DIY Band Etiquette: The Good, The Bad and The Cringe-Worthy

I enjoy many things in life, some perhaps to excess, but one thing I've been inclined to do for as long as I can remember is gather information. Trivial bits like “who originally played guitar for Ozzy Osbourne after he left Black Sabbath?” (Brad Gillis, Randy Rhoads was second) as well as more useful chunks of knowledge like how to cook an entire meal outdoors over an open fire or how to make noodles remain appetizing after eating them all week.

Seeing as this site is for music and not cooking tips, this week I'll be talking about what you should and shouldn't do before, during and after your band's performances. I've seen brand new bands of teenagers tour through my city with borrowed gear and really nail it, but I've also seen adults with full merch tables and state-of-the-art equipment fumble through a show with all the haphazard enthusiasm of a prom night couple in a dark parking lot. So without further adieu, let me tell you what I know about the good, the bad and the ugly side of playing DIY shows.

First, let me set the scene for people not fully acquainted with DIY shows and how they're put together. Bands usually play in the living room, basement or wherever there is ample space in the house. Understanding, reasonable neighbors (or none at all) are crucial for something like this to work, especially on a weeknight.

Word-of-mouth is primarily how these shows are promoted, so if no one knows who you are, don't expect them to watch your whole set. This is especially true during summer months because in a room full of people dancing and moshing while huge speaker stacks blare music, it can get unbearably hot and pungent quite fast.

When playing a DIY spot in a new city, it's a great idea to send your most charismatic member out to chat with everyone as early as possible. Something that simple could result in a few more people willing to pass on an extended outdoor breather just to watch your set and possibly even buy something from you. This doesn't mean run around and start pushing your band in their face, just introduce yourself and ask about the city you're in and of course, the people you're currently talking to; learn as much about the scene you're about to perform for as you can.

I'll refer back to that last bit of information later, but now I'd like to take a moment to stress the importance of generally having your shit together when you're playing live. Some bands think that all they really need to tour is a vehicle, some merch and some places to play, but that's only the beginning.

It absolutely blows my mind to continuously see bands taking just as long to set up and tear down their equipment as it does to play their set. I felt certain that this was a fairly well-known rule of band etiquette at this point, but it isn't so allow me to reiterate the point; get your sloth-like ass out of the way! DIY shows often, if not always, operate on a schedule yet still manage to run long.

Playing past the time allowed by your local noise ordinance (look it up, it's not hard) is almost like screaming, “Hey, if any of you want to call the police on us, go ahead!” in the street. These are self-policing shows and everything runs smoothly as long as no one acts irresponsibly or belligerently, which is actually a rare occurrence.

If police show up and see someone of legal age drinking a beer and notice someone underage across the room, guess what happens? Here's a hint: they don't say “Okay guys, have fun, we're leaving now!” and do donuts in the street for your amusement.

I think that if a band takes too long to tear down and causes the show to run past the legally acceptable time, they should be the ones that have to talk to the police when they show up; that'll cement this rule in the collective consciousness real quick. Time is valuable, don't waste it.

Time is crucial in the same regard when it comes to your set as well, but I'm not even talking about playing for too long. (Leave them wanting more, of course.) I mean wasting time during the set because you're not being heard correctly. Any sound guy will tell you vocalists out there this little nugget of enlightenment: STOP STRANGLING THE MICROPHONE! Your hands are preventing sound from being picked up properly, it amazes me that I still see people do this sometimes. Please, for the love of all that is generally pretty decent, stop “cupping” the microphone. It might sound okay during sound-check when it's just an open chord and a few snare hits, but it's gonna be muffled and barely audible during the songs.

As for the general mishaps that may occur during a house show, I guess the best advice would be to have some duct tape handy and be nice to everyone so they won't mind if you ask to borrow something of theirs; common sense, really.

Now for the ugly; the most awkward, uncomfortable and downright stupid thing I've ever seen a band do at a show. I'm talking Sacha Baron Cohen levels of cringe-worthy embarrassment, except there was no one laughing this time. I understand that not all of us think exactly the same and sometimes we all have “brain farts”, but there is no good excuse for being completely oblivious to your surroundings.

I mentioned that learning a bit about the scene you're playing for that night is a great idea, but it doesn't take any charisma or marketing knowledge to look around a room; all you need for that is at least one functioning eye. Just so there's no further confusion, if there is a rainbow flag hanging in a room, you can rest assured that scene includes the LGBT community. Please do praise the scene that hosted you, but never, ever say your scene is “gay” in comparison. (I don't want to explain why because I feel like it's not really my place and I thought that was Hillary Duff's job.)

You don't even necessarily have to check out the other band's merch tables and notice whatever pamphlets they have out, just observe your surroundings. It could save you and your audience loads of embarrassment, but at least you'll learn something, albeit the hard way.

All in all, DIY shows are just about the most fun you can have with complete strangers at someone's house. They're also attracting attention from the mainstream due to their relative ease of setup and because anything that seems like a “niche market” is getting pounced upon by virtually everyone in the music industry. The music business has been in a state of “try it, let's see what happens” ever since the “Metallica vs Napster” lawsuit; now the majors are watching the playing field level and want in on the action.

Many artists of varying popular styles are making their way through the house show circuit for the first time ever, but for artists of the more aggressive variety, these DIY spots are little pieces of home, strewn across the world. Many artists know the “do's and don'ts” of DIY touring from experience and probably all have a story of when it all went wrong, but the first rule is always “respect the space” which includes neighbors and anyone visiting or living there; treat it better than your own home.

One of the biggest parts of being a musician is meeting people and making connections, what better place to do these things than at a house party? Learn the etiquette, put in the effort and you'll be reaping the rewards of DIY touring in no time... or at least not hating every moment of your tour. Even in the underground, where expectations are often their lowest, this is a tough business.

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