March 18, 2022
We’ve all been there – the gig from Sheol. The tiny stage with no power, the drunkards yelling “Freebird”, the would-be singer that wants to do a song, venues that don’t pay, the 4-minute sound check. Bad scenarios at gigs are so commonplace there’s a Facebook group dedicated to it - with 17,000 members.
Handling these bad scenarios is par for the course in live music and doing so with grace can set you apart and save your sanity. Here are a couple of common scenarios with suggestions about how to handle them.
A lot of gigs are played at bars, weddings, and other alcohol-laden events. So, it’s pretty common to have drunken fans cheering, hooting, or yelling random things. The key to handling the big drinkers is knowing your boundaries and sticking to them with firm kindness. It doesn’t pay to get mad, as that can only escalate a situation.
So, let’s say an inebriated patron keeps yelling “Freebird” from the back of the room. If your band is decently loud, there’s no reason you can’t ignore this. If you’re an acoustic band or something quieter and it’s interrupting the set, you might have to have venue security help out. If you’re bold enough, you can engage with a joke. Or you could play the song if you know it. But the truth is, that may not work anyway, and it could set a bad precedent. In any case, don’t get offended – it happens to everyone.
Yelling from the back of the room is one thing, but some drunks like to get right up front. Being a fool on the dance floor is their prerogative, but sometimes people want to try to interrupt the show. Again, it’s best to ignore most things of that nature, and it’s handy to practice distraction exercises in rehearsal.
But if someone decides they should get on stage, you might have to remove them. If the gig is big enough, make sure there’s a security guard or two near the stage for that. If not, you may have to ask the venue for help. Whatever you do, don’t get into a shouting or punching match. Even if you’re a tough metal band and it helps your rep with fans, it can lead to legal problems you don’t want.
There are venues that love music and treat musicians like royalty. And there are venues that act like you’re putting them out when you show up. Finding out which is which can be a matter of trial and error, but you can avoid a lot of hassle by asking fellow musicians about venues ahead of time. Some venues are, some are not, and sometimes there’s just a problem of space. Some of the things you’re almost certain to encounter eventually:
Clearly a lot can happen to throw you off your game. To deal with these and other venue related problems, the first thing to do is not be a diva. If you have the attitude that you’re God’s gift to a bar, you’re sure to misinterpret innocent issues, act like a jerk, and make things worse.
Calmly assess any issue as it arises and do your best to professionally handle the situation. Of course, the better prepared you are, the better you can deal with problems. Make sure your set up is quick and efficient, practice with different setups and different spaces, and have contingency plans for everything on the list above.
It also helps to scout venues ahead of time. If you can find out ahead of time that a venue is a sports bar with TVs blaring and nobody wants to hear a band, or the stage is the size of a quarter and there’s a possum living on it, you can just not book that venue.
Most of all, take things in stride. One gig is only one day, and if a venue is truly bad to you, you don’t have to go back. Always take the high road with any potential conflicts, assume all staff are your friends and go out of your way to help them as much as they help you, and never be late – even if they are. Think of it like this: you’re in it together, all trying to make a great experience for the patrons and yourselves – and make a little money while you’re at it.
Sometimes it’s you. Everything could be right – the pay’s good, the crowd loves you, the stage is big and there’s green M&M’s all over the green room. But that doesn’t stop Murphy from enforcing his law sometimes. Strings break, band members don’t show, you forget the words to Susie Q.
In fact – something is going to happen on your end every time you play. That’s why it’s always good to have a plan for handling stage mishaps. If you have a problem you can play through, play through. If you need to communicate with audience or venue, do it. And if you find you forgot something right before the show that the venue might have, go ahead and ask. If you’ve been making friends with the staff, they’ll help you if they can.
Above all, have fun with it and don’t give up because of one bad song or even one entire bad night.
Some gigs really are from hell and there’s nothing you can do to make it better. That’s part of the game, but with a little professionalism, good humor, preparation, and flexibility, most gigs can turn out alright if not great. And if you ever encounter a situation you cannot abide, don’t ever go back to it.Here’s to all of your gigs being gigs from heaven from here on out.
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