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 load-in is at 4, get there at 3:00. Originally, in a draft of this, I had said to be 5 minutes early, but the head of a well-known and highly respected music conservatory suggested a half-hour. The more I though about it, getting there even earlier gives you time to prepare for the night ahead with a relaxed frame of mind. Use the spare time to grab some coffee, maybe a snack, check upon emails, update your website or band Facebook page. More on the updating the Facebook page in another section, as how you do this is critical.
2: Have a venue contact and their phone number on hand. Call them while you’re in route. Let them know how things are going, if only to reassure them that you are aware of their schedule.
3: Assuming you’re on time, and load-in and sound check is at 4, get in quickly, set up, and start checking. Immediately. There will be time to relax later. One of two things is happening at the venue while you’re driving there: either volunteers are giving up their time on a weekend so you can make some money that night, or paid people are setting up and waiting. By being late, you’re either wasting people’s time or money. NO ONE forgets that, and word travels fast. Get there, load in, and start checking.
4: Respect the venue’s schedule. If a check is scheduled for four, the venue usually has the timing down from there. Check for an hour, eat, chill, doors open, showtime. If you show up 15 minutes late, you screw that schedule up. You’re fouling up dedicated volunteer’s or paid professional’s schedule and time, adding stress to something that should be relaxing and fun. My own personal pet peeve, beyond my asking volunteers to show up at 4, then having them wait for 15 minutes while the band is late, is the band that shows up, then sits around checking their phones or laptops when we’re trying to get stuff done. Stop that crap, now. That’s why you show up early. You waste people’s time, they remember. You don’t get asked back. When other venues call, asking for recommendations, you don’t get them.
5: Don’t drink. Again, this is a suggestion from that same conservatory head, and I wouldn’t have thought of it, as it’s not a problem at my venue, but it needs to be here. Remember you’re selling yourself every minute you step out of your car to the time you get back to your apartment, house, or hotel. I can specifically name the career of one up-and-coming band out of Boston, who signed with an agent, and that agent sold me on a show. Well before the show, there was an “incident” at a festival that was just over-the-top enough that I bailed on the show, the agent dropped them, and their careers went very south. All because of one night of stupidity. Don’t…screw…up.
6: 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 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. The worst thing is a negative attitude that starts to infect the quality of the live performance. Relax, people know the good bands despite good or bad sound. 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.
7: 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.
8: Simple stuff like don’t smoke in public. Well, unless you’re a blues band at a biker bar or something like that. But for the most part, the venues are looking for a clean, wholesome image. It reflects on their venue, and again, it’s the venue that’s paying your bills. Sell your own merchandise. People want to meet you, talk to you, get to know you. By hiding in the green room, you’re missing up a huge part of P.R., and also making the venue look a little lame. Meet-and-greets are gold for everyone, even during the intermission.
9: 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.
10: 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-shorts 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.