How do you decide the order of bands for a night?

Who’s name is biggest on the poster? Who’s headlining the show? Who has to open? Who has to close? These are all questions we think about when we book, promote and play rock shows.  And let’s face it, there’s always a lot of ego floating around a rock club and behind every online event invitation. So when you’re determining who plays when and why, it’s important to act rationally and with care.
Here are the basics:

  1. If you book the show, you get to decide. Once Chris and I have secured a date at a particular location with a booker or club owner and then we’ve called, emailed and texted other bands until we have a full bill for the evening, we get to decide on the order for the evening.  And when we’re asked to be part of a line up, we play whenever the organizing band tells us to.
  2. The band with the biggest draw, or the biggest name goes second to last. Why? Because if they’re the ones bringing in the people to the club, then make sure they’re on stage for their audience.
  3. If there is an out-of-town band, this is always a little tricky. One school of thought is to give them a middle slot or at least the last slot so that there are people present for their set. Show them a good time, help them to build an audience in your town so that they can do the same when you visit their town. Of course an out-of-town band isn’t likely to bring many people out, so they often open shows. Chris and I have opened a lot of shows on the road, and honestly, it’s great to play for the other bands and the folks who will come out early for a show. It’s a low pressure chance for you to show other people what you can do, and it means that the other bands are more likely to have you back on a bill with them if you play well, put on a great show and have a great attitude. Chris and I have also been treated to the middle or second slot at a number of our out-of-town gigs which has been very humbling and never something we expect.
  4. Putting on acts that play at a lower volume first is something we often do at bars and pubs so as not to interfere with the “dinner crowd.” This can work well, but just because a band is a “quieter” band doesn’t mean they should always be relegated to opening a show.
  5. And as always when there are multiple bands on a bill, the more equipment sharing that goes on the better. Switch-over time should always be minimized and the more easily this happens, the better for everyone!
  6. There are justifiable reasons for any order of bands for the evening. The important thing is to let people know your reasoning, and try to be flexible and remember that it’s only rock ‘n roll after all!  We’re in this to have a good time whether we’re playing first to the other bands, last to the bar staff and that one drunk guy in the back or selling out the State Theater in Portland. We always have the responsibility to play well, promote to the best of our abilities and support the work of other musicians and bands.