12 May 2014

Guest Column: Dan Sheppard – Depping

    Since I'm depping for Eddie, and writing this column at short-notice, I'm going to talk about the minefield that is musical depping. Firstly, I should probably explain what "depping" is. The word is a shortened version of the word "deputy", and essentially means covering for another musician who may be ill or had to go elsewhere and get paid more money (usually the latter, and often the latter disguised as the former). In America they have a different word for it, namely "subbing", from "substitute". 

    We've all been there – you're at home, minding your business, ready to go out to the local pub gig for the standard pittance and a text arrives: "Hey can you help me out? I need a bass in London tonight, 8 til 11, £200." In all likelihood, this came from another bassist. Said bassist probably had a better offer so needed to get covered quickly. I accept. What happens next depends on who your band leader is.

    The old fashioned band leader is usually, funnily enough, quite old. All this upheaval can be a bit much for them – they tend to think if somebody agreed to do a gig, they should stick to it. If your band leader is one of these then you'd better be as apologetic as possible and line up a replacement before you inform them what's happening. You'll probably still get sworn at, but you'll have minimised their stress-levels and your own level of guilt. I will not name any of these band leaders.

    The modern band leader (read younger) will mostly be more understanding. I'm going to name one – Mark Bassey. Last year I pulled out of a few of his Bassey Plays Basie gigs, in all honesty to make more money doing private gigs. He was the perfect gent, as always, and wanted to find a replacement himself. Not only did that remove stress from me, but he was able to hire a bassist he knew would fit the job. At the time I wondered if he'd stop asking me to do the gig – always a possibility. He didn't – I've a few in the diary for this year. These modern band leaders understand the situation and often pull the same stunt themselves.

    The third category is the hobbyist – the amateur or semi-pro band leader. These leaders will usually have a decent day job, so music is something they love to do in their spare time. Often it's these bosses that get most upset – not shouting and swearing, more like hurt and betrayed. They're frequently emotionally invested in the band they run, and not too aware of the hand-to-mouth existence those of us at the business end of the business are labouring under. They usually prefer to find a replacement themselves, and, several months later, you'll notice that whoever replaced you is now doing the gig on a permanent basis. Years later, when you've forgotten you were even in the band, you'll run into this guy at a social gathering or something, and he'll give you the cold shoulder. Since you've forgotten and moved on years ago, you'll wonder "What's his problem?" and never think of it again.

    There are other possible thorny issues at stake. As a frequent dep myself, it's never nice to get a message like this – "Hi mate! Are you free tomorrow night? I've tried absolutely everyone I can think of – let me know." This has some alarming subtext – I didn't need to know I was last on your list, and if you're going to deliver a killer blow like that, please don't call me "mate". You may call me distant acquaintance at best. These types of message are usually inadvertent (I hope). It's best, when asking somebody to cover your mercenary ass, at least to pretend to be polite and grateful. How about, "Hi, hope you're well and busy. It's unlikely you're free tomorrow night, given how amazing you are, but I thought I'd ask on the off-chance you can cover me at [such & such]…" Well, maybe not that gooey, but you get my drift. Another issue is how to respond to the offer of a dep job – it's a complex favour-dynamic: am I helping him out, or is he helping me? It's a bit of both I suppose, but is it equal? Should I be twenty percent more grateful to get the gig than the guy trying to cover the gig? Some bassists I ask to dep for me act like they're putting themselves out to help me, others couldn't be more grateful. I usually express heartfelt thanks, to avoid offending anyone, but I'm not really as eternally grateful as I might sound – after all, a £30 pub gig versus a rare night off skimming through Ceefax is a tough one to call.


Dan Sheppard

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