working band on stage

Tips for getting the show on the road

People who don’t play in bands would, I assume, have a certain view on what life must be like for a working musician. Access to the latest gear, playing in front of adoring crowds every night, fully stocked riders with all the brown M&Ms removed…sounds like a pretty idyllic line of work, right?

What people perhaps don’t realise is that these things don’t just happen automatically. See, a working band is ultimately a business like any other. Cash flow, growth, administration; every band needs a handle on the behind-the-scenes machinations in order to succeed. Here, Jamie Smith of The Mighty Vipers offers some insight into how to manage a working band like a well oiled machine.

Plan for the unreliable

No matter how hard you try to manage band member, someone is always late. It’s like herding cats. Actually, herding cats has some logic to it. It’s difficult because they don’t have a band Google calendar, they aren’t privy to the Whatsapp group messages. They don’t have a mobile phone, so they won’t receive the pre-gig about what time you’re meeting. Or the phone call after work, just to be sure.

Nope, there’s usually one who’s late. Usually by around an hour. So factor that in next time you meet up or plan a show arrival time.

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Call just to check

On that note. Never, never, ever just rely on your band members to show up because they know the gig is on.

One time we relied on our whole band all making contact with each other (see later about the democratic dictator). We drove from Yorkshire to Newcastle, in rush hour. It was a nightmare day to begin with.

As our two cars pulled up, we gave a sigh of relief. We’d made it. We all huddled out of the two cars, then suddenly, it dawned on us. We’d forgot Tim, he plays both Keys and Sax. How could we? I was sure he was in the other car. The other driver thought the same. Meanwhile, Tim was still at home waiting for the call.

Do your research

A classic mistake if there ever was one.

With over 200 gigs under our belt, I was fairly sure were heading towards stardom. Our egos had inflated, we were on a roll. Great reviews flew in and audiences grew each week. Nothing could stop us.

But I became complacent. And the result was we ended up playing a string of gigs that bumped us back to reality. Tiny PAs with one microphone to share between a nine-piece band. The world’s worst promoter who not only forgot to promote the show, but paid us with a ring of Cumberland sausage that he’d just won from a meat raffle.

But the worst of all. Letting someone else help with the bookings in blind faith. The gig was a Scooter do in Batley. It wasn’t until we went on, that someone said to us, ‘look, don’t mention that you wrote that anti-BNP song’. Yep, it was a far-right scooter club. Nightmare.

how to tour on a budget

The engineer is your friend

Most live sound engineers spend most of their time with their head in their hands. Who can blame them? 90% of the time they are dealing with requests like ‘can you turn the vocalist up?’ (the singer isn’t even singing into the mic) or guitarist who is either deaf or in a parallel universe.

So if you turn up and are like, ‘hello, fellow human, how are you?’ it’s likely going to work out pretty good. Even better; if you set up quickly, then await orders. Don’t widdle away creating a mash of noise.

Did you bring what you need?

You’re a professional right? So bring all the stuff you need. Bring more than you need. Pack it all up in a band case, be on your game. When something breaks, it’s no sweat.

I say this with gritted teeth, because so many times bands just turn up without the right gear. Bassists are some of the worst. There’s usually an amp, so let’s just assume that the bass god is always smiling down on us. But let me tell you something: THERE IS NO BASS GOD.

Probably the most sensible thing you can do is make contact with the other bands. See if you can share some gear. Firstly, save your back carrying that Fender Twin for when you’re 30-odd and still not crippled by the weight.

Buy lighter gear

There’s some amazing small and light gear out there that sounds awesome. Keep the SVT2 for the studio and take out the solid state gear for shows.

Bingley Music Live 2012

Be the democratic dictator

For me, a democracy means nothing gets done. It’s better to have at least one person vying for the position of democratic dictator. Fight over the job if you can. It adds fuel to the fire. The last thing you want is management by committee for every single thing that gets done, trust me, it’ll take twice as long to do anything. But for the important stuff, that needs a group decision.

My friend has repositioned the term, dictator with MD. Clever guy!

Don’t miss out on an opportunity to cash in

Sell out. Sell it all. Recording studios, vans, pluggers and all the rest cost money. If you want to get by for the first couple of years without emptying your wallet, get merch. Some go for loads of different types, I think what works best is a select range of things that just look cool. The cooler it is, the more people will wear it. Ergo, the more your band gets known and the more money you’ll make.

Jamie is the former dictator of the food named band ‘Catch-it Kebabs’, and ‘MD’ of The Mighty Vipers, who have an album ‘Elemental’ due out in April 2017.