Houston is a great place to be if you’re a musician, fan or venue owner. We have a thriving scene and more venues, festivals and bands than we’ve ever had. Best of all, Houston can boast that we are a city that loves live music. If you’re hammering away with your garage band and ready for a live gig, start here. Educate yourself on how to succeed. Every musical act begins with the same local-band venue routine, and few make it out alive.
Remember, there is an unspoken code of conduct for all participants. Break these rules, and consider yourself ostracized from the scene. If you’re a new band, take this stuff very seriously, so listen up.
Fans, let’s start with you...
1. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
That’s right, your physical presence is the most important thing you can do to support local music. Bands are often paid (and invited back to a venue) based on how many warm bodies they can pull into a club. So, bring some friends, or make it a double-date night. It’s not enough to like the band on Facebook or follow it on Twitter. If no one shows up to a group's gigs, it can be a death knell.
2. YOU DO NOT BELONG ON THE GUEST LIST
Sure, you’ve been buddies with the band since high school, and have followed them for years. You call yourself a big fan, and that’s great. Just don’t put your favorite local band in the uncomfortable position of having to accommodate you on the guest list. Traditionally, the list is for distinguished guests — press and music executives if the band should be so lucky as to entertain their company — and not you. Plus, clubs frown on bands with extensive guest lists, because it’s an abuse of courtesy. Just don’t ask.
3. DON'T ASK FOR FREE SHIT
You do realize that the merchandise bands sell at gigs is an important source of their income, right? No one would walk into a gig and ask for the musicians' instruments…neither should you. If you really want to support a band, bring your wallet. Buy their shirt and their CD, and throw some money in their tip jar. This is their income, so support them.
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4. BUILD A BAR TAB
Buy a round for your friends, and buy another for the band. Venues favor bands who help the bar make money. Be generous, and for everyone’s sake, take a cab home, please.
5. DON'T GET IN A FIGHT
Seriously, if a band draws rowdy crowds, it’s not an asset. This can put a venue in all kinds of legal turmoil should people decide to press charges and bring lawsuits. Most clubs have security and paid off-duty police officers to discourage this, but you can really hurt your band's chances of future bookings if club owners know said band's fans are prone to fighting. The best thing you can do is enjoy the show and come back to the next one.
Local bands, keep these in mind when playing a gig...
1. RESPECT YOUR ASSIGNED STAGE TIMES
If your band is so lucky as to convince a booking agent that you are worthy of playing a venue's stage, the very best you can do is to treat the gig as professionally as possible. That means respecting the time slots you’re assigned. If the stage manager gives you a load-in time, follow it. Be on time. Don’t ask for a change of time slot, especially if there are other bands to consider. Otherwise, you’ll not only cut into other bands’ time, but will hurt your own reputation with the club.
2. DON'T ASK FOR SLOT CHANGES
Now that you’re respecting the load-in times, respect the time slot. That means, don’t ask for a change — especially if this is your first gig. Unless you’re a touring band, you’re probably not going to headline your very first gig. That’s a ridiculous request, so understand your place and respect the professionals at the club.
This is your job, too. While the club provides advertisement, it’s your job to reach people who may not be reached by that publicity. This means you have to blow up your own social media, pass out flyers, meet people and talk about your band, invite people to your show, etc. You cannot rely on the club to do all the promoting, or you're guaranteed to play to an empty room. Remember, if you don’t draw a crowd at your first gig, you won’t be asked back. It's simple economics — if you don’t make the venue any money, you’re not worth their time.
4. YOUR MANAGER
Is probably annoying. If your manager is your significant other (or someone else's in the band), then that person is definitely very annoying. if your manager is a parent, it’s time to find a new one. (Manager, not parent.)
5. FREE STUFF FROM THE VENUE
Just don’t ask. While some venues may supply backstage refreshments or meals, don’t expect it. These types of privileges are often reserved for touring bands, not local acts. Showing up to a local venue demanding free drinks, free merchandise and an extensive guest list is a great way of getting booted out of a club for good.
6. LEAVING EARLY
Very poor form. Stick around and support the other acts, buy some drinks and maybe make some new friends/potential fans. Bands who load out, leave the venue and demand to be paid before the other bands are even finished have probably just played their last show at that venue. Be a part of the scene.
7. LET THE SOUND ENGINEER DO HIS OR HER JOB
No one else knows a room's sound better than the engineer employed by that venue. You probably have an idea of how you want to sound, so relay that information to the engineer and then trust him or her with the rest. Sound engineers want you to sound good, too — unless you’re an ass-hat and barking orders at them. Then you’re really screwed.
8. BE SOBER
Yes, rock and roll is a party, but for you it’s also a profession. You need to be sober and well-equipped to handle things like negotiations and performance. If a venue owner, booking agent, sound person or really any club employee catches you inebriated beyond good measure, check out for the night.
9. GET IT IN WRITING
Perhaps the best advice ever given is to always get something in writing. Make sure you understand the payment expectations before you agree to booking. Be kind but direct. Don’t be afraid to ask. If a club tries to tell you, “We don’t use contracts,” run far away and never return.
10. CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF
Beer bottles in the parking lot and trash on the stage will be noticed and remembered. So will forgetting to tip your waitress and/or bartenders.
And, the Venues…
To a band, the most important thing about being paid is being paid on time. Promises to pay later, or “Come back when the payroll clerk is here,” are always inconvenient and a little flaky. Most bands would prefer to get paid the same night and in cash. While checks understandably leave a necessary paper trail for tax purposes, they can be cumbersome for a band. But the point is to be open and honest about payment arrangements. The last thing a band wants to hear after a set is, “We only do payouts on the third Tuesday of odd-numbered months at 8 a.m. You’ll need an appointment to pick up your check.”
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When booking a gig, be aware of other shows around town that same evening. If you book several local bands the same night a popular national act is playing in town, you can’t really fault your bands for poor turnout. Be fair. Tell the bands if there are other shows that could compete with them. Let them know ahead of time that while you appreciate their playing, they may be playing to a small crowd for not much money. It demonstrates your honesty and saves them from bitter feelings later.
Nothing is more frustrating for a band than when a venue does little to nothing to promote its own show, then blames the band for the low turnout. Bands can only promote to the people they already know, so it’s up to the venue to utilize the advertising it buys to promote shows. Sure, national touring acts will get advertising, but placing all the advertising dollars on the big shows only guarantees the little local guys will lose.
4. STAGE PROBLEMS
Local bands are their own roadies. So if a venue knows ahead of time what bands can and can’t bring, and what they should and shouldn’t use, then those things should be made clear from the beginning. Like: Can they use your PA, or is it a piece of crap? Many bands spend more time loading equipment onstage than performing, but it takes only a phone call or email to let a band know some important details about stage limitations.
5. DON'T FORGET ABOUT TALENT
Fans expect you to showcase quality acts. There's no appeal in a live band that can't keep the tempo, ruins good covers or has the stage presence of an open-casket funeral. If the band has a good draw but sounds awful, put them first on the bill. But if the band sends patrons to the bar as a coping mechanism, maybe it's time to consider a new booking agent. No band's headcount is worth earning the reputation of a bar that plays only crap acts. Houston is depending on you, so make it count.