How to Keep Your Band from Being a Pain in the Ass



There are countless blogs out there with page after page of advice for musicians. Some of it is great, insightful material and some of it is just a long-winded sales pitch, preying on naive musicians who are unsure of what they're doing.

I make no guarantees on my level of wisdom, but I can assure you that there will be no link at the bottom of this page directing you to purchase anything. I'm not going to tell you how to increase “fan engagement” or even how to sell more merch at your next show, I'm just going to tell you a few ways to avoid getting your band a reputation for being a major pain in the ass.

Some people think there is a secret network of venue owners and event promoters that have some kind of list containing every band and their offenses, a list that ensures you will never get a decent show in your area ever again. I suppose there could be an actual list somewhere and if so, I'd really like to read it, but in reality, people talk and word gets around. It's not hard to stay off this somewhat imaginary list and hopefully these simple tips will help at least someone out there stay off of anyone's bad side.

First of all, you need to act professionally, even if your image is being a happy-go-lucky party band, at least one of you needs to be able to switch into business mode and get things done. Don't worry, it's not quite as serious as it sounds; other than having basic advertising, marketing and branding knowledge, it's mostly just making sure no one is too drunk to play or breaks anything. Apart from that, if you can get to the venue on time, get on and off stage promptly and respond to an email coherently, you've pretty much got it.

Most booking agents and promoters are current or former musicians and are pretty laid back about their methods of communication, just like you. I can't tell you how many times I've read emails entirely in lowercase with little-to-no punctuation; that's not how I tend to communicate, but no one is exactly the same. You'd be surprised at how far a clear, concise email or prompt response can get you; after all, timing is important when booking a show and that applies to both sides of the equation.

Having said that, everyone likes courtesy, so even if you're turning down a show offer, just respectfully decline and don't leave anyone hanging. From a booking/promotion perspective, if I don't get a response within a few days, I take it as a “no” and move on with no hard feelings, time is valuable after all. You're likely not going to upset anyone by declining a show offer and no one should be trying to make you feel guilty for making that decision, but it does happen from time to time. From a musician's perspective, I'm inclined to not want to accept any additional offers from that particular booker/promoter, but maybe that's just me.

In small markets like South Carolina, shows are put together in a more relaxed manner because generally speaking, people here aren't in a hurry. This isn't how I prefer things to work, but I work within these parameters. Usually, setting up a show involves a few brief messages to a band member with specific details being sent upon request or once everything is finalized.

I've found that sending too many details in an initial contact message isn't always a great idea. You may get the “tl;dr” reaction or wind up having to repeat yourself, but again, no one is exactly the same. My advice there is be patient and ready to send the same sentences over and over if you have to; remember, we're musicians, most of us are flaky.

Which brings me to my second point, try not to be flaky. You probably don't like when people cancel plans on you, so don't do it to anyone else. Sure, sometimes things come up and you have to make a tough decision, but I guarantee that if you develop a reputation for canceling shows, it will follow you. There may not be a secret list or clubhouse for bookers and promoters, but word gets around and people do notice these things whether you realize it or not.

This somewhat goes back to professionalism, but again, life is unpredictable and sometimes you've just got to do what you've got to do. Offering to find a replacement to take your band's slot is a classy and often greatly appreciated gesture when you absolutely have to cancel a show. However, telling a promoter you're gonna bring your acoustic guitar and play songs from your Folk side project when they booked your Thrash Metal band is a terrible idea. I truly hope I don't have to explain all the reasons why that's not the best decision to make, but if you want to try it, go right ahead; make sure you record the conversation and post it on the Internet for all of us to enjoy.

Deep down, most people want to be recognized for something. It doesn't matter what your occupation is, chances are, you want to be great at it or at least good enough to not be easily replaced. For years, people have longed for the glory and fame of being a “rock star” and it doesn't appear to be losing much of it's allure in spite of the music industry's current state of perpetual turbulence.

Image has been a factor in the music business as far back as the days of Reel-to-Reel recorders and Delta Blues. Robert Johnson may not have even been a footnote in music history had it not been for rumors of him selling his soul to Satan in exchange for his talent. Having a larger-than-life persona is paramount in the entertainment business, but not too many people care to deal with an arrogant attitude, especially if you're still making your way through dive bars and houses.

Unless your band is guaranteed to draw a venue-filling crowd and generate plenty of revenue, don't go making a lot of demands and acting superior. Even then, no one is going to think you're cool for refusing to go on stage until all your candy is separated by color and the venue turns off the air conditioner.

Learn the ways of your scene and work within them or gently stretch them with charm and charisma, not grandstanding and posturing. Truthfully, people do love a spectacle in all it's forms, but if you make yourself the spectacle, be sure to do it with poise and respect. Of course, this doesn't apply if your biggest aspiration is to be the next Seth Putnam, in which case, good luck with that.

Probably the hardest part about being a musician, whether in a band or solo, is getting people to pay attention to your music. Getting that done usually requires money to record some music, shoot a video, create merch and at the very least, do a tour here and there. If you're in an actual band, you've potentially got a team that can handle everything that needs to get done in order to be at least moderately successful. Getting all those members to work together for that common cause isn't always easy, but it's far from impossible.

It's important for everyone to pull their weight and sometimes that might mean being the “band parent” and making sure everyone gets loaded in and out instead of just getting loaded on the band's bar tab. While it's far more beneficial for everyone involved to be responsible and professional, usually bands have a leader that calls most, if not all of the shots.

As long as that one member can multi-task like a champion and never slip up or get over-stressed, you'll all be fine, but don't be surprised if that person takes off for greener pastures the first chance they get. You might be left standing there calling them a traitor or prima donna, but they'll be moving forward and progress is the name of the game.

Lately it seems like everything I type gets taken personally by someone and if you happen to be offended by any of the above statements, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate how you do business. I don't make these posts to embarrass or offend anyone, but when it happens, I don't let it bother me because my job is to inform and entertain in any way that I see fit. Not everyone is aware of the “ins and outs” of conducting business in regard to music so I try my best to share the knowledge I've accumulated.

Being in a band is a fun job if you can make money at it, but the fact remains that it is a job requiring just as much hard work as any other occupation. The physical labor aspect may be somewhat limited, but the brain-work involved can be exhausting whether you're a booker/promoter or musician.

If all you want out of your band is to play a show here and there for free beer, make that known so you don't waste anyone's time. Bands who are in it as a hobby rarely put in proper promotional effort, so why bother booking them for anything other than a nearby house party, if at all? A show without a crowd is just band practice and no one gets gas money for that, if you do, please inform us all of your magical practice space where money apparently grows on trees.

Sometimes I feel like I'm screaming at a wall, but I continue screaming in the hope that the message gets through. Working together is vital to our success, whether it's as artists, coworkers or as an entire species. Be respectful and considerate of each other because we're all just trying to achieve success in our lives; in other words, don't be a pain in the ass.

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