Well I’ve finally reached the fun part, putting on the show. In order to be successful the show itself has to work. This is not something that happens by chance. The key is to run the show with and iron glove inside a velvet glove. I’m not sure where I stole that from, maybe it was some great dictator like Stalin.
Let me make one small point here before I get to practical stuff. Putting on a show like this will be a great help to a great many people. The guys in your band with benefit. They other bands will benefit. The kids in town will be happier than pigs in shit to have a home-grown rock show. Even the venue might be happy to have a paying customer. As a result of helping all of these people out they will react in the following ways: jealousy, anger, envy, bitterness, complaint and in many cases will set about trying to undo you. I’m dead serious about this, don’t take it lightly. You need to expect it, plan for it and most of all don’t let it bother you. It’s not actually about YOU it’s what you represent which is change and success. This makes people nervous and aggressive. You will have more problems with the second attempt at a show than the first. The problems will come from people close to you as they try to steal your success or stop you from succeeding again. Don’t worry you have a jump on them and if you keep going you’ll be on to the next success before they’ve figured out how to undo your first triumph.
Ye Olde Rules for the Running of Ye Olde Rock Show—-
1.There is a backstage area. This is an actual place. Only the bands and their immediate hangers-on get to go there. This place should give the bands privacy, security and ideally something to eat and drink. A loaf of bread with Peanut Butter and Jelly and two six packs of coke is better than nothing at all. It should also have towels. These will be filthy and damn near ruined by the end of the night. You can buy towels cheap at one of those bath supply houses that housewives love. You also might find cheap towels at a Salvation Army. After they have been used do not try to convert them for use by humans, they are only fit for musicians.
2. All bands are told a specific “load in time” and a specific “sound check time” and a specific “Set time”. The day starts with load in which is around 3 hours before the doors open. All of the bands bring in their gear and get it organized into nice neat heaps. Then two hours before doors open the sound checks begin. They start with the band that plays last. Then the band that plays in the middle and finally the band that will go on first. Each band gets 15 minutes to set up and fifteen minutes to sound check that’s it. This is not negotiable. The last band to sound check leaves their gear set up since they will be starting the show. All bands are told that all members of their band MUST be inside the venue at least 10 minutes before the time they go onstage. Tell them you will cancel them if this isn’t the case. (Don’t cancel them just threaten to)
3. All bands should play 35 – 45 minutes, no more, no less. If they can’t pull off that long a set then you shouldn’t have put them on the bill. If they want longer then they have too high an opinion of their value to the universe. There is 15 minutes change over between bands.
4. Each band must bring along one guy that is at least called their roadie for the night. It is his job to help them carry gear not the staff of the show. It is his job to fix something that breaks. It is his job to revive fainted drummers.
5. There is no guest list. If they argue tell them your mom is paying, then make your mom pay. I’ve seen tons of shows go from making a profit to losing money due to idiot band members handing in 58 name guest lists.The only exception is me. If I show up to your gig I’m on the guest list. I will say thanks but no thanks and pay at the door.
6 No one gets paid until 15 minutes after lights up. (that’s the official end of the show) If they bitch tell them this is true for stadium acts so why do they think they are so special.
7. All bands carry out their own gear and everything they bring in must be taken out, no exceptions. That includes that broken toy drum set that they used as a prop. The venue is not their dump.
8. All bad habits stay out of the venue. I’m assuming that this is an all ages show with underage bands and an underage audience. That means no drinking in the venue. That means no pot smoking in the venue. I’m not stupid enough to assume that every musician is going to go on stage sober but if someone gets caught inside the venue various adults will use this incident to shut you down. Make this fact known to everyone and post visible signs. Then, at least, you can argue that you tried to stop it.
Here’s a fake rundown of a fake show. The show is planned to go on between 8pm and 10:30 which is a half hour before the town’s noise curfew.
4 pm Load in for all bands. Sound man and sound system set up.
5 pm Sound checks start.
6:45 pm Sound checks end
7:15 PM Doors open, (flyers advertise doors open 7pm) The venue is darkened. Music is playing on the sound system. The first band’s gear is all set up… People enter a darkened but not blacked out venue with music playing and the stage set…..( this helps build the excitement and anticipation. always remember that Rock is a SHOW, it is a form of FICTION)
8 pm sharp A roadie brings out drinks and puts them down in strategic places on stage. (flyer’s say the show starts 8pm sharp)(this gets the audience ready to rock)
8:05 House and stage lights out. Sound system stops playing music. If you are planning on having someone announce the show they take the stage and introduce the band and announce a few rules for the night. The backstage security person leads the band by flashlight onstage making sure they don’t fall down a bottomless pit or wander off.
8:06 pm First band goes on, lights come up, audience lights stay down.
8:50 pm first band ends. Stage lights go dark, house lights come up to 1/4, sound system switches to playing background music. Stage lights back up to one quarter and change over begins
9:05 House goes dark, second band takes the stage, lights up second band’s set begins.
9:45 Second band ends, Stage lights go dark, house lights come up to 1/4, sound system switches to playing background music. Stage lights back up to one quarter and change over begins
9:55 House goes dark, third band takes the stage, lights up third band’s set begins.
10:35 Third band’s set ends, House lights come up to full …..sound system starts to play end of night music. Security starts to yell at everyone to leave………..end of show
11:pm Count the door, pay the bands and then bands load out.
midnight Venue is locked up tight……………………
Now notice a couple of things about this schedule. The first is that I give light cues. The ones I give are classic uses of lights to manage the crowd and the show. When the people arrive the venue is darkened and the music is playing. This gives them the impression of entering into a new world. The world you are going to stage for them. Always remember that what you are doing is putting on a show. The second thing to notice is that I mention background music repeatedly. This, too, is part of the show. Make this music different then what is going to be played on stage. Different but not so different that the audience will hate it. If you have the opportunity get a dj involved. When I was on the radio this is a gig that I did repeatedly. A great DJ helps make for a great show.
Running the door — I could write a whole book about running the door at a rock show. It’s a crazy job and kinda nerve-wracking. Whoever is running the door is going to be handling lots of cash. This person must have their shit together and be sober and be absolutely 110% trustworthy. Ideally it should be you. At the beginning of the night the door person must have lots of small bills to make change. If the charge for the night is $8 then you damn well better have 60 singles and $100 in fives. Remember all of the people will be handing you tens and twenties and expect change and expect it fast. Get used to it. Practice. If you have someone in the inner circle that has spent a year running a cash register they would be a good choice.
When the person pays they get their hand stamped. Use something clever, cute and indelible. Don’t just put a magic marker slash on the back of their hand. If you do they will figure out how to transfer it to their friends before 10 people have gotten inside. Sometimes it is best to have two people running the cash. One takes bills and makes change the other stamps hands and checks the person out.
This brings me to another touchy topic. Are you gonna search people? In many cases this may be decided up front by the venue. Although I think it’s best not to have people armed with glass bottles at a show I loathe having people searched. I’m a freedom kinda guy. Either way decide before you start and post a sign. If you are gonna search women then it must be done by a woman.The next thing to consider is the policy on leaving the venue and then re – entering. Decide this before you start, post a sign and stick to it. Any other strategy will end in problems. The best choice you will discover is to allow no re-entry. In general the only reasons people leave the gig and come back are reasons that bring problems. (Also keep your eyes open. Someone that comes and goes repeatedly is usually dealing drugs. I have no interest in arguing the morality of recreational drugs. I will say that having someone dealing drugs inside the show is putting the show and your ability to keep doing shows at risk. If you suspect someone is up to no good turn them away. If they make a stink hand them their money. Remember, you aren’t the federal government. YOU CAN REFUSE TO LET SOMEONE INTO YOUR SHOW. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GIVE A REASON.)
It is best to use one of your security person at the door during the crucial time when the doors first open. They are there to check people out, give them the evil eye if they look like they are going to make trouble and squash any problems that come up from working the door. Take it from me, there are usually problems at the door. Someone shows up too drunk to let in and now you’ve got a problem. A kid tries to talk his way in with six bucks when tix are 8 and you’ve got a problem. Someone doesn’t like being searched (it just so happens that he is carrying a three-foot bong under his coat) and there is a problem.
Next issue – security for the money. THIS IS IMPORTANT! The pile of cash at the door can turn into a big piece of cheese in a world full of rats.Let’s say you’ve got your 98lb. girlfriend sitting on a stool taking the cash. The show is sold out so pretty soon she has nine hundred in fives, tens and twenties. She is a tempting target for someone to grab the wad of cash and hoof it into the foggy distance. Be smart about it. If there is a box office use it. If not make sure that the person taking cash gives you “drops” often. The way you do this is the Bouncer steps in for some other reason, which is a cover for the girl taking money. He stands in front of her so no one can see her well. She quickly counts out $100 or $200 or $300 in tens and twenties. She scribbles the amount on a slip of paper twice. She rips the paper in half keeping one number for herself. The other she wraps around the wad and then wraps the whole bundle with a rubber band. She then hands this to you and you disappear to drop it somewhere safe. (sometimes that is your pants pocket or boot) Now the person at the door only has enough cash to make change. Do this often. If you don’t you may live to regret it. Imagine you spend two months setting up a show and the night of the gig someone snatches a wad with $943 in it. Misery, utter misery. I’ve seen it.
I was once backstage at a Throwing Muses show in New Jersey. The “Tour manager” was the husband of one of the band members. He wasn’t hired for his experience or, I’m guessin’ here, his smarts. He turns up in the backstage area with a briefcase of money. Backstage has about thirty people milling around. The briefcase is all of the pay for over a week on the road, about $24,000. He proceeds to very arrogantly do a quick count of the bundles of hundred-dollar bills. Everyone is watching him. I was with an Irish tour manager that was an old pro. Ten minutes later we see the same guy walking around the nightclub without the briefcase. We look at each other and panic. The band were friends of ours. We sprint up the stairs to the backstage room which is now empty ’cause the band is now onstage. I open the door to backstage and I’m not surprised to see a nice looking, well dressed, couple in their thirties transferring the cash to the woman’s pocketbook. Moral of the story, DON’T BE STUPID!!! By the way in this particular case the couple got away because the “tour manager” refused to believe our rant while we held them captive and struggled to take her handbag away from the woman thief. He let them go without recounting the briefcase. At the end of the night he was devastated to discover his briefcase was $5800 light. HE FORCED ME TO LET THEM GO!!
Ok, we’re in the final stretch…. Security. The long history of rock has taught me and everyone else that has done this kinda stuff professionally that crowd control is not only absolutely necessary it is very, very wise. Keeping the crowd within the rules of safety allows everyone to have a great time, go wild and live to rock another day. To do a show like the one I have been outlining for the past 15 thousand words you will need three security people. Like I said earlier these should be gentle giant types. One of these guys should cover the door most of the night, the second one should be at the door when the venue first opens then move into the club to work the stage area when the band starts to play. The last guy should babysit the backstage area and cover the entrance to backstage and the side of the stage nearest that entrance during the bands sets. What do these people do? It’s simple really. They watch for trouble. Their presence keeps everyone from becoming a unruly monster mob. When someone gets out of hand they then quickly physically escort the person out the front door. They don’t talk to people. They don’t threaten people. They don’t fight people. They escort people out of the venue while holding them by the arm as quickly as they can. That’s it.
You should have some lengthy conversations with any bouncers you hire. They should be aware of how the show is supposed to run and exactly what the rules are for the night. Is your show going to generate a mosh pit? OK, that’s fine the bouncers need to understand what it is and know that a mosh pit is cool and a rumble with twelve guys kicking the crap out of each other is not cool. Last point on security, don’t be afraid to call the cops. Any situation where you feel the fans, bands, or staff may be at risk is a good reason to make a call to the local constable. Remember if you act calm, cool and in control the cops will usually act like they work for you. The first time you experience this attitude it’s a strange feeling.
One final rule. The person that runs the show must be stone cold sober. Believe me ’cause I’ve done this myself. You will be so busy that if you don’t have your brain on overdrive you will crash and burn. Do it straight and you’ll do it right.
So that’s it. Have fun, make money and most importantly put your band on the map. I’ve seen many of these shows pulled off. Ian MacKaye was famous for touring with his band Fugazi using shows just like this for every stop of the tour. It’s not only possible it’s actually relatively easy if your are determined, stubbornly ambitious and work at it. If you do all that you will be on your way to Succeed at Rock.
Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010