Rules to Take the Stage By –

This is a list of rules you should memorize and live by when performing at clubs or other public places. I have compiled this list after years of watching acts do stupid things that really hurt them, and ultimately lead to their downfall. Don’t make these mistakes.

  • Know your material. Don’t start and stop. Be prepared to fall down, be heckled, have equipment fall over. Be sure you can sing on key without the monitors. Know what to do if the monitor mix is bad or cuts out entirely.
  • Know how long you have to play. Don’t run over. That’s amateurish. Don’t tell the audience “we have 3 more for you” only to be told “only 2 more” by the soundman. Play too little and the fans will be thrilled when you announce an extra song, kind of like an encore.
  • Make sure the room knows who you are. Introduce the band name before you start, or immediately after the first song. You have to mention the name 7 times before you’re off. Similarly, use the CD name with the band name. Mention song titles as you go. Point out which are on the CD for sale. Mention the web site. Mention the mailing list. Mention the mailing list again. Each time use the band name.
  • Getting names on your mailing is the key mission of the evening. Playing a great show and selling CDs or T-shirt are just part of the process. In the end, gaining the new fan and their contact info is the bottom line.
  • Know the names of the acts you are playing with that night. Mention them by name, and the order or times they’ll play. Remind your fans to stay. (This should be reinforced in your email newsletter too – stay and build a scene…). Don’t just say “stick around” or flub the other band’s name. Thank the other band for sharing the bill. Promote them from the stage and they’ll want to share the bill with you again, and they’ll remind their fans how wonderful you just were.
  • Don’t bitch about the sound or soundman. Most are brain-dead. Accept it and work with them. Above all, leave your egos at home. Be professional. Tip the bar folk well and, while onstage, remind your fans to do so too.

  • Set up – you should never let more than 5 minutes elapse between the end of the act before you and starting yourself. If that means you have to help them load out, so be it. Don’t lose the energy in the room while you set up.
  • Load out – Divide and Conquer. Just after you play is a crucial time. Your fans and potential new fans need you. Don’t get mired in moving equipment or talking to the other bands. Send your frontman and chief sideman (lead guitar, for example) into the crowd to meet fans, shake hands, point out the mailing list, mention CDs or T-shirts. Have the backline guys do the rapid load out. Once the gear is out of the way, it can be gotten later.
  • Have a visible presence. You must have 2 banners with your name and logo on it. One should be visible behind the band as you play. Be sure it is not obscured by your heads. Don’t use a kick head for this reason. The other should be over your merchandise table to attract buyers/fans.
  • Know your fans. Get to know their personal details. Go beyond names to significant others, children, jobs, personal problems. The more you know, the more they will feel bonded to your band.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have an industry insiders come to one of your shows. Don’t rush up to them before you play. If they introduce themselves, thank them for coming, tell them you hope they enjoy the show, offer them a drink (say, “can I get you something to drink?” NOT “wanna beer”. You never know who is a recovering alcoholic). After the show, send a band member to them immediately. Don’t wait for them to approach you, they’ll feel neglected. Thank them for coming, tell them you hope they enjoyed the show, offer them a drink.
  • Guest list. Never let an industry person pay the cover. That’s what the guest list is for (OK, you can use it for your parents too, on occasion). If there is no list, prepay the venue the cover charge for that guest.
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4 responses to “Rules to Take the Stage By –

  1. Some of these would seem like a no brainer, but there are definitely some good points well worth considering… Thanks for posting this… I’ll be referencing it definitely next time I have a gig to play.

  2. alls ive ever found on the internet is a bunch of wanabe producers promoters agents ect seems like there is so much phony people out there in the music industry they say my music is good but either they want a ridiculios fee or they kinda like dissapear into the wild blue yonder im so sick of it im not going to pay you nothing if you like my music send me $50.000 in advance royalties and we will talk i have a bmi account had it for years would like to get to use it some day soon so what acctualy can you do for my band i dont want a letter that tells me how to gig and such we have played enough now we know what to expect we just want some honest to goodness real music proffesionals take us under their wing and help us to fly you know what i mean
    yours dougy dew

    • Hi Doug,

      Thanks for the comment. I have a few thoughts for you: First, if you’re waiting for a $50k advance, you’re gonna be quite blue in the face. It’s not happening anymore.

      Second, touring is a key part of the fan building machine. You’ve only “done it enough” if you have more fans than you need. When is that ever gonna be? Not.

      Third, your words betray an attitude and a lack of professionalism. I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences so far with producers and promoters. Don’t vent in public. I don’t think I’d want anything to do with your band given how you project yourself. I suggest you re-read my article with an eye to learning about coming across well.

      Last, you apparently don’t really understand the music business; as evidenced by your remark about BMI. You’ll “get to use” your BMI account when you’ve done something that generates revenue from public performance. Examples include radio play, jukebox play, licensing for TV/Film, or even your own gigs at clubs. Talk to BMI to find out how to start with the last item – you have to file for it, but there is money for playing your own music!

      Good luck!

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