Subbing Band Members--Opinions please!

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by wordsmith4u, Jun 16, 2019.

  1. We're a 5-piece 80's cover band (bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, female singer). Our keyboard player wants to be able to sub any member that's needed for a gig that they can't make it. I feel only myself (bass) and the drummer are "sub-able."

    What are your opinions on who can and can't (or shouldn't be) subbed for? Is there any member of the band that is completely off limits to subbing?

  2. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I like your Keyboard players' thinking!!! I do the same thing, even in a little rock group I had going for a while there. After a few years, it gets to be a hassle to check schedules every time you need to quote on a gig. It's a hassle to have to say "no" to a gig because one key player isn't in town.

    I think band members should strive to sub ALL positions in the band -- even the singer. But if that's the direction s/he wants to go, it means a few things.

    1. Having a simple repertoire that can be easily transposed and learned through a YouTube Playlist. Song structure must be written out or played exactly as it appears on the YouTube playlist.

    2. The band needs to be able to transpose the key for different singers, who may need a rehearsal the first time they are subbed. They may even have slightly different repertoires.

    3. There needs to be an unofficial 1st, 2nd and 3rd call list for the musicians. The first call musicians need to know they are first call, and they need to know its a privilege of sorts.

    4. First call musicians need to also understand that the presence of subs is NOT for their convenience -- it's for the band leader's.

    I had one member who agreed to a gig, and got a better one on the same day, so he called me and told me to get a sub. No Way. I didn't go to the trouble of setting a subbable repertoire, developing subbable singers, only to find it increased my headaches associated with filling the band with musicians.

    It's a hassle at first to do this. There are extra rehearsals, but after a while it becomes very smooth.

    Band Leaders burn out due to the low pay, hassles, and trouble of running a band. Anything to make the job easier is welcome, in my view.
  3. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    no, not in my bands. some positions might be harder to fill --- but no-one is indispensable. "indispensable" is a delusion.

    good luck finding a sub! :thumbsup:
    getrhythm likes this.
  4. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Other than lead vocal, it shouldn't be an issue. The first time they do it, you might want them to come to a rehearsal. But if they know the material, and any unusual arrangements you have, why not?
  5. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I feel that making myself subb-able actually leads to more gigs rather than fewer. I have a couple of reasons for this:

    1. It makes bandleaders more efficient at booking gigs. I'd rather have them spend their precious time talking to clients rather than haggling with their players.

    2. It works better for my schedule and life. Assuming that most bands gig sporadically, it's easy to maintain a 90% commitment with two or more bands, but impossible to maintain a 100% commitment to even one band. If a band is busy enough to become a scheduling problem for me, they're probably already using a better bassist. I'm OK with that.

    3. The disciplines of making a band subb-able (post #2) also result in the band making more better use of my time, for instance having charts and having productive rehearsals by necessity.
    kesslari and Passinwind like this.
  6. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Guest

    Nov 22, 2017
    Depends. If your band is called "So-and-So and the Whatnots" then So-and-So is probably indispensable. If your band has a huge following that leans on one or more of the members abilities or charisma, then those members probably aren't subbable. Otherwise, I agree with everything else stated here.
    bound'n'blocked likes this.
  7. MattZilla


    Jun 26, 2013
    If I'm ever going to be a part of a professional for-profit band, it will involve no less than three times as many people than are ever on one stage at the same gig.

    - there will always be subs available, minimum of two for each position.
    - double booking is possible and AOK

    Management of such a thing would be quite a job. Hope you have good enough performers in your pool to sell it.
  8. There’s band around here that started as a core group and as they got more popular had everyone sub-able so they didn’t need to turn down gigs. Eventually they had two full bands capable of playing in any combination of members, so that is what they do.

    They now regularly play 2 gigs at the same time in different venues.
    TomB, garp, Stumbo and 2 others like this.
  9. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    In a perfect world, yes we should all be interchangeable, but in reality it can be pretty tough unless you have a strong talent pool in your market. Yeah drummers and bassists and in most cases rhythm guitarists should be fairly plug and play. Front people, not so much a lot of the times.

    Part of the fun of doing covers (for me anyway) is the ability to make things our own (special arrangements, mashups, etc), but this won't work well with a band that expects to do have subs. I think this is something that needs to be considered as the band is putting together their philosophy and they should probably be pretty religious to known tracks of songs if they expect to need subs a lot.
    lfmn16 and LBS-bass like this.
  10. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    It's cool when that happens. You realize a band is a Brand and a concept, not a fixed set of musicians.
  11. I agree with this stance. In my band, the guitar player is pretty well known in the area as a pretty exciting guy. He kind of is the reason people like us. It would be an issue (IMO) to sub him out. We subbed the drummer last week and it wasn't an issue at all. We've subbed for me before and it wasnt a problem either, although if either I or the guitar player cant do it, we usually cancel or dont take the gig. We thought we might have to sub for the singer once, but didn't, but I would have rather not do the gig. I like normal! :D

  12. It depends on the goals of your band. If the goal is to get as many gigs/money as possible, then sub on. But, if this is a hobby band where having fun is more the goal then it depends on what the subbed player feels about it.
    From the venue's perspective, I would think they expect at least the same singer that they heard on your demos, and the quality/song selection to be on par.
  13. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    A band is a concept or a brand and not its members? Talk about dehumanization. Musicians are just cogs in a music machine? George Orwell would have loved that definition.

    I really hope you’re kidding with that one. :rolleyes:
    lfmn16 likes this.
  14. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I think each person brings their own unique personality to the band. But the band is also a concept that the musicians have to also fit into, while still being themselves. For example, in tribute bands, there has to be some semblance of the original band for it have credibility. I am sure there are exceptions where people successfully do their own thing with the tribute band music and are successful, so i acknowledge that. But I have seen a few tribute acts, and it seems people generally want the experience to be similar, for the most part, to the original experience provided by the original band. Sure there can be some differences in solos, etcetera, but ultimately, they have to sound something like the original group. Is that dehumanizing?

    I don't think it's dehumanizing to say that a band is a concept, or a brand. For example, when Peter Cetera took over the vocal chair for Chicago, was that dehumanizing? He sounded a lot like the original singer, and that's what I think kept Chicago going for a while. I also don't think it's dehumanizing to say that my jazz groups probably sound a lot like just about any jazz group. Sure, we have personality in the nature of our solos etcetera, but a piano trio tends to sound like a piano trio at its core, with maybe 10-20% of variance in tone or stylistic things brought to the table by individual players. Individual musicians bring a different feel to it all -- I have one musician who is very tasteful. Rarely will you hear him playing percussive or with a funky Rhodes sound. Other players are more funky, but in the end, we create an ambiance for our clients that want jazz background music -- and that's the brand.

    I wouldn't call any of my groups really individual sounding. Further, a lot of musicians sound alike -- they have the same tone, use a lot of the same licks. Truly great, individualistic musicians are hard to find. The consensus among greats is that having a unique tone really puts the humanity/greatness into a musician. Think of Jaco, Pat metheny, David Gilmour, David Sanborn, Santana -- you know them as soon as you hear them, even if you don't know the song. But they are few and far between.

    People like me? Even my piccolo bass doesn't really sound unique.

    Sorry if I offended you (and expect people with really strong artistic aspirations would likely think similarly), but the band as a concept is why you can have three groups called the InkSpots performing simultaneously across America and all have credibility, and make the audiences happy.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2019
    ak56 and buldog5151bass like this.
  15. I work in two bands. A four piece that never uses subs but gigs only once every two months and a 6 piece band that gigs 3 to 4 times per month and uses subs for every member on occasion. Never more that 2 subs at a time.
    I am OK with using subs because the band overall takes in more work and we don't turn down gigs. A wise man once told me always take the gig because you can always get musicians, you can't always get another gig.
  16. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    I think it depends on whether people come to listen to the music or to see the band. I've been in bands where it would have been a huge letdown to the audience if any of the members weren't there. I played in a band where I played bass, keys and and sang backup on almost every song, no one was subbing for me. I've also been in bands where everyone (including me) was interchangeable.
  17. RattleSnack


    Sep 22, 2011
    Actualy, he is right. Once you go from local-bar-Garry&Perry-play-funk, to regional show "Funky Steamroller", nobody cares that Garry left, and two drummers share a place in band. People buy tickets to watch "Funky Steamroller".
    That's true for covers band. Things are different with originals, where authentic individuals count much more.
    40Hz likes this.
  18. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Not if all the subs are capable and know the material.
  19. Bunk McNulty

    Bunk McNulty It is not easy to do simple things correctly Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2012
    Northampton, MA
    Redhead is named for its frontwoman; it isn’t Redhead without her. But it isn’t really Redhead without the rest of us, either. So no subs. Except in February when we take time off and she goes out with an entire band of subs, the “Redhead Mix-Up Band.” The rest of the time, the band calendar comes first. This requires a certain amount of adult behavior; you don’t pout when you have a gig on your birthday or your anniversary. You celebrate on a different day, etc.
    pcake likes this.
  20. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    May 24, 2006
    Knew there was a reason why I veered towards being in originals bands rather than a much better paying cover band. :laugh:
    RattleSnack likes this.