Whether a band is new to live performance or has done a lot of gigs, it’s often surprising how little they actually know about the basic Dos and Don’ts of performing their role at a venue. They know their songs well enough but good performance doesn’t stop there. Playing the music is only a fraction of the job. From the moment you arrive at the venue, there are a tonne of little things you should be doing that will make the show go easier for everyone. From the venue staff’s perspective, you’re expected to know these things. Most of them are just plain common sense. But after more than twenty years behind the mixing desk I’m still constantly running into bands (some of which have been gigging for years) who don’t seem to know them. So I’ve compiled a list of what I think are some of the more important things that every band should know before they get to their next show. Knowing these Dos and Don’ts will make your gig better for you, the venue staff, engineer and your audience.
I’ve broken them up into 10 separate categories and it’s a bit long all in one piece so I’ve broken it into 4 parts. I’ll present one part each week. The first week is: Your Equipment, Arriving at the Venue and Soundcheck
1. Your Equipment
- Do look after your gear. Avoid moisture, extreme temperatures, bumps & vibrations. I know this is hard. Especially if you’re travelling. Good road cases are a worthwhile investment.
- Do check all equipment is in working order before you leave for the gig. Don’t just assume it all works because it did at your last gig/rehearsal. Even then it still has a 50% chance that something will go wrong with it on the night. This is Murphy’s Law.
- Do carry spare amp fuses, leads, strings, batteries, sticks & skins etc. If one of these things breaks at set up time and your band is headlining at 10pm at night, where are you going to get them from??
- Do make sure you have all your own equipment and other needs or have organized to borrow anything you need if you don’t.
- Don’t expect the venue to supply you with anything other than the PA. (ie. The sound engineer might not have a guitar lead for you to use.)
- Do have at least one member in the band that has some tools and a soldering kit and knows how to use it. (I still haven’t met a band that has this yet!)
- Do tune and play new strings and skins for a minimum of 2 days prior to your gig. Never change them at the gig. They stretch when they’re too new and that means your tuning will be unreliable. This is frustrating for the musicians and audience alike.
- Do Tune guitar & bass strings prior to sound check & again prior to your set.
2. Arriving at the venue
- Do arrive on time, not early or late. When you’re early you’re most likely in the way. It’s not cool for you to hang around and chat to the sound engineer while he’s setting up. Late? You need to ask why it’s not cool to be late?? It’s a job like any other and you’re expected to be on time. Rock stars or not.
- Do introduce yourself to the organiser or venue management and appoint a band representative who should always be available to discuss any matters with the venue management or crew. One person from the band! Not half the band asking the same questions over and over!
- Do have the band representative ask if it is the appropriate time to load in equipment, which entrance should be used and where it should be stored. He/she is then responsible for telling other band members or road crew these details before any equipment enters the premises.
- Do load your gear in quickly, efficiently and stack it neatly where directed.
- Don’t make noise until directed to do so. (ie: Do not tune drums at the venue when you arrive.) Staff usually want a bit of quiet time to do what they need to do before the noise starts.
- Don’t get in the way of staff whilst they are preparing the venue.
- Don’t go on the stage until asked to do so. If you are the first band on for the evening, ask the sound engineer or stage manager whether they are ready for you and if they’d like you to start setting up.
- Don’t tread on or place your equipment on any leads when you get on stage. If something needs to be moved to accommodate you or your gear, ask.
- Don’t ever arrive at a venue whilst intoxicated. As much as the industry appears to be all about “sex, drugs and rock n roll”, the reality is that this is a façade created for the audience’s benefit. Behind the scenes it is a sober and professional environment and being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs will not be tolerated. It’s a sure way to not be invited to play there again.
3. Sound check
- Do load your gear on stage when and as directed.
- Do set up your drums off stage prior to your performance. Cymbals should be on stands and height adjustments should be completed before the kit is moved onto the stage. This will mean a much quicker transition between bands which is not only good for keeping the bill running to time but also the best way to keep the audience engaged.
- Do take into account the changeover time for bands at the gig. Shows with multiple bands usually have a changeover period of either 10 or 15 minutes and this needs to be adhered to in order for every band to get to play at the right time. If it is 10 minutes it is exactly 10 minutes. That’s 600 seconds to get the previous band and their equipment off stage and your band on and ready to play. It’s not much time. Move quickly and don’t waste it.
- Don’t just stand around on the stage if you don’t need to be there during set up. The engineer will likely be moving mics into position and too often people get in the way. On a small stage this can be a nightmare and it just slows things down.
- Do set drums and amplifiers in position first, guitar pedals and leads second.
- Do lay out your cabling neatly, untangled and out of the way as much as possible.
- Do check that your gear is working and then don’t play until directed.
- Don’t blast the stage engineer with noise when they’re on stage. Be careful that their head isn’t near your kit or amp before you consider making a sound with it. If you smash a cymbal whilst the engineer is putting a mic on your kick drum, you won’t be likely to be making a friend which may result in you not getting a very good mix!
- Do adhere to advice from the engineer regarding when to play and the direction and volume of your amplifiers.
- Do treat all the venue equipment better than you treat your own equipment. It is not yours. If you do happen to break something, tell the engineer and offer to pay for it to be repaired/replaced. Most PA equipment is really expensive and often the guy who’s running it is the guy who had to pay for it. If you break it and sneak away, he’ll know and he won’t be happy. He will no doubt tell the venue operator and your band will likely get black listed and your name trashed throughout all the local venues.
Next week I will cover: Amplifiers, Microphone Technique and Foldback Speakers