Why We Decided Against Developing an Availability Blackout Calendar

Why We Decided Against Developing an Availability Blackout Calendar (And What We Did Instead)

Why We Decided Against Developing an Availability Blackout Calendar

For years, many musicians and bandleaders have requested the ability to store and view availability blackout information directly in Back on Stage. The idea of being able to see at a glance when members are unavailable seems convenient. However, after extensive discussion and evaluation, we've decided not to pursue developing a dedicated availability blackout calendar feature. There are several reasons why such a system would be complex to build and maintain, while providing little real value.

However, we do have some great tools that we believe will be much better...

The Challenge of Blackout Calendar Design

To start, how would a blackout calendar even work?

It would need to function like a traditional calendar, allowing users to input dates where they are unavailable. But with multiple people potentially editing the same calendar, whose responsibility would it be to keep the information accurate and up-to-date? The leader, the musician, other admins?

If the drummer marks a date as unavailable, but then cancels that commitment, is it on them to go back and remove the blackout?

What if the bandleader made the original entry on behalf of a musician, but that musician's availability changes later - who updates the calendar then? Without very clear ownership over editing duties, the data could easily become inconsistent or outdated.

The Subjective Nature of Availability

An even bigger issue is that availability itself is inherently subjective. Whether someone can accept a gig depends heavily on details like location, pay, commitment level, and other factors.

For example, if asked generally if they're available on a date, the answer from a drummer may be different depending on the specifics of what they're being asked to do. They'd likely say yes to a well-compensated local show but no to a long drive with low pay.

How could a blackout calendar account for these types of variables that impact true availability? The information stored would never paint a full picture.

Questioning the Usefulness of Blackout Data

We've also questioned how useful blackout data really is in practice.

As a bandleader, if I see a musician has a date marked as unavailable but then I have an excellent opportunity come up, I'm still going to ask if they can play. There's a good chance their original plans could change if my offer is significantly better.

In the end, I need to directly communicate with members about each potential booking anyway. What real value is provided by a blackout calendar in this scenario? It doesn't replace the need for direct coordination.

Issues with Syncing Calendars

Some have proposed automatically syncing availability directly from people's digital calendars. But this approach has its own issues.

Not everyone uses online calendars consistently, and even those who do don't always enter future commitments the moment they're made. Plans can change or be tentative. Trying to interpret availability programmatically based on calendar data would never reflect real-world fluidity.

And not all musicians exclusively rely on digital tools to manage their schedules.

Lessons from Past Experience with Blackout Systems

I can personally attest to the ineffectiveness of availability blackout systems from past experience.

Years ago, my band worked regularly with a local music agency. They required me to log into their booking software monthly and manually enter blackout dates for the upcoming 2-3 months.

It was a tedious process that took at least 20-30 minutes each time. And within a couple weeks, the information was already outdated as new bookings came in from other sources which obviously weren't reflected in my original blackouts.

I quickly realized it was a waste of my time inputting data the agency couldn't reliably use anyway since availability was constantly changing. They still had to check with me directly about new opportunities.

It's a Massive "Make-Work" Project

From my personal example above, you can see how much of my time was wasted just entering data for the next 2-3 months.

With larger event bands that accept bookings 12-18 months in the future, you can imagine how much work you'd be creating for your musicians and team members if you asked them to go fill out their blackout dates for the next 12 months and repeat that exercise every few weeks.

Leaders, ask yourself how many times you've heard a musician say "I wish there was a calendar where I could go manually update all my availability for you and update that every couple of weeks."

I've heard that all of 0 times.

When I'm trying to plan a rehearsal for my band, I send out a Doodle poll with 3-4 dates on it, and even just getting everyone to answer that in a timely manner is like pulling teeth. Asking them to provide their availability for several months...forget it!

Providing Availability Insights Within the Booking Process (Where you need it)

Given these challenges, how can availability best be conveyed to bandleaders during the booking process then?

At Back on Stage, we've focused on developing lightweight tools within our new Booking Creator to provide quick availability insights directly from within the role booking process.

When assembling a roster for a potential gig, conflicts will be flagged directly next to members' names if they already have another commitment on that date (NOTE: 'Conflict Warnings' is currently in beta at the time of this article's publishing.). This gives bandleaders a sense at a glance of who may already be booked without the maintenance headaches of a dedicated blackout calendar.

Example date conflict warning

Further to that, this method takes into account the subjective nature of availability. Note the warning message that pops up when you hover your mouse over the conflict warning:

"This member is booked for one or more events which conflict with this booking date. You can send the offer anyway or remove this member."

Although this person may already have a booking, they may still be able to take yours too. Perhaps yours pays more and they'd prefer to cancel their other booking, or perhaps their other booking is a church gig that ends at noon, which would leave them ample time to still make it to your 4:00PM load-in on time.

And most importantly, it doesn't replace the requirement to reach out to your team members and give them the opportunity to accept or decline based on this particular gig's details.

Auto-Book, Shotgun and Team Chats For The Win

Our goal is to streamline access to real-time availability information, not create a complex system that can never truly reflect the subjective nature of people's schedules. After much deliberation, we believe this approach balances convenience and practicality better than a blackout calendar ever could.

As a leader, when you're trying to figure out if you've got enough members before you bid on a gig from an agent or client, we've got options for you!

Auto-Book and Shotgun are both booking protocols that are used to send gig offers to your musicians when you're hiring musicians or sussing out who's available for a gig. 

Auto-Book takes your list of names for a particular role (like Drums, Bass etc) and goes through them one by one, offering the gig to the first call person, then moving on to the next in line if the current person indicates they are not available. 

Shotgun instead blasts the gig offer to all the names on your call list at once, so that everyone is immediately aware of the offer and it is a first come, first served protocol. Whoever accepts the offer first, gets the gig.

Auto-book and shotgun for automatic musician booking and availability checking

NOTE: Shotgun is currently in beta at the time of this article's publishing.

Both these methods can be used to send a gig offer for a gig in "Negotiations" status - which allows you to make it clear to musicians that this is just a hold and not a confirmed booking. This way, you collect all the availability data you need as quickly as possible so you can confidently bid on the gig at hand.

And don't forget about those little "Conflict" warning message from earlier. If you're planning to bid on a last-minute gig happening next week and you open up your roster to discover that every musician on your call list has a conflict, that's a pretty good indicator that you're going to have a really tough time filling all the roles for that event.

Team Chats is a native chat app inside Back On Stage. It allows you to create individual chat groups with select team members where you can easily ask everyone to provide their availability without going through a more formal booking process in Back On Stage.

In the example below, we've created a new chat for "June 29 Gig Possibility" where we're providing some basic gig specs so our musicians can respond with their availability. We're not asking them to fill out an entire calendar, but rather asking for a specific date that offers potential real value to them.

Availability poll for musicians using team chats inside Back On Stage

NOTE: Team Chats is currently in beta at the time of this article's publishing.



In summary, the subjective and fluid nature of people's availability, combined with the maintenance challenges of a shared calendar system, are why we've decided against developing a dedicated availability blackout feature.

Our focus remains on providing bandleaders with simple, up-to-date availability insights directly within the booking process flow itself. While the idea of a blackout calendar seems appealing at face value, the reality is that it can't adequately replace the need for human coordination that will always be part of booking musical talent.

Please share your comments on this topic below...

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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