Chip recently posted a video on Facebook of the .HEREtoday. fellas performing an early (and in my humble opinion, superior) version of our song Keep in Bealeton, VA. Chip is only seen partially, and only the headstock for my bass makes an appearance…for a second. The deep tones of bass guitar are evident, however. I swear I was there despite the lack of video proof.
I played literally hundreds of those shows, especially in the 2003 to early 2006 time period. Between those shows, hundreds of worship experiences at Common Ground from 2004 to 2009 (and a few times this year) and various other performances combined with my experience running sound during my time at Mary Washington COLLEGE, I have amassed some strong opinions about performance behavior.
For the purpose of this blog, I’ll focus on some pre-performance behavior. Pre-performance is the time from when you arrive at the venue (church, club, bar, Chik-fil-a, etc.) until when you perform. It includes load-in, set-up, sound check and practice.
First, everything has to make its way into the venue.
1. Everyone should help. I understand not everyone can carry my 110 pound (50 kilo) bass cabinet, but you should follow the example of my slight-framed-friends Julia Owens and John Daubert and carry something else while I carry that monster.
2. When you carry things in, don’t just leave them in a pile near the door. Bring things to their approximate performance position. This will save time during the set-up phase. No point in ruining your back more by picking things up a second time.
3. You you open the passenger door to Jon Bibb’s car and it is hit by another car (like when Sweet Old Etcetera played at Chik-fil-a), let Jon Bibb fill out the insurance paperwork while you use the bathroom.
Once everything is in the venue, it has to be set up. This includes wiring your instrument, getting power, connecting the PA and running microphones. This is time-consuming and monotonous.
1. Everyone should help (this is starting to sound familiar, no?). Set up your gear first, then help others.
2. DON’T PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT UNTIL THINGS ARE SET UP!! I know you want to so badly. I know because I do, too. However, it is incredibly annoying and stressful when you’re the one sweating and trying to diagnose connection problems when there are random guitar licks and drum beatings going on. Rather than noodling on your instrument, ask how you can help. Anyone can run cables and there are typically a lot to run. At Common Ground, there are typically at least 15 cables on stage. .HEREtoday. would run around 20. Put your instrument down.
Once everything is set up and seems to be functioning, typically a sound check occurs to verify house and monitor levels.
1. Be nice to the sound guy. I have played with a few people who will remain anonymous who make my stomach absolutely racked with pain due to the embarassing and angry nature of how they deal with sound people. Many musicians think sound people are idiots. Well guess what, most sound people think musicians are idiots, too. In a lot of cases, those sound guys are volunteers, or if they are paid, it is not much. Give them a break. Be polite. Get the levels you want, but don’t be degrading or angry with them. That doesn’t help anyone, and truth-be-told, it is just not right. Just writing this conjures memories that make my stomach roll and fists clench. I have actually put my instrument down and walked off stage from being fed up with how a fellow musician is treating a sound person. I don’t care if they aren’t very good. It doesn’t mean you should be a jerk to them.
Now, I’m not a saint. I get frustrated, but I try to bite it down and put myself in their position. I get clipped at times, but it is my desire to get better all the time. It was .HEREtoday.’s goal to serve sound guys through positive reinforcement and politeness. That goal has cemented itself in me and will be a foundational principle for any band I have a leadership role in.
2. During sound check, don’t play unless it is your turn. You distract the sound person and make it difficult for them to diagnose any problems. In turn, this makes the check last longer and increases everyone’s level of frustration.
Practice is most common at churches. If you are a professional band, like .HEREtoday. was, leave practice for the practice space. Practicing at a venue is amateur. At church with constantly rotating sets and limited practice availability, often day-of practice is inevitable.
1. During practice, practice. Don’t play random crap.
2. Have fun. When there are mistakes, it’s okay. That is why you’re practicing after all.
Really all these “rules” are based on courtesy, efficiency and respect. There is a much quoted “rule” that often goes forgotten by musicians, myself included, but I’m on a mission to make it my pre-performance mantra, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”