I sure do spend a lot of time talking about non-audio topics. I guess it’s because I’ve worn different hats in this business. Sure, the sound-dude hat has always been the one that fit me best, and also the one that I’ve always worn – but even so.
There’s a certain point where a production tech starts to notice and internalize various other aspects of the business. Because we see so much of what goes on behind the scenes that are, themselves, behind OTHER scenes, audio and lighting craftspeople can develop a certain sense about how the show fits into a much bigger picture.
For me personally, this “dip” into the other aspects of the business was pretty deep…because I used to run an all-ages venue in Salt Lake. Like I said, my main role was to be an audio tech, but I also did all the booking, financial, general admin, and janitorial work. It was a BLAST, and I developed quite an appreciation for the “full spectrum” of the live-music biz.
I also developed quite an appreciation for bands that were great to work with. Concurrently, I began keeping a mental list of things that made me never want to see a band again, ever. This article is all about putting that list (or bits of it) into a written form. What’s odd about an article like this is that you wouldn’t think it would be necessary – you’d suppose that all of this is common sense. However, these issues do come up again and again, which suggests to me that maybe all of this ISN’T common sense.
…and please be assured that nothing in this article is meant to be “snarky.” I love bands, and I want you guys to succeed.
That sometimes means that things get a little pointed, though.
Also: Be aware that my opinions and perceptions may or may not reflect anyone else’s opinions and perceptions.
Shall we begin? Here’s how to influence people to not book you:
Bring Nobody To Your Show. Act Like It’s The Venue’s Fault.
Before you hit the roof, let me say that, yes, venues should update their calendars, do something to get the word out about upcoming shows, and just generally be a place where people want to go. If a venue has found a promotion avenue that seems to work, they should make sure that every show is announced through that channel.
At the same time, though, promotion isn’t magic. (That’s a concept that I repeat like a mantra these days.) If the venue has done its due diligence, and nobody cares enough to come to your gig, then laying the full measure of blame at the feet of “the room” is just jerkery. As far as I can tell, folks are very unlikely to go out to see some random act anymore. On any given night, “just getting there” is NOT half the fun for people anymore.
It’s not 1975, folks. People are laser-focused on what they want to do these days. If they don’t care about your act, then there’s probably no reason for them to visit the bar/ club/ theater/ whatever that you’re playing at.
If you don’t draw in the venue’s market, then no amount of venue promo is going to change that.
Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody will eventually book a room that their fans don’t want to visit. Everybody will have an off night. It’s inevitable, and I think most venues get that.
But if you “fail to convert,” and then start to publicly moan and groan about how the room didn’t do its part (when the room did what it’s done for successful nights), then you are going on my “don’t book these guys again” list.
Steal Or Damage Something…Or Have Fans Who Do
I once worked a show where a relatively spendy mic was on a stand in a backstage area. At the end of the show, the mic was gone – and the “geniuses” who took it were so clueless as to how to get it off the stand that they broke the stand.
I never found out who absconded with my microphone and busted my gear. It could have been the performers, or it could have been “the entourage.” (There was a point where it was hard to tell which group was which.)
Do you think I cared about who it was, exactly? Nope. Not a snowball’s chance. That group was very unlikely to play the room again. (The whole thing was unpleasant, not just getting robbed.)
Yes, accidents happen. Gear gets broken unintentionally. Also, there are bad apples to be found in the nicest groups of fans. Trust me, venue staff are aware of this.
However, gear does cost money and time to replace. It’s the same with the building we’re in, the accoutrements used to serve concessions or drinks, and everything else in the room. If you are intentionally abusing a mic stand, or threatening a monitor wedge with a beverage, you should consider yourself marked for “never coming back” status.
In the same way, if your fans are a pain in the venue staffs’ various body parts, or if your fans are an outright threat to the room’s property, you ain’t comin’ back. Again – one person being a fool is something that can be understood, but the consistent behavior of your fan base has a lot to do with whether or not you’re bookable. If a show with you and your followers consistently ends with something missing or broken, why would the venue want you back? No, you aren’t responsible for the behavior of every individual who comes to see you, but you ARE intimately connected to the general tolerability of your crowd.
If you and the people who follow you are a liability, then there are plenty of other acts that aren’t. They’ll get the nod.
(On the other side, though, being clear that you want your following to respect the venue goes a long way towards venue staff being more tolerant of shenanigans.)
Fail To Honor The Payout
If the room pays you what was agreed, in good faith, and you still get bent out of shape about it, then the booker might just think twice about doing battle with you again.
This applies at all levels.
I once had a touring act come through a venue, and they didn’t draw very well. The deal was that they would get 60% of the door, and the house would get 40%. (The venue didn’t sell drinks or anything else, so the only money for us was the door.) By “didn’t draw very well,” what I mean is that the house cut for the night was $4. (Yikes!)
After loadout, without a word, the band grabbed the entire stash of door money and bailed.
It wasn’t about the amount. I could live without having the $4. The problem was that we had made a deal, the band had suddenly decided it wasn’t good enough, and they took money that wasn’t theirs. I know they needed gas money. If they had asked, I’m pretty sure that I would have “recut” the deal to 100% and wished them well.
Instead, they didn’t honor their end of the agreement, and they stole money from me. Do you think I responded to their “booking manager’s” e-mails after that?
Look, it’s perfectly okay to wish you had made more money on a night. It’s even okay to say it. This isn’t about being happy when you aren’t. The key thing is, though, that acting like the venue screwed you over when YOU AGREED to the terms of the settlement is…well, unfair, unprofessional, and unlikely to endear you to the folks who work at the room. You want to negotiate? Go for it! Just do it at the right time, which is before you agree to appear.
Leave An Unwarranted Mess
So, your drummer got a little excited, and left a pile of wood shavings under the kit? It’s cool! We have a vacuum.
You accidentally spilled your drink when you were changing guitars? Stuff happens!
You threw food at each other, spat a fountain of beer over everything “because rock and roll, Dude,” left bottles and string-package wrappers everywhere, tossed your used band-aid or finger wraps on the floor (EWWWW!), and just generally treated my stage like a trash bin?
Here’s a hint: I am either going to refrain from booking you myself, or urge the booking manager to have you back as infrequently as possible.
Act Like The Venue Owes You Its Profit Center
If you walked into the room, and the venue staff immediately started rummaging around in your merch bins for free stuff, you would be irritated, right?
Yes, you would. It would be different if you were thrilled with us, and wanted all of us to have a free shirt in gratitude – but us costing your band money because “we should just get what we want” wouldn’t be something you’d appreciate.
So, if you’re playing at a place that makes money by serving food and drinks, why do you think it should be automatically free?
Now…I get it. Back in the day, it became a bit of a tradition that the band was fed and watered (or beered and liquored) on the venue’s tab. It was part of the compensation package, because the room would make it all back anyway.
Like I said further up the page – it’s not 1975 anymore, folks.
Those days are gone, unless you have proven yourself to be a huge draw at a particular room. If your show isn’t going to bring outsized profit to the venue, then no, the venue isn’t obligated to subsidize your meals and beverages. If you want to fight about it, do so when you’re negotiating the gig’s compensation. If you didn’t get food and drink explicitly included in your gig agreement, then trying to pressure the venue into it “the day of” is inappropriate.
Being inappropriate makes you less bookable.
Eat, Drink, Or “Guestlist” All Your Profits, Then Complain About It
You: “Oh man, we let a ton of people in for free, and we ran a huge tab. We barely made any money on this gig. Your venue should have a better payout and treat artists better.”
Me: “Maybe you should drink less, and not let all your friends in for nothing.”
Say That It’s Not About The Money, Then Be All About The Money
If you can’t be consistent about what you want to get out of playing, then I will eventually begin to desire that your inconsistency be inflicted on someone else. This connects with failing to honor the payout, and complaining that the venue didn’t do its part (when the venue DID do its part).
If you go through this whole spiel about how music is a spiritual thing for you, and you just want to play, and everything is too commercial anymore…and then later grumble about how venues are greedy, and don’t support musicians, and how “stuff costs money,” then I would just rather not be subjected to it all.
I’m fine with you thinking that money is worthless in music, as long as you’re willing to apply that thinking in a way that’s predictable. Trying to manipulate your way into more money after everything has basically been said and done is seriously unpleasant.
I don’t like being manipulated, so if you try it on me, I’ll be happier when you aren’t around, thanks.
Be Too Drunk Or Too High To Play Properly
Wrecking your own show is never a good idea. (Duh.) It’s also bad for the venue, because it chases away the people who, you know, pay money to see you. If you want music to be your full-time job, then please act like you actually care about doing a good job. That means being in a mental and physical state where you can actually play properly.
…and don’t hand me a bunch of fluff about how “Janis and Jim Morrison and those guys did it.” I don’t mean to be mean, but if you aren’t drawing thousands to arenas then you definitely are NOT in the same class as Janis and Jim and Hendrix and Bonham and [insert classic act here].
At an utterly selfish level, I can tell you that one of the worst feelings I get as a tech is being embarrassed for people. In some cases, I have become physically uncomfortable at how badly a musician has sabotaged themselves. I don’t think – and I’m pretty sure audiences don’t think – it’s “cute” or “rock” when a musician can’t even play their own songs.
Also, when you’re toasted/ baked/ cooked/ whatever, your personality tends to change. That change is rarely a pleasant one. I don’t always get to pick and choose who I work with, but when I do have the choice, I work with pleasant, professional people who don’t undergo frightening mood swings.
Play Too Loudly For The Room, Or Each Other
It’s a little ironic that I left this for last, but here’s the thing:
You can get everything else in this article to be spot on, and then wreck it all by being too freakin’ loud.
I’d have a nice stash of mad-money if I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “They were great guys, and really decent players, but they are just too loud for this room.” Too much volume is INCREDIBLY powerful as a factor in whether or not you get asked back, and it’s very rare that I’m successfully able to tame a “too loud” situation in real time. The fact is that what you’re used to doing on stage and in rehearsal is what you’ll always tend to do, so please:
Practice the snot out of being tolerable in very small rooms, and if you can’t hear someone in rehearsal, fix the problem in rehearsal.
Otherwise, you’re very likely to be a pain in the neck, and pains in the neck don’t get rebooked very much.
So – there’s a lot up there. What can you do?
Be courteous, kind, and professional. Make agreements and honor them. That might seem tough, but it’s actually a lot less work than the alternatives.