Don’t Act Like an Amateur Band

A while ago, I wrote a piece about The Unspoken Rules of How to Treat a Touring Band. Basically, it was some rules on courtesy between bands show share a gig. After going on a few more tours myself, I wanted to share some additional advice on how to make shows run a little more smoothly and how you can be a little more professional in your gigging.

Here are some assorted tips on the pro’s do it:

  • Reduce Transition Times Between Sets: Ever hear of the term “dead air?” It’s a phrase used in TV and radio that refers spots with no sound, it’s a broadcaster’s nightmare because it drives the audience away. Long set changes during shows do the same thing to the crowd. Use some common sense to keep the show flowing. Bands, help each other out by moving gear on and off stage between sets. Drummers, don’t remove cymbals from your stands while you’re still on stage. Carry entire pieces off, then breakdown off-stage. When possible, line the amps for the night ahead of time.
  • Be Efficient During Sound Check: Get your sound check done as quickly as possible. Most sound guys check in the same order (drums, bass, guitars, keyboards or tracks, vocals) so have every person ready in advance and not messing around on their instruments when someone else is checking. Most sound guys hate unnecessary noise coming from the stage like guitar players trying to play to overhead music, people testing their stage volume for the 10th time, and drummers banging on their drums. Only play when it’s needed.
  • Leave Them Wanting More: One of my pet peeves (both as a promoter as well as an artist) is when other bands play for too long. It’s almost as if you think playing a longer set will make people like you more. It won’t. You always want to leave the crowd wanting more (so they’ll buy a CD), not bored and tired of your band (and walk out). Plus, it’s disrespectful to every band going on after you. When you’re at a festival, this rule is even more important to follow.
  • Less Talk, More Rock: Keep time between songs minimal. People are there to see you play, not tell jokes, stories, or chat up the crowd. Don’t announce the song titles before you play every song, nobody cares. Don’t announce upcoming shows, direct them to the merch area to sign up on your mailing list or pick up a flyer instead.
  • How Long You Should Play For: Speaking of set times, if you are unsure, base your set time on how many acts are playing (or ask the sound guy/stage manager): One band (2-4 hours), two band (1-2 hours each), 3 bands (45 minutes each), 4 bands (25-30 minutes each), 5 bands (no more than 25 minutes). Remember to leave time for tuning, talking, or dealing with stage mishaps.
  • Keep Your Stuff Tidy: Another thing that venues hate: when bands spread all of their gear all over. Break things down and keep aisles clear. This isn’t your bedroom. If you’re blocking an exit, access to the bar, or in the way of another act getting ready to get on stage, you are interfering with business. That won’t sit well with anyone.
  • Show Up on Time: Musicians have a bad reputation for showing up late. Be the exception. It’s better to be early than late. If you don’t know when to show up, ask. A good rule of thumb for most venues is at least two hours before doors open.
  • Go With the Flow: Sometimes other people don’t show up on time, other times they don’t show up at all. Be ready to go at a moment’s notice or to have your set time changed. Yes, it sucks, but deal with things in a positive manner and don’t burn bridges by acting like a moron.
  • Set Up Merchandise Every Time: Even if the crowd is sparse, you never know if someone wants a CD. Always be ready. Make your display look awesome and have someone there as soon as you are done playing.
  • Follow Up: After the show, send a follow up message to the promoter, other bands, and the people show showed up. Thank them.

A lot of these things seem like common sense and many acts don’t realize that they’re doing these things but the reality is that us promoters see this happen every night. I watch approximately 1,000 bands every year and it’s sad that at least 80% of them (many of them actively touring bands) are still learning the ropes on these basic concepts. Step up your game, act like a pro and venues will begin treating you much better as well. Besides, you’ll find that you’ll have more fun too because you won’t be stressing about long set times, changeovers, being late, or the other problems associated with bad performance behavior.


  1. Brilliant! Be decent to the people you’re working with and make sure you have a killer show. Promoters are excellent resources when it comes to band advice! 🙂

  2. Phil Johnson says:

    These are all really good tips Simon. And I too have seen them ignored again and again by bands who should know better.

    The one thing I’ll differ with though is the “less talk” tip. I think a better way to put it might be “Be entertaining.” The audience is there to be entertained. What form of entertainment that takes doesn’t matter so much as long as they have a good time. Of course, that doesn’t mean worthless “Are you ready to rock!” statements and such. But telling the story behind some of the songs helps people connect with them more. Especially since most lyrics are unintelligible in many venues. Helping people connect with the songs like that can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of the performance. Dolly Parton and Adele are great examples.

    Talking to the audience (not ‘at’) and joking around with them fosters a lot of connection. And in the end, that’s really what people are there for, the connection. It will also separate an artist from the rest of the bands just blasting away at the crowd for 45 minutes and hoping they “got it”.

    • Simon Tam says:

      Hi, I agree- it can be a good way to engage with the audience. The main problem is that most bands don’t know how to talk with the audience or captivate them…so they end up telling cheesy jokes or rambling about things that have little worth sharing. If it’s quick, emotional, impactful then by all means yes! If it is simply another song title, then I’ll pass

      • Phil Johnson says:

        Totally agree.. The key is not to waste words and be even more engaging that when you’re playing. It takes practice just like the music. 🙂 One of my pet peeves is when an artist announced some cryptic title and DOESN’T explain what it means.

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  4. CLS says:

    People aren’t stupid they can tell if a band is well rehearsed or if they are up there jacking around… most people don’t want to take the time and learn a song right… I’m a Bassist running my own 9 piece band and if you let people get away with it they will… I hear every note that is played and if there is a note off somewhere I stop the song and get that part right before going on… band members are bad about half doing songs…. if you don’t respect yourself or the music you will sound like sh*** Professional players care about how they look and sound… and they make sure every note is right from the Drummer to the vocalist… I was a professional touring bassist for years with major singers and players and I learned the art of music…while I was on tour with George Duke he told me it’s the spirit of the music that makes it all work.. and you must respect the Music in order to engage the Spirit…. keep on pushin

  1. […] that you make flyers. You should already know that. However, you might want to read this article: Don’t Act Like an Amateur Band. It’ll help you keep getting […]

  2. […] In closing, I’d like to give you a couple more articles with more useful tips and help here and here. […]

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