Stage Etiquette & Professionalism
August 4, 2009 in TouringHey kids, I was asked to do this little article as a bit of a wrap up to the 1999 Flatland Music Festival. I hope that this may offer some insight for musicians that have never done a festival of that scale (or for those who forget from year to year) how a show of that size works. Lack of professionalism is pretty well always related to a lack of experience.
For the last three years I have stage-managed the festival with Derek Bachman. In those three years we have herded over 120 bands on and off the stage, and have had great success for the most part. We work on a ten-minute change over system at the festival. It is tight, but if everyone works together it is quick and painless and gives the artists maximum time to actually perform. Here is a small checklist of stage etiquette for those unsure of how things work.
1. Be on time. Be backstage with your gear out and ready at least 45 minutes to an hour before your slot so that the stage managers know you're there and you can discuss any questions or changes to the stage plot you may have with them at that time. Tell the stage managers of any changes to your stage plots well ahead of time. These changes must be communicated by the stage manager to the FOH (front of house) tech and the monitor tech so that they can re-patch accordingly before you get on stage.
2. Have all the necessary gear. Show up with everything you need for your performance. If your instrument requires specially configured patch cords, etc - bring them. More than once I have been soldering RCA cables on the side of the stage for an artist who assumed we'd have the right stuff. Don't assume anything. Bring patch cords, picks, sticks, EVERYTHING YOU NEED.
3. Tune your instrument while you are standing around backstage for 20 minutes. We don't have time to have 3 guitar players standing on stage waiting to share one tuner. Have your guitars tuned and ready before you step on the deck. That will give you time to have a good monitor check.
4. Listen to the stage managers. Pay attention. Things move very quickly. Don't be waving at your mom. Be alert to what's happening on stage. There will be people patching you in and asking for what you need in your monitors. Respond to them and keep visual contact with the monitor tech. Don't plug in and play your favorite riff 500 times. We need the deck as silent as possible in order to do a proper monitor check. There is already a lot of noise from the front of house and having the bass player wank for the whole change over makes it difficult to communicate between the techs and the band.
5. Have some idea what you like to have in your monitor. This year was especially bad for people saying "I don't care…everything" or "pssst...hey dude, what do I need in my monitor?" Funny how it was those same people who complained about the stage sound after their set. We need specifics. If ya don't ask we can't give. How much guitar do you want, how much kick drum?…be very specific. And pay attention, just because you have your monitor done doesn't mean you're finished. We will need you to play your instrument so we can get levels in everyone else's monitor. And if you need something changed during your set, tell the monitor tech - that's his job. Use hand signals, make eye contact etc. Don't say nothing & then complain to everyone about how terrible the stage sound was afterwards. You are in the driver's seat.
We have incredible gear with 6 individual monitor mixes. You get to customize the sound however you want. You don't find that at club gigs, trust me. Take advantage of the world class system you are playing on. If you don't know what to expect from a monitor mix you will be pleasantly surprised when you step onto a stage like Flatland.
6. You are a part of a festival. It is not your solo show. Respect the 40 other performers there by making sure you get on and off on time. Theatrics and grandiose entrances do not work well at festivals. If it is your show and you have all night to do whatever…more power to ya, but don't jeopardize other performers' time slots and reduce yours significantly by making big entrances. Get up there, play your ass off and get off…go sign autographs and be a star in the merch tent. Hopefully your music speaks for itself.
Watch the experienced artists who have earned the respect of stage wranglers. They are clear and concise during a festival monitor check. It is always a pleasure to work with such people.
One of the reasons we use a big P.A. system and stage is so the inexperienced artists have the chance to expand their horizons and learn a few things. This is a great opportunity for new bands.
I think those are the major points to keep in mind while playing in a festival setting. The bottom line is you have a half hour to show the world what you're made of…don't waste a minute of that by dicking around during setup. Be prepared…be alert…use COMMON SENSE…smile…have fun…buy the stage guys beer. It's only rock and roll but we like it.