It’s not just your future adoring fans you need to impress with your live gig etiquette – you need to make a good impression on the other acts and on the venue itself, too.
Why Is Live Gig Etiquette Important?
In my previous entry I talked about why you shouldn’t panic when you have a bad rehearsal before your first (or, really, any) gig. I thought I’d follow that up with some advice on live gig etiquette.
What? “Live gig etiquette”? What the heck are you talking about? I just want to play to my future adoring fans!
Well, settle down there, reader, because it’s not just your future adoring fans you need to impress – you need to make a good impression on the other acts and on the venue itself, too.
It may sound crazy, but hear me out.
How Does Live Gig Etiquette Relate To Venue Relationship?
When talking about live gig etiquette, let’s start with the venue first. After all, you’ll most likely be in touch with them before you’ll be in contact with any of the other acts.
Clarity and Communication – Always make sure of these things:
- What time is load-in?
- Where will you be loading in?
- Where is parking (in particular, where do you need to park)?
- What are the names of the other acts and their contact information (if available)?
- What is the order of the acts in the lineup (and who is the headliner)?
- Who is the contact person at the venue and what are their rules?
- Do they provide a sound guy or do you have to provide one yourself?
It’s important to have these details so that you can contribute to the efficient flow of the process. Knowing how things are supposed to work also makes it easier to make changes when some of those things aren’t going according to plan. Some venues, if they do a sound check at all, will whip right through them, so you’ll want to be prepared when it’s time for yours. Other venues will have you place all instruments on or near the stage in various configurations depending on the order the acts go on, so you’ll want to ensure you know exactly how that works.
Obviously, you’ll want to know where you should park because you don’t want to get towed – some venues don’t have very obvious parking so you’ll want to ensure you can get in and out without a ticket. We’ll get to why we want the band contacts, their names, and who is the headliner later on, but as for the contact at the venue (which you should already have by now), and the venue’s rules, the main things you want to keep in mind really come down to age restrictions (in case you wanted to invite underage friends) and any performance restrictions.
Some venues will not allow covers of songs because they have to pay a performance royalty to music rights organizations for that (if they didn’t, you probably would… but this kind of circumstance is highly unlikely), and some venues are particular about language and other performance things like singers leaving the stage. If you have a singer that likes to take off, ensure he won’t upset venue management by doing so. Also, if you’ve got elaborate staging (televisions, lights, props…) make sure you can use them and to what extent.
Knowing how different instruments can be plugged in and how they prefer configurations for things like computers is also key. If you’ve got merchandise you’ll want to know where you can sell it. And lastly, you want to ensure that if you don’t have a sound guy, the venue does (and most will at this stage).
Don’t touch anything you haven’t been specifically asked to touch – Nothing upsets a sound guy more than touching things on the board, or onstage. In fact, you should never touch the mixing desk, or even go within three feet of it. Don’t touch microphones or cables onstage unless asked. Going ahead and plugging into an empty power extension or outlet is typically okay as long as it’s clearly marked that that’s what it’s for. If you’re not sure, ask. Be prepared that the venue’s sound guy is under a lot of pressure to get things done and quickly, so don’t expect lengthy or even friendly conversation. That’s okay – he’s got a job to do so that you can do yours.
Which brings me to this one…
Buy your sound guy a drink – Though the venue’s sound guy should not purposefully tank your sound because you didn’t buy him a drink, doing so is simply a nice gesture of good will. It may not even mean your sound is any better, but it’s just the right thing to do – it makes you look good and considerate, and if you remember, I always say “Work hard. Be good”. This falls in line with that. I always feel that while no good deed guarantees anything returned in kind, certainly ill-advised deeds almost certainly do. If you can’t buy the sound guy a drink, or you forgot (it happens), make sure you thank him for his work after the gig or after you play.
Don’t be a jerk to venue employees – Especially the sound guy. He’s the main face you’re interacting with tonight, so be kind, be patient. Every venue is different and no matter who you are, you’re just another act as far as he’s concerned. And in general just don’t hassle anyone. Be respectful, listen, and follow direction. They’ve been doing this longer than you have. Sometimes being easy to work with is way more important to a venue than how many people you bring in.
And of course, don’t make an ass of yourself. To anyone.
How Does Live Gig Etiquette Relate To The Other Acts?
So what about the other acts? Why do we need to know all the details of who they are and how to get a hold of them?
Know who the headliner is – There’s a reason everyone but the headliner is generally referred to as a “support act”. You’re there to support the headlining act. Find out who they are and how to get a hold of them so you can contact them and see what they need, how they want the stage (so you don’t make things harder for them), or if and where they are setting up merch (so you don’t unintentionally overshadow them or block off access) and if they’re genuinely warm to you, ask for advice about the venue or anything else you can think of (just don’t be annoying). Nothing will endear you more than to show you you’re there for them and that you respect their position on the bill. You don’t necessarily have to go so far as to buy them drinks, and I’ll explain why in a few, but in general just make sure they understand that you know your place. Even if they turn out to be jerks (because someone being a jerk doesn’t mean you have to change anything about how professionally you conduct yourself). If you really endear yourself to them, they may be more inclined to want you supporting them on a future bill.
If you’re the headliner (and truly, you should know this by now), you still need to conduct yourself professionally and endear yourselves to your support acts. They’re more inclined to be there for you if you’re not a jerk. Offer to help move their instruments on or offstage if you’re available. Chat them up – ask them questions about who they are and what they’re about. If they ask for advice and you have the time to give it, do so. And if you have the money (and it’s okay if you don’t… it can get a bit pricey), buy them a drink, or leave them some kind of little gift as a way of saying “thank you for supporting us”. You do it right, you might have just won yourselves some new fans who will in turn probably win you some of their own.
Offer to help – If you see someone moving instruments or other equipment, offer to help. The worst that could happen is that they don’t need any. But don’t force it – keep in mind other bands may have their routine down and you could actually slow things down by “helping”. Offering it is enough.
Make an effort to watch the other acts – This isn’t necessarily something you can do every time – there will be instances where you have to take off right after your set (it happens). But as much as possible, be right out there, out front, cheering the other acts on. Trust me, they know whether or not you stuck around or you bailed. Every band needs encouragement, regardless of whether or not you actually like their material. If one of the other acts is a group of jerks, stay there for them anyway. Congratulate them when they come off stage, but save constructive criticisms for another time (an aftershow party, for instance). Now’s not the time for it.
Socialize – Make an effort to get to know the other acts, and don’t be afraid to talk to some people too. Find out who they’re there to see. You’ll inevitably be asked who you’re there to see, at which point you can talk up your own band. You never know what kind of a connection you might make if you do this – from a fan, to a radio DJ, to a producer.
What other rules of live gig etiquette might you suggest? Sound off in the comments below!
EDIT: Another thing that might be useful – send some kind of “thank you” to the venue – whether it be a card, a call or an email… something to show your gratitude (and in particular if there’s anything you can say specifically about the experience in a positive manner, do so); and send a similar kind of “thank you” to the headliner. Again, just little tiny generosities that don’t take a lot of effort on your part but open up doors to exponential dividends.