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Don't Act Like an Amateur Band

A while ago, I wrote a piece about The Unspoken Rules of How to Treat a Touring Band. Basically, it was some rules on courtesy between bands show share a gig. After going on a few more tours myself, I wanted to share some additional advice on how to make shows run a little more smoothly and how you can be a little more professional in your gigging.

Here are some assorted tips on the pro’s do it:

  • Reduce Transition Times Between Sets: Ever hear of the term “dead air?” It’s a phrase used in TV and radio that refers spots with no sound, it’s a broadcaster’s nightmare because it drives the audience away. Long set changes during shows do the same thing to the crowd. Use some common sense to keep the show flowing. Bands, help each other out by moving gear on and off stage between sets. Drummers, don’t remove cymbals from your stands while you’re still on stage. Carry entire pieces off, then breakdown off-stage. When possible, line the amps for the night ahead of time.
  • Be Efficient During Sound Check: Get your sound check done as quickly as possible. Most sound guys check in the same order (drums, bass, guitars, keyboards or tracks, vocals) so have every person ready in advance and not messing around on their instruments when someone else is checking. Most sound guys hate unnecessary noise coming from the stage like guitar players trying to play to overhead music, people testing their stage volume for the 10th time, and drummers banging on their drums. Only play when it’s needed.
  • Leave Them Wanting More: One of my pet peeves (both as a promoter as well as an artist) is when other bands play for too long. It’s almost as if you think playing a longer set will make people like you more. It won’t. You always want to leave the crowd wanting more (so they’ll buy a CD), not bored and tired of your band (and walk out). Plus, it’s disrespectful to every band going on after you. When you’re at a festival, this rule is even more important to follow.
  • Less Talk, More Rock: Keep time between songs minimal. People are there to see you play, not tell jokes, stories, or chat up the crowd. Don’t announce the song titles before you play every song, nobody cares. Don’t announce upcoming shows, direct them to the merch area to sign up on your mailing list or pick up a flyer instead.
  • How Long You Should Play For: Speaking of set times, if you are unsure, base your set time on how many acts are playing (or ask the sound guy/stage manager): One band (2-4 hours), two band (1-2 hours each), 3 bands (45 minutes each), 4 bands (25-30 minutes each), 5 bands (no more than 25 minutes). Remember to leave time for tuning, talking, or dealing with stage mishaps.
  • Keep Your Stuff Tidy: Another thing that venues hate: when bands spread all of their gear all over. Break things down and keep aisles clear. This isn’t your bedroom. If you’re blocking an exit, access to the bar, or in the way of another act getting ready to get on stage, you are interfering with business. That won’t sit well with anyone.
  • Show Up on Time: Musicians have a bad reputation for showing up late. Be the exception. It’s better to be early than late. If you don’t know when to show up, ask. A good rule of thumb for most venues is at least two hours before doors open.
  • Go With the Flow: Sometimes other people don’t show up on time, other times they don’t show up at all. Be ready to go at a moment’s notice or to have your set time changed. Yes, it sucks, but deal with things in a positive manner and don’t burn bridges by acting like a moron.
  • Set Up Merchandise Every Time: Even if the crowd is sparse, you never know if someone wants a CD. Always be ready. Make your display look awesome and have someone there as soon as you are done playing.
  • Follow Up: After the show, send a follow up message to the promoter, other bands, and the people show showed up. Thank them.

A lot of these things seem like common sense and many acts don’t realize that they’re doing these things but the reality is that us promoters see this happen every night. I watch approximately 1,000 bands every year and it’s sad that at least 80% of them (many of them actively touring bands) are still learning the ropes on these basic concepts. Step up your game, act like a pro and venues will begin treating you much better as well. Besides, you’ll find that you’ll have more fun too because you won’t be stressing about long set times, changeovers, being late, or the other problems associated with bad performance behavior.


Simon Tam is owner of Last Stop Booking and author of How to Get Sponsorships and Endorsements. Simon’s writing on music and marketing can be found at He is on Twitter @SimonTheTam 

Reader Comments (6)

Thanks for the article Simon,

Very good points too! Like the dead air part. When you want to see stuff happening, it's easy to lose your patience during the moments between sets. That's when it's easy to just get up and leave and go elsewhere or worse go home, so very good point.

And having an efficient sound check. The mark of a professional band is that they don't need to keep playing their instruments haphazardly during the sound check, they just play when the show starts.

August 21 | Unregistered CommenterGemma D Lou

Great points! I do have to say that telling stories and having audience rapport is not always a no no. It really depends on your audience, and a good performer should be able to guage that. And in songwriter driven genres like folk and country, the audiences usually want to hear a bit about the song much.

August 21 | Unregistered CommenterApril

I love the emphasis on the professionalism. I couldn't agree more and this industry should be no exception. Common sense isn't always common especially when referring to business and professionalism. Unless there is an opportunity to experience first hand this type of company culture many simply won't have the know how. If you've been one of the lucky ones to work for an organization that values integrity, communication and high expectations than you'll know how far these traits will take you and the organization regardless of the industry you work in.

August 22 | Unregistered CommenterMary Oreskovic

How to blog like a pro:
1. Proofread
That is all.

August 22 | Unregistered CommenterSuper100

hej simon, thanks for this well observed list! as someone working in the gigging business i can relate to most of them and find them very useful - i'm sure it's useful for many bands.
i second April's thoughts on anecdotes, though; in smaller audiences they usually work alright and allow for a more intimate atmosphere (if that's wanted, of course).

August 23 | Unregistered Commentertess

Hi Tess/April -

I do agree, when the time and place is right for it, stories can be a great way to captivate the audience and draw them in (it depends on the audience and the vibe). However, more often than not, I see bands/artists telling stories about songs while people aren't listening or just continue to walk out. Of course, if the audience is yours and you own it, then it's a different story. It's better to err on the side of safety and keep playing though than to have a chance at losing them.

One great way to handle this kind of thing is if there is a great story involved, say "There's a really interesting story behind this song. Let's chat after the set, I'd love to share it with you." That way, you get them over to the merch booth, have some interaction, and can connect with them.

August 26 | Registered CommenterSimon Tam

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