To Tell The Truth

Honesty is the best policy. Or is it?

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to being a professional drummer — or professional anything, for that matter — it’s important to be straightforward in all your business transactions, at least if you want some degree of job security. But to be completely honest, it isn’t always easy to be completely honest. Throughout your career you will occasionally have to deliver bad news that a bandleader might not want to hear, and you had better be a skillful diplomat when you do.

For example, if you’re lucky enough to have a busy live performance schedule in which you play with several bands throughout the month, you will sooner or later be double booked (which means that one of your bandleaders will ask you to play a date on a night that you’d already booked with another bandleader).

You can deal with this situation in one of two ways. Many drummers subscribe to the “first come, first served” rule, and simply inform the second bandleader that they are already busy on that date.

But other criteria can come into play. Some drummers — especially those who rely on gig money to pay the rent — will take the higher paying job when faced with a double booking. Or they might be tempted to take a more prestigious gig to help advance their careers. Or they could simply like playing with one band more than the other.

It’s up to you to decide which type of drummer you are, but whatever your choice, the best bet is to let your employer know your plans as soon as possible. Otherwise, if you hem and haw before declining the offer, your bad news can become disastrous when the bandleader has to find a sub drummer at the last minute.

And if you fudge the truth, and tell them that you have to cancel a date because your grandmother died (instead of being honest about that lucrative party gig you accepted at the last minute), you might be surprised by what a small world it is when word gets back to the now-furious jilted bandleader.

But when is it a bad idea to be totally honest? Well, in my case it was when a bandleader asked me to critique his rhythm guitar playing. I figured he wanted the unvarnished truth and told him that his time drifted, which prevented the band from falling into a deep groove. He never called me again for another gig.

Was I right to answer his question truthfully, or should I have whitewashed my opinion to save the gig? I’d love to hear what you think.