Advice from Sasha-playing a show

Chris has been doing a fantastic job of introducing new bands here on the blog and I, as of yet, have been a mostly a silent partner. But I’ve decided to start a weekly post on the etiquette and art of booking, promoting and playing shows as an independent artist.  I started my foray into independent music back in 1994 as a senior in college at Cornell University in Ithaca NY. The riot grrl movement was in full force and Seattle was providing everyone with a new perspective on how to write a rock song with equal parts blues, punk and musical geek. I’ve been playing ever since, including ten years in NYC and six years in central Maine.

I’ll call today’s post: What you should know about your venue.

  • The time of load in. (That’s when you bring all your stuff into the venue.)
  • The address and phone number.
  • Whether or not the venue has a backline. A backline is equipment that the club has on hand for you to use. This will often include a kick-drum and a couple of toms, and a bass cab or bass amp. If the club only has a bass cab you’ll need to bring a bass head. And drummers should always bring their own snare & stand, cymbals, high-hat stand, throne and kick-drum pedal.  You can assume that most places will have a PA with mics and mic stands.
  • Whether you will be doing a sound check or a line check. A full sound check is not that common these days but if you are the last band on the line up you will be the first to sound check. If you are the first band to play you will be last to sound check. Before either a line check our sound check occurs introduce yourself to the sound engineer. Then remember his or her name.
  • During a sound check DO NOT noddle around on your instrument. Set your levels, pedals, computers, keys or drums up how you like them, then wait for the sound-guy (or gal) to ask you to play. Most sound engineers will check drums first starting with the kick, then snare, followed by toms and then ask you to play the whole kit. Be prepared with some beats that utilize the full kit for the drum check. Then the sound engineer will check the bass guitar. Often the bass will be “sent direct” into the PA which means that he or she will have a d.i. box and you plug into that box which then goes to your amp. Next the guitar checking will occur followed by vocal mics. A mic will be placed in front of your guitar amp. Try to keep stage volumes low, it makes the sound engineer’s job easier, and makes you sound less like a bloody mess. This isn’t basement practice time!! Lastly the sound engineer will ask you to run a song. Be sure to pick something that represents your softest and loudest volume and uses all vocal mics. Also make it short. The sooner you’re done the better. Do not be afraid to ask for more guitar, keys, vocals, woodblocks or whatever in your monitors. Smaller venues might not mic the amps or send the bass to the PA. Some venues also will not have monitor speakers. It’s always your job to be professional and sound the best you can! You can be a prima donna and demanding when you have enough draw to pack a 5,000 seat house five to seven days a week.
  • Line checks are like sound checks but they happen as soon as you hit the stage before your set. The shorter this process takes the better. The better at setting your own volume and dealing with whatever situation is thrown at you, the more successful you will be.
  • Most venues in a town do not want you to play another show in the same town within the same month-long period. This is true especially if there will be a cover charge for your show. You need to know this info when you’re booking your gigs.
  • You should also find out about pay-out. Pay out usually happens at the end of the night and might be by check or cash. Two important terms are “the door” and “the bar”.  The door is the money that comes in through a cover charge or ticket sales. The bar is the amount of money the venue has taken in selling drinks at the bar.  There are several payment options including a percentage of the bar, a guarantee, the door after “cover” costs are paid (i.e. what the venue needs to take in order to pay the sound engineer, the person at the door, bouncers and other costs associated with having a place of business), a percentage of the door, or 100% of the door. When you are first starting out, be prepared to play for free.
  • Performing is a professional endeavor and should not be accompanied by a level of debauchery that renders you unable to play, move your equipment, or act like a decent human being.
  • Be thankful and respectful of the venue and their employees.