The experience of playing your very first show is likely to send your nerves
into overdrive. Pre-gig anxiety is somewhat inevitable. Planning the show as
a brand-new band, though, doesn't have to be so riddled with worry. If you're
fearful of looking inexperienced or unprofessional, don't be.
In terms of booking and the relationships you develop with venues and talent
buyers, it's far better to ask questions first, rather than ask forgiveness
later. In fact, the folks in charge will likely appreciate your efforts to ensure
a problem-free show.
1. What gear is provided?
Not every venue has amps at the ready
– you might need to bring your own. Drum kits aren't
a given, either, and even if they do have one available, you'll
likely need to provide your own snare and cymbals. It's totally
normal to ask about the backline in advance to figure out
what gear of your own you'll need to bring. (Note: If the
load-in location isn't obvious, this is your chance to ask
2. How long should my set be?
The ideal set length depends on where
a band stands in the lineup. The first act can be expected
to play for about 20 minutes, while succeeding openers might
perform for up to 45. A headliner's set should be no less
than 45 minutes, though somewhere between an hour and an hour
and a half is common.
Your arsenal of material is another factor to consider in working out a set
time. It's not necessarily typical for bands to discuss how long they'll play
ahead of time. Still, there are instances in which working it out beforehand
is crucial: album release shows, a lineup of all very new bands, bills with
more than four bands slated to perform in one night, etc. If you've got doubts,
talk with the other bands – and bring the talent buyer or venue manager
into the conversation if necessary.
3. What should I expect to be paid?
Whoever subscribes to the "talking
about money is vulgar" taboo probably has plenty of it.
It's not a great topic for dinner conversation, of course,
but in any work situation, you need to know what you'll be
paid. Duh, right? It shouldn't be such a difficult subject
If you're playing a show with a cover charge,
ask how the door money will be split. For free shows, find
out if there's any payment involved, whether a set amount
or a percentage of the bar. You should also inquire about
any fees from the venue, like for sound, taxes, or door staff.
This is a good time to ascertain when you'll
be paid, too. Some venues prefer to work out money afterward,
rather than the night of the show. So long as you're polite
and professional in asking, none of your questions should
be seen as tacky or rude.
4. Can I sell merch?
It's rare that a venue won't allow a
band to sell T-shirts and the like, but asking brings up a
couple variables. Does the venue take any percentage of merch
sales? Is there a space you can use? Will there be a table
available? You might need to provide your own. Also find out
if it's cool to bring your own merch person – it's unlikely
they'll have anyone to do it for you, and you'll want to put
them on the guest list in advance.
5. Do I get a guest list?
It's fair to ask for one list spot per
band member. That's standard, really. If you're playing a
sold-out show, though, the venue or talent buyer might want
to keep comped tickets at a minimum. Additionally, bands with
more than four or five members should double-check that the
rule still applies.
6. To what extent does the venue help
promote the show?
This is huge – really, really huge.
You've got have an understanding with the talent buyer and
venue about how promotion for the show will run. Who's putting
up the Facebook event? Who's designing the flyer? Who's printing
and hanging posters? It's always appreciated when a band offers
to handle all aspects of promotion themselves, but discussing
the details beforehand will ensure there's no holes in your