Six Simple Ways to Be Courteous at Shows
Do you, as an audience member, have responsibilities to the performing band at a local show?
Yup. The biggest is to keep your trap shut long enough for the music to reach those who came to hear it, and to do that, we must be where the act is performing. But Rocks Off has beaten this particular deceased horse so many times that by now we're on PETA's speed dial. Instead, let's set it aside and explore what else audiences can do to enhance a band's live-show experience.
These recommendations are made mostly on behalf of burgeoning bands who are trying to gain some traction in an industry that's nearly all slippery slope. I haven't asked personally, but it's doubtful Beyoncé or the Black Keys need you to do much, if any, of the following:
Photo courtesy of Bastard Cult
1. HELP PROMOTE THE SHOW Kevin Parmer, guitarist for the recently disbanded metal punks Versklaven and now a member of hardcore group Bastard Cult, makes it clear on whose shoulders the responsibility for creating show buzz falls.
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"I personally believe the burden of promoting the show falls primarily on the promoter and secondarily on the bands playing," he says. "The thing is that in my experience, there is a certain group of people that are always going to know about a show that's happening. Call them regulars. These are the people that are going to be doing your word-of-mouth promotion.
"The thing is, this is finite because word of the show is only going to extend as far as their own social circles," he continues. "This same point is why I dislike the sole use of Facebook for show promotion. If one makes an event page and invites all of his or her friends, they are essentially just promoting the show to people who probably would have showed up anyway, so you're just preaching to a choir."
That still doesn't mean you can't "street team" for your favorite bands, he notes.
"I still think that it's absolutely necessary to pass out handbills and put up flyers at high-trafficked spots around town," Parmer says, "with the hopes that you may attract a few more people to your show."
Photo by Richard McBlan/Courtesy of Madisons
2. WATCH THE BANDS These notions don't apply only to Houston venues, as confirmed by Austin indie/folk-rockers Madisons. In a town where everyone is fighting to be heard, the band's vocalist, Dominic Solis, stresses how critical this point is.
"For Madisons, getting people to listen to the music is our main focus," he says. "Since we have a lot of acoustic instruments and we play a more traditional style, it's very easy to get caught up in the 'dinner music' scene here in Austin."
Playing covers at restaurants around the state capital for three- or four-hour gigs can be lucrative, he admits, but Madisons still decided the background-music route wasn't for them.
"We made a decision early on to avoid those situations at all cost," Solis says. "For us, the performance is an art. It's an art we make not for people to hear in the background like a television, but for people to make a connection with. We're trying to tell a story and convey emotion.
"That being said, it's not just the audience's responsibility to pay attention," he explains. "The artist better put on a good fucking show and have some really good songs. Just because you pick up an instrument doesn't give you the right to bitch about not getting attention. You gotta earn it."
Madisons' recent release, You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back to West Texas, is getting solid reviews, which Solis thinks is a nod to the fans the group has accumulated over the past few years.
"Our fans are great listeners," he says. "As a result, we don't have a ton of fans, but the connection we have with them is very close. The songs mean something to them, and they mean something to us, which is why we made them.
"Making money is not our first priority," Solis insists. "We're trying hard to make quality art and to reach people with it."
3. DON'T BE AN ASS AT THE SHOW Houston metalcore artists Nine Minutes list "needlessly aggressive music" among their interests. But guitarist Brad Farabough cautions audiences not to get so caught up in the moment they throw common sense to the wind.
"It's important for audiences to be good stewards at shows, because that is what makes other bands want to play there and entertain," Farabough says. "Not just local bands, but touring and national acts as well. There are a lot of major bands that will skip Houston on their tours because of the crowds, or lack thereof."
"Bands feed off of crowd reaction," he continues. "Playing a show with 30 people who are loving what you are doing is better than 300 people who stand there and stare. It is also important because if you invite an out-of-towner to play your show and your fans are douche bags, that can be associated with your band.
"Then you give yourself a bad reputation in a town you haven't been to yet," Farabough concludes. "No one wants to bring a band to their hometown whose fans will throw beer bottles at them, right?"
4. BREAK OUT YOUR WALLET "Obviously, touring is an expensive endeavor, especially for DIY acts that aren't supported financially by a label or have a large enough pull to demand a guarantee," Parmer of Bastard Cults says. "These acts show up, play and at the end of the night, hopefully walk away with enough money to buy enough gas to make it to the next city.
"In my time with Versklaven, the highest we were paid off [the] door was $350 and the lowest was ten bucks," he notes. "That's why merch sales are so important. They supplement that income so the band can continue to have money for gas, food or any 'Oh shit!' moments that may occur while you're on the road -- and they will happen.
For the time being, Bastard Cult will be playing shows at home -- specifically a couple of September dates at Mango's. But these wise words might help touring bands like Pennsylvania's Full of Hell and California's Despise You forge on.
"You don't have to and are under no obligation to buy merch, but it is a pretty awesome thing for you to do," Parmer says. "I personally make a point of buying their music above all else, because in the end the music they're making is what really matters."
Story continues on the next page.
Photo by Eric Christian/Courtesy of Nine Minutes
5. SHARE YOUR SKILLS AND CONNECTIONS Bands benefit from fans who enjoy what they do, says Nine Minutes' Farabough, and are willing to prove it by offering their own artistic talents and connections to help grow the following.
"When you are on the bottom rung and need help, it's great when someone likes your band and offers to help you get your merch table built up or can put you in touch with a good promoter who can get the ball rolling," he says. "Musicians rarely have money, so almost nobody starts off with a bunch of cool stuff to sell their fans...or fans, for that matter."
Nine Minutes has worked hard and tapped into those relationships, too. As a result, they're in the finals of a citywide battle of the bands sponsored by The Arbiter Agency and will open for The Dialectic, Thy Devourer and Senses Fail on shows this fall.
Farabough thinks these relationships are fun because they're mutually beneficial.
"It's also good to help build up cool things around the scene to make it better," he offers. "Someone who can record or take good pictures can get a good start to making a business of it that will be available for others later. One hand washes the other."
6. HAVE FUN, DAMMIT! If all this sounds like a lot of damn work, Solis says to never forget any fan's main duty: Enjoy the show.
"An interactive crowd is the apex of connection," he says. "It's as if the band starts putting out a wavelength, and if it's just right, the crowd picks up on it, and everyone's riding the same wave. So the band has to make a badass wave, and the crowd has to be looking for it, and when it all matches up -- boom! Once everyone's hooked up, the sky's the limit."
"A great show is everyone's responsibility. Fans can't just show up, sit back and ask to be entertained," he continues. "You still have to hold the performers to a high standard, but if it's good, get into it. It's a shared experience."
Solis signs off with one more crucial bit of advice.
"If you aren't willing to dance and cheer if the band is great, or if you just want people to pay attention to the stupid shit you scream between songs," he says, "or if you wanna heckle, keep your ass at home and let everyone else enjoy the show!"
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