Etiquette on Multi-Band Gigs

 By David Eichenberger

Many of the first shows our band might play are gigs with more than one band There are many reasons for this, but most likely, it is because we simply don’t have enough material to cover a whole night of music. No matter if it is original or cover tunes, these types of multi-band gigs can cause stress that is entirely unrelated to the music you are going to perform. This article is about relieving that stress, and being prepared for situations that might arise when a dozen or more people show up to rock out at the same club over a few hours. 

Several Bands, Same Style

This is the type of show when several bands of the same style get together (or are placed together because they have similar styles. You see this a lot on metal shows. No one band makes a lot of money (actually, the venue is the one who benefits the most), but each band brings their own fans. This assures (hopefully) a full room of like-minded fans. These types of shows are probably the most common multi-band shows, as they usually cost the venue next to nothing to produce. Many new bands wanting to get their start on a nice stage with a good PA will often choose to do this, as they don’t have to carry the whole night, and they can showcase a handful of their best songs in hopes of finding a few new fans.

Usually you get a timeslot, and you wait your turn. Don’t drag your equipment out of the van until the band right before you has set up their gear, as the areas where you have to store equipment are usually pretty dark, and it is as easy for you to forget gear you left in the staging area as it is for it to disappear. Usually in cases like this, there isn’t a stage manager directing the bands when to set up. Therefore, you wait until the proceeding band gets everything off the stage first before you start bringing your gear out there. You can politely offer to help retrieve gear with them, and they might get the hint. Yelling at them to hurry up usually doesn’t help, and you might want to play with that band again at some point, so it is best to play nice. Set your gear up quickly, and have a plan if something goes wrong or you realize you forgot something at home. Freaking out usually doesn’t help, especially in front of the other bands and their fans. Have a clock somewhere onstage so you don’t go over your time, and at the end of your set, don’t mingle with the crowd immediately. Get your gear packed up and put away in your vehicle…then go talk to your fans. Don’t be that one band that invites their fans onstage to talk to them while time ticks away. It throws the whole schedule off, and you will soon realize that less and less bands want to play with you.

Several Bands, Bigger Headliner

This type of scenario usually occurs in a bigger club or a theater. A bigger band asks a bunch of support acts to open for them. Usually there is little money involved for the local bands, because it is assumed that opening for a bigger act is payment in itself. On these types of shows, the headliner has usually set up and soundchecked during the day, and the other bands have to set up around the gear already on the stage.On these shows, you can see if you can do a good show with less gear than you usually use. You won’t get a good soundcheck either, since you are not who most of the people are coming to see. The sound is set for the headliner, and you have very little room on that stage. Knowing this, make the circumstances work. These shows are never perfect as those you might produce yourself, but that isn’t the point. The point is to gain some new fans, sell some CDs, and have a good time. Ask the drummer to use a smaller kit (usually set up in front of the headliner’s kit). Bring a smaller amp. Get the most sound out of a smaller setup. Complaining to people from the headlining band’s crew or the venue about the sound or what space is left on the stage isn’t going to work, and it might even get you banned from playing there again (I’ve seen that happen). Be courteous to everyone, and play your allotted time and no more.

Funny story: A headlining act didn’t go to soundcheck or set up before a show I was scheduled to play at. The artist thought (it was 1 person playing to tracks on an iPod) that he would show up after the first band already set up and then yell at everyone to get their stuff off the stage (right before the show started). The venue was upset that he hadn’t shown up earlier, and stood behind the other bands and crew who waited for him all day. Since everyone was upset by his actions, he wound up having to set up in a tiny little square in the corner of the stage. Don’t be a diva, no matter what level you are at.

What we really, really want…

In the end, all we really want is that the night goes smoothly, we play well, and hear some awesome music from the other bands. Hopefully we make some good connections, and forge good relationships with other bands and the venue owner. Don’t go into any show looking for something to get upset about, and look to minimize the problems that might come up for any multi-band gigs. Are there a few drummers willing to share a kit? Are there a few guitarists/bassists who can share an amp? These are things to figure out before the show. It isn’t always easy for musicians to share (I get that), so work on easy assembly/disassembly. Like in everyday life, kindness and courtesy go a long way.

Have you ever had any problems playing on a multi-band gig? What was your favorite festival to see?

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1 Comment

  1. It was our very first gig. 4 bands, far too large venue. 3 young bands and one a tad more experienced with only original material. We did a few Stones covers and some 3 chord originals. The other band was a mostly U2 coverband (it was the late 80s after all). Then the ‘headliner’ entered the stage and the singer went on: well, you want hear any ‘cough’ U2 oder ‘cough’ Stones
    with us…. Trouble was, I did the sound and was assisted by the guitarist of the other band. Funny what a ping pong delay on monitors can do. I assume it was a tad irritating that the singer only heard the toms with a 300ms delay. The drummer didn’t have a clue what the bassist was up to, so I guess we did a good job 🙂 Never upset the soundguy, he can do awful things, especially if he’s just a hired hand:)

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