This is stuff you really should have learned in kindergarten, or stuff your parents have been harping on for your whole life. Somehow, either because they’re your uncool parents, or you’ve simply become too cool for school, you’ve ignored. You’re a creative musician, you don’t need no stinking’ rules.
You’re also about to become an unemployed musician, probably with a bunch of student debt you’ll need to pay off by taking that job at the coffee shop while convincing yourself how cruel the world is because they don’t value music in today’s materialistic society. Again, BARF. There are plenty of examples of musicians who have made a great living while keeping their creative ideals perfectly intact. The difference is that they know how to behave.
The venue’s wish list:
1: Be on time. Actually, be really early. If the soundcheck is scheduled to start at 4, make sure you’re there to start at 4. Do all your lounging around and checking email well before. Many volunteers have given up their time to make the show a success. If you waste their time, you can bet the presenter will make sure you don’t return there. And at all those folk conventions, where presenters talk with other presenters? What do you think they talk about?
2: Have a venue contact and their phone number on hand. Call them while you’re en route. Let them know how things are going, if only to reassure them that you are aware of their schedule.
3: Respect the venue’s schedule. If this sounds like a repeat of rule number 1, it is. Most venues work backwards from the soundcheck start time, which would include dinner for you, organizing the ticket takers, getting the place ready for the door opening, etc. If you waste everyone’s time by showing up late, you mess their whole night up. Don’t screw this up, ever.
4: Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. At the well-run venues that will really help get an audience to bond with you, you’ll be getting a lot of face time with the public, which are your best P.R. opportunities. Show how well put together you are. Your behavior reflects not just on you, but on the folks at the venue who booked you. They work hard to build community that supports them, and your jeopardizing that pretty much means that’ll be your last gig in that town. Don’t…screw…up.
5: Respect the sound guy. I know, there are a few really bad sound guys out there, but it’s their venue. That’s part of the touring life, you just need to go with the flow, with good humor and a professional attitude. The audience knows the difference between you that’s sounding bad, or the sound guy that sucks. If it’s the sound guy that stinks, word gets out on the audience-level street, and the venue either makes improvements or dies. The good sound guys also know their venue inside and out, and what the frequencies are that need augmenting, and which of those need quashing. It may not sound right to you during the check, but they know what happens when the place fills up. Whatever the case, keep any complaints quiet until the next day, when no one can hear you, and don’t EVER post about bad experiences in public. The worst thing is a negative attitude that starts to infect the quality of the live performance. And mentioning anything to an audience member during the meet-and-greet period is so out of bounds that it’ll result instant career death. Venues will make sure of that. They need a loyal customer base, and any negative impact (outside of their own management skills) will lead to your future unemployment.
6: Keep any demands reasonable. Most will provide dinner. Unless you’re an amazingly high-priced, automatic sell-out sort of artist, don’t ask for some exotic water or tea. Again, it’s usually some volunteer, even at the big performing arts centers, who will have to waste their time and gas chasing down a stupid request. Oh, yeah, and here’s the golden rule for you: All Requests Are Stupid. If you’re a vegan, or have some strange dietary request, bring your own food. Many of the rural locations where you’ll be playing don’t have health food stores. Or vegetarian restaurants. They have burgers. Or pizza. The volunteers will give you the shirt off their backs, and in many cases, just by giving you a show, they already have. But don’t push it.
7: Follow up. Les Paul used to write hand-written letters to every single venue after every single show. I have a few from Grammy-winning guys. But not from anyone on a long time. That’s not a big deal, but you need to acknowledge everyone not just during the show, but afterwords on a web blog or on Facebook. Ask the presenter for feedback, what could you as a young artist, do better. Keep in mind that at every venue, the presenters have seen more shows by really great artists than you’ll ever see. Most of the time, as you’ll be playing shows, you won’t get to see very many. Be an active learner. Again, I’ve presented Grammy-winners who are feedback hounds, asking if anything they do could be improved from our point of view.
8: Lastly, did you luck out and get a home-stay to help with expenses? Treat them like the saints they are. Come with a little present, perhaps just a bottle of wine, or some cd’s, t-shirts or band posters. Some sort of gift that shows you really appreciate not having to shell out a few hundred bucks on rooms and breakfast. Engage with them, learn about them, let them learn about you. Make your bed, clean up after yourself. They’re your future advertisers in that town. Everything you do becomes common knowledge. Some bands love that, thrive on it, and build huge audiences locally because of that. Others wither and die because they take advantage of the gift of hospitality. I have a story I save for my live presentations that is so off-the-wall bad that I’m actually happy to make sure no presenter who asks for a recommendation ever has to put up with them. And yes, their career is almost nonexistent now, at least in this country. Karma’s a bitch. On the flip side, we’ve had a band from Ireland come and stay with us for weeks, using home as a tour base for New England. They were phenomenal guests, cooking, cleaning, buying groceries, even driving our kids to school and subjecting themselves to show-and-tell displays at school. They even went in and did short concert in the school for no pay, just to have fun. They taught a few kids to sing in Gaelic. Not very successfully, but it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, I did everything in my power to make sure they got every gig possible, anywhere in the country.
You are a citizen of the world now, so behave like it.