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Tips and Tricks for playing concerts?
January 8, 2013 10:08 AM   Subscribe

I have a big important concert that I'm playing coming up sort of soon. I'm not even sure what to ask... but here goes.

I have a big important concert that I'm playing coming up sort of soon. I'm not even sure what to ask... but here goes - what happens during soundcheck? Between soundcheck and playing, especially when it's hours between? Do places ever let you go over your allotted time slot if you are the headliner? Is there anything I should do with regard to the venue management or anything? What's the best practice for selling things like CDs and posters outside after the show? What's an acceptable price per song for a demo EP? What about bracelets? 8x11 posters? How can I put on the best show (I have things down musically) possible, sell things outside the best possible, make the best impression on the crowd and the venue? What should I bring that I might forget - capos, cords, wires, water, picks, what else? As my last question, what's the best way to attempt to get good video and audio of this show on one singular device - i.e. no boom mics will be happening. Like camera, videocamera, iSomething. Help please? Thank you much.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do places ever let you go over your allotted time slot if you are the headliner?

Really depends on how big the venue is, who is going on after you, if anyone, what the liquor laws are like, what night of the week it is, how crowded it is, etc. I've been to places where the venue is a real hard ass about time, and been to places where they let the headliner go on for an extra hour.
posted by empath at 10:23 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also -- don't hang out back stage and hide from people. Talk to as many people as you can, especially if it's your first big show.
posted by empath at 10:25 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


what happens during soundcheck?

Assuming that the venue has confirmed with you that you will have a soundcheck, and told you what time it is: you all go onstage and the sound guy will ask each band member to play their instrument individually. You should play something representative of what you're going to be playing during your set. He'll ask you what you want to hear in your monitors. After checking each piece of the band, the whole band will play part of a song together. Then you can ask for adjustments to your monitor mixes and play a little more if necessary. When you're satisfied, you leave the stage.

Some venues will ask for your input list before the show, some will ask when you get there. If you have anything unusual you should let them know ahead of time.

Between soundcheck and playing, especially when it's hours between?

You chill out and do whatever. Try not to get too drunk.

Do places ever let you go over your allotted time slot if you are the headliner?

It depends, but I wouldn't count on it. Ask your contact at the venue if there's a strict ending time.

What's the best practice for selling things like CDs and posters outside after the show?

If it's not obvious where the merch table is, ask your contact at the venue where to set up. Have some clear signage indicating pricing. The merch area may not be well lit, so bringing your own lighting can be helpful. Make sure someone is at the table right after your set, and if possible during your set and the rest of the show as well. It depends on a lot of things, but if you're an unknown act don't count on selling a lot of stuff.

Other stuff:

Make sure the door split is worked out with the venue beforehand and you know who's going to be settling up with you. Ask about drink tickets and guest list slots when you show up. Don't put everyone you know on the guest list, as that eats into the door. Promote the door time, not your set time.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:38 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


What's the best practice for selling things like CDs and posters outside after the show? What's an acceptable price per song for a demo EP? What about bracelets? 8x11 posters? How can I put on the best show (I have things down musically) possible, sell things outside the best possible, make the best impression on the crowd and the venue?

All of my advice is with the caveat that I've never sold any of this stuff, but I've bought an assload of it.

$1 per song is a perfectly good starting point, but maybe round to $5 or $10 so you don't have to carry a bunch of singles with you.

If you're the headliner, once you're done, say "Thanks, I'll be selling my CD, Insert Name Here, out in front by the Convenient Place." (Say "CD", not "EP" -- people will be even more jazzed to get it for $5, and it is a CD, after all.) Then take a bow and get to the Convenient Place to your booth, which should already be set up. Do it yourself if you have to, but make it as easy as possible for you to get off the stage, get to the table, open your duffel bag full of merch and start selling.

If you have a friend who's willing to help you sell merch, great, but be at the table anyway. Make people at least look at your stuff while they're talking to you, but don't be a dick about pushing it. Let people congratulate you and take pictures, but try to move the line along so people don't get frustrated. Pre-brief any family and close friends that you need to sell stuff, and you'll love hanging out with them after that, but this is a money-making opportunity, so stay out of your way.

Don't let people haggle with you unless it's the very last item you've got. "Dude, this is how I make a living," even if it isn't (and if they know you well enough to know it's a lie, then fuck them for trying to haggle with you).

Have samples of everything visible, with the price on them in a groovy homemade way (like, cut-out construction-paper star with "$5" in Sharpie (no exclamation points; they look like 1s)) so everyone won't be asking (people will still ask, but not as many). Sign everything that people want signed, so bring a Sharpie with you and don't worry about signing your whole name or making it legible. Bring cards with your website address for when you run out of stuff, and promise free shipping as a rain check.

The key is getting people to buy your stuff while they're still as hopped up as possible on your performance. The longer they wait, the less likely they are to buy it. I've personally stepped out of more non-moving lines than I can remember, and only occasionally will remember to visit an artist's website to buy the stuff I could have given them cash for on-site.
posted by Etrigan at 10:40 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


ludwig_van is spot on regarding soundcheck.

Between soundcheck and playing, especially when it's hours between?

If you're on the road, an awful lot of nothing . . . . . . well, OK, dinner maybe.

If you're playing locally, yeah - food, showering & dressing specifically for the show, maybe go home just to be able to chill away from the venue, like that. Maybe some drinking or whatever else.

As per empath's "no hiding" above, the time between the doors opening & your set is great for meeting people & thanking anyone who came to see you.

Do places ever let you go over your allotted time slot if you are the headliner?

Seconding empath - highly highly highly variable. You should check with the club.

Is there anything I should do with regard to the venue management or anything?

Sorry, but this is so vague that I'm really not sure what kind of info you're looking for. That said, usually you deal with "management" regarding money - otherwise most of your interactions are gonna be with tech crew, doorperson/security, & bartenders. The Golden Rule applies here.

What's the best practice for selling things like CDs and posters outside after the show?

It's very common for venues to have a more-or-less dedicated area for merch. It's also fairly common for venues to charge you a percent of merch sales - sometimes they can supply someone to work the booth (possibly for an additional fee.) You should check with the venue to see how they operate.

It's definitely a good idea to have a friend help you with the sales - they can cover the money exchange or digging out the right size shirt while you meet-and-greet.

How can I put on the best show (I have things down musically) possible, sell things outside the best possible, make the best impression on the crowd and the venue?

To be completely honest here, an awful lot of this is developed through experience, and from your questions I'm not sure you have a lot of experience. So it's a bit of a Catch 22.

It seems to me that you're putting a lot of psychological weight on this one show, and I don't think that's particularly healthy. If you can psych yourself into approaching this as more "just another show" instead of a Really Big Deal, you'll be more comfortable & relaxed and confident, which will come across in your performance and offstage.

what's the best way to attempt to get good video and audio of this show on one singular device

I've actually seen & heard some really good results from the Flip Video, which unfortunately has been discontinued, but you might be able to pick one up used cheap or find a friend who has one. Given the right adapters, it's certainly possible to get an audio feed from the mixing board directly into most video cameras, although depending on the size of the venue & volume of the band this might not be the best mix. Being calm & friendly with the tech crew will go a long way in getting assistance with this.


You're more than welcome to MeMail me with more questions.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:49 AM on January 8, 2013


what happens during soundcheck?
If you are afforded the luxury of a calm, leisurely soundcheck hours before the show starts, each person in the band will get a bit of time to play/sing and adjust monitor levels accordingly -- the old "check, check one, check two" deal. If you wind up line-checking because the show is on a tight schedule, you're just making sure that everything is plugged in and sending signals correctly; the sound person will adjust levels on the fly during the show (usually at the behest of the band members' frantic hand gestures). Make sure to gracefully accept, even if you can't hear as well as you'd like, that there may simply be no way to put [whatever, usually vocals] up any higher in the mix.

Between soundcheck and playing, especially when it's hours between?
If you're playing out of town, you can spend this time exploring (bookstores, record stores, coffee shops, thrift stores, Yelp recommendations) or catching up with any friends who might live there. If you're playing in the same town/vicinity you live in, have a round or two (matched with water) and hang out around the venue seeming approachable, happily chatting with people who came to see you play. As a fan, it feels so awesome to go to a show and then run into someone from the band in the pub next door. Don't accept too many free drinks, and make sure to maintain an intoxication level that goes no higher than 'very slightly tipsy.'

Do places ever let you go over your allotted time slot if you are the headliner?
Depends on curfew. Is it a bar show, or all ages? If it's the latter, you're probably not going to be able to go over very much (if at all). Former, fairly likely it will be OK unless your set starts within an hour of last call. If you're talking about going over by a song or maybe two, most places do not seem to mind that. In any case, definitely ask the promoter beforehand -- "Hey, just wondering, what time do we need to be out of here?"

Is there anything I should do with regard to the venue management or anything?
Show up on time, call the promoter if you're going to be late, and be excruciatingly friendly to EVERYONE, most especially the person behind the soundboard. Ask about drink tickets, door split, curfew, and find out whether or not the venue gets a percentage of your merch sales.

What's the best practice for selling things like CDs and posters outside after the show?
If you have a friend who can help you sling t-shirts, this is optimal. You can give them a shout-out during the show -- "Everyone say hi to my awesome friend [name], who is helping me out selling t-shirts in the back." Everyone: "Hi, [name]!" If you'll be the one selling merch, just say, "If anyone wants to buy some records or have a drink, I'll be right outside after the show. Can't wait to meet you all!" or something similarly friendly and approachable. Stay at the venue until the drop-dead very last person who appears to want to meet you has achieved their goal.

What's an acceptable price per song for a demo EP? What about bracelets? 8x11 posters?
$1/song, $5/EP. Bracelets... like the Livestrong ones? $1-2. Posters $3-5 (photocopies) to $10+ (hand-screened).

How can I put on the best show (I have things down musically) possible, sell things outside the best possible, make the best impression on the crowd and the venue?
Engage with the audience, completely and utterly ignore hecklers, remind everyone that you have stuff for sale in the back once mid-set and once right at the end of the set. If your style of music permits, come out into the crowd and play a song or two in the middle of the floor unamplified. If you have a particular song that everyone loves, particularly if it's up-beat, play it last to leave everyone with a good impression.

What should I bring that I might forget - capos, cords, wires, water, picks, what else?
Duct tape! And a backup 9V battery for your tuner.

what's the best way to attempt to get good video and audio of this show on one singular device - i.e. no boom mics will be happening.
Soundboard to video camera. Also.
posted by divined by radio at 11:57 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


$5 total for an EP sounds about right, but consider giving them away for free if you can afford it. It sounds like you're a new band, and that'd be a good way for people who liked your show to remember you.

If possible, have an extra guitar handy. Taking a several-minute break to change a broken string is a bummer for everybody.

Start with a couple uptempo songs to grab people's attention. End with one of your best songs.

Don't play too long: there's a lot of truth in the old chestnut "leave 'em wanting more."
posted by wolfnote at 12:33 PM on January 8, 2013


How can I put on the best show (I have things down musically) possible, sell things outside the best possible, make the best impression on the crowd and the venue?

Onstage you don't have to talk overmuch but it does help to say the name of each song, and remind them of the name of the group. Don't introduce everyone though, that's usually pretty zzzzz. Keep the songs moving though, don't fiddle around between them and especially don't fiddle around before you play. Walk out, set up, play. If someone has to tune, have 2-3 things in mind to mention on mic (maybe where you're from, thanking the other groups, how much those EPs are and such)--but you can say that stuff before the last song anyway. You can say "We have a couple of songs left" and "This is our last song". Those are useful to hear!

What should I bring that I might forget - capos, cords, wires, water, picks, what else?

Bring an extra guitar and tune it up before the show if you can. Bring straps. Make sure you don't drink too much to drive home, and do be ready to hang out as long as possible afterwards rather than jetting (you don't have to do this at unimportant shows).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:10 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


what happens during soundcheck?

If you get a soundcheck, here's how it works:

You set up your gear - guitars, amps, drums, keyboards, whatever. The sound guy will generally tell you where to put your various things, he'll set up the mics in front of amps and drums, and get any keyboards plugged into the house system. He'll also set up however many mics you need for singers. For drums, he'll have the drummer hit the kick a bunch of times to get a level, then the snare, then the toms, and so on, and then soundcheck the whole kit. For guitarists whether amped or mic'ed, he'll have each one play for a bit, fiddle with levels, ask them to turn their amps up or down or fiddle with EQ on amps. Same thing with keys. For vocals, he'll ask each vocalist to speak into the mic and he'll get levels.

The important thing is that each person in the band does the following: 1) Set up quick; 2) Stay organized - have your crap together; 3) Get things set up the way they're going to be when you play and then leave them that way; 4) Most important: Pay attention and be ready to do whatever the sound guy asks you to do.

Between soundcheck and playing, especially when it's hours between?

Whatever you want. Don't get drunk or otherwise messed up. Check with the people running the venue to make sure you know where you need to be and what time you need to be there, and then do whatever you want. If you're counting on people you know to come to the show and be an important part of your audience, or if you have a fan club or an e-mail list or a street team or whatever, you should spend the time before the show rallying those troops - make calls, send messages, etc. It's also a good idea to get to know people around the venue - whether it's fans, people running things, or whatever. The more people there are who think you're a great person the better off you'll be. But remember what Carnegie said: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

Do places ever let you go over your allotted time slot if you are the headliner?

I've usually been able to squeeze in one more song if I've been cool to the sound guy throughout the evening. You'll have to feel that out, though. There's nothing worse than having the sound shut down on you during your last song because you disobeyed the sound guy who told you you were done.

Is there anything I should do with regard to the venue management or anything?

Meet them, be cool to them, and work out all details of the show - particularly any payment by them or anything they're expecting from you - ahead of time in explicit detail. Assume nothing. Anything you assume will end up going their way, not yours.

What's the best practice for selling things like CDs and posters outside after the show?

A lot of venues have a merch table or merch area for that, and they can tell you how, when, and who can work it. It helps to have a friend man the merch table, but it helps even more if you're behind it talking to people immediately after the show. Figure out a way to include in your banter toward the end of your set to thank the audience for being there, tell them that you've got a new CD for sale (don't call it an "EP" since most people don't know what that means) as well as other cool stuff and that you will be at the table where that's being sold and would love to talk to anybody who wants to stop by and chat. Then at the end of your set, get your stuff taken down, loaded out, etc. as fast as you can so that you can actually be at the merch table right away.

What's an acceptable price per song for a demo EP? What about bracelets? 8x11 posters?

Remember: You're not selling CDs and merchandise to make money. You're selling it to get your name out there and build a following. So sell it all for as cheap as you can. Can you give the CDs away for free? Then do it. Can you sell them for $1? Great. Do that. If I told you about an awesome band you'd never heard before and maybe showed you a youtube video of them playing live but didn't play you anything from their actual album, how much would you pay for the CD you hadn't heard from the band you didn't really know? That's how much you should charge. I like the Rolling Stones because lots of people played their music for me for free for years and years and people let me make tapes from their CDs back when that was done. That's how people will get to know and love you, too: They'll get it for free and like it that way. If it's impossible to get your music for free, you're not going to build a following.

How can I put on the best show (I have things down musically) possible, sell things outside the best possible, make the best impression on the crowd and the venue?

1. Be prepared - musically, logistically, physically, etc.
2. Talk to people. Be cool. Be nice. Be humble and gracious.
3. Treat the audience like an audience, not like a bunch of friends who came to see you play. That means you don't call out specific people by name to thank them. You're a performer. Perform. Everybody wants to be there for the new next huge thing before it gets huge. And everybody wants to find out to their great surprise that the big star they came to see is down-to-earth, humble, and approachable. Find a way to give them both of those experiences at the same time.
4. Practice your stage banter and between-songs transitions and behavior over and over again ahead of time. The performance is not the songs you're playing. It's the whole show. Practice the whole show. Perform the whole time. Draw the audience in and take them on a journey. Or whatever.
5. Don't get drunk or otherwise messed up before, during, or after the show. Be cool, man.
6. Don't forget to tell the audience your name or the name of your band. Do it several times. Do it at the very beginning and at the very end of your set. You will forget to do this if you don't practice it. Practice it. A lot.
7. I, personally, don't like being told the names of all the songs. But that's just me. If you've got one that you consider your "big single" or whatever, then tell them the name of that one. But I like to hear it at the end of the song rather than the beginning. But that's just me.

What should I bring that I might forget - capos, cords, wires, water, picks, what else?

Bring two of everything that you absolutely cannot live without. For example, you don't need to bring two amps (though it doesn't hurt if you can). But do you have two guitars? Bring both. Do you have a pedal rig that requires you to have two cables? Bring two more cables. Can you live without the pedalboard? Great! Then you don't need to bring an extra one. Do your pedals run on batteries or from an adapter? Make sure you have the adapter and bring a power strip and an extension cord in case the house power outlets are too far or something. And bring extra batteries. Bring an extra guitar strap that you like and that works. And bring extras of the stuff your bandmates always forget. I'm not naming any names, but there's a guy in my band who always forgets a tuner and cables, so I always bring an extra. It drives me up a wall that he knows he can rely on me for it, but not as much as it would drive me up a wall to not be able to play.

Strings: Change your strings the morning of the day of the gig. Stretch them out. Play them for long enough that they won't be stretchy and having tuning problems during the gig.

Wirecutters. Because you cannot cut a guitar string with your teeth or a pocket knife or your car keys at the last minute when your string breaks in the middle of your set, even if all you have to cut is the winding from one of the wound strings. Trust me. I have the chipped tooth to prove it.

Fingernail clippers, band-aids, and duct tape. Really, gaffer's tape is a lot better than duct tape. So bring that instead if you can. But it's expensive.

what's the best way to attempt to get good video and audio of this show on one singular device - i.e. no boom mics will be happenin

I've had really bad luck with recordings off the board, and much better luck with iPhone video and audio than with any other single device I've used yet. That's at super loud rock shows and electronic shows, though, so if you're doing a quiet folk show or something you might have different results. Recordings from the board tend to have mix and EQ problems owing to the fact that what the audience hears is a combination of the house system and the actual sound of drums, amps, etc., so the from-the-board recording tends to have, um, problems.
posted by The World Famous at 1:28 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh - and if you play any covers, please choose covers that do not go on very long. Covers get old faster than originals. A band that opened for us a few years ago sounded fantastic and had great material. Then they closed their set with a 15-minute version of "Midnight Rambler" and everyone in the place was so ready for them to just be done that it ruined their whole show. Be careful.
posted by The World Famous at 1:32 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some great answers here. As far as getting both good audio and video on one device, we've been getting a lot of use out of our Zoom Q2HD. These are built specifically for good quality audio, so they are great for recording live performances. (It's great for recording rehearsals too, good way to prep for the big gig!)

There are plenty of better video cameras out there, but typically their audio quality is pretty terrible unless you start messing with external mics and such. For about $200 we've gotten a ton of use out of the Zoom so far.
posted by platinum at 2:27 PM on January 8, 2013


Lots of good advice here, I'll only include the things that I think are important.

1 - Always be on time, be ready on time, and finish on time. If you are playing at a bar, and your band is getting people to dance and buy drinks, they may want you to play longer, but other than that, it is almost always the case that playing past your allotted time will be a bad thing.

2 - The sound guy/girl is trying to get the best sound in the house, and that is drastically different than the sound on stage. Always be helpful to the sound people, even if you aren't sure about what they are asking. If they ask you to turn down your amps, for the love of god turn down your amps. I don't care how good you think your tube amp sounds when it's cranked, if it's too loud than it makes the whole band sound bad.

3 - Be nice to everyone, and if someone gets an attitude with you, just find a way to move past it and get some space. You will never be remembered fondly for being an ass, and reputation is an important thing in the music world.

4 - If you want to put on the best show possible, than rehearse your show. This is different than rehearsing your music. Set yourself up at the rehearsal space so that you are in the same position you'll be in on stage (typically drummer behind the singer, guitar and bass and keys to the sides, etc.) Play through your set as if you were performing it, including the jumping around, banter, back to back dueling guitar solos, etc. The final rehearsal should have just as much energy as if you were playing in front of a packed house. This is the only way to really feel comfortable on stage, and to know if something is or isn't working.

5 - Don't stress over mistakes. You will likely screw something up during the show. 95% of people won't even notice, and the people who do notice will forget about it right away. If you stress out when you make a mistake, though, the rest of your performance will suffer, and that is what people will remember. If there is a big mistake that stops the show, make a joke out of it and carry on.
posted by markblasco at 2:48 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm printing out markblasco's comment and giving it to all my bandmates. I'm not even kidding.

If they ask you to turn down your amps, for the love of god turn down your amps. I don't care how good you think your tube amp sounds when it's cranked, if it's too loud than it makes the whole band sound bad.

This!!!

And if you think your tube amp has better tone when turned up louder, ask the sound guy if he's cool with you turning it around facing the back of the stage so it can get as hot as you like it and still not ruin the mix. Because it. will. ruin. the. mix.

5 - Don't stress over mistakes. You will likely screw something up during the show.

Yes!!!!

Watch this video of Nirvana playing Teen Spirit live for allegedly the first time and listen to Kurt completely ruin the guitar solo. Did it matter? Hell no.
posted by The World Famous at 3:00 PM on January 8, 2013


I also like markblasco's comment. One thing that stands out to me is that many of the venue staff you'll be working with are there, in part, to help you, but they do not work for you. They do this all the darn time and will be focused on keeping everything running smoothly. If there's something unusual you want that you think will improve the show, by all means work with the crew to figure out what can be achieved, but there's no point in flipping out if something isn't coming out exactly the way you want it. If the issue is important, by all means be assertive, but keep everyone in problem-solving mode so that everyone's focus stays on producing the best show.

The only way to make certain something will happen at your gig is to do it yourself and/or to have it included in your contract em and to be enough of a big shot that you can get away with walking out if it doesn't happen. That's not the case here (and you're an asshole unless you try to pull that card except for absolutely critical life safety issues anyway), so you'll have to rely on cooperation. Submitting your needs and requests in advance will help greatly. You don't need to produce a complicated set of specs if your needs are simple, but if they don't have the information already, a basic, simple, and professional document with all your contact information, list of musicians and instruments, inputs to the sound system, desired stage setup, and any other requests will be appreciated. Don't worry if it all goes out the window later though.

Let the sound guy know in advance about significant points in your set that will affect his work. If your bassist is going to produce a Chinese Violin out of nowhere or your quiet acoustic number abruptly turns into heavy death metal, it's going to be a lot better for everyone if you discuss that first.

Also, be clear with the venue staff on the guest list, drink tickets, who's allowed backstage, etc... You don't want security keeping out your BFF if you need him/her to get ready, and you also don't want them letting your obnoxious cousin backstage so he can get drunk and aggravate you.
posted by zachlipton at 3:43 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


what's the best way to attempt to get good video and audio of this show on one singular device - i.e. no boom mics will be happening. Like camera, videocamera, iSomething.

Depends what you mean by "good" and I'm not joking even a little bit. Good as in good enough? For....what, exactly? Because what you want to do with the video will greatly impact what counts as good.*

But I'm a video guy. It would be like me asking you how to write good music. You & I would disagree on even how to define the term.

As stated above, getting even tolerable sound from the board is iffy. Sometimes the sound guy will just forget to plug you in, or an infinite number of other things can go wrong. One time I set up my digital audio recorder to take a line out from the board. Levels were great during sound check but everything was clipped during the show. Ruined audio.

If you are simply looking to have a keepsake to play back for your friends or to see how the show looked, anything will get that job done. (Get the camera on a solid base --tripod or monopod -- rather than handheld, unless you really dig the shaky-cam look, and the smaller the camera the easier it is to shake, wobble & roll.)

The scale goes up from there. All the way up.

* For an example of what I consider a good video of live performances go here.
posted by trinity8-director at 6:15 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


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