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Timekeeping – punctuality for musicians

The punctuality mantra

If you don’t know the mantra on punctuality for musicians it is this:

Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.

Really? Is it though?

I know what you’re thinking. This is music. It’s meant to be fun. Relaxed. Laid back. We’re artists. We’re ‘creative people’. We shouldn’t have to be slaves to the clock like the grey faceless suits in office jobs. They’re my mates. They won’t mind. I’m only a little bit late. Punctuality is only for up-tight people.

Well you’re wrong. Because when you are late to a gig, rehearsal, meeting, appointment, lesson, or anything else, you are sending a message. That message is: This is not important to me, I don’t care about it.

But it is important to me, I do care!

I’m sure you don’t intend to send that message. I’m sure you’re not late because it’s not important to you. But that’s the message that everyone gets.

Why do they get that message? Because if something was important to you then you’d be on time. If this was an interview for the job of your dreams would you be late? If David Gilmour offered to spend half-an-hour showing you round his extensive guitar collection would you be late? If you had an audition for your favourite artist’s world tour would you be late? No, you wouldn’t. Because those things would be important to you. You would care about those things.

When you are late people infer the opposite. They infer that the thing you are late for is not important to you and you don’t care about it. You might not mean that, but that’s the message you’re giving them.

If you’re not punctual, you look bad

Obviously it’s bad to be giving this message out. It reflects badly on you. If I’m running a band / orchestra / group or whatever, I’m going to hire people who care. I’ll hire people for whom the group is important. If you keep telling me that you don’t care (by being late) then I’ll hire someone else.

If you tell me, verbally, that the group is important to you, and then you’re late again, then you’re a liar. Because what you do is a thousand times better indicator of the truth than what you say.

There’s more…

The other thing about being late is that it’s inconsiderate and disrespectful to other peoples’ time. They made the effort to get there on time. Now they’re waiting for you. It’s quite likely they can’t get started without you. Why should they suffer wasted time because you don’t have the decency to turn up on time. Most people are really busy. ‘Sitting around waiting for you’ is not high on their to-do list. What’s so special about your time that they should suffer ‘dead time’ waiting?

Once again, you’re sending a message, that your time is more important than theirs. That’s not a constructive way to work with people. I don’t care if you’re the star of the show. It doesn’t matter if your time is more valuable in monetary terms. If you behave as though your time is more important than theirs, they will resent you for it. That won’t do you any favours in the long run.

What can you do to be more punctual?

1. Allow at the very least 50% more travel time than you need. If it should take you 30 minutes, allow 45. If it’s going to take you 2 hours, allow at least 3.

2. Factor in traffic. Check what current traffic is like (Google Maps is great for this) and make sure you’re adding 50% to that time. Not to the ‘ideal’ time, without traffic. There’s always traffic.

3. If you’re going by public transport, check in advance for engineering work and disruptions.

4. Travel time is travel time, not anything else. If you need to leave 3pm to get there on time (with your 50% contingency) you need to be pulling off your driveway at 3pm. Not still packing your gear, loading the van, filling up with petrol, or anything else. Likewise, if your train takes 30 mins, make sure you’ve factored in time for walking to the station and from it at the other end. If you’re taking a bus, assume at least one bus won’t show up for whatever reason. So aim for the one before the one you need, just in case.

But what if I’m early?

If you’re early, that’s good. Although check the mantra – you’re not early, you’re on time! Prepare for it. Take something you want to read. Take music to listen to. Smartphones have so much capability these days that you can deal with a few emails, make a few quick calls, catch up on the news, sketch out a blog post, jot down some lyric ideas, check your RSS subscriptions, or a million other things.

Better still, if anyone else is there early, have a chat. If you already know them, take the opportunity to catch up before everyone else arrives and you get down to work. If you don’t know them, stick out your hand, introduce yourself, get to know them. You’ve just made a new contact. They’re early too which shows they’re professional and so probably a good person to know.

As a final note, make sure you bring appropriate clothes if you’re going to have to wait outside anywhere for a long period of time. If you plan for being early it can be really productive time.

No excuses

There you have it. If you want to be taken seriously, and if you have any ambition to be considered a professional, be on time. Once more: Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.


Disclaimer: Yes, I’ve been late (unacceptable) in the past. I probably will be again. Just because I’ve done it doesn’t make any of the above any less valid. And now you can be sure that whenever I am late my bandmates will delight in quoting this post back to me. So I’ve just given myself even more incentive to live by it than I had before!

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