4 Golden Rules of Pre-Gig Etiquette

Those hours before you go onstage matter.

Ultimate Guitar
So you've rehearsed hard and put together an epic set. You've promoted the balls off your gig, got loads of your friends coming. You're dressed to impress, you've gone through your pre-gig checklist and your merch is looking sweet and ready to go.

That's you pretty much set, right?


You've still got the pre-gig ritual to go through.

"What pre-gig ritual?" I hear you ask. Well, it's not what most people do, which is standing around twiddling their thumbs.

There are rules to abide during those pre-show hours, rules that will help you to make the most out of your gig experience and stay on side with the people that make a difference to the quality of your performance.

Heed them, and you'll find that you get a lot more out of the time before your gig than you thought was possible

Talk to Other Bands

While you're hanging out with your band before a show, it's easy to become a clique. Your bandmates are some of the people that you're closest to and you already spend a lot of time together - it's very tempting to huddle in the corner pre-gig and shoot the shit like you always do.

But, not interacting with other bands is a cardinal sin of pre-gig etiquette, and you're damaging your rep by avoiding them.

Pre-gig load-ins and soundchecks might seem like the mostly boring, thumb-twiddling periods that come before a show, but they're a great opportunity for networking. Striking up conversations with other bands, getting to know them and their interests is useful to you because it can lead to more shows, as well as useful contacts such as photographers, engineers and local press.

You've already got a common ground with folks in other bands; you play music, probably of a similar style given that you're on a bill together. So don't be afraid to strike up a conversation and make friends. Chances are it'll pay off in dividends.

Get to Know the Soundman

When it comes to getting the most out of your performance, having a good working relationship with the soundman is essential.

Because, while many bands like to think that the quality of the performance is down to the quality of their playing, the guy or gal moving the faders at the back of the venue determines whether you live or die on stage.

So take a moment to introduce yourself before your soundcheck - preferably a moment when they're not in the middle of soundchecking another band - and establish a connection with them before you start.

When you're getting your levels on stage, be courteous, be amenable and listen to what they say. Make sure you thank them afterwards.

Some of you will be reading this and thinking that what I'm saying is really obvious. While I once thought that as well, the amount of bands I've seen in recent years who got off on the wrong foot with the sound guy has dumbfounded me.

Remember folks, it only takes one fader slip to turn the house sound from sensational to shit. And trust me, if you're on good terms with the soundman, fader slips very rarely happen.

Set-up Your Gear

Please, please, please don't be the band that strands around idly for two hours, only to spend 45 mins frantically setting up your equipment when you're told it's time for soundcheck.

Part of being a professional and courteous to other bands is making sure that things run as smoothly as possible. Having your equipment ready to go by soundcheck avoids delays, means that the show starts on time and that any other band soundchecking after you gets the full time they've been allocated.

So, before you get called up onto the stage, set-up as much of you gear as you possibly can.

Put cymbals on stands, attach pedals to pedalboards, but batteries in things that need batteries and tune things that need tuning.

If you don't have any gear to set-up (singers of the world take note), you can still make yourself useful. Set up your band's merch table, do the aforementioned networking with soundpeople/other bands. There will always be things to do, so make sure you do them.

When it comes to pre-gig time, the pros don't stand around like lemons. Neither should you. Be proactive and things will run smoothly for you and everyone else.

Don't Get Wasted

If you're standing around for a couple hours waiting for the gig to kick off and the bar is open, the temptation is always there to get the drinks in. My advice? Don't.

Getting wasted before a show is a big no, no of pre-gig behavior. Yet, the amount of bands that still do it baffles me. I don't know whether it's out of boredom, pretentions of rockstardom or what, but the temptation for bands to get completely tanked before going onstage is as pervasive now as it has ever been.

And you know what?

Every single band that I've ever seen go onstage wasted has sucked balls.

They've also been completely unbearable to deal with pre-show. All that getting wasted served to do was undermine their performance and make them look like a bunch of unprofessional idiots.

Leave the rockstar pretentions in the 1980s where they belong. Keep a clear head before you go onstage and save the beers for after the show. You wouldn't show up to your day job completely off your face. If you're even half-way serious about being a musician, the same principle applies to your gigs.

By Alec Plowman

23 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Absolutely agree. Everything there is important but for me rule #1 has always been "You've got to (get someone to) blow the sound guy!" Not literally maybe (although it might not hurt) but the point remains that they can ruin you and there isn't shit you can do about it.
    You forgot Warming up, Very very important!
    That's kinda what I was thinking too, I'm not touring (yet, I hope), but I most definitely wouldn't play live without at least a few minutes of warmup. Still, great article (as usual).
    You should make an addendum to this for young bands on tour for the first time. While this article is a good start you missed a few things that bands on tour need to know that nobody ever mentions. 1. Talk to other FANS! Hang out at the merch booth, go to the bar (order a coke if having a beer isn't your thing), hang out at the entrance and talk to people coming in, go have a smoke and talk to the smokers. People may not remember your set, but they will remember you if you are a cool guy (or girl). 2. Have a pre-soundcheck list for the sound guy. Don't expect him to remember everything for every band. List how many drums, guitars, vocals, etc and where on stage they set up. Makes his job easier between bands so he's not asking the wrong people the details of your band. 3. Tune your fucking instruments. If you are opening for a national headliner, or are in the middle of a multi-band bill you may not get a soundcheck. Its life on the road, deal with it. So the only thing you can do is trust your amp settings so your not fucking with them through the whole show, and make sure you are in tune. Especially drummers. Changes in temperature really effect drum tuning, so taking your drums from the cold trailer to the hot club has definitely effected your drum sounds. So for gods sake, tune them up before you hit the stage. Goes for other instruments as well. Nothing worse than the lights coming on and the guys are still standing there tuning. 4. Watch your gear. I have seen bands lose more gear because they just don't pay attention. Have somebody watch the gear before you go on stage, and as soon as you are off stage put everything back in its cases and all together in one area. Have somebody watching it at all times until you can get it loaded back into the van. Thieves target bands on tour because they know the band usually has expensive gear and aren't paying attention. 5. Don't get wasted! Just like the original article says.
    This series are probably the best articles on UG at the moment. You can start a dozen great bands without knowing your scale harmonizations, octave patterns or the tritone scale, but the tips on doing successful gigs is key to getting somewhere.
    My short version: have fun and don't be an arrogant cunt, then everybody helps you, including cosmic karma. Be especially nice to the sound person, other bands and other people involved in the organization, by accepting that: a. you are not "whoever is the superstars of your genre", b. you don't need recording studio sound quality, c. most of the population (thus, your audience) is tone-deaf to varying degrees and cannot hear the subtle imperfections you worry about. But, don't be an asshat and let go of everything, because: a. you are you, a pretender to the throne (even if only in your mind), out to enjoy yourself and show the world who you are and how you feel, b. good mix is one half of good music and you have to be heard "right" if your music stands for something, c. the audience is there for you (and may have paid to attend), you owe them your best effort. Be courteous, helping and accommodating to everyone to get the same. One exception: don't lend any equipment to anyone appearing before you (and then you should limit lending them only to people you really know well appearing after you). One on-stage tip you'd think would be obvious to every musician, amateur or professional, but I see is not: don't ever stop or hesitate when you've messed up, continue as if it was intended. The audience rarely notices a fault or complain about it when they do, but they certainly do notice when the music stops.
    Good point on not lending people things. Can seem to contradict the "don't be a cunt" tip, but will probably be for the best anyway.
    While it is important to get to know the sound engineer, I don't agree with the "fader slip". I would never put my own career as an engineer at risk just because a band is made up of assholes. You can get away with bad attitude at the top, but you will never get to the top with bad attitude. Therefore, I can mix the band as good as possible and walk away with my reputation intact, and I won't have to worry about working with those assholes again. Tl;dr Don't make bad career choices because someone else does.
    That's good man, but unfortunately I have met some of these "fader slip" engineers. It's generally happened to me when opening for another band who obviously get their sound guy to make the openers look shit and then they sound incredibly in comparison. It's so painfully obvious, but I know there are some good ones out there as well.
    In other words, you have met some childish and unprofessional engineers. The problem here is the attitude "anyone can be a sound engineer", which leads to these kinds of situations.
    sound check, sound check, sound check. I've seen way too many opening bands that had god awful mixing.
    That's not the band's fault though...
    It is when they don't sound check and spend the first half of their gig sound checking.
    The engineer schedules the sound check so that everything's ready when it starts and that it's done a good while before showtime. If the band doesn't show up it's their fault, otherwise it's always the sound guy.
    Goes without saying, but you should probably hit the head prior to playing as well
    In 2012 I joined a Thrash Metal Band called "Exträct"! At our first gig, there was none sober on stage, and it was not only alcohol that was rushing through our veins -->>> although it was our first gig, we had the biggest audience on this evening Months later, same location: We competed at a battle of bands. It was 3 P.M. when we started to drink, yes we totally sucked at 8 P.M. And yes we played more than we should have done, but in that moments all we wanted to do is to play. We sucked, the mic-phone-stand broke into 2 pieces, i almost fell off stage.... we knew we lost the battle, it was a competition to play on a small local festival. BUT we made the FIRST FUCKING PLACE! And started screaming like hell,.... Those are great memories, and it sometimes is a hell of fun to jam with other people totally high or something.. but i quit that months ago. Being sober on stage is much better, u remember the gig the next day, you dont destroy equipment falling into it.. Write music in the state u want, but perform it sober!!!
    You forgot "Be on time or early". It pissed us off so much when another band would show up during our set and proceed to load in while we are playing. Pushing amps and gear past us right in front of the stage! Happened more than once. #1 is great advice. We made many friends in other bands and it led to plenty of show sharing. We would bring them to our town for a gig, and they would get us on the bill for a gig in their town.