Some thoughts on band etiquette…
(Caution, I don’t normally swear a lot in my writing, but I do here. Sorry in advance if it bothers you.)
I’ve been in one band or another for well over 10 years.
I’ve played in a 300 year old pub, I’ve played a festival in the middle of nowhere where one of the support acts was a man and his dog, I’ve played to sold out venues, I’ve played to the bands on the bill and zero customers, I’ve played with heroes of mine, I’ve played with friends of mine, but above all else, I’ve done my best to always give my best for every show I’ve ever played.
I recently played a show with predominantly local bands and one or two from ‘away’ and something happened that annoys me more than anything of the negative things that can happen at a show. I could probably tell you some funny/bad stories about gigging, but we will save that for another day.
At the gig in question, on a rather long bill, with quite a few bands playing, one of the bands committed pretty much every sin of playing a gig they could have possibly managed. I’ll break it down for you:
- They were difficult before the show about bring their own gear. Insisting on borrowing virtually everything apart from instruments, lead and drumsticks.
- They arrived 20 minutes before they were due to play.
- They ran over their allotted time.
- They were lazy getting what little gear they brought off the stage.
- When the next act, who had started on time, they stood at the side side of stage talking and packing away LOUDLY, completely ignorant to the person playing quite acoustic songs.
- They loaded out in front of the person playing, during their songs, being completely ignorant that there were people watching the performer.
- Once loaded out, they preceded to leave the venue having barely engaged with any of the other bands who played.
In my book, if you want to piss off other bands you are playing with, promoters, sound crew, audience members, bar staff, venue managers and who ever offered you the show, this is how to do it.
The worst part of this for me, was watching them not even politely wait until the performer who followed them finished their song as they loaded out in front of them. This is pretty much the peak of disrespect to your contemporaries.
I have never understood where the attitude of arriving at a gig late and leaving as soon as you have finished playing comes from? I have played gigs with some awful, AWFUL bands in my lifetime, but I pride myself on still taking the time to watch a couple of their songs out of nothing more than politeness. I might not like their music, but a few extra bodies watching your band, even if it is for 3 or 4 songs, is always better.
I just don’t understand it.
I’ve watch Scroobius Pip play to 1,500 people, jump off stage and do his own merch, I’ve seen Penn & Teller play to 5,000 people, jump of stage and spend almost as long as they performed for, outside signing things and taking photos with the audience. That is a great attitude towards an audience.
If you are in a band, surely you care about live music? Surely you should care about venues that you play being as successful as possible? Surely you should care about the gigs you play being the best they can be?
I have made some of the best friends I have in the last 10 years at gigs, simply by arriving on time/early/as soon as we could get there, being friendly to whoever has booked us, the staff at the venue and the bands we are playing with.
I’m not going to pretend that I am ALWAYS a saint, there have been gigs where I/we have arrived, sound checked, left to get food and missed a band or two, but this is usually compounded with a long drive or a rush after work to get to the venue, and I will always apologise to whomever I have missed and tell them why.
“Sorry I missed you guys, we came straight from work, had to drive for ___ and really needed to get some food in before our set.”
This is usually followed with a conversation and a chat with a new face, who has been in that situation before and might be your new friend…and the next time you cross their path, you can make the effort to catch them.
The bottom line is, the people in the band in question, and subsequently any other bands they are in have made the “shit list” and if they ever ask us for a show again, they are going to get a blunt and resounding no.
I realise, I am not anyone special, but as someone who always makes the effort to book as many of my/our own shows as possible, I’d like to think that we always book decent shows, with welcoming and friendly bands and musicians. I don’t want any negative stigma associated with my band or shows I’m involved in.
To try and finish on a more positive note, lets go back to the list of sins and try to spin them to a positive (sorry if this seems repetitive, but the kind of people who would commit these sins are pretty stupid and need it spelling out):
- If you are asked to bring the minimum amount of gear (heads/amps and drum breakables), don’t be a dick about it. Someone else has gone to the effort to provide you with everything else you could possibly need and be thankful for that. If you are a local band and there are a few ‘away’ band(s) and you have to bring a little bit more equipment, don’t quibble about it. You might get on great with the ‘away’ band(s) and then they might ask you to come play their town.
- If you are asked to be at a venue at a certain time for soundcheck, be there or have the common decency to explain to people why you aren’t or update them if you are running late. If you are playing a gig and aren’t getting a soundcheck, arrive as early as you can, and watch as many bands as possible.
- If you get told to play for 30 minutes, play for 30 minutes. There is always a bit of ‘wiggle room’ but don’t take the piss. If you have to start playing at 8 and have a 30 minute set, don’t start at 8 and then at 8.35 declare that this is your last song. If you are determined to play for a little longer, ask whoever is in charge, if you can start a little earlier and run a little later. Be understanding that things need to run on time for a reason which is more important than you. The only way you should play 12 songs in a 30 minute set is if your songs are all under 2 minutes. Other than that, stow that rock star, self import bullshit somewhere else.
- When your set is finished, break your gear down as quickly as possible, because someone else needs to set up. If you are headlining, still do this, because chances are the venue staff have homes to go to and don’t want to wait for you to get your arse in gear and pack up.
- Always, ALWAYS, ALL(!!)-WAYS(!!) be respectful of the people you are playing with, because you are potentially spoiling the show for the audience. If you act badly when the band after you are playing, you might undo any good work you did with the people who have just watched you. You could go from “they were alright, might watch them again.” to “what a bunch of dicks! Not bothering with them again!” If you haven’t fully packed up, find an out of the way place to finish.
- If you have been lazy and not loaded out before the next act has started, wait until they have finished playing and then do it. If it is a busy gig and you need to get gear out of the way, at least be polite and do it between songs and apologise quietly to the performer. Never ever interrupt someone.
- Once you have finished, stick around, talk to the other bands, as I’ve said already, if you get on, they might invite you to play gigs with them. Maybe you could just hang out at the bar and talk to the audience, you might sell some shirts/CDs/vinyl/whatever or just plain encourage them to come and watch you again in the future. You are not preserving the rockstar mystique, you are just behaving like an arrogant, disrespectful prick. Some of the best times I’ve had at gigs usually involving meeting someone new because I stuck around and had a chat.
To sum this up, if you are in a band or are a performer, arrive promptly, be nice, be respectful, be friendly, watch as many bands as possible, be helpful to the people you are sharing the stage with and the world will treat you well right back.
P.S. As I wrote this I remembered the one time, I arrived, played and left straight after. It was a short notice local show that my band really wanted to play, and I couldn’t get out of shift at my bar job. I asked my boss if I could duck out for an hour to play a gig, he agreed. So midway through a 14 hour shift, I ran from one end of the city centre to the other, set up my gear, played a 30 minute set, broke my gear down, apologised to everyone involved that I couldn’t stick around, because I had used my break to play a show and strangely everyone was grateful that I made the effort to still make the show. I ran back to the other end of the city centre and finished my shift.