Monday, 1 January 2001
TM, M, PA and the big M
If someone is the only manager of a band and follows them on tour, he probably won't have time to speak to his band at all during this trip, unless it's to usher them to the stage or bail them out of jail. His first request when they reach backstage will be an office with a phone and wireless internet, and he'll be spending his time there getting new gigs, finalizing contracts and discussing riders with venues the band's playing next month, or even next year. If he's a bad manager, or one with a way too high workload, he'll be finalizing the details of tomorrow's gig. This usually makes it hard for the venue to cooperate with him, be it for rider demands or changes in the set, as a lot of these things are finalized at least a month beforehand. Except from when he's knocking on their door when it's stage time, you won't see a sole manager touring along with the band. It's inefficient, but for beginning bands it's the only way unless one of the band members volunteers to manage every aspect of their tour (not fun, but it have been done successfully in the past, rarely by the lead member of the band, aka. lead guitar/vocals, because of ego issues as well as time issues (no one wants to interview the drummer, or bass player)).
If an artist is famous enough to warrant more than one manager, that means that a manager travelling with the band can dump some of his workload off on others while they're on tour and focus on the tour manager side of the job. The management team back home fixes the economy (they get the fees, they pay for the travel and stay and they make sure the band has everything they need). They will also be the ones to contact venues about riders and questions, and then let the tour manager or the band know what they should expect in every city. For obvious reasons (I work at the festivals) I rarely have contact with the management team. Whenever I do, it's to make them admit that they fucked up. The main problem is usually communication. The management team forgot to let the band know that the fee only covered their travels TO the festivals, they are now stuck in Norway. They forgot to let the band know that the festival is strictly non-alcoholic, refuses to get them hard spirits or cigarettes (because of a very convoluted set of laws making this too much hassle) or that you simply can't get Budweiser in Norway (because it tastes like cat piss).
A tour manager is always used to life on the road. I have yet to meet a fledging TM. Personally, I believe they grow somewhere east of London, and are harvested annually. The TM will want to be present at Get In to check that they got what they wanted on the technical rider and catering rider (check thesmokinggun.com for both kinds of riders, and this post about catering riders) and learn the layout of the venue. He'll be the one making sure everyone who should be on the guest list is on the guest list, lets security know how closed backstage is (just the band, just those with AAA-passes (access all areas, usually the festival/venue's production team, the band and the band liaison), by invite only or everyone on the guest list) and arranges lunch, interview and anything else that pops on. He will be the main contact between the venue and a band, and with a good TM the band never has to speak with the venue workers unless they wants to.
The job as a TM varies between cat herding and paperwork (if a band member is arrested, it's your job to get them out. If they disappear, it's your job to find them. If the instruments are gone, you're the one staying behind at the airport to argue with the airline until they magically reappear. If your singer is caught in customs with five grams of cocaine, you're the one to get the number to a good lawyer and/or bribe everyone in sight.) The list of what a TM does not do is a lot shorter than the one about what they do. This is why a lone manager has to be prepared to work hard.
As for a personal assistant, I find that bands rarely travel with one unless they have some special needs the TM can't cover. This can be because of different health problems (loss of hearing, social anxieties, old age, other handicaps), because the artist has side projects they need an assistant to handle while they and the TM focuses on the music or because the artist is a diva. In all cases, communication with the artist often goes from the venue to the TM to the assistant to the artist. I have very rarely worked with artists who had personal assistants, but find that their job is the same as the personal assistant of any celebrity. Mostly gruntwork, fetching and bringing, as well as keeping time for interviews and meetings and doing all the boring parts of travelling (if you travel with both a TM and an assistant, the assistant is the one who's left at the airport, looking for the lost luggage).
Rock N Roll Legends
Well, you have the famous Led Zeppelin mudshark + groupie story. Google that one yourself, I ain't telling.
Most of Almost Famous is based on real stories from the 70s, but most of the accidents were toned down for the film. [spoilers] Both the electrocution scene (happened to Stone the Crows, fatal in real life, not in the film) and the air plane trouble happened in teal life(Lynyrd Skynyrd lost three members to an air plane crash in '77). [/spoilers]
During the interviews several of the band members say things that are verbatim what 70s stars have said during interviews.
Airplanes are a source of trouble for musicians. So much so that you have a list over music fatalities here: http://listverse.com/2008/01/09/top-10-musician-plane-crash-deaths/. The song "American Pie" by Don McLean starts with the story of the trio on first place in that list.
Legends amongst those working in the business are maybe not so funny, but I have been told about the legendary Van Halen rider of '82 so many times (sometimes told with other famous bands of the time as the main characters, sometimes with red or green m&ms instead of brown) that it's something I feel needs mentioning. Full story here.
There are many legendary injuries, like the pyro blast James Hetfield got in the face in '92 that could have killed him or maimed him had it not been that his guitar was a solid body one. You also have the Great White's pyrom, which set fire to a club. A hundred people died, including their guitarist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Station_nightclub_fire). NME had a list over several less serious injuries here: http://www.nme.com/photos/rock-n-roll-injuries/124827/3/1.
You have the legendary Roger Waters spitting episode: http://www.angelfire.com/va/battersea/spit.html
And the time Leonard Cohen walked of the stage because he was "too depressed to play on". (Can't find anything about this, so that might just be a nasty rumour considering how Cohen is famous for being depressing.)
Anything Phil Spector (the man behind "the wall of sound") ever did, from threatening the Ramones at gunpoint, almost shooting John Lennon, threatening Leonard Cohen at gunpoint...
“He put his arm around my shoulder, pressed the muzzle into my neck and said, ‘Leonard, I love you.’ At which point I said: ‘I hope you really do, Phil.’”
That man was mad as a hatter and probably made more famous artists pray than any priest. There's even a list over his top ten moments.
You have the disappearance of Richey Edwards from the British band Manic Street Preachers in '94. He left his passport, parked his car by a bridge and was never seen again. Most of the people who knew him refuse to believe he killed himself, and his family told the press that they still believed he was alive when they declared him dead a few years ago, but needed to get the paperwork in order. The band still saves 1/4 of their earnings in case he returns.
For the more gory you have both Ozzie Osborne's bat eating incident (and his dove eating incident, and his "shooting all his dogs and hiding under the piano" incident)...
Twisted Sister's went to court to defend their songs from censorship (explicit lyrics, parental warning). The speech didn't help them win the case, but is pretty cool in its own right (calling Tipper Gore a pervert, amongst other things).
And while we're in court, Judas Priest who had to defend themselves from the accusation that their music made children kill themselves: http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/sevenages/events/heavy-metal/judas-priest-subliminal-message-suicide-trial/
All in a day's work - Artist Liason
I have written a lot about how the bands at a venue are treated and what they do, but not a single word about what my job was. That is what I want to do with this post. I welcome you to a day of the artist liaison at a small venue.
You start with unlocking the door, turning on the lights and checking that nothing disgusting from the night before is still in the band room or on the stage. You might find that whomever worked there yesterday cleaned the place perfectly and it is shining and sparkling as much as the worn-down stage and rotting wooden floor can shine, or that the artists' dressing rooms are filled with cigarette buts, popcorn and carrots and someone forgot their guitar, their jeans or even their drummer.
Kick out the drummer, put the guitar and jeans away in a closet and clean the dressing rooms. Before the band arrives, check their rider for any sign that they want get-in food. If something is mentioned, sigh and run to the nearest shop to buy hummus, vegan bread (or, since no shop in Norway carry anything like that, lie! lie like a politician!) and vegan butter. If you didn't get the rider five minutes before, you have already bought whatever you needed. More often than not, you will have less than 24 hours before the gig when you work at a small venue. You will never have the correct amount of towels from the hotel you cooperate with. Either you bring seventeen and one is used or you bring seven and they could have needed twice the amount.
While you are chopping the vegetables and trying to make the food you bought look edible (or the food left in the fridge from the day before... always check best before dates and sniff for mould) the band will arrive. Unlock the door (again), greet the band and their driver (the latter will like to know a million facts about driving that you will not know, having never driven a car in this city, but after a while in the biz you will have at least seven different people saved on your phone under the tag "driving advice". Call them, give the driver your phone and help the band carry their gear. It is not demanded from your job (your position is above mere lifting of instruments), but it feels off to walk besides someone carrying 50+ kilos worth of gear and not do anything to help (I'm odd like that).
This is when you will find out that the idiots playing the day before burnt out a circuit, or turned off the electricity to the stage instead of putting it on stand by. The correct solution to this problem is to give the band some coffee, get your phone back from the driver, give him his advisor's number and run back inside while you call someone who might know if the big red button is red because it should be pushed or because it should not under any circumstances be pushed.
After pushing the red button and finding that the world did not end and you now have lights, electricity and everything is well around the stage, you will learn that you are lacking two very important things: coffee, and a sound guy. The latter will mumble something about not yet being awake / being a bit late / not knowing it was a gig tonight. Stop yourself from pointing out that it's Friday and asking him whether that is the day we have concerts fifty out of fifty-two weeks a year, or if he thinks this is the day for the Bulgarian knitting circle? A hint... the guys brought guitars, not knitting needles.
Run to buy more coffee. Buy chocolate and bananas as well, to keep the band from noticing nothing is going to happen the next hour. The light guy will help you in this, distracting the band with questions about coloured filters and travel time. This is a good time for the band to draw something in the guest book, and for me to finish making the plates for their catering and remind them to eat. They will either be famished (which means you bought too little food) or not hungry at all. Awkward silences might enter her, or you might smoke and chat with them as if you've known them for years. It all depends on the band, your mood and how pissed they are that the sound guy is still in a taxi somewhere.
Sound guy will arrive. Ploinking from guitars will be heard, then the beating of a single sharp drum, bass drum, cymbal, rinse, lather repeat. Something won't be picked up properly by one of the monitors, one of the mics will be messed up or something else will have mysteriously broken during the night. Curse the gremlins, replace and move on. If everything goes perfect this is the time to start fearing for tonight's performance. Nothing can ever go that good without blowing up something spectacularly during the gig itself. Repeat your mantra of "it's all going to be ok" until you believe it. Check the first aid kit, just in case.
The band will leave for dinner once the sound check is done, but you can't. Soon the other workers will arrive (mostly bar staff and security), and since you have one of the two keys to the venue, you can't go anywhere. Sometimes you will ignore this and get some food, other times you will become a champion in solitaire until someone comes along to partner up with you for poker or blackjack. If you know you are going to be alone for a long time, you have probably already bought your working dinner: two bananas and a cola.
Sit down and play Plants vs. Zombies until someone rings the door bell. Take the verbal abuse from the idiot guitarist from the day before, still in his boxers, and point him in the direction of the band room. Smile as he leaves, calling you words you would like to use about whomever raised him to treat poor innocent venue workers in such a way. Then smile when you remember that bastards like him usually don't get far in life anyhow. Plus, he had to walk here wearing boxers with red hearts on them. That's something.
Chat with the first people to arrive, distracting them from their duties of counting beer bottles and cigarette packs, cleaning floors and replacing the posters on the walls. Make sure the barriers are in front of the stage before the doors open. Start to count heads and sweat.
This is where the tense waiting starts. What if the band is late? What if no one comes? What if everyone comes and the band is too late? What if no one comes and the band refuses to go on stage? There is nothing you can do, except postponing the gig for ten-fifteen minutes to allow for more people to arrive. This is usually only done to please the band, since it usually don't help at all.
Some bands handle this fine, some are ecstatic that for once there are more people in the room than on the stage, and others sulk and moan about it, loosing whichever fans they did have in the audience. But the moment they are on the stage, you can breathe for the first time in hours. Your job is as good as done. If they walk off, you need to be the one getting them back on the stage again, but for anything but that, you are free. They are on the stage, nothing can go wrong here (unless someone plugged their guitar into the light rig and the sound disappears every time the light guy dims the lights... happens more often than you think! At least it's not your problem if it does.)
This is the time for a victory cigarette, a quick clean of the band room, to listen to the gig if the band is good or to sit down and chat with your co-workers backstage if they are bad. After all, your job is done and you are still going to be the last one leaving the venue this night.
The Worst Five Minutes
Those has to be the best and worst words you can tell any artist. It's butterflies and nervous sweat, excitement and caffeine. It's what it all boils down to. This is the time to find the singer, who's wandered off to god-knows-where. It's time to practice that bridge you're still not sure about. It's time to be nervous.
You would be surprised if you knew how many artists has stage fright. Or maybe fright is the wrong word. Apprehension. Because this is what it all boils down to. This is why they got up at six this morning, or why they travelled eight hours across the country ("view was great, roads were shit"). And this is when they need to prove themselves. To entertain. To capture the audience, and not let go. Because their jobs depend on it.
"You know what? Becoming a guitarist when you're shy is a really bad idea!"
He confided in me ten minutes before stage time. I tried to distract him by telling him he was far from alone in this. I think part of being great, is being nervous. It pushes you to try harder. I told him about the artist I found wandering in small circles backstage, nerves frazzled, singing to himself. The now famous band who's stage ritual was standing in a circle singing old folk tunes. The metal band who always warmed up with Salvation Army folk tunes. The ones who danced and laughed, the ones who cursed and smoked. All nervous.
Because this is what it all boils down to. Those thirty to hundred and thirty minutes on that stage. Proving your worth.
I always listen to my band's (they're always "my band") first song from behind the curtain. Then I go outside to smoke, my victory cigarette. Because they made it. And tomorrow, they will make it again. Make magic happen.
Being a profeccional musician for dummies
This one is REALLY old. It's written the second year I worked at the venue, but it makes me smile, so I'm keeping it. To be young and dumb again! (That goes for both me and the bands. We were about the same age when this was posted, and teenagers, even those old enough to vote, don't have everything figured out yet.)
Considering how much asshattery and general stupidity I have experienced during my two years as a volunteer at the concert scene in this town, I thought this would be a good help for bands and artists who either are new to doing this professionally or just don't get it.
This is an instruction in how an artist can get along as painlessly as possible with the different kinds of workers behind the scene.
First a warning: these guys are the ones who decides if you sound good or not, and unless you are in a boy band, the sound is the reason most people at the concert is there. They have the suck button at their disposal, and they have no problem in pushing it if they feel you deserve it. Don't fuck with these people.
Other things not to do:
* move around PAs and speakers on the stage without their say-so. (note: PAs on the stage are placed very carefully to avoid loud screeching sounds also known as feedback and other sound nastiness, and often also to have room for the instruments for several different bands (depending on the scene and situation). Picking up and moving a PA is something you don't do in the same way you just don't meet up for a christening without clothes on).
* Have your roadies do the sound check just because you can't be bothered to (especially if you are the singer. That guy didn't sound anything like you).
These are the people standing between you and the audience. If they try to get the audience to stop throwing beers at you, don't work against them and encourage the audience. If they try to stop stage diving, it's because the people jumping from the grids get too close to you and can hurt you. in 9 out of ten situations, they know their job better than you know yours. Don't work against them.
The guards are not there for you, to be your servant or messengers to band/groupies/random people. If they choose to do as you tell them to (fetch you a glass of water, tell person A that you will meet them after the concert) be happy about it, because it is outside their job description.
Their job is to evacuate the building in case of fire, to clean the venue before, during and after the concert, to stop fights and throw out people who are too drunk. No where in the job description is the words 'personal servant' or 'groupie'.
Note: Just because a guard happens to be female does not mean that you have the right to ask/tell her to have sex with you. In many cases she is the most clothed person in the venue, sober and not interested in your music at all. If you want groupies, they are the ones squeeing when they see you, dressed in short skirts and see-through tops who actually knows the name of your band.
Despite what most people might think, the guards are generally nice people. Often they are doing their job for free just because they like to help, and simple things like treating them like human beings, holding open doors for them when they are carrying dirty beer glasses/trash/your instruments/someone too drunk will often put your name on the list they have over nice bands.
Taking some time to talk to them, helping them by telling which groupies you want in and which you don't instead of screaming at them when they refuse your wife entrance to the back stage area after you told them to not let anyone into the band room will put your name on the top of the asshat list. It won't be forgotten.
One important thing to know about the bartenders: these people are here to fill up your beer against payment. If you want free alcohol, you take that up on the raider or with the venue coordinator, not with the poor bartenders. They can't clap their hands and make the beer free just because you happen to play drums. This is also true if you just happens to play drums in a popular band. If they give you that beer, they can get fired.
The bartenders are not there to: have sex with you (see note under 'guards'), let you pour your own beer or mix your own drink, entertain you (and complaining to their boss that they refused to sing along to your songs or talk to you when they were busy doing their job will not help a bit) or to look after your stuff. Things you are afraid will be stolen belong either in the band room or the wardrobes where people are payed to look after them.
Like the guards, these people can be nice if you are nice. They can make sure you get your drink just the way you want it, and they can take good care of your ego and make sure your favorite beer/wine/drink is in the house if you are a returning customer.
Here is the part you might like; the venue coordinator (or whatever you choose to call them, we just call them either 'poor sods' or 'the guy/girl responsible for the band') is a person that is working for the venue to make sure your rider and wishes are being filled. They are the closest thing you can get to a personal servant next to your own manager, and they will do a lot to make sure your experience at the venue is a pleasant one. They will import, pull strings, cook themselves what the resturants refuses or can't, hire a boat and generally do anything to help you be entertained, full, drunk and satisfied.
But they can't do magic. Asking for a type of jam that has to be imported from spain around midnight the day before you are holding the concert won't do it. They can't make girls magically like you and or make sure the weather is just perfect for you to go around shopping before the concert. This town has 260 rainy days. If you happens to be here on one of them, don't be passive-aggressive towards your poor "servant". They didn't decide the weather.
And when you see the vein in the fore head bulging and the clock showing 24:00 when the posters and contracts said that the concert were to start at 22:00, take it as a hint to get your asses onstage.
That is all for now,
Your friendly venue worker
Who travels with the band?
Manager/tour manager - responsible for keeping the peace, going between the band and the venue, arranging everything, making sure the band meets for interviews/fan meetings/the concert. Can have a few assistants, if the band is popular enough and/or big enough.
Sound crew - one to three people, with one responsible for the sound out to the audience, one for the monitors and one on the mikes.
Roadies - might have specialized roles, at least one with particular knowledge of guitars, one with drums, might just be there for grunt work; carry item a to location b. Rarely the latter, and if they are, they are usually responsible for ordering around the local crew.
Girlfriends/wives/family - more rare, but not uncommon. Might be the major cause for drama on tour, might be what keeps the band happy. Most of the time if they are travelling by tour bus, the couple drive in a personal car behind the bus, both for privacy and to spare the rest of the band from luvvey-duvvey-talk.
Masseuse/hairdresser/chiropractor and similar - even more rare than girlfriends, but it does happen. There to do whatever their jobs tell them to do.
Personal assistant - about as rare as hairdressers and the ilk, the part of the job I've mostly experienced is to be there so the artist doesn't have to contact the local crew himself. This can be because the artist is a diva, because a medical condition makes him not want to talk to too many people or for a number of other reasons. Most of the time a tour manager has the role of personal assistant as well, but if the band is popular (making the TM busy) / the artist too demanding / a number of other reasons, and the band can afford it, they get a PA.
I have never experienced a normal rock band having personal assistants, it's usually reserved for singers with backup bands.
There is a lot of it, and a lot of annoyances connected to it. Simply put: travel is hell.
For air planes you have delayed flights, concerts cancelled because of anything from fog to volcanoes... often the flights are extremely early, so they reach the next destination in time for get-in. The baggage lost is always your favourite instrument or something vital to the performance, and it's close to impossible to burrow or rent the right instruments in the city you are playing. Most bands don't have the funds needed to buy new instruments all the time, and in cases where their instruments are anything but standard (say a left-handed guitar or anything exotic like a citar, or even a mandolin) it might be impossible, especially with the time constraints.
Another popular way of travel is the tour bus. It is crowded, smelly and prone to every problem a car would have, plus some (flat tire, queue because of a car accident, wrong directions, low bridges, no gas station open at 5 a.m. with a 4 meter roof height). At the same time it can be more reliable than air travel, cheaper and easier on the instruments (even in flight cases, the rough handling at airports muck up a lot of instruments).
For a starting band, their "tour bus" might be a van and stone-scissor-paper on who gets to sleep in the front seats, for the bands with more means it might be as comfortable as a small hotel room. Many bands choose to sleep at hotels/hostels when they can, both to clean off tour funk and to get some space from their band mates. Tour buses usually have two drivers, so one can rest while the other drives, if the tour isn't planned so the bus driver gets his rest while the band plays. Bus drivers are generally always nice, and they are magicians when it comes to "band bus tetris", e.g. getting all the instruments in place in the baggage compartments, often leaving no room for anything else. The tighter it is packed, the better since the instruments won't be jostled as the bus drives.
Get in/sound check:
Get in is usually somewhere between 1 am and 3 am, depending on how big backline the band is travelling with and if they are travelling with their own sound crew or using the festival/venue's own. Sound check is usually between 2 am and 7 am, depending on whether they are doing a solo gig in a club, a concert hall or a festival, and can last for up to two hours, less if it's a festival. General rule is that the bands playing last have sound check first, since the other bands have to accommodate their wishes as to where monitors and instruments are placed, but that rule might be changed if they like to sleep in/have an interview at that time/can't be bothered to get out of bed. If they are famous, they will get away with this, if they are not, they will not get a sound check. Several famous bands choose to send the roadies to do the sound check, others frown upon this since it can be hard the sound guy to mix the sound perfectly without knowing the singer's pitch and their playing style (guitarists who dance all over stage will need another set up for monitors than the ones who are stationary though a whole gig, and sometimes even need a wireless connection to avoid tripping over the cables, which happens a lot and is not very rock and roll). If you are rich and famous, you have your own sound crew and equipment, since it makes sound check easier and the sound a lot more reliable than if you have a new brand of amplifiers every night (Orange sounds different from Marshall sounds different from Blackstar).
Get in hospitality vary a lot between venues and also depends on how famous the band is. Coffee is always found at a venue, and plenty of it. At daytime, the coffee is what drives the music industry (at nights it's beer). The taste is not as important as the amount of caffeine. The first venue I worked at was a student driven one, where we prided ourselves on treating the artists well so they would come back when they were famous. Because of this, they got coffee and lunch when they arrived at get in, and usually some candy to go along with the beer/other alcohol and chips they had on their rider. I have heard about venues who call the get in for small bands "let in" since all they do is open the door for them and, if they are feeling nice, point in the direction of the stage.
The bus drivers will usually park the bus and go to sleep, not to be disturbed before they are to leave the city some time after the concert. They have the opposite schedule of the band, who sometimes have just woken up when they arrive at the venue. If they did not arrive via a band bus, they have been up for a bit more, but most artists are a bit grumpy when the day starts. Coffee, food and candy is the well tested cure for this ;) (and bananas).
Vegan/vegetarians and allergic members of the crew will always be accommodated in my experience, but if you want a particular kind of apple jam that has to be imported from France, you will either get regular apple jam and told it was impossible or regular apple jam in a bowl and lied to. The latter mostly happens if the artist is known for being a drama queen or is too famous to be told "suck it up". Same goes for ecological food.
Festivals have catering on the backstage area with one vegetarian and one meat version of dinner and no choices besides the two. If you want something else, you get it for your own money and on your own time unless you are a headliner or famous enough to demand take away. Then you might get something special ordered in, or might even bring your own kitchen (the latter is rare, but probably a good idea if you are travelling with a big enough crew). Festival food is a dangerous thing, and several bands have had to cancel gigs because of food poisoning. Besides stage injuries like sprained wrists and ankles, worn out joints and back problems, food poisoning seems to be the number one for putting a band out of action.
Most bands have hotel rooms if they can. Usually they sleep two and two in a room, with the manager/any female band members staying in a single. In Norway, the venue is responsible for sleeping arrangements, but I don't think this is the standard in the rest of Europe/the US. The more famous a band is, the more single room it gets, but the manager is always the first to get a single room, or share it with the driver, because their sleeping schedules don't match up with the band's. Dinner is often at the hotel or somewhere arranged by the venue. Sometimes they get buy out instead of dinner, a prearranged sum of money which they can use to buy their own food wherever they like. The venue is usually helpful with recommendations for a restaurants.
Most of the time, the backstage area is closed off. The band does not want any fans there before the show is over, and the venue would like to have as few people there as possible since friends/fans of the band are the ones most likely to cause trouble or be argumentative, not to mention drink the band's beer.
Before the show, their dressing room is used to change into stage clothes (when I started working backstage, I was told that the stage clothes of a proper touring band could stand on their own if so needed. This, unfortunately, is not a lie.) The stage clothes are rarely cleaned, sometimes parts of it is lucky (I have met artists with lucky shoes, lucky hats and lucky bracelets. No lucky underwear so far, though :P) and all of the time it is the coolest clothes they have. If they are the kind of band who uses make up, this will be applied here to a lot of giggeling and comments from other bands/band members/cruel band liasons. Time will be wasted drawing in the guestbook/on the walls/on each other, a few beers will be drunk and several cigarettes smoked. The time before the gig is usually pretty tense, even if the band is an experienced one. For some, this is just a job as any other, but for most of them this is where they have to prove themselves yet again. Yesterday's concert might be discussed, what went wrong and what was great. Some bands prefer not to think about the gig at all, others play/warm up (the drummer is usually the one warming up, since he is the guy most likely to get damage if he doesn't). Some band members might pick a fight with each other, others will put on music that they love or hate to dance and sing to. Some will play songs...
The pre-concert rituals are as many as there are bands. My favourite two were the singer who walked around in little circles, singing to himself, almost catonic from concentration, and the band who held around each other and sang old children's tunes as sour as they could until reaching a crecendo and high-fiving each other before running to the stage.
After the concert, they will bring in friends and girls, fans and their family, or just lie back and relax. Most bands prefer to be alone for the first half hour, then drink into the small hours of the night, or go to the hotel and from there out on the town. The bigger bands usually stay backstage/keep court at the hotel instead of going out, unless they like the attention (in my experience, few do. If they want to go to a pub, they usually do so during the day, when they won't be mobbed by fans). On their way out from the venue, they are usually met by fans who want their picture and something (usually body parts and tickets) signed. Some bands love this and spend a lot of time with the fans, chatting with them, others prefer to be left alone. The bigger they are, the more likely it is that they will want to be left alone.
I hope this answered some of your questions and wasn't too redundant, I just wasn't sure of how much you knew and how much was new. When I started working at venues, I knew absolutely nothing about the music scene, so if you knew all this from before, I apologize. If you have any more questions, I will be glad to answer, this is just what I could remember off the top of my head :P
From a NaNo-post, on the subject of bouncing
I've been a bouncer at a bar for a couple of years. I'm a girl, so I got a lot less hassle from the men (but probably more from the women). The times I remember right now, on the top of my head, is:
* the time a punk picked me up by my shirt, held me against the wall and stabbed his finger through the air towards me, hissing that I should be *** lucky he was suck a *** nice boy, or else I would be pissing blood. I managed to choke out that I was glad he was a nice boy, then. He answered "yeah..." as if he suddenly remembered that holding someone against the wall, threatening them with a beating, wasn't a nice thing to do, let me go and threw himself out (aka. went home). I went to our break room and shook for fifteen minutes. That was the first time I was threatened by one of the guests, and I hadn't worked there for a long time at that point. After a while, you get a pretty hard skin for threats.
* the time a guy one of my colleagues had thrown out for being too drunk got in my face as I was trying to repair the door (the hinges were broken, it was winter, it was not a good thing) and asked me why he was thrown out. He was too drunk, he could hardly stand and was slurring his words, so I told him just that. He then asked me if I knew anything about physics. He probably meant physiology, but since I was studying biology at the university, I told him yes, I did. He said "ok" and stumbled home.
* another time someone was on their way home when they stumbled and fell into a metal door we had. Both me and a co-worker shouted "be careful!" as he fell. He scrambled to get up, and staggered over to us. "Don't you worry, girls," he slurred, "that door is solid metal. I can't harm it."
* then you have the time a band that was playing at our bar came to write their guest list. They were hard core metal guys, and one of them sang a song consisting only of the word "meow" sung in a very high voice while the others argued over who were to be let in and who had to pay.
* you have the girl who had a complete breakdown at the toilets, so I was sent in to get her out and home. Her friends were fortunately there when it showed that she was French, and my French was completely useless (je m'apelle Videur, j'ai vingt-quatre ans). I did understand enough to understand that this country, it's beer, it's men and all it's cats could all go fuck themselves, she hated them all and she was swimming home. I do hope her friends got her out of that idea, it's a pretty far swim.
* Then you have the time a girl who we had thrown out once already that night tried to get back in to fetch her jacket. One of my co-workers went with her, got distracted and the girl disappeared, bought a beer and continued to get insanely drunk. We found her, threw her back out, and she tried the same thing again. This time, we refused to let her in. It was December, she was wearing high heels, a belt and a see-through top, and shouted at us for fifteen minutes that if we didn't let her back inside to get her jacket, she would freeze to death in the park close by and it would be our fault. I told her I could call a cab for her, which she refused (by law, that releases me of any responsibility towards her, since she was clearly sober enough to take care of herself, only obnoxious drunk, not dangerously so, and she was with two friends who were as obnoxiously drunk as her, and they could take care of each other just fine). She claimed twice that she would freeze to death in the park, and when she did, she would call the papers and it would all be my fault (the second time she said it, I gave in to the temptation to tell her that would be more her problem than mine, which led to her increasing her volume and shouting even more. In the end, I went in with my boss (who is a weakling and gave in, even though I had no problem standing there getting the abuse. There were only fifteen minutes left of my work day, and I was honestly feeling quite entertained by her idiocy). We guarded her by walking one on each side of her, like best friends, only wearing day-glo yellow security shirts that made it very clear we were not her honour guard. She found her jacket after less than a minute searching (yet claimed there were no chance someone else would ever find it, and refused to tell us where it was or what it looked like) and staggered into the night wearing a sleeveless blue jacket that ended just under her breasts.
* then you had the group of fifteen men who sat in the bar, singing "they can't throw us out, because we are from [insert city here]". We proved them wrong pretty quickly by simply denying them any more beer (rule number one: never piss of the bartenders, they have the right to refuse you service and they know how to use it).
* Last, but not least, you have the man who a co-worker of mine found to be unconcious in one of the toilet booths. They fetched me because they didn't know what to do and couldn't find the boss. The locks were terrible, which unfortunately meant that the security unlocking thing was broken and the only way to open them was to kick them open, which I did... waking the poor drunk inside, who suddenly found himself sitting naked on a toilet seat with four girls staring at him. Never seen a drunk leave a bar that quick.
Things I never thought working at festivals would teach me:
* What's a good whiskey and what's not (hint: Jack Daniels - not. Not at all.)
* Water has to be over 70 deg Celsius to kill bacteria
* Breathing exercises (Don't kill the singer, just breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth and find the vegan, eco-friendly, fair trade strings for his fucking guitar.)
* There is a drink made from equal parts red wine and cola.
* Said drink doesn't taste as horrible as you would think.
* How easy it really is to sneak into a backstage area (and how to politely escort the lucky ones out again... and again... and again...).
* What the best American candy is. (M&Ms with a pretzel centre. This was the result of an hour long discussion at a metal festival I worked at.)
* How to best nail a sheep's head to a pole (Icky details: you have to do it while the head is frozen. If it thaws, it will go SPLAT all over the walls, floor and you. If it's frozen, it will look good. At least until it thaws, when it might start to drip.)
* What different metal singers use to make it look like they are covered in blood, and the pros and cons, like how hard they are to wash up from the floor, off your hands and out of your clothes.
- Pig's blood - smells horrible, can cook under the lights from the stage, easy to get off the floor, walls, sink and your skin, hard to get out of clothes. Most popular in the Bergen metal scene.
- Store bought fake blood - you hands will be dyed red to the day you die. If you were blonde before, you are now a ginger. If you got some on the floor, you will have to paint the floor. If you got it on your skin, just nod and smile to all those who asks if you've been out picking blueberries. The truth is not an option!
- Home made fake blood - often smells chocolatey, tastes ok and still looks cool if you drink it and spit it on the audience (but it does tip the audience on that it's not real). Quite easy to get off, and even if you don't get it completely off your clothes, it doesn't look like blood so you're spared the most awkward questions. Why not more metal bands use this is a conundrum to me. Probably because it contains chocolate, and chocolate is not metal.
- Theatre blood - the perfect blood. Easy to clean, looks real at all times, doesn't cook under the lights (although it may harden, which makes it impossible to clean off clothes).
DJ in a bar
DJs always get the most flack, and I'm saying this as an ex-bouncer! Sure I got some drunk moron quarrelling with me for fifteen minutes ("I'm not that drunk!" "Yes you are." "How do you know?" "You were asleep on the floor." "I got sleepy!" "You were sleeping in your own vomit."), but they had the morons who wanted them to put on [insert popular pop song / ancient rock ballad here], turn up the volume, change their whole playlist... People even managed to complain about the metal songs being played before and after a metal band played (it's too noisy! This band isn't metal enough! This band is death metal, but the music is black metal! It's not black enough!). They kept complaining about it even after the DJ put on the band's newest CD and buggered off.
A legend in our bar is the tale of a DJ who finally had enough. He was told to put on [pop song X] by a couple of annoying girls. First he told them he didn't want to. When that didn't work, he claimed he didn't have the CD. They pointed the CD out on the shelf behind him, where they are lined up, and he pulled it out, opened the cover, broke the CD, showed them the pieces and calmly said "Like I said, I don't have the CD."
Another time one of our DJs was thrown out of the club for playing music the owner didn't like (indie rock at a rock bar). She went and started a club concept at another bar, which "stole" a lot of our clientèle the years she kept it going. This was the source of whole lot of drama between the management and the ground floor workers (bar, security, DJ), as we were all on the DJs side.
Another kernel of drama is when you have more than on DJ that night (mostly only on club nights, aka. no live music, only DJing), and they can't agree on the last song of the night. At least for our DJs, the last song of the night is something special. The one time I remember one of the DJs wanted to play "Je Ne Regrette Rien" and the other one wanted to play "Time Warp". The Edit Pjaf lover won the stone-paper-scissor contest, and went around bragging while we all cleaned up for the day that the whole room had sung with him, and even started leaving on their own accord when the song was over. This caused the other DJ to claim they were escaping the music, and the only one singing was DJ A. The bar crew actually had to declare a winner before we could leave that night (Edit Pjaf won).
At our bar, the DJ staff are the only ones allowed to drink at the job, which means the rest of the ground floor crew usually don't like them very much. They rub it in people's faces. This can fall back on themselves if they get too drunk, though, as we're allowed to thrown them out for drunkenness just like a regular client. In those cases we find a mix CD to put on and call in a replacement.
The punishment for spilling beer on the equipment is buying new equipment, which no DJs working for the kind of pay they got where I worked could afford, so most DJs stay sober enough to avoid drunken accidents. Accidental destruction of property while sober is not punished, but the moment you've had more than one beer everything you break is put on your tab.
Pay to play? Requests? How do you get gigs?
1) How do you get gigs?
By sending in a demo to the email address on our web page, by calling booking (a hard feat as they do their best to keep their numbers hidden from prospective bands) and try to get a gig or by word of mouth (someone working at the venue saw you somewhere else and loved your style / make up / lead guitarist and told booking).
Pestering anyone else at the venue, or even pestering booking usually hurts more than it helps unless you're completely new (in which case we'll blame ignorance, not stupidity or desperation, and usually set you straight). Now if you apply to every opportunity we have for a band of your genre, that's just a good thing. At our venue we have several two-day festivals for unsigned bands of different genres (punk, pop, metal) as well as two-three Thursdays a month for Rock N Roll Thursdays (for all new / unsigned / inexperienced small bands who wants to play on a stage). Now this might not be how most others handle it, but it was how we did it.
2) Do you have to pay to play a gig? / What do you earn playing a gig?
Depends on which country you're in. In England (especially in London) it's common to pay a fee to be given stage time. In most other countries (Norway and the US, for example) this is unheard of. One American artist I asked was almost offended by my question, asking why he should pay to do his job. Now what you earn is really dependent on how famous you are (and sometimes how good you are / how much the ones booking you like your music), but I have never heard of anyone having to pay here. That's money going the wrong way.
On the other hand, this doesn't mean a band starting out is being paid much. And by "much" I mean "anything at all". I know my venue used to give them 24 beers to share and nothing else (this is considered being generous to small bands, so other venues can give them even less). We've sometimes paid part of their travelling costs, so they wouldn't go broke performing, but I've never heard of a band earning anything the first years of their career. In fact in Norway you don't do it for the love of money, and even nationally famous bands like Enslaved have second jobs to keep things afloat.
I know that sometimes when booking falls in love with a foreign band, they will go together with venues elsewhere in Norway to split the bill for getting them to Norway and around the country. The band will not be paid anything besides transportation fees, though.
3) How are requests handled?
Badly. Very badly.
I'm kidding, but only somewhat. Bands don't like being told what to play. No, not even if its their own song and you really, really, really love it. Really small bands might still be flattered that you know the title of one of your songs and play it as a reward, but most others will curse you out then and there, or wait until they get backstage. I've been at concerts where requests were made and responded to (most notably Roger Waters and Travis), but mostly the band ignores the request makers. Roger Waters told the young boy he had excellent taste, but they unfortunately hadn't played it in so long he didn't want to risk it, and the singer of Travis started laughing, wondered loudly if they still remembered that song and played it because it was one of the first songs they made and they were flattered anyone remembered. Every single other concert I've been at where requests were made, they were either met with insults or just completely ignored.
If the band has asked for the audience to give requests, that usually don't fare much better. Unless the band is a cover band, playing other people's songs, they don't want to play Smoke on the Water or Stairway to Heaven. (Not to mention playing them on stage actually leads to you owing money to the original bands, which is a pain.) If the band asks for requests, most will either be "funny" ("play something by Smokie!") or just miss the point completely, asking for songs already played or something equally stupid.
This might just be me being an old grump, and being wrong, but rock / metal gigs rarely have requests, and rarely get requests actually worth playing.
4) Forcing the band off stage?
If it's an open mik night, forcing a band off stage with booing can be done. Some places even have a ritual where the bar's owner or some other authority after some booing makes a big deal out of chasing the band off stage. Where I work, that has never happened. We book bands for a certain amount of time, and we won't chase them off stage until they've finished their set.
Now if they go over their allotted time, that's a whole new deal. First the stage manager / sound guy will give them a sign that this is their last song (holding up a single finger). If they keep going past that song, we'll give them a sign to stop playing (drawing our fingers across our throat). If they keep going, the stage manager lets the sound guy know to cut the sound. This means the only sound heard out is the drums, drowning out the other music, and they look like asses. It's not a good way to stop a concert, and it's only done if there's many bands playing and a tight schedule.
These bands will be told off that playing more than their alloted time don't increase their fee, and might even have a harder time getting a new gig at that place because they can't obey such a simple rule. Going over their time despite signals is rude as hell, and it pisses of the next band and everyone working with them at the venue. How well-loved a band is does not influence their playing time, but if they follow the rules and the audience love them they'll probably get more stage time the next gig. Not to mention it almost guarantees them a second gig at that venue. Always leave them wanting more!
If they, on the other hand, are completely hated by the audience, that can lead to so much. Most of the time the audience just don't give them any feedback, but sometimes someone throws bottles (a practice the venue I worked at tried to stop by kicking out anyone who did this). I know that at Reading festival there's a sport in chasing unpopular bands off the stage by bottling them, but that's a rain of bottles, not just a beer glass or two. As a safety feature we don't give out glass bottles during gigs, but give them flimsy plastic glasses that can't hurt. The best advice I was given on my first concert was "Never bottle the band. More likely than not, they have better aim than you.", and I have seen artists throw back and artists climb down and let their fists do the speaking. (Of course they spoke directly to my face, giving me the best shiner I've ever had, as I was working as stage crew that evening and tried to break up the fight.)
The only times a concert has been stopped by the audience were times when they managed to get beer over the sound booth, short circuiting some of the equipment. Note that this is rarely taken well by the audience or the venue, and you will find yourself banned for life as well as given a hefty bill to replace what you broke.
Fun with riders
The technical rider is usually pretty boring (Iggy Pop's is an exception), with detailed descriptions of everything they need for the stage. Everything too large or expensive to travel with is the venue's job to get. Pianos, drum sets*, monitor, amplifiers and anything else they can think about. It usually contains a stage plot, which is a description of where everything should go on stage. Ideally, a stageplot should look something like this. More often than not, it looks like this:
*) Bands sharing the stage at a festival or a concert with short changeover will usually share a drum set, with each drummer having his own specifications as to how it will be. For bands travelling on a small budget, drum sets are usually on the technical rider. Very new bands sometimes assume cymbals and drumsticks are included. Protip: they're not.|
In the technical rider is often a spot where the band asks for local riggers to help them carry their stuff, and negotiates a fee for every local rigger who doesn't show. Small bands don't actually need any help with their gear, but it's a good way to earn some extra beer money in case the riggers don't show up. Larger bands will be pissed if they don't show, as it leads to a lot of unnecessary work for their own crew.
Now small bands sometimes try their luck with a technical rider asking for better gear than the venue can afford or their music need. Most of the time they get "nice try" scribbled on the rider and whatever sound/light gear the venue's got lying around. If their requests are completely ridiculous (like eight moving heads in a venue with a roof so low they would probably knock themselves unconscious with just one) they will be mocked mercilessly for years to come. (But mocking happens a lot in this business. The light engineer who's strobes sent a guitarist into an epileptic fit twice still gets to hear it whenever he fires up his rig.)
**) I don't have anything against vegans, but my country does. It's almost hopeless finding anything vegan in Norway, where even the margarine contains milk. The vegan artists I've worked with have been surprisingly good sports when their lunch turns out to be potato chips, bananas and tofu.|
In Norway we usually go to great lengths to fulfil the catering rider, which I know is uncommon in the rest of Europe. In the US it depends on the venue, and in the UK you need to be pretty famous before the venue even bother reading the catering rider. Since we're so far away from everywhere else, we try to feed bands so they come back. We take pride in fulfilling as many of the non-stupid requests on the rider as possible.
Don't ask for drugs in your rider. Most likely scenario is that you won't get them, but you just made sure that everyone will pay special attention to you, both to grab the dealer and make sure he never gets in again and to make damn sure you don't take anything before the show. If you need drugs, be discreet about it and don't even think about asking before your gig. We care a lot less what you do to yourself after you've fulfilled your part of the contract. In fact most of the alcohol will in many cases be held back until after the show, as we don't care for having a shitfaced singer get his foot stuck in the barricades (yes, this happened), or stripping onstage (yes, this too) or beating up the drummer the moment you're off stage (yes, but they fired the guy on the spot). We don't care if the rest of the band has to carry you home as long as you finished your job before you got drunk.
Bands starting out have three choices when it comes to food: pizza, stew or nothing at all. More popular bands (especially those who don't live in the same city they're playing in) get three options as well: take out (e.g. pizza or chinese), restaurant food brought to the backstage (high-class take out) or a buy out.
The venue prefers buy out, since giving them money in hand and sending them out to get their own food is always the simplest solution for us. We're usually more than happy to recommend a restaurant, and more often than not the buy out is more than the food would have been. Everyone wins!
Get in food is true to its name food prepared for the band when they get to the venue. Smaller bands usually have very small demands (bread and spread), while larger bands wants more fancy stuff. Often special requests for juice, fruit baskets, cheese platters and particular kinds of bread, along with speciality teas (with honey, ginger, lemon or whatever they like in their tea). Coffee is a given for get in, to the point that no one has to request it in a rider. Unless you want caffeine free coffee, in which case you really need to explain your logic (repeatedly!).
Generally the more famous bands get more and better food. They can demand both get-in food, lunch, dinner or buy-out and after-gig food. The latter is almost always pizzas, as not much else is open at that time of night. After gig food is necessary as some artists prefer not to eat too much before a concert (after all if you're in a rock / metal band, a concert is a pretty hard work-out).
My own personal trick is to always by a bunch of bananas, some to give when the band arrives for get-in. It's usually their first meal of the day, and sometimes they're hung over from the day before. Coffee and bananas fix bad moods better than anything else I've tried (especially as many bands refuse to eat chocolate). They're also great to hide away to the evening, when some of the band members are hungry, but don't want dinner, or are hungry after the gig but don't want to leave yet. Why they don't pack a lunch I don't know. Maybe it's not rock n' roll enough for them.
Bottled water is expensive. Fancy imported bottled water even more so. Bands asking for local stuff are appreciated (even more appreciated was the artist that asked for bottled water, adding "Evian is NOT water"). If you ask for fancy important water, more often than not you'll find that you didn't get it. I've yet to see someone throw a hissyfit over this. Maybe I've been lucky.
Juice is by request only, and even requesting individual cartons won't lead to you getting them. It's damn expensive, and usually they get the largest family sizes one can get. Anything more fancy than regular orange and apple juice has to be searched for, and usually we don't have it.
Beer: Local beer is king. Usually the venue has a deal with the brewery that provides them with beer for the bars to also get them backstage beer. Unfortunately that doesn't include *insert fancy imported beer here*. We can get Stella Artois and Guinness, but if you want other pale ales or stouts, we really have to like you to bother trying. American beers are almost impossible to get in Norway (face it, even most Americans don't like American beer). Anything besides Duff and Pabst (yes, we have hipsters too) has to be especially ordered from neighbouring countries.
Eco food and drink: We'll try, but sometimes it's just impossible. It's a hell of a lot more expensive, and things like ecological gherkins and eco-salt is impossible to get. We probably won't broadcast the fact that we couldn't get the eco version of something, and most artists understand that we did our best. When it comes to eco alcohol (beer, wine), that is actually easier than getting eco bread, both because we have a local eco beer (nøgne Ø) which has been a world champion these last few years, and because ecological alcohol don't cost that much more than regular alcohol (which is seriously overpriced in this country), you'll probably get it.
Spirits: again something we really have to like you to get you, at least if the alcohol contents is over a certain point (I think 0.17%). If you're "everyone and their father knows who you are" famous, you might get spirits. If you're not, you won't get it. Same goes for cigarettes and snuff.
BY SPECIAL REQUEST
Now for the fun part. Some bands add the weirdest things to their rider. This is a list of my favourites:
- clean socks,
- my favourite dvd (for their tour bus),
- Eddie the Head action figure
- four different flavours of chocolate milk
- a leather cap
- a bullwhip
- the gayest pair of underwear I could find
- Elvis Presley (we made him out of carton and had him share the stage with them, so now they can brag they've played with Elvis)
- a picture of [unpopular politician] to deface
- necklaces to bring down to their scorned wives after the gig
- chocolate cake with candles
- a small lego toy, worth no more than $12
- cornflakes, to mess up the backstage area when they leave (we used up a whole roll of duct tape band-proofing that box. They did not manage to open it, so they took it with them.)
Masseuses and chiropractors aren't unheard of. The stress some artists put on their bodies can be enough for chronic conditions (tinnitus and joint / back issues are the most common), and the stress of a tour can be enough to break even the hardest of musicians.
Special requests with payment for the gig only happens when the band and the organizers know each other well, as any mess with payments can get all parts into trouble. I know of cases where a band got paid with a check containing 200 staples (impossible to cash before the staples were removed) , got paid only in coppers (copper coins; in Norway the only coppers left are worth $0.09), and one band who played Hot, Warm, Cold (no: tampen brenner) to find the check we'd hid backstage (it was in the CD player).
Let there be LIGHT!
Moving heads (no: moving heads)
Also known as intelligent light, moving heads are programmable lights that can change colour, project different light patterns and move around on stage during a concert. They can also be used as strobe lights.
Nerds (no: nerder)
Light engineers are known in the business for being the biggest nerds around. Some of the light has to be programmed in Linux to work.
Par cans (no: parka)
Regular, non-moveable lamps with different coloured filters. Used to set the scene. Some bands have preferences when it comes to colours, others couldn't care less and the only instruction is "make us look cool".
Smoke machine (no: røykmaskin)
Two kinds: smoke machines and fog machines. The latter costs more, remains longer on the stage and lies lower, while smoke machines disappear quickly off the stage, but spreads through the stage.
Strobe lights (no: strober)
Lights that flicker in different tempos. Can trigger epileptic fits. Unfortunately many light engineers think they "look cool".