Our Decision on Blackout Calendars and What We Chose Instead

Our Decision on Blackout Calendars and What We Chose Instead





The availability blackout calendar has been a much-discussed feature within our community. Many users have requested it, envisioning a simple solution for managing and displaying availability. We toyed with the idea for a long time, developing mock-ups and exploring different approaches. However, despite our efforts, we faced several challenges that made us reconsider its practicality.

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Assigning Responsibility

When it came to designing the calendar, the primary challenge was determining who would be responsible for updating it. Should musicians update their availability themselves, or should an administrator handle it? If musicians were responsible, what would happen when their availability changed? Would they need to update the calendar again, or inform a bandleader or agent to make the changes? Alternatively, if only leaders had access to update the calendar, it would require musicians to relay their availability changes to them. This led us to question whether the calendar would add significant value if it still required direct communication to verify availability.

The Subjective Nature of Availability

The second major challenge we faced was the inherently subjective nature of availability. Availability might seem straightforward, but in practice, it's not just about whether someone is free on a given date. If I ask, "Are you available for a gig next July 15th?" your response will likely depend on several factors: the gig's details, the pay, the location, and the preparation required. Availability is fluid and context-dependent. A blackout calendar system is rigid, treating availability as a simple yes or no, which doesn’t reflect the reality of decision-making.

For example, a vocalist might mark themselves as unavailable on July 15th. However, if an exceptional opportunity arises—like a well-paying gig in Spain—the vocalist might reconsider and make themselves available. This situation illustrates that marking a date as unavailable on a calendar doesn't account for changing priorities or opportunities, making the blackout calendar less effective.

Granularity and Practicality

Another layer of complexity is the granularity of availability. Blocking off an entire day might not accurately represent someone's schedule. For instance, someone might be busy with a morning gig but free in the afternoon. This level of detail requires an extremely granular system, which can become a significant administrative burden. Updating availability on an hourly basis is impractical and time-consuming, leading to outdated information quickly.

Synchronizing calendars to keep information up-to-date might seem like a solution. However, life is unpredictable, and not everyone uses digital calendars consistently. Even if we managed to sync various calendars, it wouldn't guarantee 100% reliability. My experience with similar systems showed that the process often became a repetitive, tedious task with little return on investment. It required frequent updates and didn't always result in bookings, ultimately making it more of a hassle than a help.

Our Alternative Solution

Given the impracticality of a blackout availability calendar, we needed an alternative that would still provide bandleaders with essential availability information without the associated hassle. As bandleaders, we need to know when our musicians are available to quickly respond to gig opportunities, quote agents, or bid on jobs. Therefore, we've integrated a set of tools into the gig creation process within Back On Stage to streamline this.

The New System: Gig Conflict Notices

Instead of a blackout calendar, we've developed a gig conflict notice feature. This tool provides a snapshot of potential conflicts when creating a gig. For instance, if you're booking a drummer, the system shows which drummers have date conflicts based on their current bookings. This feature doesn't require musicians to constantly update their availability; it automatically pulls in data from their existing gigs.

The conflict notice highlights if a musician has another booking on the same date, without delving into specific times. While it doesn't get into granular details—like tech load-ins or soundchecks—it offers a quick overview. For example, a drummer might have a morning church gig but could still be available for an afternoon wedding. This information helps bandleaders make informed decisions swiftly. If all potential band members show conflicts for a particular date, it signals a potential issue in assembling the band, allowing for quick adjustments.

This approach reduces the burden on musicians and ensures that availability data is current and useful, empowering bandleaders to respond efficiently to gig opportunities.

Reimagining Availability Management

When we considered implementing an availability blackout calendar, we realized that regardless of the system, bandleaders still need to confirm availability with musicians directly. Simply seeing an empty calendar doesn’t guarantee a musician’s commitment to a gig. For instance, I might see that Jack’s calendar is free next Friday, but I still need to ask him if he’s available and willing to accept the gig. This fundamental requirement led us to rethink our approach: instead of relying on musicians to constantly update a calendar, we decided to streamline the process of checking availability.

Introducing Auto-Book, Shotgun, and Team Chats

To address this need efficiently, we’re introducing new features—Auto Book, Shotgun, and Team Chats—in Back On Stage. These tools will be beta tested starting June 17, providing a more effective way to manage musician availability without the cumbersome blackout calendar.

Auto Book: This feature automates the process of checking availability by sending gig offers to musicians in your call list sequentially. It ensures that musicians are only offered one role at a time, preventing them from receiving multiple offers for the same gig. This streamlined approach is particularly useful for large ensembles, such as orchestras, where you need to avoid overwhelming musicians with numerous offers simultaneously.

Shotgun: Designed for last-minute or urgent bookings, Shotgun sends gig offers to all potential musicians at once. It’s a first-come, first-served system that allows you to quickly assemble a band when time is of the essence. This feature is perfect for situations like sudden cancellations or last-minute client requests, ensuring you can secure replacements promptly.

Team Chats: Facilitating real-time communication, Team Chats allows bandleaders and musicians to discuss availability and other details instantly. This ensures everyone is on the same page and can respond quickly to gig offers.

By integrating these features, we’ve created a system that reduces the administrative burden on musicians and bandleaders alike. Musicians only need to respond to specific gig offers, rather than updating their availability for an entire month, making the process more efficient and less frustrating. This approach not only respects the time of our musicians but also ensures that bandleaders have the reliable information they need to secure gigs confidently.

About The Author

reuben avery bandleader and musician

Reuben Avery

Reuben is one of the co-founders at Back On Stage and is also a bandleader and musician. When he's not busy dreaming up ways to streamline the live music industry's inner workings, he enjoys performing with his 9-piece event band, practicing his trumpet and spending quality time with his wife and cat.


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