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