impressed with my preparations, skills and abilities, but that I didn't have the tone they were looking for (I play electric bass guitar, they were looking for acoustic upright, and no matter how well I play, I can't capture that tone). I really appreciated that feedback -- even though they are admittedly not my career counselors.
Fast forward: this last week, I met up with that band again at a gig they were playing. I listened as a musician, but not with folded arms and condescending attitude. It was a really interesting and enjoyable experience for me. Although I am quite good at what I do, I watched a kid (23, but from my perspective at 52, he's a kid) play an acoustic double bass very well, doing things I couldn't do on it. I enjoyed it a lot.
Three of the band members remembered me and my audition, and had very good things to say about it. I told them about my current project, a country/rock band with a Johnny Cash/June Carter tribute, and they responded with an offer to open up for us on a double bill at the next opportunity. As you might imagine, I felt really good about that, since the only basis for their confidence in my band's musical abilities was what they saw and heard at my audition.
If, when they gave me my original rejection notice, they had not bothered to give me any feedback about my audition and their reasons for doing so, it's likely I would not have ever attempted to follow up with them. They were under no obligation to do so, but doing it may very well benefit them in the not-too-distant future.
To the OP, well done! Very professional IMO.
Totally a pro move. I say any singer would be lucky to hook up with an outfit like yours.
It's a business and you are doing what anyone in the business would expect. It's not personal, unless the guy on the phone is not about the business. You could just leave him hanging, right? You're doing him a solid (hehe, pun intended) by calling him back to let him know where things lie.
If money is involved it's business. No one can fault you for treating business like it's business. Most people will expect it, because they like money, too.
You did the right thing. It's not easy to do.
But it beats taking him on only to have to show him the door weeks or months later when you always knew it wasn't the right fit.
First, I always let the person we are auditioning know that we don't make a decision at the audition. I find if I don't say that, they stare at us wide-eyed wanting to know if they are in the band at the end of the audition. Not that our OP failed to do that - I just mention it because in the beginning, I didn't prepare them that way, and it was always awkward at the end of the audition when I hadn't talked to the band members about their own perceptions.
When I have to tell them "Nay", I usually tell them honestly what I thought. Focus on a couple positives, and then tell them why they didn't get the gig. Usually I focus on aspects of the competition that stood out -- such as the fact that the guy who got the seat had a jazz performance degree and brought a comping style to the band we hadn't heard before. We always require marketing strength as well in our musicians, so I tell them how they fared on the sales and marketing end of things. Again, focus on the competition indicating the guy who got the gig had contacts in place and already had potential dates for the band. Stuff like that.
I always ask the guy if he'd like to be a sub, however, if his playing was up to snuff. I try to leave the door open and try to turn the guy into a fan, add him to mailing list and if he has another non-competing band, try to throw him a lead for gigs if they come up. What goes around comes around.
One thing I want to comment on. I've been on a few discussion forums before, and I have the distinct impression this particular forum has a lot of mature, professional musicians. I get a lot out of the posts and really admire a lot of the people who post here. Thanks guys!
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