Thread: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

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    Default The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    Playing live shows introduces a whole lot of variables that even the best bands might not be able to control. This article is meant to consider some of the main mistakes that bands make when booking and playing live shows. Hopefully, this info can help bands circumvent these pitfalls from the get go so they can concentrate on playing the shows and not get sideswiped by these common mistakes.

    Mostly, the theme of this is communication, preparation, and attention to detail. With those considerations in line, the band can assure there are no show stopping surprises. So lets take a look at some common mistakes made by bands booking and playing live shows.

    Paperwork - many bands don't even know how to put together tech riders, personal riders, contracts, etc. We are putting together other articles about the proper preparation of the paperwork as it's a very involved subject of it's own. Suffice it to say, your agreement with the venue should be spelled out clearly, in writing, and in advance. Everything from all the details about the money to any sound requirements that you have should be addressed at the time that the show is booked. Venues themselves are often unable or unwilling to accomodate last minute requests for anything you didn't ask for when booking the show. For instance, if you need a piano for your show don't assume the venue has a piano even if you've seen one there in the past - ask specifically about it. Relatedly, if you need the piano tuned, specify that. If it needs to be moved to a specific location on stage specify that so that the correct amount of people are available to help move the piano. Assuming anything about an things like an instrument and it's availability is a big mistake. Also, determine if there is a rental fee for using said instrument. The piano is just an example, it could be anything. However, the idea that every question needs to be asked, in advance, and in detail remains.

    In fact, make sure you have asked for every single thing you need. This point comes up again and again. Monitor mixes, mics, cables, drum rugs, you name it. If you need it, ask for it in advance. Things like drum rugs are likely to be forgotten in the list and are exactly the kind of thing that you want to specify if you are renting kit.

    Getting to the venue (time, place, contact person)

    On the day of the show, you should already know where to park and load in. The band should know what time they are expected to arrive and load in, and relatedly the band should know who their contact person at the venue is. You might not be allowed in the venue until a certain time, and certianly on bigger shows the crew won't be there to unload the gear until the specified time. The sound check is the next thing that the band should know about. Knowing who the sound engineer is and when the soundguy is going to be ready for the band is important. A band might not be welcome to do things on stage before the soundguy arrives, so know that in advance so that you stay in good graces with the staff.

    Soundcheck, well is for checking sound, balancing levels, getting things set technically for the show. Soundcheck isn't a rehearsal - if you don't know the songs by now you are screwed anyway. Soundcheck is not for one player to keep endlessly noodling on his instrument when the other folks are checking. Knock that shit out, please! After a quick line check, soundguys usually want the band to play one song just like they really will in the set. Let me say that again, this part of the soundcheck only works if the band PLAYS THE SONG WITH THE SAME VOLUME AND INTENSTIY AS THEY WILL PLAY THE ACTUAL SET. Checking as quietely as a church mouse and then playing like Metallica will assure that the soundman has not set your levels properly. Help the soundcrew to help you by following those three rules - no noodling out of turn, no rehearsing endlessly during a soundcheck, and play at the actual volume to that the soundguy is setting proper levels.

    With respect to the performance, one thought comes first and foremost as a common mistake that bands make. Taking too much time on stage in between songs. The best bands I've ever seen seemed to have a show going on which constantly engaged the audience. That doesn't mean the band was playing every moment of the set, but the performers were specifically interacting with the audience the whole time. In fact, a larger lesson could be written about the best things to do onstage, and I certainly prefer when a band plays with minimal song changeover time in sets that are designed the way a DJ would, with consideration to how and when you will get the crowd moving and grooving with you. Done right, a band can achieve a steller audience reaction by playing to the crowd and managing their set lists properly. Tuning, idle chatter, figuring out what to play next, etc. are vibe killers and they ruin the show more than bands realize. Cut that out and PERFORM. While it's also true that bands like to drink, smoke, etc. and otherwise have a good time out when gigging, it should go without saying that most bands do not do their best work when drunk or otherwise sloshed. It may be fun for the band to play with a few drinks in them, but sometimes it isn't as fun for the audience HINT! Partying after the show is the best plan for a lot of reasons, being in control of your faculties while onstage is the best plan for a lot of reasons.

    Turning down, guitarists I'm looking at you. The volume knob goes BOTH ways. Some bands don't realize that club PA's sometimes only have vocals and some kick drum in them. The other things on stage are loud enough by themselves (if not too loud). Sure, you have to get your tone. Having said that, if your blaring amp is overpowering everything else, and worse getting into all of the vocal mics, then every attempt to get the vocals over top of the instruments will in fact increase the volume of said amp as it's in the vocal channels. In a perfect world, a band would balance it's own volumes on stage between themselves. When you are playing arenas you have more liberties in terms of volume, but in clubs Johnny Tooloud kills the mix. 90% of the time, in clubs especially, the soundman can make your band sound better if you turn down a little bit. Play like a band, play together in a reasonably balanced kind of way, and even better yet ask the soundguy about what volume you should play on stage. If every band members is in a contest to play the loudest, there is not going to be a likelihood that the soundguy can make the band sound good. Occasionally turning down is a good thing, and having a shitty super loud amp onstage is a top ten list mistake that bands make over and over again.

    Bring whatever strings, sticks, or other spares you might need. A little common sense goes a long way and can be the difference between a show happening or not. I've seen drummers show up to gigs without their own sticks before. I was pretty surprised, but apparently they were more surprised when they were told that I didn't have sticks for them. Your lack of planning does not my emergency make. I gotta respect bands that have some spare drum heads, strings, and so forth. This is a band that wants to make a show happen, and is prepared. Sometimes you can bum stuff from another band in an emergency, shit happens and we get that. However, bands that plan ahead more and have a few spares and extras in their pack get surprised a whole lot less than bands that don't !

    Broken stuff - this one seems so obvious that you wouldn't think it would need to be mentioned. If you have a piece of broken gear or a cable that you know is flaky, fix it or replace it. Don't bring broken gear to a gig. Soundguys might go nuts trying to figure out why something is cutting in and out only to find out it's your cable ( and that you already knew wasn't working right at the last gig). It's amazing that something so easily repaired or replaced is allowed to go back onstage with a band. They won't repair themselves on the way to the show. Cold solder joints and funky cables probably account for the vast majority of what I see with respect to gear that needs some repair, and those repairs are easy and cheap.

    Getting all the gear off the stage as soon as possible is the next point. Either for the next band to get on up there, or so the staff can get things all shut down for the night. Do not go out and chat up the crowd and start partying until the gear is off the stage. Consider the end of your set the moment all of the gear is off the stage. So don't hold up the show or piss off the staff, just get the gear off stage right away and then get to whatever else you want - talking to the crowd, your next drink, whatever. Be careful with the PA gear and mics on stage. Don't just throw mics on the floor. Drummers especially, please be careful around those mics. Soundguys often get those mics first since they are attached to or so tightly mixed in with the kit. You wouldn't want the soundguy to just toss your drums on the floor, so don't toss those mics on the floor. Really, respecting and taking care of all of the PA gear is important. Don't bang up the mics, don't mess with the wedges, don't mess up the mic stands. Bands that are especially rough with gear like stands and mics have been known to bring their own, which then allows them to perform freely. If it's not yours then no doubt the soundguy wants it taken care of. A band might be the star for that night, but that gear and that crew has to come back to do it all over again the next night. They want their stuff to work and look good for the next bands, and the next band deserves that as much as your band does. In the "this will never happen" department, it would be nice if bands didn't leave drinks all over the stage. These half finished drinks are little liquid bombs all over the place. Taking them off deck when the backline is being struck is ideal. When the stage is a wet mess it's inpleasant for everyone. Drinks in the stage box, on the cables, etc. is bad news. Please bring your drinks with you to the dressing room or whatnot.

    These thoughts cover the main things bands do wrong at live shows, but can prevent. Thats the good news in this post, all of these pitfalls are easily preventable by any band. The ideas seem so obvious in retrospect that it's hard to believe that bands continue to make these mistakes every day in venues all around the world. Some planning, common sense, preparation, and communication with the soundguy can solve all of the above problems too.

    I anticipate that I've left a few doozies off the list, and with the intent of having this be a helpful warning to bands, I welcome any other input into these kind of preventable problems that bands so regularly make in live shows.
    Last edited by pounce; March 16th, 2007 at 12:56 AM.
  2. #2
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    Playing too fucking LOUD



    sorry, I couldn't resist
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    yes, bands can sound better and more together frequently by having that one loud guitar turn down a little. or have the drummer play dynamically, and not just like popeye all the time. agreed.
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    Excellent primer there Pounce...didn't see the loudness paragraph when I browsed through it.

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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    no, i added it after you MENTIONED it in such small type. a perfect and salient point that i agree with so much i put it into the first post. i don't want that point to be missed, so thanks for bringing it up.
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    OK...

    • Show up on time. Please. The AE has a lilfe, too and you treating them a fixture and eating into their free time is NOT gonna make you any freinds
    • Do you have gear or a cable or two that was "dodgy" or "noisy" at the last gig? Do you think a day in the truck healed it? Maintain your gear.
    • Did you contact the club to make sure as to what they provided and what you need to bring with you? We have arrays, subs, amps, process and console. I've spent more than a couple of days scrambling up the street, to mooch mons, mics, stands and cables, for bands that didn't do their homework.
    • Are your volume demands excessive for the venue? ( Is it a tiny room? Is the stage behind the bar where bartenders have to be able to hear to sell whiskey and pay you? ) Do you think "loud as fuck" = "good"? There's a very good chance that the house AE knows the limitations of the venue and wants you to sound as good as possible, just like you do.


    Nothing too complicated, there, but these are issues I address, every season and like Pounce says, in a nutshell; "Paperwork". Do your homework and be co-operative as possible with the house. We want a good show, too and odds are that the ones we do are well received if we're not closing up shop any time soon.
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    I know this sounds like a little thing, but... Drum Rug...

    Why the hell is this such a damn problem?

    If your drummer is bringing his kit, DON'T expect the sound company to bring one unless it's on the rider!!!

    I get tired of having to go to the venue rep and asking if I can borrow a floor mat... BRING YOUR OWN!

    When a band forgets such a simple little damn thing, it delay's EVERYTHING. That eats into everybody's time.

    One common thing that I see that impresses eevryone is to engage the audience. Get them involved... don't just talk to em'.

    I'm not saying that you have to get them involved in every song, but the audience is there to be entertained... that's your job. So, fucking ENTERTAIN THEM!

    1. Get them to clab, yell, scream "Wooop", or whatever... INVOLVE THEM in the show!

    2. Thank the audience... OFTEN! They'll appreciate it by giving you feedback, sales, etc. A little graciousness goes a LONG way!

    3. Thank the club owner, manager, and ESPECIALLY the bartenders and wait staff! It never hurts to mention to the audience to tip them well.

    While not everyone performs like a Las Vegas, or Disneyland show, you should realize that the closer you can get to that level of entertainment, the better off you will probably be. Try to get that organized and that polished with your song transitions, lighting cues, etc.

    Which brings up song starts & endings. Get them nailed down! You can screw up just about anywhere in the middle you want, but unless you have tight beginnings and endings, the audience will never forget, nor forgive you. -or- to put it another way...

    If your starts and stops are dead on, the audience won't remember the fuckups in between.
    A performance is not perfect, it is passionate.

    Cultivate PASSION motherfuckers.


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    The Comte
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    I've added a bit more to the primer to assure that some more of these good points are very clearly there right from the getgo. These are all great points, and i know i've certainly seen all of these problems at some time or another (if not regularly).

    please keep the good ideas coming


    also, i think a seperate post is in order for the best things a band can do for a successful gig. i think the two things are large enough topics on thier own, even though they are related. so ok, i'll start the topic but will have to truly rely on input here from a band/performer perspective.
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    Turning down, guitarists I'm looking at you. The volume knob goes BOTH ways.

    Actually, it doesn't. Most non-guitar players are surprised to learn that the volume knob is a ratcheting type. It only goes up. So, two weeks ago when we played that big outdoor stage and I got to crank it up? That's now my minimum volume. Sorry, nothing I can do.

    Really, the best thing I ever did as a guitarist was to put my amp on the side of the stage and shoot it across at me, instead of out toward the audience. I can hear my tone better, my slide playing is more accurate, and I can hear my vocal monitor a lot better. If my amp is being miked, and in most cases it is, it's now a stage monitor. It doesn't have to cover anything but the stage. I'm using a 40-watt combo amp with a single 12" speaker, and I really don't need that much. I don't think I've ever played it above 3. I don't think I'm gonna be dragging out my 100-watt Hiwatt half stack any time soon.

    As far as band mistakes, I think I've made 'em all at some point, but it would take forever to list them all, and I'm too lazy to type that much!

    Droolbucket
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    Really, the best thing I ever did as a guitarist was to put my amp on the side of the stage and shoot it across at me, instead of out toward the audience. I can hear my tone better, my slide playing is more accurate, and I can hear my vocal monitor a lot better. If my amp is being miked, and in most cases it is, it's now a stage monitor. It doesn't have to cover anything but the stage.
    I can't begin to tell you how happy I am that there are at least two of us who do this!!!



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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    " I have to play loud or I can't hear my amp!"

    'That's because your ass has no ears."

    'What?"

    'It's aimed at your ass."
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    " I have to play loud or I can't hear my amp!"

    'That's because your ass has no ears."

    'What?"

    'It's aimed at your ass."
    At the briefcase gig I do, the guitar player puts his lil' peavey on an amp tilt and puts it right over his vox monitor.

    I get a good bit of stage volume from the back of the amp, but the bonus is that the guitar player doesn't have to have it in his wedge and if he needs to tweek something, he doesn't even have to turn around.

    Kinda' the same with the bass player... I stuck a wedge of 2x4 under the front of the amp to tilt the drivers away from his butt... lo and behold... the bass level came down to where I could actually control it and he could finally hear!
    A performance is not perfect, it is passionate.

    Cultivate PASSION motherfuckers.


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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    I can't begin to tell you how happy I am that there are at least two of us who do this!!!



    Tim
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    no, i added it after you MENTIONED it in such small type. a perfect and salient point that i agree with so much i put it into the first post. i don't want that point to be missed, so thanks for bringing it up.

    Good, I really thought I was losing it...afterall I am getting older

    wtf do I know...I hit mixes with sticks
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    - Playing longer than :

    1) they should
    2) they could


    - complicate things

    that applies to: arrangements, gear, stage organisation (like placement of musicians), outfits ( like chosing incomfortable ones)


    these are the firsts pitfals coming to mind.

    malice
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    I can't begin to tell you how happy I am that there are at least two of us who do this!!!



    Tim
    I certainly won't disagree with the logic of this. I don't know if this sounds stupid, but I'm always concerned with how things look from the audience. With that in mind, for a visual, I like amps to be facing the audience, and, like your mother, I go down the line of vocal mic stands making sure they are neatly spaced, angled and at the proper height for the person using it. In a small bar or club, I'm pretty carefull to make sure my volume is in sync with the band, regradless of if the amp is pointing at my ass, though I have a little table my Allen or Deluxe Reverb sits on. Having a low wattage amp to use in a small club helps so I can make sure I don't blow the people out of thier chairs up front and still retain my 'tone' and I usually run two amps.

    I know I said this at the last place and it seemed to cause a little reaction, but one thing that bothers me to no end is listening to people tune. My personal and professional feeling is use a stage tuner with a mute or hire a gutiar tech.

    One more thing that should be considered, dressing with a point of view. I don't really go for the just finished mowing the lawn look. Nothing wrong with casual, even hippy sloppy, but how you look should say something besides you just finished washing the car, grabbed your gear and hit the club. When we had women in the band, they coordinated all the clothes. It was pretty striking.
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    I certainly won't disagree with the logic of this. I don't know if this sounds stupid, but I'm always concerned with how things look from the audience. With that in mind, for a visual, I like amps to be facing the audience, and, like your mother, I go down the line of vocal mic stands making sure they are neatly spaced, angled and at the proper height for the person using it. In a small bar or club, I'm pretty carefull to make sure my volume is in sync with the band, regradless of if the amp is pointing at my ass, though I have a little table my Allen or Deluxe Reverb sits on. Having a low wattage amp to use in a small club helps so I can make sure I don't blow the people out of thier chairs up front and still retain my 'tone' and I usually run two amps.

    I know I said this at the last place and it seemed to cause a little reaction, but one thing that bothers me to no end is listening to people tune. My personal and professional feeling is use a stage tuner with a mute or hire a gutiar tech.

    One more thing that should be considered, dressing with a point of view. I don't really go for the just finished mowing the lawn look. Nothing wrong with casual, even hippy sloppy, but how you look should say something besides you just finished washing the car, grabbed your gear and hit the club. When we had women in the band, they coordinated all the clothes. It was pretty striking.
    I'm not sure how many people would notice my amp missing (it's usually behind the PA stack), but I fully agree with the next two points. Being too cheap to buy a tuner pedal when I already have a few tuners, I wired up a little A/B pedal in an MXR-sized box. The wiring diagrams are all over the 'net. I can check my tuning during the piano intro, silently. Shoulda done it years ago.
    I always try to dress decently for shows, but I've never made a huge effort. However, my brother runs sound for a show band, and they all bring stage clothes to change into after set-up. I gotta admit, it makes a huge difference visually. They have a few choreographed moves they do, mostly to poke fun at themselves as a wink to the audience, and they're smiling the whole night. To see them play isn't like going to a concert... it's like being invited to a great party, with the band acting as the host. They're all killer musicians, but they're GREAT entertainers. They're my favorite band to go see, when I'm not playing myself. (Plus, I'm the back-up sound guy when my brother has other obligations.)
    On the extreme end, I worked with a drummer who wore white cotton gloves during setup and teardown, so as to not get any smudges on his hardware. I could see the sense in this, but after he set up his drums, he'd go out on the dance floor, and do the classic "director framing a shot with his hands" gesture. Then he'd go back on stage and move his drums a couple of inches to the left or right, and level out his cymbals. He was a pretty awful drummer, but dang, he LOOKED good!
    Droolbucket
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    Good, I really thought I was losing it...afterall I am getting older

    Uuuuh huh... we ALL are... but I won't tell nobody!
    A performance is not perfect, it is passionate.

    Cultivate PASSION motherfuckers.


    Not the sample accuracy.

    The Comte
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    Playing too fucking LOUD...
    We just encountered this last Saturday night at a house party. This folk duo set up a little PA system in a living room and turned it up to just below feedback and then eq'd it.

    The host managed to get them to turn it off because people were watching a dvd in the next room. The result was a room full of delighted, engagued listeners. After the DVD was done, they turned it back on and the result was bad intonation and a room full of people talking to each other.

    What was amazing is that they completely didn't get that their PA was working against them.
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    Default Re: The main mistakes bands make with live shows

    For performers who were schooled in bars and clubs, that's a hard threshold to cross for some reason. It's hard to imagine just why anyone would think they need a PA for a house gig if they're doing folk music. When we were touring as a string band, our M.O. always included forgoing the PA if the place was small or not crowded, prefering to wade out into the club and engage people directly.
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