Live gigs are a necessary, lucrative and essentially unavoidable part of being a working artist. Most musicians have played a gig or two – or three, or three hundred – in their careers. These moments are often crucial for networking, promotion and, of course, for gaining new listeners. As well as putting on a killer show, it’s important to display behaviour that helps, not hinders, your momentum in the industry.
We’ve likely all heard the stories of artists at the top: rock star arrogance, prima donna tantrums, and unreasonable requests for M&M colours on riders. While some of these stories are entertaining (and possibly exaggerated), one thing remains clear in the land of professional music: nobody wants to work with a pain in the butt.
For emerging artists, there can be a lot to learn about the unspoken codes and expectations underpinning the live music industry. Below, we’ve asked four prominent figures in Australian music to tell us their worst horror stories, and offer some advice on correct gig etiquette: Tim Price booker and publicist extraordinaire at Pricewar Music, a successful working musician who wishes to remain anonymous, Will Kelly, venue manager of The Zoo, and Ed Gresack, resident live sound engineer for BIGSOUND.
What are the top 3 annoying/worst things you’ve seen musicians do at shows?
Don’t steal the rider set aside for the people working at a festival (hidden away, so they had to go searching for it to steal it) when you have YOUR OWN rider DELIVERED to your PAID-FOR HOTEL ROOM.
Don’t play past your allocated timeslot. This happens more than you would think, and more than that, bands who actively IGNORE the “one more song” from the sound guy or stage manager, and either do a 10 minute epic song, or just go straight into another song after that one or even ANNOUNCE that they are going to keep playing because the “crowd wants more.” Go f*** yourself! Venues have deadlines that they need to adhere to, and by overplaying your slot, you are cutting time off either the headline band’s slot or potentially exposing a venue to fines for excessive noise after curfew. Be respectful, d***head. You’re not doing yourself any favours to ANYONE. In fact, the sound guy is now memorising your name, to tell other soundies and bookers about what a knob you are.
Don’t be a PUNISHER. The term ‘punisher’ in gig terms is about a dude/chick from a band/a big fan who sweats the shit out of a headline band, or a particular member of a band, by being overly pushy about their love for that band and telling them ad nauseam, about asking the band for more support slots on their tour, asking them excessively about what gear they use, getting in the way at sound check, helping yourself to their rider or being in the band green room being a pest during their band warm up ritual. By all means, be a fan, but this ISN’T the time to try to “impress.” Yo, it’s awesome you got the support for your favourite band, but be casual, calm and professional and let your stagecraft, music and show do the talking.
Disrespecting other people’s equipment. During a gig once where we were supplying the backline, another band’s guitarist who obviously knows nothing about levels blew out our guitarist’s amp. He was a real snot about it, too. We’ve also had our drummer’s kit skins smashed up by people playing rockstar. Just don’t be an entitled **** – sh** happens, but if you accidentally break or damage someone’s gear, apologise and offer to pay. It’s only fair.
Say hi and be friendly to other bands you’re playing with. Being too cool or aloof is not going to make you any friends. Don’t insult other bands’ music at the gig too, it may not be to your taste, but it’s bad form to slag other people off who are only doing what you’re doing. Music is a tight knit community, so be careful who you talk sh** about.
Be grateful for the fans – I’ve seen some high-up primadonnas slagging off people at the merch desk, or complaining about punters hanging around the venue exit waiting for autographs. Like any job, there can be downsides and times when you’re fed up, but keep in perspective that fans are the reason you have a career.
For young and up and coming bands especially:
Bringing people backstage without asking.
Sneaking in copious amounts of alcohol and getting drunk at your show. And using the appropriate restrooms and respecting the venue in that way.
Bringing thirty-odd people on a stage that can only hold a certain amount of people is probably not going to end well.
Do not bust the soundguys balls during the gig. I once did a gig where the lead singer kept on asking the crowd, “How’s it sound out there?’. After he did it a third (!) time, I turned on my mic and said, “And how you liking those lyrics, everybody?”
What, in your experience, is good gig etiquette, and why should musicians display it?
Good gig etiquette is the following:
– Turn up on time, early if possible to the venue.
– Soundcheck only during the times allocated (if you are lucky enough to get one).
– Adhere to the worksheet, and be prompt with getting on and off the stage at soundcheck.
– Take up as LITTLE room as you can in the green room.
– Be as open as possible with sharing gear – those favours will come back to you when you are touring.
– Don’t fuck other musos’ gear up, same as you wouldn’t want them fucking your gear up (accidents happen, pay for it if you break it, same as you would want someone else to pay to fix your broken gear if they broke it). It’s all karma, it comes around.
– Talk with the other bands and hang out (without being a punisher). Touring becomes a lot more fun if it’s with people you are friends with. That goodwill goes a long way, if those other bands are fans of you and you fans of them, musos talk about other great bands they like.
– Be confident and play your heart out on stage, but make sure you leave that stage persona on the stage. Ego and cockiness off the stage is just being aloof, and not genuine. Be approachable, warm, genuine and friendly with fans off the stage, even if it’s totally different to your on-stage persona.
– Have a good time by all means, but don’t ALL get drunk. And always have a way of getting your gear home/back to accommodation/out of the venue. There are VERY few venues who will let you leave gear in the venue overnight, so be responsible and have a plan for it all ahead of time. Don’t even ask. No venue manager wants to come back in to the venue at 8am on Sunday so you can get your gear before your flight home from tour at 10am.
– Email/message the venue, promoters and the other bands post-show and thank them for the show.
– Thank the venue and other bands publicly on social media and tag them if possible a day or two later (use your discretion with this, no need to do every time, but if it feels right to do, go for it!)
– Be friendly and approachable.
– Treat everyone involved with respect: the venue, the booker, other bands and the gig-goers.
– Read the run sheet. Show up on time and stay to watch the other bands.
– If you’re going to share gear, treat the how you would treat your own. And if you break it, you bought it.
– Don’t get smashed/stoned/high, at least not before you get onstage. You might be in your own little zone, but unless you’re a genius you’re probably not performing as well as you think you are.
When you (the artist) come in, make contact with venue management. Sometimes bands just wander in and do laps of the floor. My advice would be to introduce yourself and go shake hands with the people looking after you for the night. You don’t have to get totally in their face, but just come up and say hi. A venue can be an unsecured area with all these people lurking around, and it’s good if we at least know who you are.
We had really nice thing from a band recently. When playing their final ever show at The Zoo, they gave us a postcard with a picture of their band on it, and expressed thanks to us for looking after them all this time. It’s nice to have an attitude of fostering the venue as a second home – as a venue that dozens of bands come through, it was nice to receive appreciation like that.
– Stay the entire gig; do not leave after your set. Show some support for other bands.
– Always have spare leads.
– Communicate – especially if you’re going to be late for sound check. Get in touch with someone. Even if you’re not going to sound check, don’t assume that everyone knows that.
– Sound check is not for rehearsing. Be mindful of the soundie’s time.
– Always sound check the way you’re going to play. If you’re going to take the mic off the stand and walk around, try it during sound check. If you going to play drums with brushes, try it during sound check. This especially true of vocalists, if you cup the mic or tend to fade off the mic, it’s important for the soundie to hear it during sound check.
Last one- it is never okay to eat/throw cake on stage. It doesn’t matter who’s birthday it is. It doesn’t matter is said cake is being fed/thrown by scantily clad women. Even after I made them clean it the stage is still slippery and there still bits of cake everywhere.