Fully Committed – A brief rant about Online Diaries.

The online diary should be a very handy thing. I fill in my available dates on an agency’s website and the agency knows when I’m available for work. The idea is that they can save time by telling a potential client which acts are free on a particular day without having to phone around. This apparently simple bit of streamlining has many problems when put into practice and is in fact a complete waste of time and effort.

So many diaries – So little time.

I’m on the books of many different agencies (possibly as many as 50). If they all start insisting that I keep their diary up to date then my entire professional life will be spent updating diaries. Of course, the only thing I will ever fill in is “busy filling in diaries” over and over again. This is assuming I can remember 50 different user names and passwords that are often allocated by the agency system and can’t be changed to “username” and “password” like I did with my bank account. Keeping your own diary up to date can be a struggle at times. Adding even a couple more does nobody any favours.

What, where, when???

The whole point of an online diary is so that an agency knows whether or not I’m available. In reality, this depends on what I’m being asked to do and where & when I’m being asked to do it. Most of the website diary systems I’ve seen are fairly black and white. On any given day you are either “Booked” or “Available”. Some let you distinguish between AM and PM but even when you can include this level of detail, problems can easily arise. If my diary says that I’m booked on March 19th, PM, then I might miss out on another booking in that time slot. That should be fine but the new booking may be just down the road or begin 4 hours later in plenty of time to travel from one to the other. ‘PM’ is 12 hours long after all.

I am not the sort of act that drops out of a gig as soon as a better one comes along. Despite my belief in the first come first served ethic, I was once offered a job that paid (without exaggeration) twenty times more than the one I had in the diary. It was over several days and the pre-existing gig was just one afternoon. As it turned out, I managed to pass the one-day gig on to another performer with no harm to agent, client or myself. I took the new gig but had I been using the new agency’s diary system I wonder if I would have been offered it at all.

You can always leave a date un-booked if you think there is a chance of working elsewhere in the same timeslot or if it’s a gig you can easily pass on, but this can make you look like you’re not working at all or not updating the diary properly. Either of these can make you look bad to the agency (as does writing nasty articles about their diary systems – sorry).

Last Minute Larry

Diaries change very fast. Even with the best of intentions, they go out of date very suddenly. You might hear of a gig cancellation and be ruled out of a possible replacement gig five minutes later as you simply haven’t had a chance to update all of your diaries.

I’ve presented arguments like these to various agents and they usually say the same thing, “Don’t worry Sam, we’ll always call you if we get a potential booking”. If this is the case, then what is the point of the diary? If the agent still has to make the call, no time or money has been saved. Sometimes I’ve been told, “We just want a general idea of when you’re around.” This seems pointless too but is probably the best argument in favour of online diaries. If you are working on a cruise ship for several months then perhaps you can save everyone some time by mentioning the fact but it gets a lot more fiddly with one-day bookings. It could also help when you are away on holiday but there are even gigs worth cancelling a holiday for.

I have a theory that agencies only insist on diaries because they’ve forked out a lot of money for the software that manages them. Software that sends out 20 identical text messages from your PC is probably cheaper and certainly more effective. In the age of the smart phone, people are not difficult to get hold of.

Happily, most of the agencies that trial a diary system seem to abandon it after a few months leading me to believe that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

There are some companies though, that seem to persist with their diaries and I’d very much like to discuss it with them.

If only there was some way of knowing when they’d be around?

Sam Veale – March 2012

7 thoughts on “Fully Committed – A brief rant about Online Diaries.”

  1. Create your own google calendar and convince them to look over there. You can set permissions for only specific people to watch and to edit, and also it is a completely working system (exact times or full days + description, where you could write location and importance) and can send you notifications.

    Would agents be willing to work with this?

    1. It’s a good suggestion but my guess is that they’d rather the info came to them.

      If their diary system runs smoothly then they can get an instant spreadsheet list of who is available when. If they have to harvest the info from here, there and everywhere then phoning round is probably better. The other issue for me is that I don’t necessarily want that level of detail on show, even to a select few. It’s just a privacy issue.

      1. I think the online dairy is a great idea, as I used to work with an agency I understand that bookers do not have the time to call artists on every single job they put you forward for.
        Also I believe if you are a professional artist that it is your job to keep the people who are working all day to get you work to keep them update on your availability.
        And of course if a job came up where you would to have some sort of skill I do think the agency should call before hand, but on any normal job I don’t think it applies.
        Also if you have the time to write a blog regarding this matter I don’t see why you can’t give the agencies a quick call/ email to let them know your dates that you are not around for,
        Just think in any normal job you wouldn’t be able to just not turn up one day because something came up you would have to let your boss know beforehand and I think this should apply with artists also.
        Booker don’t sit and push for people to get them work and then to be told they are not available …. very unprofessional I think.

      2. Respectfully Louise I have to say I’m not convinced by your arguments.

        “Also I believe if you are a professional artist that it is your job to keep the people who are working all day to get you work to keep them update on your availability.”

        But the point is they are not working all day just to get YOU work, they have other entertainers on their books. If they see you are busy on a particular day they will go to another act. They are probably not going to take the time out to see if your dentist appointment clashes with their possible gig. Either they will have to contact you (which is what would happen without an agency diary) or they assume you can’t do it. Thus the artist misses out on work due to the agency system or gets a phone call/message (which undermines the point of the system).

        “And of course if a job came up where you would to have some sort of skill I do think the agency should call before hand, but on any normal job I don’t think it applies.”

        I don’t really understand this, all the jobs I do require specialised skills.

        “Also if you have the time to write a blog regarding this matter I don’t see why you can’t give the agencies a quick call/ email to let them know your dates that you are not around for.”

        Very poor argument, this article won’t need updating every few hours for the rest of Sam’s working life. It’s not one quick call or web update, as a freelance performer your diary changes every day, you would need to update many calendars every day. Also by your logic self-employed people don’t get any time off because you could always be doing some work.

        “Just think in any normal job you wouldn’t be able to just not turn up one day because something came up you would have to let your boss know beforehand and I think this should apply with artists also.”

        Your comparing one situation and relationship that is very different to the one in hand. Sam has not and is not arguing for ‘not turning up one day because something came up’. That assumes an agreement has been made and someone is being let down, we are discussing the phase well before this situation.

        Discussing how a booking system functions and honouring contracts are two very different issues. But to be clear I agree with Sam when he said, “I am not the sort of act that drops out of a gig as soon as a better one comes along.”

        “Booker don’t sit and push for people to get them work and then to be told they are not available …. very unprofessional I think.”

        It’s not unprofessional, in fact it’s how the profession has functioned for years, online diaries are a relatively new thing and are not employed in every agency.

        You could argue it makes the agency look bad if they have to inform a client that the proposed act is not available but a reasoable client will be disappointed but will not hold a grudge. Things sell out or become unavalible, most people understand this.

        If a booker doesn’t want this to happen then they should make the effort and contact the performer. Just a quick text, e-mail, Facebook message, direct Tweet, letter or phone call to ask availability for a particular date/time and say it’s urgent if necessary.

  2. There are situations where online diaries work well. If you only have one agent or one ‘main’ agent and very few others then a ‘booking out’ system is fine. This happens more in the film/media industry to which Louise is referring. In the entertainments industry (about which the above blog is mainly written) the situation is different and we work for many agencies. As someone who works in both industries, I find myself with more agents than most, which compounds the problem.

  3. In a global industry our artistes’ online diaries are accessible to our clients 24/7. These are major corporations booking thousand of artistes. They will not/can not adapt their working practices to suit individual artistes… They refer to our online diaries as being the basis for firm offers of engagements…. If they prove to be inaccurate it is considered a major annoyance. If it happens again it can lead to them striking the act off their list. Tough, but it is the real world.

    We engage hundreds of acts this way, the vast majority of them have no problem with this system… Just a few who fall by the wayside, we haven’t got the time or inclination to worry about them too much….

    1. The “nobody else has a problem with it” argument seems to come from agencies who have to send weekly emails reminding everyone to update their diaries. Curious coincidence.

      I’m well aware that agents like these systems. I just wonder if any of them have looked at it from a performers point of view. The issue is one of practicality, not laziness.

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