Concert Endings… Really?

I have mentioned in previous articles about time between songs, dead air, and onstage banter. One thing I have left out is concert endings to your songs. Bad idea.

If you don’t know what a concert ending is, it is where at the end of your song you all bang a note or every lick you know while the drummer crashes cymbals and does drum rolls to end your songs.

There are certain times during the show where this is acceptable. It can be done when switching from fast songs to a slow number. Anytime the show has to stop, such as changing instruments, an introduction to the next song, or at the end of the set.

All a concert ending does is give your audience the signal the song is over and time to walk off the dance floor and sit back down and wait till the next number start to decide if they want to stay and keep on boogie’n.

Work those songs to where you have an actual ending. A dead stop isn’t necessary, you can hold the chord as the drummer clicks off the next tune. Watch that set list before you reach the end of the song. I hate it when there is a set list right there for everyone to look at and someone (especially the drummer) can’t find the time to look at it during the song. It’s a bad habit that should be broken as soon as possible. Concert endings are unimaginative, lazy, and just plain silly after every song. You want those people to stay on the floor all night, then bust out tunes one after the other.

An easy way to do this is to group your songs together. For example; I used to play “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “I Love Rock n Roll” in an old cover band. We’d play “Hit Me, holding out the last chord without noodling, just holding the last chord. The drummer would then roll the intro to “I Love Rock n Roll”. There was a momentary pause for some crowd screaming but not long enough to let them off the floor.

We always played those two songs back to back. We did this with three songs in a row that fit well together. We made our sets using these blocks of songs. We could still switch out the tunes but the blocks of songs were always the same.

When you pick new songs to learn as a band, think about where they could fit with other songs already in the set. Is there room for crowd participation? A theme? No reason at all? Any way you do it just work it to where it goes from one to another. It’ll tighten the show, you won’t have time for someone in the crowd to come up and request something off the radar.

Funny story. The Matt Poss Band consisted of a singer/rhythm guitarist, guitar, bass and drums. Someone came to the stage and asked for a request when we were being lazy and not running songs back to back. She asked if we would play “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” I said, “ You mean the song about the fiddle contest?” Laughing so not to make her feel like an ass I replied “Babe, do you see a fiddle player anywhere on this stage?” A song request out of left field. If I had been playing I wouldn’t have had to answer any questions. It’s your show, play it. Money talks though, if someone comes up with a few bucks we’ll play it if we know it but usually this is taken care of on breaks.

Another story about not being a jukebox. Dr Wu was a nine-piece classic R&B band. Someone came up to the sax player with a dollar and asked for a song. Pat told them this dollar split up will be eleven cents per musician. Not worth stopping your show. Someone came up with a hundred and asked for some Bad Company and we snatched up the hundred and scrambled to see who knew any Bad Company. In a few moments of talking about the chords and the key and about ½ the lyrics we managed to make it through “Movin’ On.”

We didn’t have too many of these moments because our show was tight, no time for the musicians to talk to people requesting songs. The best way for a person to request a song is to write it down and pass it to the stage. Throwing a few bucks per musician never hurts either.

Tighten up that show and dump the concert endings till it’s time to end the concert! Now for the king of all concert endings….

 

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.

 

–Sammy

Getting Your Crowd Off Their Ass

Today my article was inspired by a question from a friend on Facebook. Chris E. wrote me this “Can you write something about how a band should interact with the crowd. We are a good band but I feel like the crowd doesn’t warm up to us like they should. You know how it goes, you play your heart out for hours and nobody cares until they are drunk. Ha ha!”

Chris if I knew that I’d be playing stadiums. I have put a lot of thought into the question though. It happens to us all at some point. But it’s a rare night anymore for me. I hadn’t actually sat and considered the reasons why it’s a rare occasion.

I think there are a few factors to consider. The most important one is, IT’S NOT YOUR CROWD’S FAULT!!! No one comes home and says, “Ya know Hon, I think I’ll pick a place with a cover charge to drink. Plus I’m not in the mood to have a good time, so I think I’ll go out and make sure I won’t have a blast.” Saying you had a bad crowd is the cowards way out. Don’t abuse them either. Saying “what’s the matter with you people?” or “You guys suck!” doesn’t help your cause much. They will turn on you. Someone paid you for coming in and telling them they suck.

Now the fault lies on the band’s shoulders. So what can you do? The answer is what ever you have to. I’m going to quote the late great Bon Scott of AC/DC (rip) We got what you want, and you got the lust. If you want blood, you got it.”

I think it boils down to these ideas. It’s called show business for a reason. Put together a show. Focus on your strong points. For example, my old R&B band Dr Wu’s Rock N Soul Revue, had a front man who really wasn’t the best at connecting with the crowd during onstage banter. He sang with his eyes closed and didn’t move much. Amazing singer though. So we worked around it by not having any time between songs. The only time we’d stop is if we needed to. The singer also played guitar sometimes and we’d have to stop. Our sharp witted sax player would grab the mic and talk. No dead air. Good music and a lot going on visually on stage.

With Poprocks we had just the opposite. Becca the singer was a dynamic front woman and great singer. She’d go out and grab someone to dance with and force people off their butts physically. I was talking to the guitarist of Vince Vance and the Valliants years ago and he told me “If you can find someone who has the balls to get out their and do their thing, you’ve got it made.” Vince couldn’t sing for shit, but he could put a crowd in a party mode with a snap of his fingers. Becca could do that. On a side note, Becca is my ex-wife so don’t tell her I said anything nice about her. I’d never live it down.

If the band is good and your music is good, then sit and work on putting songs back to back, working them into medleys of whole songs. Thinking of ways to involve your audience. Can we stop here and let them sing the “Talk Dirty to Me” part? Practice going from song to song. Who ever starts that song should have looked at the set list and be ready to go. Time between songs is just a bad habit. I told Chris the drummer for Wu to start the next song no matter what. I didn’t care if the bass player wanted to drink a bit of his beer or stand around and talk about the days events…This is an exaggeration, Doug Evans the bass player kicked ass and was great onstage and off. It only took two gigs before everyone knew to be ready for the next tune. People will tell you how tight of a band you have, and after seeing regular bar bands play 10 songs in a set, we had to play 15 because we didn’t stop. This is an easy way to have a pro band.

This leads me to the next part of the equation. Being the pro’s we are, we now have a show and not just a band with 40 or 50 songs they know. When people come and see a band that looks like and plays like pros, you are giving them what they expected and came for. In turn they will do what’s expected of them which is to scream, yell and dance. It’s subliminal but it works.

Confidence onstage plays a major part. You walk on knowing you’re good and will be even better if the crowd is. You don’t have to pretend to be a rockstar, unless of course that is your persona. That works a lot. I’ve never been pretty enough to be that skinny rockstar so I do what I’ve always done. I make myself look like I’m jamming my ass off, pounding my foot on the stage, letting out a scream now and then, moving as much as I can, looking people in the eye, trolling the edge of the stage fist pounding guys and winking at girls.

Turn your focus musically and physically to your audience. Too many bands focus inward. They are turned toward each other or constantly watching what’s happening stage. Try never to turn your back on your audience. You look at them, grin but let ‘em know at the same time you are doing your job, which is entertaining them. You are the lead guitarist? When you solo take a step forward and let people know you are kicking ass. Lay people don’t always know who is doing what, so smack em in the face with it. Hold that guitar and make your guitar faces and let them think that the notes are just flowing through your body and out your fingers. Some night’s that really happens but some times you have to fake it. The crowd will want to get closer to see how amazing you are. They will want to be part of what you are throwing out there. They will feed off the energy being pounded at them.

This is a must when playing original music. You better be kicking ass live or no one will stay past the third song.

Crowd participation. What concert have you ever been to where they didn’t involve you at some point, actually many points. Dr. Wu was 75% crowd partcipation. Sing alongs, making them join in on the fun we were having onstage or some nights faking. Either way at the end of the night people were sweaty and tore up if they kept up with our show which was nothing but Memphis 60’s R&B tunes. Poprocks would pull people up onstage throughout the night to sing a line or two, dance, while their friends came out and cheered them on, and go wild at the end of the night with a planned dance off with the wildest women we could find. This also was the reason we were forced to go to court over a flashing incident from an audience member. We knew they were gonna flash the audience, the audience knew it was gonna happen and the girls up there knew they were going to. That piece of shtick loaded our pockets for a long time. Matt Poss threw sing alongs and other shtick into his show. But in each of these bands we all had the same objective. Involve the crowd to feed off that energy. It’s a mob action when you yell “SOMEBODY SCREAM!” and the entire place roars.

Another great way is to just ask them.

Jon Clarkson of X-Krush brought up a point at a show that we were playing together. He brought up the theory of the invisible barrier. You know the spot. A trash can in a beer tent no one wants to cross, the dance floor edge, a chair even. For some reason people will line up behind these invisible barriers. In the middle of a song or in between tell them to move forward, you want to see their pretty faces. If they are dancing at the back of the stage tell them to come closer. They will. Tell them to get on up a few times after loosing them up with a few screams, and other rockstar clichés. The reason they have been done so often is because they work.

My last major point is to sacrifice a few sure fire songs to open with. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was the opening song for Poprocks for a long time. It would have been huge later in the night, but you know what? It got people off their butts the first few songs. They better dance to it now because it’s not going to be played again. And if we’ll throw that into the first set then the rest of the night has to be better. Right? Soon people will come to catch the beginning of your show and know they need to get up early. It didn’t always work but we worked harder if it didn’t.

Part of your show is to make the stage look like it’s a pro band. We placed amps on chairs sometimes, or on cable boxes but we also covered the boxes and chairs with a black drape. Go to Wal-Mart look on the dollar fabric table and buy a few yards of black cloth. If you have cooling fans paint them flat black. Anything that can be hidden should be. No cases behind the drummer.

You are a kick ass band. Make your audience know it. It boils down to confidence. Confidence in your self, your band, and in your audience. Once everyone knows their part, dead crowds will become further and farther between. You want your audience to leave feeling they are better for the experience.

The other option is play really, really popular songs. That’s a guess, I never went that route full force. Poprocks was close. You have to weigh musical creativity with paying the rent sometimes. Find that middle ground to stay inspired. As for song selection refer to an earlier blog about not being married to your song list. Some songs just aren’t live. Matt Poss has four albums out but he doesn’t play every song off them, he plays the ones that go over live. That in no way means the other songs aren’t great he’s recorded.

 Chris, that’s my theory. Put on a good show, give the audience what they want, which is entertainment. Guide them along with subtle ways and sometimes obvious ways. Look like you are always having fun and the crowd will pick up on it. Focus on them and not on each other. Look and act the part and the crowd will usually follow. Plus you’ll make more money with a show. Focus your music. Don’t play “everything” you won’t play enough of any one style to satisfy anyone. Most of all Chris have the fun. You are playing with a great band, your part is as important as everyone else’s. Now let your audience know it. If you implement these ideas and use them for the next six months and people still aren’t getting off their ass, write and we’ll come up with some other ideas.

I’ll embed Van Halen live. Only Dave for me so don’t argue. I know I’m right on this. Watch the fun, the swagger, the crowd participation. You don’t have to like the band or the show but learn from one of the greatest live bands of all time. Watch their focus. It’s not on each other it’s on the audience, and Jesus it’s Eddie Van Halen, I’d be focused totally on him. Watch and learn and you’ll see each one of the points I mentioned.

 

Special note to Chris. Thanks for reading and the question. This doesn’t only help you but it brings these points to the front of my mind and how I will apply it to my new project.

Now as a side note, I’ll be putting together a band from scratch, so I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is. I’m no longer a member of the Matt Poss Band but that being said they are the same friends I knew before, during, and after playing with them. It’s a very amicable split, no bad blood. No hurt feelings. I wouldn’t have it any other way. So I’ll have plenty to write about while implementing my own words.

Buy my freakin’ CD!  Thanks for reading. Keep those ideas coming in.

–Sammy

 

The Opening Band

The Matt Poss Band just got back from Chicago after opening the show for the Turnpike Troubadours at, according to the Country Music Awards, the number one club for country music in all of America, Joe’s On Weed Street. I thought I’d go through the steps to a successful gig opening for a national act.

 The MPB headlines shows about 75% of the time. The other 25% we are the support act. MPB has supported everyone from Kid Rock to David Allen Coe. Small gigs of a hundred or so people in a small venue, to major concert stages playing for thousands. We’ve been asked for personally by many of the venues and artists we work with.

 This is how MPB handled the show with the Turnpike Troubadours. It started months ago.

 Matt has been working on the getting any booking at Joe’s On Weed St. in Chicago for years. He sent a promo pack or and Electronic Press Kit or EPK to the venue. He called Joe’s before sending it and got a hold of the person (Kelsy) who books the venue, and addressed it to her personally. Weeks later he followed up. Now let’s not forget the venue receives dozens of promo packs daily. How did we get the job? Networking and keeping ourselves on the mind of the person who handles booking. Poss would call the venue now and then to see about working WITH  them. Not too often. We didn’t want her to roll her eyes when we contacted them, but just enough to create a relationship with a venue we had never played. It took awhile but we were offered to open for David Alan Coe. The show went fine. The venue was happy. We were invited back this past week to open for the Troubadours.

 Preparation: A week or two before the date of the show, we made an ad for ourselves and posted it on our Facebook band page plus shared it on our personal pages. We let our friends and fans know that this was a special night for us and would love to see them there to support us. We didn’t over post but we did post about three to four times over a two week period. We sent our EPK to music periodicals in the area and found as many radio stations as we could to play our music and plug our show. This was the preparation part of our job.

 Matt forwarded the gig to find out load in times, sound check times, and the time and length of our set.

 The night before the show Matt sent us the times we played 8pm to 9pm. He also sent the set list he had chosen. Matt is definitely the boss but is always open to suggestions. With the exception of a few last minute changes we knew exactly how our set would flow. The time to meet was decided, 12:30 at the rehearsal studio.

 Chicago is three and a half hours from where the band is based out of. Load in and sound check was at five o’clock. We gave ourselves an extra hour to get there, taking into consideration, stopping for bathroom breaks, traffic conditions and becoming lost looking for the venue and the load in area. We made it at 4:45. Fifteen minutes early. We were in no rush. We found the load in doors easily and before unloading one bit of gear we entered the venue and met the stage manager/soundman. We introduced ourselves with a smile and a handshake; his name was James by the way. We called him James from that point on. Not sound guy, buddy, or dude. He had received our stage plot before hand and was ready for us.

 We came prepared with drums and amps and our own mics. You never know when you may need something. The Troubadours were gracious hosts and had mentioned to the soundman that we could use their drum set. The band unloaded four pieces of gear. Bass amp, and two guitar amps. Rob, our drummer, brought in his foot pedal, snare, and high hat stand and his cymbals. If you are a drummer and playing on someone else’s set, always bring those items. A drummer with a lighter touch isn’t going to want to watch you beat the shit out his snare and try cracking cymbals. On the other hand Rob wants to feel as close to home as he can on a strange set so he brought in the pieces he is used to since everyone sets up a little differently. This also helped the soundman because he didn’t have to mic up two sets. DON’T BE OFFENDED IF THE OTHER BAND DOESN’T WANT YOU TO USE YOUR THEIR GEAR! Some bands don’t mind and some bands do. If they offer, count your self lucky. We loaded in and set up, making sure we stayed out of the way of the soundman, and his crew member Kyle. See I remembered his name.

 Sound check: There is an easy way and a bad way to handle a sound check. Make it as easy as possible for the band and the soundman. The bad way is for the band to be beating on their instruments and all yelling what they want and need in their monitor. The easy and most professional way is to do it like this:

  • Make sure your amps are set how you like them and drums set up. This is all done in the pre-sound check/load in. Also don’t crank your amp up and play all your licks while the crew is setting up in front of you. It’s just plain rude.
  • Don’t stack your cases anywhere there are cables or snakes running. The tech may not be done yet and once again this is a courtesy shown to them. This is their house after all.
  • Check your gear. Is it like you want it? If it is QUIT PLAYING! No one needs to know how hot of a musician you are. Your band knows and the crew doesn’t care. This is hours before the show so warming up is pointless and you can warm up with your volume completely down.
  • The soundman probably has a way they like to do things and will lead you through the sound check. Don’t play. But be onstage and ready for your part. Usually drums, bass, guitars, keys… vocals last.
  • Check at the volume you plan to play at. If you’re too loud the soundman will let you know.
  • Take your turn. Don’t start yelling you want two vocals in your wedge a little bass, a kick drum etc. while he’s dialing in a good sound.
  • When the soundman asks for a vocal check, they will usually ask for them one at a time. This is the time to ask for things in your monitor. Such as in my case, as the bass player I like all vocals in my monitor, kick and snare, and depending on the venue I may want some of my own bass in the monitor. Usually I can hear everything else. When my vocal is checked I kindly ask for these things. When I’m satisfied or close, I tell him that it sounds fine and that it should work and thank you. “Thank you James” is what I said. Take into consideration your other band mates. If you have them crank your guitar in the monitor along with your stage sound, you’ll throw off the mix on stage. Mix yourselves while you are up there.
  • They will have us run through a song. Don’t pick out something you don’t play often or are just learning. Pick out a song that highlights what you do. We usually play a song that shows the harmonies and solos, plus the rhythm instruments. This gives them the chance to dial in those pieces into the mix.
  • Now is when you make final adjustments. Maybe I can’t hear the acoustic guitar and lead vocals. Mac, our guitarist can’t hear all the vocals. One at a time tell them what you need. Mac tells him he can’t hear the vocals and asks for them to be turned up in his monitor. They are turned up, Mac says thank you, then it’s my turn. We don’t noodle, (play your instrument with the volume up) and we fine tune the stage sound to as close as we can get. Work with the soundman then be happy with what you get. Some sound companies may only have one monitor mix and you might not be able to get it perfect. This is when you compromise and the band works around it. DON’T BITCH!
  • With that said, you might do another song or if it was just minor adjustments finish your last minute details and get off the stage so the sound crew can make their adjustments or the next band can get up there. Yes we’ve headlined shows where the opening band took the entire sound check time to them selves, leaving us without one. Inconsiderate and unprofessional. A band vs. band scenario. Always a bad situation. I remember this and won’t willingly have them on the same bill as us. They have a bad reputation in my mind. Good band though.
  • If you have no dressing room, do what you have to, If you are sharing a dressing room, be considerate. If the venue is feeding you and offering the band free drinks, don’t order the lobster and steak with a triple shot of the best tequila they have. Pretend your friend is buying your dinner and drinks. Don’t take advantage or give the bartender or staff hell when they say only beer is free. Be happy you got anything at all. Once again free dinner, free drinks = big tip.

 Showtime: Know exactly when you are expected to be on stage and when you are expected to be off. This is incredibly important. Things may be running behind but if it says you go on at 8pm be prepared to be on at 8pm. Wait patiently and don’t say a word about the show running behind.

  • This is the most important part of opening. Don’t play over your set. If you are on for 30 minutes play 30 minutes or less. One hour, play one hour or less. If your time is cut down to put the show back on schedule then agree, change your set a little if you need to and play. The majority of the crowd is there to see the headliner. Never and I mean never play over your time. Quit a little early if you have to. This past week the MPB were to play from 8-9, one hour. We played, saw we were running about a song short of an hour, added the song on the fly and kept rolling. Giving it our best to rev up that crowd, make new fans, satisfy regular fans, and just put on the best show we can. With an hour we can really cut the set down to our best numbers. We played till 8: 55. Did we have time for one more? Maybe. Better safe than sorry. We stopped playing thanked the crowd and walked off.
  • Before we went on Matt wrote down the name of the venue’s talent buyer, the name of the acoustic act that started the show, and the name of the soundman and his tech. All he had to do to thank them during the show was to look down and read it.
  • Mention from the stage that you have merchandise. “This is from our new album”, “We have t-shirts for sale” etc. If you have a table of merch, point it out from the stage and tell them you will be there and to come over and say hello if nothing else. Hello is a great conversation starter that may be the difference between selling a $20 shirt and not.
  • When you are done with your set, immediately strike your gear from the stage. This includes helping the others. Don’t tear down the drums, pick them up and move them off the stage and tear them down there. Get off the stage as soon as possible and use the interim to meet new fans, sell merch, or just bask in the praises that you are the greatest band in the world.
  • We usually meet the other bands, network, and exchange contacts if we can. You never know. Blackberry Smoke asked for us by name to support them on a tour through the south. Blackberry Smoke just hit the true big time. Number 1 on ITunes, and I saw the singer Charlie on my Yahoo front page this morning. My friends have now become major rock stars and hopefully they won’t forget us, our talent, and our professionalism.
  • The job is done. Matt gets paid, gear is loaded, and now we are available to meet people, hand out cards, and usually get to hear the headliners for a while and catch a great show that we were a part of. Very satisfying.

 To sum up this whole article; don’t be a pain in the ass at any point during the night. The ego is left on the stage. Don’t be stand offish or run to the dressing room to feel like a rockstar for awhile. Thank everyone, even if they don’t do anything but show up. I meet interesting people, contacts for other venues and festivals, and being the only single guy in the band, I meet the ladies and get phone numbers… none of which ever text me back. Damn women!

 A pro keeps all this in mind. Sooner or later it’ll become a habit. In a profession where bad habits are expected, these tips will show the world that we aren’t all drug addicted, groupie lovin’, flakes. We are pros and will be treated like pros if we treat our hosts as pros.

I want to thank Sound Source Music in Mattoon, IL for adding my blog to their website. Support them because they are supporting you. Thank you Mikey.

 Don’t forget to download the “Unwanted, Unasked for, Unbelievable” solo album “The Monkey Speaks His Mind” from yours truly.

 –Sammy

 

The Magic Words That Make Every Show Great!

If you want to know the secret of getting ahead in your musical career, I can sum it up in two words. Thank You.

 It’s common courtesy to say it when someone holds the door, lets you in front of them in traffic, or simply paying for a pack of gum. Why do these rules go away when you put in instrument in your hand or when you show up at the gig?

 Thank you can be the difference between getting a gig and keeping a gig. It will gain you fans that probably spread the word about you. It’ll keep drinks flowing and makes staff feel appreciated. It makes your soundman and his crew work harder than they already do for you.

 Let’s look at the first point. Who hasn’t met the musician who thinks they are God’s gift to music. Yeah he’d sound great in your band but do you really want to put up with a guy with a chip on his shoulder for that many hours? Would you want to have a beer with him? His attitude may have lost him a slot in the next band to take over the world. There is nothing wrong with thanking your hosts if you are auditioning, or thanking the club owner for having you. Say it and mean it. After all what makes you money is having a place to play. Yeah you can fill it and yeah the bar makes a mint but it is their house you are playing in. Say thank you and mean it. Leave the ego for cock thrusting your guitar on stage.

 Who hasn’t played for a few people on a night or two? Who hasn’t played to a crowd you just can’t seem to pay attention to the show? Those people came and paid the same as everyone else to hear you. Why should they receive half a show because 200 other people didn’t come that night? This is the sign of a pro. Anyone can have a good gig playing to thousands. A pro can have a great gig playing for five. Suck it up and rock. This thanking them for coming. When you go on break or after a show meet these people. If nothing else you have personally thanked them for the money that they will put in your pocket that night. Now they also know someone in a band. Both plusses for you.

 Years ago I started the habit of standing next to the exit at the end of the night and thanking the people leaving after the show. It has never hurt and now they know they are also appreciated. Plus I can sell merch, network with people who may want to book us or know of a place where they hang out that you should play. Having someone tell a bar owner about a great band will beat the hell out of any promo pack you’ll ever put together.

 Saying thank you to the bar staff, or any staff involved means to TIP them and TIP THEM WELL! Especially if the drinks are free! You get in good with the staff by mentioning over the microphone that it’s “Hip to tip” or “Tip the staff they are working hard for you.” This means you also. I rarely carry much cash on me so I have to do my tipping at the end of the night but I do make sure of it. They will have a lot of say whether you return or not. “That band is a pain in the ass.” I’ve heard it said before and some common courtesy would have changed the staff’s mind.

 The most important people you need to thank for the rest of your musical career is the soundman and his crew.

 I work for the Matt Poss Band and we have a regular soundman and crew. Their job is to set up and help the soundman do his job. We love them as people and friends and an extension of our musical family. Because they are excellent at what they do and they know we appreciate them by thanking them before, during and after the show. Dustin is a guitarist himself, so when a string breaks he becomes a guitar tech. Changing strings and getting it back on the rack as quickly as possible. If a drunk chick hops onstage and dances on all the foot pedals, knocking over mics and about to give someone singing a fat lip by bumping the mic into their face, Robert is right there to kindly yet firmly remove them from the stage. Bad cables are switched out, mic stands falling over are quickly put into place. This is not in their job description yet they do it and I can’t express how much we appreciate what they do for us. They make our job easy. When we are thanking people at the door or on the floor and they are drowning you in praise, these cats are wrapping cables, and lumping gear. On a side note, Super Bowl 2011, Madonna’s stage? Robert helped build that. He can surely handle our country asses.

 The soundman is the guy you always want on your side. When you arrive at the venue, meet the soundman (unless he’s working for another band, a festival situation for example.) Shake his hand and introduce yourself. Remember his name. Write it on your hand if you have to but make sure this guy is happy. Thank him during the show, and afterward. Thank him even if he’s not the best, Thank him for his work NO MATTER WHAT! Sound guys network too and they will spread the word about you. Good or bad. In 20+ years of playing I’ve only told one soundman to kiss my ass. That is a story for another article about gigs from hell, so I won’t get into it here.

 Just say it and mean it. It’ll more than pay off in gigs, opportunities, and most of all more money in your pocket.

 Speaking of soundmen. One of my favorite people (don’t tell him I said it) Tim “the Worst Soundman EVER!” Alverson, of Alverson Sound, Will be doing a column with me all about the do’s and don’ts of working with your soundman. Tim has ran for everyone under the sun, can drive long distances at a time, and snores like a maniac on the road. And those are his good points. All kidding aside Tim is the best. A total pro. I’ve been working with him for over two years now and have never gone on late because of a sound problem. I always have a monitor that sounds great, and someone to give hell when we’re not playing. Don’t worry he gives it back and most of the time starts it.

 One last one. If you are opening, thank the venue and the headliner even if they had nothing to do with you getting on the bill. If you are the headliner, thank the opening band for revving up the crowd for you. Band vs. band is for amateurs. Pros network, exchange contact info, give each other leads on good places to play, and may be your foot into the door of a great club. That’s worth a thank you.

 I just released my first solo album entitled Sammy and the Snake Charmer’s Union – The Monkey Speaks His Mind. Take a listen and pick up a copy. I gathered some of the best musicians in the world to play my songs with me. That and my sick sense of musical humor made for a nice effort. THANK YOU FOR PLAYING ON MY ALBUM!

–Sammy

 

Your Relationship With Your Music Store

I bought my first guitar in 1984. There was a music store in the mall. I saved up about 200 bucks, picked my guitar off the wall. Paid the price and walked out with a Peavy T-90 six-string with an amp built into the case. Very simple. Uneventful, but simple.

 A few years later I was ready for an upgrade. I was getting better as a musician and was in the market for a new guitar. I had my license by this time and had my choice of music stores in the area.

 Music store “A” was the first place I walked into, I chose a guitar close to what I could spend. I picked it up found a cord and plugged it into an amp. No salesman came to help. I had never met the owner. The first thing the owner said to me was “I sure hope you can play because I hate hearing out of tune playing.” He wasn’t joking. I couldn’t play very well and he made me feel like I wasn’t welcome.

 A friend suggested I try music store B. It was also an independent music store and not a chain. I walked in and looked. The owner came up and met me. Asked what I was looking for and could he help. He didn’t care that I wasn’t that good. Infact one of the salesmen actually showed me how to play “Crazy Train” in the right key.

 Music store “B” had the forethought to realize I would get better and with some guidance from him, the salesmen, and other musicians who came and hung around. He was right. The three hundred dollar guitar I bought from him would lead me to buying more expensive guitars and amps later, plus countless picks and strings.

 I had created a relationship with store “B”. They knew me by name when I walked in and suggested things that would push me to be a better musician and the more I bought from them the better deals I got. Sometimes they would toss you a free pack of strings or a package of picks because I was a good customer. He was there when I needed advice, instruction and introduced me to other musicians that frequented the store. He was grooming me as a musician. One, because he was a good guy. Two, he was an excellent businessman and knew his demographic. Three, he wanted me to spread the word.

 Years later I was offered a job working for him. I had gained his respect by becoming a good musician and had formed my own band. This means I went to him for PA equipment, microphones, lights, and all of the rest of the things a working band needed. By not running me off when I was a kid he gained a life long customer. The more successful I got the better customer I would be. Smart business on both of our parts. To this day when someone asks about where to go to get a guitar I always tell them store “B” and tell them that I personally had sent them. More points in my favor.

 After working for him I saw the business side of running a music store that had now grown and grown.

 80% of a music store’s customers are people looking to buy their first guitar. Store “B” knew not to overwhelm them, give them guidance, play a little on the guitar to show that they too could make it sing. He even offered four free lessons. Get the new musicians off to a good start instead of getting frustrated and putting the guitar in the closet. He was still grooming young players that will become loyal to his store.

 Within a month I knew the names of the regulars, met the students, and helped hundreds of customers who bought everything from saxophone reeds and guitar magazines to working musicians with cash in their pockets to buy the top shelf guitars. I was encouraged to know these people and realize we appreciated their business.

 We gave our best customers the best deals, called them if a guitar that might interest them came in. We also called them if we had given them a quote on a guitar to discuss options with them. There is much more to running a music store than sit around playing guitar all day, but making a relationship between the musicians and the store was number one. No matter how busy doing the everyday business, you drop everything to help a customer. If you want the truth, there is NO time to play guitar.

 I have bought items online from super stores, but most of the time I shop at music store “B”.   I get good deals and get to see my friends and mix with other musicians. When I’m looking for new musicians to work with I always call them and they have suggestions, they recommend me and my bands for gigs. We got a lot of calls to the store asking for recommendations for bands to play events. We knew who was playing, who fit the event and who didn’t. We promoted working bands. Carried their CD’s and treated all musicians beginner to advanced with respect and a friendly attitude.

 I’m going to give a short list of dos and don’ts to help you create the relations ship.

 DO;

  • Smile and meet your salesman. He’s going to want to remember you as a good guy not an ego maniac. These salesmen are musicians also and deserve your respect.
  • Ask before pulling a guitar off the top shelf. These are very expensive and dings and scratches on them will reduce the value of the guitar. The salesman will be happy to help you plug it in to an amp, hand you a pick and get you set up.
  • If you are just browsing, tell them. They won’t be offended and they can go back to doing the unglamorous job of ordering items and stocking shelves. If you need help after that, just ask.
  • Treat the instruments with care.
  • Just because you don’t see what you are looking for, ask. Most of the time the store can get it for you.
  • Thank the staff member for letting you try things out and for any service they have given you. You’d be surprised what a little respect and kindness can get you when dealing with a store.
  • Buy straight out if you can. Cash (check, credit card, etc…) will get you the best deals. Ten years later I can still tell you a few customers that have picked up a nice guitar and whipped out the money to pay for it. Makes it easy on the salesman, so he gives you the best deal.

 Don’t;

  • Come in with an attitude that you are better than the staff. Just because you have a good band or have sold out venues, more than likely the salesman has also done this and more. You never can tell. Being an asshole is the quickest way to make sure the salesman isn’t going to give you the best deal.
  • Don’t waste the salesman’s time. If you have no intention of buying anything, don’t stand there and try to shoot the breeze for an hour talking about the best band in the world while he has to finish up the everyday business of making a music store run. A little chatting is good. Getting information on the local music scene and questions like that are fine.
  • Don’t crank up the amps to ten just to play “Enter Sandman” for an hour. I used to be stuck alone on Sundays working while a guy came in every Sunday and cranked up a half stack and soloed for hours. He drove me crazy. Turn the amp down to a reasonable level and practice at home.
  • If you are wearing a jacket with rivets or metal buttons, take it off. They will scratch the guitars.
  • When checking out, don’t assume they know your name. Hundreds of customers come in a week and even though they can recognize you. That’s a lot of names to remember. It’s embarrassing to have to ask a returning customer his name. Don’t be offended.
  • Don’t assume the salesman is working on commission. We didn’t. He’s not out to screw you. He want’s you coming back. He’ll do the best he can.
  • Don’t be pissed if you can’t work out a deal. If you have a trade in remember they have to get it cheap enough to resell it at it’s value. This means the bass amp you bought for $150 bucks used, is probably only worth $150 bucks. For the store to make a profit and keep the doors open they are going to have to give you a price lower than the value. If not they are just changing dollars.
  • Don’t put up the expensive guitars back on the top shelf. Let the staff do that. Place it in a stand and tell them you are done playing it. Better to let the staff ding it than you.
  • Be an asshole.

 Like any relationship it takes time to cultivate but it pays off in the long run. I’ll pick up a pack of strings or picks from store “A”, but I still remember him running me off as a kid. Store owner “A” has lost thousands of dollars from me due to his short sightedness.

 Thank you store “B”. You know who you are and I’ll see you soon.

 –Sammy

Promotion and Hand Stamps

 Everywhere I’ve played they have stamped or marked who has paid to come in the door. I picked up a little tip quite a few years back. Hand stamps.

 Instead of using the venue’s stamp or marker, we carry a stamp. These can be ordered from any printer from online It has the band’s web address and logo. You have a piece of promotion that will last all night and may appear on your face in the morning. Ha!

 For a twenty five dollar investment, you can now have everyone who comes to see you carry a handout all night knowing who you are and where to reach you. Plus you have taken the time to make a good professional first impression. Pros sometimes need to think out of the box and this has paid off in spades. It’s as simple as asking the doorman to use your stamp instead of Thiers.

 Keep it simple, Make your website address (you do have a website don’t you?) large enough to read even if you have to leave the logo off. A stamp that is too large doesn’t always get all the information you want them to have.

 Simple, clean, easy to do and a cheap investment that actually brings more traffic to your site which brings more people to your shows.

Contracts & Riders

In a perfect world we wouldn’t need contracts or riders. In this world you would always be paid what was agreed upon in advance, the stage and lighting would be set up ready to go. You would sound check with the best soundman ever, retire to your dressing room stocked full of water, beers, soda, and a hot food. You would change into your stage clothes, walk out on stage count off the first song and hear the roar of the crowd as the lights explode and you rock your ass off to a crowd that is on its feet all night. After the show you shower, change clothes, eat something, and then pick up a bundle of cash plus a bonus.

 After 20 years I’ve rarely seen this happen. It can happen though with the right preparation and a little work on your end.

 A simple contract can take care of almost all of these issues. You don’t need a lawyer to make a complex contract. Keep it simple.

 We’ll use an imaginary band. We’ll call it the Brass Knuckles. We’ll make it a five piece band. Drums, bass, lead guitarist, singer/ rhythm guitarist, and keyboardist. They play top 40 rock and classic rock. Heavy on dance music. Everyone in the band either takes a lead vocal during the show or sings harmony. The band will be working its way up the musical ladder.

 Here is an example of a simple contract that they use:

  • Artist : The Brass Knuckles
  • Contact : Joe Knuckles 1-234-567-5555/cell phone
  • Venue: Fred’s Bar and Grill, 123 Main St, Anytown, IL 1-234-123-5555
  • Date and Time: Sept 1, 2012, 9pm-1am, 3 one hour sets. Load in 6pm, sound check 7pm. Doors open at 8pm
  • Price: $600 due upon end of the show.
  • Sound and Lighting: Venue provided.
  • Other: See attached rider and stage plot.
  • Buyer Signature: Fred Jones Fred’s Bar and Grill Representative’s signature.
  • Band Signature:  Band Representative’s signature.
  • BAND WILL BE PAID RAIN OR SHINE

 That’s all there is to it. Everyone knows what is expected on both the club owner’s end and on the band’s end. It’s so simple there will be no confusion.

 Do we use a contract for every event? No. Clubs are usually very cool about paying but there are clubs that have been known to dock the pay because of various reasons. Not much of a crowd shows up. Possibly you have a great crowd but the last five bands didn’t and they feel they have to make up for it by taking it from you. The club may be putting on an outside event and it is rained out. I’ve had each and every one of these experiences happen. If I would have used a contract none of these would have happened. Word of mouth between bands usually let you know which club owners are shady and then make sure you have a contract. If they refuse to sign a contract you may want to think twice about playing the venue. You might explain that it is being used to protect both the band and the venue from any misunderstandings. The Brass Knuckles are professionals after all. Contracts are used by pros and the buyer will know that you are pros and will treat you accordingly. Using contracts can be played by ear. For events such as weddings, festivals, touring, or any special event ALWAYS use a contract. Don’t let the fact that you’ve played the event many years in a row stop you from getting the details in writing. My old band found this out the hard way.

 The band Poprocks, that I worked in, had played a street festival for a small town for three years straight. After the second year they hired us by email. “Same contract as last year?” they would say and we’d reply “Yes”, possibly asking for a raise but pretty much the same. The fourth year a storm came through and the show was cancelled before any of the equipment was unloaded. We showed up. The buyer for the festival claimed we didn’t have a contract so the town wouldn’t be paying us. The guy in the band who booked the show couldn’t find the email so we were left with nothing. We could have been playing a paying show that night but instead we were out our time, money, and the chance to play a different venue and actually be paid. We could take them to court but that would have been a crap shoot on our part. We were screwed out of thousands that night simply because we hadn’t taken time to send a new contract. We trusted them but when it comes to money you have to be very careful.

 Riders are attached to a contract. They spell out what you need to perform the best show you can possibly do. If the items aren’t followed it will affect the performance.

 Here is an example of a simple rider:

  • 16×20 raised stage with steps must be provided (a single flatbed trailer is not acceptable.)
  • 4 quad electrical boxes must be run to the stage prior to set up. 20 amp preferably
  • Dressing room with a lock. Tables and chairs for 10 people.
  • A cooler with assorted sodas, bottled water, and beer if it being served at the event. Provided 2 hours before show time.
  • Deli Tray available two hours before show time, or a hot meal.

 The Brass Knuckles aren’t Van Halen so asking for no brown m&ms or flowers in your dressing room is pointless.

 Be flexible on your rider. Ask for it all and be happy with what you get. Really all you need to do a show is a stage area, power, and water. This is where forwarding a call to the buyer comes in. They may tell you that they have no stage but you’ll be playing on the ground. The band can do this, no problem. Possibly they don’t want to provide food. You can either live with it or take a buy out. A buy out is when the buyer pays you X amount of dollars over your guarantee and you buy your own food.  Work with the buyer on the rider. After all it’s not life or death that you have ten chairs.

 Keep a copy of the signed contract and rider for yourself and a copy for the buyer. A week before the show call ahead and go over any last-minute details so both of you will know what to expect when you get there. You may need extra help from the venue to unload gear if the load in is a mile away from the stage, parking passes, ask about the stage and if the electrician has provided the power. Tell them what time you’ll be showing up. Most of all just call to put the buyer’s mind at ease.

 Send a copy of your stage plot with the contract with your inputs. This would be the stage plot for the Brass Knuckles stage plot:

  1. Lead Vox
  2. Keyboard Vox
  3. Guitarist Vox
  4. Bass Vox
  5. Drummer Vox
  6. Drum Kick
  7. Drum Snare
  8. Drum Tom 1
  9. Drum Tom 2
  10. Drum Tom 3
  11. Keys (DI box)
  12. Bass (DI box)
  13. Guitar 1 (Mic)
  14. Guitar 2 (Mic)

Then provide a picture of how you set up onstage on the same page.

Many bands have a place on their website that is specifically for soundmen to download the stage plot. It’s a great idea and easy enough to do. I strongly suggest it.

Now that all the contracts, riders, and stage plot is taken care of, be a pro. Show up on time to load in and sound check. Meet your soundman and treat him with respect and understanding. Make sure you learn his name and use it. The one guy you DON’T want to piss off is your soundman. Treat the staff with respect and a smile. TIP even if drinks are free! Leave all egos for the show. Show up with a “MAKE IT HAPPEN” attitude. Follow these tips and you’ll be asked back and recommended to other venues and buyers.

Don’t marry your set list

We all love certain songs in our set more than others. After all we think the song is great, we’ve either written it or listened to it a million times. Everyone will go crazy when you play those opening chords. Girls will scream, and guys will come to the front of the stage and yell “Hell YEAH!” You are a god in their eyes and ears for the next four minutes.

What happens when you play the opening chords and get no reaction? What happens if it clears the dance floor? The song ends and you hear crickets chirping. Kick into the next song and hope for the best, right?

We’ve all been there. What do we do about it? We need to take a long hard look at our set list.

To me a set list needs to flow. Like in vaudeville, you start with a strong opening and end with a strong ending and put the rest in between. Well kind of. To me a great set flows like river. There are rapids and calm waters and all points in between.

If you are getting no reaction to a song there are a few ways to handle it.

 

  • Move the song to a different spot in the set. Sometimes a song that doesn’t work at the beginning of a show may work once people get a few more drinks in them or simply the crowd will loosen up. Try it in the middle of the night. Try it at the end of the night. My old band had a great dance cover that we knew we sounded good on but only got mediocre response where we used to play it. We tried it all over the set. Finally we ended the night with it and worked it into a stronger number right before it. Problem solved. The song went over like we knew it would. Great!
  • Put it between two stronger songs. The energy the crowd emotes may hold over to the next song and then you hit them with another strong tune afterwards, they may just keep going due to the rollercoaster momentum that you’ve just thrown at them.
  • Try it a few times in different venues. Sometimes your fans just aren’t used to your new baby in your set. It may take some getting used to. It may also work better in some venues than others.
  • Crowds can smell fear and they know when you are unsure about your performance of a song. Don’t make a big deal out of this being a new one. It may take the band a few times of playing it live to get the feel or catch the groove of the new song
  • Drop the song and replace it with one that you think will go over better. Yeah you worked hard on it, spent time in rehearsal learning it as a band. You may have even had to fight to get it in the set. If a song never works replace it.

I have been playing covers and originals for decades. Songs that work in some bands don’t always work in another band. There is very little rhyme or reason to it.

A few times a year you should look at your set list as a band. Rate your songs on a 1-5 scale on how well they go over with an audience. 1 being a total dog and 5 being a sure fire always works no matter what in any situation. Whittle your set list down to 4’s and 5’s. Keep trying new ideas, songs, crowd interaction, shtick (yep) and soon you’ll have a killer set that will not only entertain an audience but will give you that instant high that we all want that can only come from someone enjoying what you do.

Remember there a millions of great songs out there and in you. Cover bands and original bands a-like. We always went by the Mony-Mony rule. Find a song that goes over as well as Mony-Mony without having to play Mony-Mony. Play Mony-Mony if it fits your band and you don’t mind it. “Different strokes for different folks” ~ Sly Stone

Keep on Truckin’

–Sammy

Band Promo Pictures

One of the most over looked and misused pieces of your promo pack is the band photo.

Let’s face it. People DO judge a book by its cover. Club owners, festival and corporate buyers, and anyone else who receives a promo pack will. They will judge the professionalism of the band, the music they play, the band’s attitude, and if they are right for the venue or event they are hiring for. This is the first piece of promo they will look at.

 

 “Take a photo shoot seriously for what it is: a tool for  representing and promoting material for the band.” – James Gilmore

 When I see a band without a professional photo in their pack, I think “Here is a band that didn’t have $40 for a sitting fee.”

 I’ve taken more photo shoots than I care to remember. Some were good and just as many bad. Have it taken by someone who understands a band shoot. Know somewhat what to look for. For example: An old band I worked with had shoots taken regularly. We never picked the smiling shots or the stiff posed shots. By the time we talked to the photographer we could tell them what we normally didn’t like when picking our photo.

Don’t stifle the photographer’s creativity too much. They may have ideas you never thought of that turn out great. Different locations, choices of colors, effects, etc…

 Look through the photographer’s portfolio. Not so much at the subject but more the style of the photographer. Do they have a good eye for capturing that perfect shot? The ideas for making your shots unique? Understanding the people you hire to do work for your band is important. After all you will be using these as promo pieces and they will represent your band.

 Look at promo shots of other bands, album covers, posters. Get an idea of what you’re looking for as far as image, music, and professionalism.

 Don’t lose out on a perfect gig for your band just because of your promo photo. Get one now and change them at least once a year. Give out the old ones as freebees to your fans. They’ll love it and you won’t have boxes of old promo photos laying around.

 Look for the best deals when it comes to having them duplicated. They are much cheaper than you’d think. A black and white 8×10 is still the universal size for the photo.

 Upload a high rez version to your website. News papers, concert promoters, E-zines, will be able to pull it directly from your website.

 Never and I mean NEVER! Put your contact info on the promo folder. Booking agents and event organizers will want to put their own sticker for contact on them. This is called being Agency Friendly. Get some labels and print out your own contact info on the back of the ones you use personally. If you don’t you’ll be forced to either not use a photo, or a second set of photos without the contact info.

 Now grumble all you want, we all do, but get the band into the photographer. This is one of the easiest ways to bring up the band’s value. This equals more money for you. It will more than pay for itself in no time.

BEING A PRO or FAKING IT TILL YOU MAKE IT

I still remember my first pro gig. It was in a small town about an hour and a half north of where the band was from.

We were a ten piece classic R&B band. We had recently been contacted by a manager who reinforced all the ideas we always talked about and knew we should be doing. But a killer band and kick ass music was enough right?

The week before we were working nasty clubs, I played in a T-shirt and jeans. The bass player and I both had hair down our back. The horn players wore ties and white shirts and jeans. We looked like a bar band, we acted like a bar band and we were a bar band. A good one, but still a B-rate bar band.

“Look like a classic R&B band.” They told us, “Get suits boys. Pull the hair out of your face and clean up. No cussing, no smoking, and if you have a beer put it in a cup.” That was it.

The next week we played our first festival in suits. We didn’t change the music a bit just the image. The image tripled our money immediately. The buyer for the festival came up and said “We are so glad to have a pro band. The band last night drank and cussed and was an embarrassment to the town’s festival.” We laughed because the week before that we were doing the same thing. They treated us better, dressing rooms, food, drinks, and were helpful in everyway.

We were so worried that we’d look like fools in these suits. We worried that the other musicians would make fun of us. The crowd might laugh. We’d have to hang our head in shame. Six months later I was sitting with my feet up at a resort in Puerto Rico. We came home from each show with a wad of bills in our pocket and the phone ringing off the wall. All for a seventy dollar J.C. Penny suit.

Management told us “don’t be a $500 band playing a club. Be a $2500 band playing for $500. And NEVER tell anyone what you are making. If a buyer does find out you played cheap tell them that you were filling in an empty date and if a big gig came your way you would have to cancel this one. You get what you pay for.

Have management or one person in the group negotiate money. It’s far too easy for a buyer to call a couple of different guys in the band to get a price. Send them to the negotiator or better yet get their number and have the band’s representative call them.

Know you’re worth. Then ask for it. Once you get it a pro sends out a contract, and is paid in full RAIN OR SHINE. Always, and I mean always have this in your contract. If you weren’t playing here you would be somewhere else. They aren’t just paying for your talent but for the date and you holding it for them. Asking for half the money with a returned contract is industry standard. So don’t be scared to ask. You are a pro. This is your business and you must look out for your partners. I have been burned by not doing this before and it stings. Believe me.

Forward the date. Call the venue at least a week ahead of time and talk to the event manager and make sure you have proper power ran to the stage. Tell them about what time you’ll be showing up for load in. What time you need to eat and any other concerns you may have. Your list of questions and requests will increase in time. You’ll learn the hard way sometimes, but learn from the lesson.

A pro then shows up on time, has made sure of the load in time. A wedding for example doesn’t want to hear your sound check. Make sure it’s clear what time doors open. Once done ask the event manager to show you where your dressing room is and if you can be fed. These will be in your rider that comes with the contract.

The last and most important part of any event is to get paid. I got a tip from one of the “Four Freshmen” of all people. He told me “Get paid first. BEFORE the show. Meet your buyer. Thank them for having you. Tell them things get crazy after the show with load out and people coming and going and it’s sometimes hard to find the buyer after the show, so if we could, let’s settle up now.”

If the buyer gets drunk and leaves, you are covered. If the festival has a rain out before the show and doesn’t make the money they wanted, you are covered. It’ll also save you from having a big scary biker come up to you and say, “Boy we didn’t make enough to cover expenses so were not gonna pay you.” I wouldn’t say it if it hasn’t happened.

Music + Right Image + Professionalism = more $$$