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Etiquette - The Maker and Breaker of Bands

One of the areas that I think most beginning, some journeymen and even pro musicians need to work on is the subject of what I'll call Musician Etiquette. We are all guilty of breaches of this convention of behavior, yours truly included.

There's that old chestnut about someone living in a glass house and not throwing rocks or the Nazarene's admonition about the one who bears no guilt, let that one cast the first stone. As such, this is not to be taken as a reading of the Riot Act or any sort of dressing down, as all are guilty of some breach of Musician's Etiquette.

I’m going discuss some by name and others in terms of concept. Almost all of these basics are really good Life Hacks and if one plays in a band they are imperatives. Many of these rules are recurrent variations that can be summed up under these two basic categories:

1) This is Not All About You, or Good Manners Begin at Home


A Band is Equal Parts Shared Effort AND Chemistry

Yep, when one plays in a band, it is a cooperative effort. Everyone should bring something of value to the table. The valuable contributions plus good chemistry in the group are the two major assets of any band. Tons of talent, chops and knowing everyone who is someone in the biz cannot make up for a lacking in these two areas.

Etiquette assures the biggest bang for the buck in taking advantage of these two qualities and can make up for deficiencies in other areas, so long as each has an adequate degree of competency with their instrument(s). Everyone has to do a reasonably quality job. It is indeed a joint effort as in working together and not about sharing that bag of la mota. More on the chemically altered aspect later.

Why It’s a Band and NOT an Army of One

Now, with modern tech, it's possible for a true one-person band to exist. Why isn't this as common as it could be? Because there is something about the uniqueness that each human being is that brings different perspectives and takes and ideas to the writing, arranging and recording of music. If it is the same person who is the genesis and interpreter of the creativity, then the ideas are generated and interpreted through the same filter and the results are either bland or get that way after a while.

Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds has a Little Sister Named Ego, Destroyer of Bands

There may be one individual who writes and arranges most of the music or one who is the front person or one who is the band leader and one who handles the business end or is the interface between the band management and the rest of the band. This may all be the same person. Tom Scholz of Boston comes to mind.

Yet in most all cases, no one is completely indispensable. At the same time, all are equally important if the band is to function well. What I'm getting at here is...Check your ego at the door. More bands have disintegrated because of dueling egos or one who has an ego and the rest of the band has to suffer it.

That sensibility or insensibility as the case may be, only has a limited number of miles on it before it is the one and primary divisive factor that causes the wheels come off. Just one over the top ego can breed a sense of envy, distrust, an “us against them” mentality, etc.

Some of the greatest bands that have fallen apart resulted in the members individually never recovering the commercial success that the band had. Ego is almost always the driving factor to the band exploding or imploding. It was the unique chemistry of the band that gave the whole a synergy that was an order of magnitude greater than the sum of its parts. That's part of the reason it is called a "band". It's about a group of musicians "banding" together to make music in a way that one person never can.

Being Clean and On Time is More Important than Playing Clean and Timing

Practice good hygiene. Bathe or shower regularly. Wear deodorant. Thoroughly wipe your butt after taking a dump. Wear clean clothes. Brush your teeth. Don’t chow down on garlic, curry and a 40-ouncer of Malt Liquor before you get into the bands small, hot and sweaty practice space.

Same goes with eating at “Bernardo’s All you Can Eat Burrito Buffet” within 24 hours of a practice or a gig and then unleashing a weapon of ass destruction in that small space or on that small stage. Your practice space is your band’s home. Same goes for gig night. The venue is your office. You are sharing both home and office with others. Don’t be a pig. Save that for your personal sty.

Practice on your own time. Know your parts of the material before it's time to rehearse them. This is good etiquette as much as any other behavior. Your bandmates are there to create a tight, cohesive group performing songs that may be covers or they may be originals. Don't waste their time by showing up and not being able to do what is expected of you because you did not put in the time to learn your part.

When it’s time for band practice, show up on time. Wasting your bandmates precious time with lack of preparedness or tardiness is disrespectful. If you know that there is a song or four that you need to know for a rehearsal, then show up comfortable with your knowledge and ability or that which is your responsibility.

You should be at least familiar enough with the other parts to have a good understanding and a reasonable working knowledge of how the song is put together. Play for the song and not just your own parts, your solo or intro or outro. The band serves the song and not just one member and/or their parts. Again, ego does not have a place here. This is a team and not a solo act.

Regarding the Peacemaker, the Humble One, and Honesty

Diplomacy, humility and integrity on the part of each individual are vital. These qualities cannot be faked or contrived because the average individual will deduce such prevaricated motives very quickly. Here is a case in point.

I was in a band for a while where the leader, who was the songwriter and arranger, would make a big deal about getting open input from everybody. He'd then take our input regarding the subject at hand and round file it. He had no intention of veering off of whatever he had intended to do in the first place.

In the beginning we had no idea that this is what he was doing until we started comparing notes amongst ourselves. After a while, it became apparent that if our ideas were incorporated, it was just dumb luck that the contributor's idea happened to be the same as our fearless leader. Along with that, he sort of got sloppy in covering what he was really doing and let slip his intent here and there in an indirect way.

This kind of individual is a particular variety of what I like to call an Askhole. They'll ask you for advice or your sincere opinion in feigning the need for help with solving a problem and then turn around and do whatever they feel like doing or what they intended all along. There is no point in this type of person ever asking for you thoughts, opinion or advice as they never will consider what you've said after your words have rebounded of the far wall and returned.

Beware of the askhole in your band. They have other struggles with integrity and can wreak havoc. Avoid drama and unproductive conflict in general. These are basic rules of personal/behavioral etiquette that many forget or get caught up in; the result is a short lived project and much butt hurt to go around. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Don’t be contentious for contention’s sake and again, it’s a collaboration, so check your ego at the door.

2) Being a Musician in a Band is a Business, or I Can't Take You Kids Anywhere in Public, Can I?


This is Hard Work - Tangible Compensation Deserved

Now there are some cases where this is not true, but most of the time, there is some expectation of playing and getting paid for your efforts. Your gear will not buy or maintain itself. Your ride needs to be filled with gas to cover all the trips to and from practice.

Too many musicians forget that this is a business and not a reason to party down when it's practice time or it's gig time. This is your job, whether part or full time. Even of you don’t see it that way 100%, some or all of your band mates do. Be considerate of the U&C expectations.

Know Who Your Master is and Know That for Them Time = Money

As a business, you not only have some sort of fan base that you need to cultivate, but you have clients that you are obligated to deliver your music for that provide you a venue and some cash at the end of the night.

Usually, especially when a band is starting out and is unsigned, this means bars, clubs, high school dances, weddings, private parties, bar mitzvahs. These are your patrons that pay you to provide a reason for folks to gather and consume overpriced alcoholic beverages at their establishment over another that does not offer live music or some sort of musical entertainment. The trick to making this work is simple.

Be the band whose presence causes a noticeable rise in the sales of liquor, food if served, and take at the door if there is a cover collected. Be there at the appointed hour. The band as a whole needs to be there. Being a little early is not a bad idea. Load in, set up as quickly as possible and help your band mates if you are good to go.

Play your allotted amount of time and secure your gear and load out by the appointed time. Someone is there in the establishment on the clock waiting to make sure you and your gear are gone so that they can lock up and go home. The owner doesn't want to have to pay overtime because a band is lollygagging and hanging out in the parking lot when it's time to lock up and leave.

Reward the owner’s decision to give you the time and the space to play with more money in his pocket. Most good business people will kick down a fair share to the band that makes that happen. It goes without saying, be tight, be ready and make sure your equipment is maintained and functioning. This seems obvious, but if I had not seen something related to violating this principle at almost every gig by at least one band present, then I would not need to mention it.

Kindergarten Lessons in Sharing Finally Pay Off

Now, in many cases your band is not the only act. There may be three or four other acts sharing the same bill including a headliner, which will probably not be you and your band.

Often times the stage manager/sound-FOH person/bar manager may be the same person. They will have the bands stage their gear on the stage in the order that the acts will play with the headliner's gear at the very rear. Then as the night progresses, the gear is pulled off the stage belonging to the departing band and the next band pulls their gear forward and working with the sound person to make sure the mic cables and instrument DI cables are jacked into the buss's channels as directed by that same FOH person.

An impromptu sound check takes place and then the show is off with your band allotted a fixed amount of time. Your band needs to fill the allotted time slot, but not go over the allotted time. It's bad form to violate either time provision, especially going over.

It doesn't matter if the audience wants one more song. The venue wants you done and pulling your gear off to make room for the next band. So does the next band. No one likes being cheated out of what has been apportioned to them. Wear a watch or have a clock handy to track the time. A trusted "friend of the band" in the audience can also serve as your time monitor. Trust me, if you don't take care of this, the FOH person will warn you by first telling you through the wedges and then by shutting your vocal mics down so no one will hear the singer(s).

Your Best Friend and Your Worst Enemy –FOH Dude(tte) & You

Now, the FOH person, aka the sound person, is your best friend or your worst enemy. Do not piss them off with bad behavior. Be courteous. Be cooperative. Don't be a dick or a diva to this individual. They can make or break your performance and, if they want, they can ensure that your band is not going to be back.

Trust me. It is well within their power to make you sound like you are rejects from the grade school talent show. Before the show, take the time to introduce yourself and ask what your band can do to help them out when it's your band's time to go up on the stage. Don't be an askhole. When they tell you that they'd like you and your band to , you smile and say, "No problem." Then, you make sure the band is aware of the requirements and you follow through as a band.

This can be quite hectic getting your gear in place and ready to go for the sound check. There might be a 15 minute window that includes the previous band getting their gear out of your way, for you and your band to set up your gear and then a few precious minutes for the sound check. You're not playing an area to 25,000 screaming fans. More than likely you are playing a small to medium sized room that may hold 150 people at most.

If you're just starting out and up to your first year or three, depending on how entertaining you are and how aggressively you promote your band and its music, you can expect to play a lot of these shows.

Leave the 100 watt half or whole stack at home. Leave your SVT all tube head and 8x10 refrigerator bass cabinet at home. Leave your Neil Peart appointed drum kit at home. Leave your three keyboard rig, rack of processing gear and 300 watt keyboard amp at home.

It is unnecessary overkill as it'll be too loud to manage a decent room mix when you dial in that sweet spot on your volume setting and it will take far too long to set up and break down when your time slot allotment clock starts ticking. The one individual, besides the venue owner, who does not suffer such time consuming fumb duckery on you and your band’s part is the FOH person. Remember what I said about not pissing off the sound person?

Making New Friends and Invaluable Networking Potential

The local scene is a small community, even in a big city. Take the time to at least introduce yourself to the other bands' members. Forming at least a friendly acquaintance pays dividends down the road, especially if a given band is tapped by a venue owner to fill a spot on a date as that band cannot due to conflicts. Your band's name and contact information can end up in the venue owner's possession.

Keep in mind that this is a two way street and your referral not only helps that band and builds some extra goodwill for later, but the venue owner remembers that you and your band helped him/her out in a jam and of course that pays too in goodwill. Good will can be worth more than money in this business.

You’re on the Clock - Leave Dr. Feelgood at Home

I mentioned la mota earlier...that's sweet leaf, weed, ganja, marijuana...Again remember that a band is a business. Now, I don't know of any business, whether it be a sole proprietorship or a mega corporation that lets their employees get baked, hammered, plastered, loaded, etc. while on the clock.

I'm not trying to preach or be judgmental here. I'm just passing on another good manners tip. It's one thing if you have a bona fide medical condition that requires physician prescribed, psychotropic medication, aka happy pills, pain killers, medical marijuana, etc., to manage the illness. It's another to deliberately utilize this kind of stuff recreationally or to drink to excess when it's practice time or it's time to play a gig.

This is your job. Be professional. Represent. After your band's slot is finished and your gear is loaded safely into your vehicle, that's another story...to a point. Remember, the venue owner does not care if you're done or not. If you create a problem, you and your band probably won't be playing there again. The owners do not suffer foolishness. Neither should you or your band.

Remember These Tips - They Will be on the Test = Every Practice, Every Gig

These are just the basic of the basics that I've noticed about the subject of etiquette that most often make or break a band. There are more rules when it comes to musician etiquette, but these are the killers that will not allow a band to get to the point where those other rules matter. Even the pro acts have issues with bad manners by band members.

I can think of one individual who broke every one of these rules (and then some) and the band eventually disbanded. I won't mention his name directly, but his first name is a synonym for the structural mounting support for the wheels on a vehicle, it has two syllables and ironically sounds a lot like the "it really fits this guy pretty well" pejorative, "asshole".

A good band with chemistry is a rare thing and it's a shame for any group of talented musicians to have their hard work evaporate because someone(s) could not mind their manners at "home" and out in "public."

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Kirk Bolas

Kirk Bolas
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