By Vanessa Markov
October 2015 Update: The attention and support this article has received has been ongoing and overwhelming to say the least. Due to popular demand, the title has been updated from Canadian bands to all bands. Thank you very, very much to everyone who has shared and taken a stand for the improvement of our community.
(If you’ve already read the article, scroll to the bottom for some more amazing tips by James Arsenian of The Big James Morning Show!)
It took me a long time to muster up the courage to write this, but some things need to be said and I’m willing to take the hit if it means somewhere down the road these words will mean something to anyone.
Before I get started, I want to send a message to every band that does make the below a priority to their business: You are gems, leaders, and examples. (Also, call me.)
Starting out working with bands and promoters nearly 7 years ago, I started noticing early on that a lot of artists think basic band and show etiquette is optional. Technically it is, but to the detriment of your soon to be nonexistent career. We all know or have heard of artists who are total dickbags that get away with murder because they’re “so good”. Using that as an excuse to follow suit makes you a weak minded asshole. There, I said it. Get off the stage.
The reason why I can hardly contain my frustration over this anymore is because I’ve been personally embarrassed one too many times by bands that I vouch for. I am at wit’s end when I put time and sincere effort into an artist only to later hear them screaming at the sound tech or talking shit about other bands (to name only a few of the horrible things I’ve had to apologize for over the years). Like most, I had to learn the hard way not to support or deal with people like these, but I also see some of these artists are more genuinely clueless as to the consequences of their behaviour than they are malicious, and that a lot of it stems from personal bad habits.
But regardless of whether you’re a jaded jerkoff trying to beat the system or an amateur with mild egomania, this article is intended to squash this shit before it’s too late; or, to those who are wondering why no one will book or play with you anymore, explain to you exactly why.
We live in an era where everyone and their dog’s latest turd can play the guitar, so being an excellent musician is not going to give you enough of a leg up to survive in a scene that is starting to show signs of maturity. The Toronto music community is full of brilliant entrepreneurs and passionate artists with incredibly kind and dedicated souls, who’ve been around since (at least) the 90s and have seen/done/learned a lot. These people learned that there’s no such thing as “making it on your own” in this industry, and need you to learn from their mistakes instead of ignoring the facts for short term gain. These are the people who are trying REALLY fucking hard to help you succeed. Music is a community and a culture, one that is becoming more rewarding and accessible with each passing generation, and a lot of you just don’t seem to understand or respect that.
Mark my words: evolution is making it so that, if you fail to sincerely comply with one or more of the following universal rules, your path is going to be a painful and confusing one, and you’re doing nothing more than undoing the hard work of your peers. Worse, if you disagree with any of them, your career is already sitting on Death Row.
Rule #1 – Respect the clock.
This means everything from practice times, to load in times, to set times and deadlines. The easiest and fastest way to establish yourself as a flake is to disrespect the time of others. I know far too many musicians who think schedules are mere guidelines. Unfortunately for those people, the rest of the world operates on the notion that time is precious, so you’ll have to excuse our utter intolerance for making us wait for you to show up whenever the fuck you feel like it, if at all. There are those who are never late unless something unexpected actually does happen (i.e. almost never), and people who are always late and have a new excuse every time. You should take note that no one buys your excuses except yourself – it’s just that few actually care to argue with someone who refuses to accept responsibility. Your perpetual lateness is due only to being unprepared and just generally lazy at heart. If you don’t learn to identify and correct bad habits, consequences will manifest themselves in unexpected ways.
Here’s an idea! If you have people in your band who keep showing up late for shows or practice, start docking 25% of the next payout for each half hour missed, along the lines of what happens at a “real” job (you want to be taken seriously, right?). Welcome to the real world.
Rule #2 – Respect bar staff.
The amount of times I’ve seen a musician, groupie, or bitchy girlfriend needlessly giving attitude to a bartender or doorman is enough to make me question humanity. I get it, there are some mean ass bouncers and bartenders out there (with shocking, scary experiences of my own), but I’m not talking about those few and far between. Nearly every time I see bar staff getting flack, it’s from some 20-something douche making a screwface over being carded or searched. Newsflash assholes: they’re doing their JOB so you can get drunk and party in peace. And for those of you that always have an excuse for being rude to staff and strangers, you need to recognize the double standard in your reasoning. You can’t expect someone to offer respect when the first impression you offer is attitude, especially when you walk into their workplace and want quality service. So if you’re going around thinking that there are a lot of shitty bar staff in this city, the truth is the problem is YOU – not them.
Rule #3 – Mind your guests.
This goes hand in hand with #2. When you invite guests to a show, you are responsible for their behaviour both toward the bar staff and the other bands. Sound unfair? Tough shit! Mind your friends, families, girlfriends, boyfriends, and fans, because their actions will reflect on YOU. Guaranteed, if your personal guests are rude or belligerent, people will associate that behaviour with your band and that’s just bad for business. If you can’t trust someone to behave, leave them behind. I’ve lost a friend or two over this, but I sure as hell gained respect from my peers for making an effort to curate a friendly audience and network. They’re worth it.
Rule #4 – Respect other bands.
Regardless of whether you’re hosting a show in your hometown or invited to play in someone else’s hometown, you owe your utmost respect to the other bands upon arrival and until departure. Even – no, especially – if you’re not getting it in return. I’m really, really fucking tired of hearing things like “Well, why should we if….” This is not fucking daycare. Grow up and learn to be a setter of examples instead of a perpetuator of bullshit. Talk to the other bands, watch their sets, buy their shit if you like it, and thank the ever-loving crap out of them for playing with you. If you do it enough times, you’ll actually start to mean it. That’s when the magic happens.
Rule #5 – Respect the venue/gear.
This is just one long list of Don’ts. Don’t sneak in drugs or alcohol, don’t sneak in minors or try to negotiate their entry, don’t abuse the house equipment (knocking over stands and throwing mics around looks even more stupid when they don’t belong to you – dick), and don’t just toss your shit wherever you feel like it. Ask. Also, if a venue operates differently than what you’re used to, don’t argue. Just don’t.
Rule #6 – Respect the media.
This one pisses off my editor more than anything and for due cause. If you invite a journalist or media outlet to cover your show, it’s really pretentious (and shows your level of experience) to act as if you’re doing us a favour by preceding a request for coverage with “this is a great opportunity for your mag”. You know what “great” opps are for us? Major interviews and major tour access. This is when all of our unpaid writers get to bask in the glory of meeting or seeing their heroes in return for a well written piece, and it takes a shit ton of effort for us to get there. Supporting your indie band is a two-way benefit: we get to cut our teeth, and you get sincere support from a true music fan. Many of us are so deeply involved that being offered guest list is rarely an issue – it’s that we CHOOSE to write. Don’t get it twisted.
Also, if you end up not making it or canceling a gig for any reason, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to let us know! Again, we don’t get paid for this shit and don’t take kindly to lack of respect/organization when it costs us a night of needless travel.
Rule #7 – Cancellations are for emergencies only.
One band I worked with canceled a show nearly last minute because they forgot they had concert tickets to a major act. This is the epitome of irresponsibility. When you are provided a show date to confirm, this is your window to check ALL of your schedules. We’d rather wait for a guaranteed confirmation than have posters and events and set times drawn up only to change it several times or at the last minute. Your lack of professionalism not only costs us time and effort, it reflects poorly on us. This kind of screw up is as equally avoidable as being late, and can only be reasonably forgiven if it’s simply uncharacteristic of you. But if it’s a common occurrence, you just chopped your show opps in half.
When it comes to canceling practice, doing so the same day should only be in case of completely unavoidable obstacles. If the problem can be solved one or more ways, it is not grounds to cancel. Full blown no-shows are 100% unacceptable unless it’s a serious emergency…But what if you’re sick? One of the more experienced musicians I know recently said to me, and I quote, “How sick do you have to be to not want to get off your ass and do what you love for at least an hour? You better be pretty fucking sick.” Band practice is not a time to use the sniffles as an excuse to stay in bed. That’s laziness. (And if you’re really sick all the time, refer to #8).
Do your band mates a favour and ask yourself this honest question: have you ever lied to get out of practice? If so, you deserve to be fired or at the very least docked in pay. If you got away with it, it will come back to haunt you if you don’t learn your lesson now – it always does. You want to be a professional? Professionals are trustworthy. Showing up late every day, taking too many sick days, or playing hookey is grounds for dismissal at any job. Do yours by showing up on time, and only bail when you absolutely have to.
Rule #8 – Personal problems are not the band’s problems, they’re YOUR problems.
This is a big one and a very confusing matter for most. Everyone has their own battles to fight, but when your personal setbacks begin to regularly interfere with a band’s progress or stability, it is major grounds for dismissal. The sad part is so many musicians feel betrayed when their fellow members simply get fed up with playing therapy at every practice, and that’s because they never step out of their own self-absorbed universe long enough to see the effect it has on everyone else. It’s a touchy issue that gets even more complicated when you’re close friends. This is where accountability is most crucial. Whatever the cause of your personal stress, you have to understand one thing and one thing only: YOU have to be the one to determine the solution and make a commitment toward it before anyone – friends, family, band mates – can actually help. And if the problem can’t easily be solved, it makes more sense to suggest a leave of absence or friendly parting instead of forcing the band to decide for you.
As for those of you who are more prone to randomly shitting on everyone’s sunshine with pouty faces and heavy heels: You look like a jerk. Seriously. Nobody wants to be around that shit and I am speaking from experience. When I was 19, I walked into my reception job for maybe the third or fourth time in a major funk over something stupid, and my pissy mood made everyone feel uncomfortable instead of sympathetic. My supervisor took me outside and said only one thing before going back in, and I’ll never forget it:
“When you show up to work, you leave your personal problems at the door.”
I was insulted at the time because they were all friends and I felt disregarded, but they were all also a lot older than me and taught me pretty quickly that your job and personal life are separate to a point where transferring negative emotions to your coworkers (read: band mates) on company (read: practice) time is both disrespectful and counterproductive. It’s not about keeping your emotions to yourself, it’s about keeping them in check so you don’t transfer them to innocent people who are stuck with you for the time being, and knowing when and where it’s appropriate to unload. If you don’t know how to control your emotions, you are not yet fit to be in one of the most emotionally trying industries in the world.
Rule #9 – Tantrums are grounds for dismissal.
Pretty self-explanatory. This goes hand in hand with #8. If you’re a regular tantrum thrower, you are live-demonstrating severe emotional instability, and that creates anxiety and paranoia among the other members. There are enough unpredictable circumstances that can throw off a band at any level, and one of the members needlessly going apeshit in the middle of a set should NEVER be one of them. Again, learn to control your emotions and don’t join a band until you can.
Rule #10 – Your shift starts at load in and ends at load out.
This one sums up a lot of the above into one pretty picture. One of the most infuriating things a band can do when I book them is to show up for load in, disappear without notice until set time, and then fuck off as soon as they’re done playing. Rarely (and I mean RARELY) are there acceptable circumstances to do so, and it’s always, always the bands who make their situation known well in advance.
Give or take depending on different circumstances, this is what I consider ideal show protocol:
- Show up ON TIME for load-in.
- Introduce self to promoter/staff and get details on gear storage, set up, and sound check.
- Meet the sound tech, don’t forget their name.
- Load in and set up your merch table if you have one.
- If you have some time before doors, THIS is your opportunity to eat/explore/smoke/bang/get lost.
- Return for doors.
- Meet the other bands if you haven’t already and mingle with early comers.
- Watch the opening set whether you like it or not.
- As the night progresses, take turns with other members circulating the room and meeting people.
- If you’re in and out constantly to smoke, get to know the people at the door.
- Offer the sound tech a drink before and after you play.
- End your set ON TIME
- During and after your set, thank everyone who worked the show: promoter, bands, sound guy, door guy, bartenders, etc.
- Hang out by the merch table after you’ve loaded out. Don’t surround yourself with so many friends that fans are unable to approach you.
- Watch the headliner whether you like it or not.
- Ask the promoter if there’s anything you can do to help with teardown or clean up.
- Leave with money in your pocket, new fans, new friends, a bigger network, a relieved promoter, a happy bar staff, a show offer or two, and the sincere feeling of a job well done.
It’s all so doable. Do it.
I know there are a lot of people who are going to read this and think I’m talking about them. Rest assured I am. This article was at least 3 years in the making, with references as far back as 2009, so now you know it was never personal and that there are a fucking lot of you. Bits and pieces of these thoughts have bubbled up in recent fits of passion and rage, and now it’s all come out the way I intended. I feel so much better.
Man, this scene is such a precious thing. We all know it, we all feel it. Let’s stop abusing it and make it the best it can be, one less bad habit at a time.
This article is dedicated to all my amazing, hard-working friends in the industry and to all you jerks who keep saying I’m too nice.