I generally define bands in three different categories:
Category 1: Professional – regularly gigging acts that exist as a business to earn an income. Members earn a regular full-time or part-time wage from these endeavours.
Category 2: Weekend Warriors – bands that play gigs less often, primarily for personal enjoyment but also get paid for their efforts. Members all have full time day-jobs, as the gigs don’t happen often enough/don’t pay well enough to be a full-time concern.
Category 3: Hobbyists – bands that exist purely for the pleasure of playing music. These bands either never get out of the rehearsal room, or maybe play once a year at a friend’s birthday party, or on open mic nights. They don’t want to deal with the pressure and additional running around that goes with playing for a paying audience or venue, but do generate a lot of fun and personal satisfaction for the band members.
To be clear at the outset: as long as everyone within the band is on exactly the same page about their vision and goals, all three categories of bands are perfectly legitimate and playing in them can be a very rewarding experience for their members, albeit for potentially different reasons.
However, this article is aimed squarely at those bands who inhabit Category 2: Weekend Warriors. I go out and watch as many bands as I can, and my personal view is that many Category 2 bands would benefit greatly from behaving a bit more like most Category 1 acts. And there’s a reason for this. When it comes to playing pubs and clubs, often Category 2 and Category 1 bands inhabit the same spaces.
What do I mean by this? The venue that’s booking a Weekend Warrior band this week may have had a band loaded with full time professionals playing the month, week or even the evening before. Often the difference between a Category 1 and 2 band is not the venue they play at, it’s simply the frequency of booked gigs.
Now, assuming our Weekend Warrior band wants to keep playing (when it suits them) on a regular to semi-regular basis, it’s important that they produce a quality product for either paying punters or paying venue owner. Even though they may not be keen or able to play as often as the pros do, they still don’t want to suffer in comparison. This is simply because a poor showing may mean future bookings dry up. In a competitive marketplace, these bookings are hard won and easily lost.
Want to impress the venue, the punters and keep those bookings coming in? Here are my top tips to make your Weekend Warrior band indistinguishable from a fully professional outfit.
- Know your music. I wanted to get this out of the way early, as it really should go without saying. Having said that, it’s the ticket to the game, but not the game itself. I’m assuming the Category 2 band has this 100% under control otherwise they shouldn’t be charging people for their time. “Know your music” doesn’t mean “don’t make mistakes”, because all bands do that. I mean know your arrangements, make sure all members have done the required practice/rehearsal work and can play competently.
- Look the part. What, you mean it matters how we present ourselves on stage? You’d better believe it. Your average punter “listens with their eyes”, so make sure you look like a team. About six years ago a band I was in was sharing a bill with a tribute act. The tribute band were really good musicians but I had more than one of my non-musician friends in the audience approach me and say “where did they get these guys from? They look like a bunch of randoms that were hanging around back stage and had instruments shoved in their hands.” Looking the part can mean different things to different bands. Whether you all dress in white, all wear t-shirt and jeans, all wear 80’s wigs, all wear ties, all wear clown makeup, all dress as medieval characters, that’s up to you, your music and your audience. But this is a PERFORMANCE, not a recording, so it’s really important to look like you all belong on stage and are a team of like-minded individuals.
- Look like you’re “into it”. I appreciate that everyone has a different personality, and different types of music might necessitate differing affectations, but if you’re going to play for an audience, I can promise you they like to imagine that the members of the band are enjoying the music as much as they are. What that looks like in terms of actual on-stage behavior will differ from individual to individual and band to band. But if every single member of the band stands there with the demeanour of someone waiting to have their teeth extracted, it won’t translate to a high energy experience for the punters. Unless you’re in a tooth-extraction-core act. Then it would be amazing, I guess.
- Rein in the banter. I’ve watched many Category 2 bands whose lead vocalist is an excellent singer, but mumbles the most ridiculous drivel between songs. It’s annoying to the punters, looks sloppy and usually only every third word of what’s being said is decipherable anyway. Refrain from engaging in stand-up comedy or in-jokes between songs. This generally alienates and excludes the audience. They don’t care who the bass player slept with last weekend. Wait, are you saying don’t talk to the audience? Absolutely not. And in some cases it may be part of your “performance”. But understand where your strengths lie and don’t blather on stream-of-consciousness style when the good people out there have paid to hear your music.
- Effect slick changeovers between songs. This is related to point 3 above. Nothing kills the mood (and the dance floor) like the band looking at each other for 30 seconds between songs while they work out what they want to play next. This is when the silly banter mentioned above often gets inserted to fill the gap. Unless there is a planned 20-second break while the guitarist changes axes supplemented with a few relevant words for the punters, finish one song and straight into the next. Now that’s pro.
Those were my top tips from an audience point of view. Here’s a few more from the venue’s point of view:
- Treat venue management and staff with respect and courtesy. This includes working around their needs for sound check timings. It also includes turning the volume down if they consider it to be too loud. But our guitarist needs his Marshall stacks at “11” to get his signature tone! Maybe he does, but he won’t be getting that tone at this venue again if he ignores the owner’s wishes.
- Start and finish at agreed times. If the venue wants you to finish at midnight, don’t blow it out until 12:20 because the dance floor is packed and you’re having a good time. This means overtime for bar and security staff, which is annoying for all concerned. If you think the enthusiastic audience is going to give you an encore, factor that in so you still finish when you’re contracted to finish.
- Agree to everything in writing. Sorry, did you say “contracted to finish”? Does that mean I need a contract? Yes. And don’t worry, the “contract” could be a simple exchange of emails, so there’s no need to get the lawyers in. But the terms of the gig should be agreed to in writing beforehand.
- Provide a tech document. If the venue is providing the PA and sound engineer, ensure a stage plot and input list is submitted well in advance so they know your requirements and any issues can be identified well in advance.
Finishing where I started, I strongly believe Weekend Warriors have just as much right to exist as the seasoned professionals. Rightly or wrongly though, Category 2 bands will be compared to Category 1’s by the punters and venue owners.
I can guarantee you that if you apply the above principles, your band will be viewed as a pleasure to watch and deal with by all concerned, which in turn will make those coveted repeat bookings all the more likely.
Fight on, Warriors!
Paul Bindig is a regular contributor to The Keyboard Chronicles, and currently a member of both a Category 2 and Category 1 band.