Dude, Be Cool: Here’s How NOT to Piss off a Band with the Little Things

Honus Honus just wants a quiet place to do what humans do.

I sleep with one of those noise machines beside my bed to drown out the constant high-pitched ringing in my head. Sometimes I don’t sleep. Sometimes I dream of screaming sheep. Anyhoo! Time for today’s delightful show etiquette column…the Random Nitpicky Musician Edition.

I’ve covered a lot of topics thus far, so I’m going to be a little more scattershot in my approach here. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of random show etiquette “no no’s” that I or someone like me has encountered during my more-than-who-cares-years in the indie rock “biz.” If I’ve left anything out, (fellow music players) let me know:

DON’T…tune into TV in a club.

There’s nothing more sensational than climbing on a stage in a crowded venue to perform the songs you’ve written — tunes you’ve perfected over the years, moves, hip gyrations and guitar faces you’ve practiced in the green room mirror — for a room full of excited people that paid money to see and hear you perform said songs and gyrations…and then glancing out across the dark divide and seeing the harsh glow of SportsCenter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love sports and I love centers just as much as the next jean-jacketed musician — but, during a rock show, turn those fuckers off, please. Obviously, when you’re playing a sports-bar-type venue (and, yes, sometimes bands have to do this to fill in those arduous gas-guzzling drives through the Midwest nether regions), it’s hard to avoid the televisions. And I can totally sympathize with bartenders and staff who aren’t in the mood, don’t dig the music, had a rough day or night, had a fight with their significant other before work and just wanna go home — but we’ve all been there and we’ll get through this together. Just please turn the TV off for the forty-five minutes the band is on stage and I’ll buy you a shot after the show.

Exception: Unless you’re screening the NBA playoffs. All bets are off. Sorry.

DON’T…make bands drop wolf-bait when there are chicks outside!

Label me a grump, a diva, a whatever — but after you’ve been on a long tour and spent weeks/months/years slogging though the absolute worst petri-dish rest stops/gas stations of the world, one of the most basic yet wonderful things a band can be greeted with at a venue is a “private” bathroom backstage. It can be the staff bathroom, it can be the office bathroom, it can be the storage room/bathroom — but as long as it’s not the public bathroom, it’s a godsend.

In purely scatological terms, touring can be reduced to merely “finding a place to peacefully poop.” It’s gross, it’s base, but it’s the dog’s honest truth. You choose your battles wisely on tour. You avoid coffee if you have to, risky foreign cuisines, anything that’ll force you to use that doorless, paperless rest stop stall in Topeka, Kansas. I never truly appreciated the proliferation of Starbucks until I spent years on the road with bands scouring for semi-clean commodes.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that there is nothing worse for a band than playing a venue — punk or otherwise — where the only bathroom in the building is a filthy, no-door-on-the-stall, no-lock-on-the-door, no-door-on-the-bathroom affair. It’s demoralizing. I mean, people in bands are just people and everybody poops, but can we at least try to maintain a certain mystique about it all? Invest in decent bathrooms, rock clubs.

DON’T…be a dick to the house sound engineer — and visa versa.

I know, I know, Local Front of House Guy, you’re in a band, too. You play bass in a big local metal band I’ve never heard of. You roadied for Goo Goo Dolls back when they were still a hardcore band. You have zero patience for anything that’s not a two-guitars/bass/drums setup. Let’s work this out together. I’m not your enemy. You don’t have to like my music, my face, anything about me — but we’ll get through this night, we’ll go our separate ways and you’ll hopefully never have to deal with me again. I’ll try my best not to annoy you or piss you off or make you work harder than you want to at the job that’s employing you to do your job. At a certain point, however, just fuck off and go home. Find some other line of work.

These are all things that run through my head when I load in gear at a venue and am immediately confronted/vibed out by the miserable house sound engineer. I love winning over this type of personality, breaking them down with kindness, but sometimes you just can’t win. Let’s flip the coin now…

I hate seeing bands — new and long established — treat house sound engineers with absolutely no respect. I have a lot of friends, band mates and distant cousins who I don’t know exist (or don’t exist at all, but we’ll run with it like they might) that run sound at venues across the world, and it’s a thankless job. But they do it because either 1) they love it, or 2) they have to pay rent and it’s something they can do, or 3) a delightful mixture of both.

As a band, touring or otherwise, just watch how you interact with them. Be mindful of their venue and gear. Be cool. Ultimately, you’re on the same team, the end goal being putting on a great-sounding show. My Man Man guitarist (Murphy) runs sound in Boston and I hear horror stories all the time about clueless young bands that don’t take into consideration that insulting the house sound engineer (when you can’t afford to travel with your own) can affect the level of interest or dedication a sound guy will invest in your shitty band.

And, remember, sound guys have dealt with more shitty bands than good ones, and they’ve seen/heard just about every permutation of genre and garbage musical trend. Murph, however, is professional enough to muscle through almost anything because he’s a good human and he’s been on the other side of the coin. Nonetheless, when a band is cluelessly or intentionally rude, it still sucks for him and other peeps like him. Here’s a few things that get under my skin:

  • Please don’t shred ear-blistering solos or test all your noisy guitar pedals or blast beats when the sound guy is setting up a microphone inches away from your amp or drums. You think it’s loud standing in front of the amp? The poor fucker’s ears are next to the speaker/drum cymbals. Be aware.
  • Sound engineers really don’t care if you can play every Sabbath or Cream bass line that was ever written. Get your tone, get your stage sound and get off the stage until it’s time to soundcheck. Don’t you have Facebook posts to update on your phone anyway?
  • You need to practice songs? Ask the sound person if all the noise you’re making is OK. Odds are, it probably is. It’s a small gesture, but it can go a long way toward showing some respect.
  • Please don’t berate or insult the sound guy during the show. I mean, when is this ever cool? Does yelling at a sound guy — who you’re not paying — in front of an audience make you feel better? If you need more something in your monitors, ask for it without the attitude. Obviously, there are some circumstances that can justify lashing out, but most of the time issues can be resolved easier with patience. If the sound guy is at the bar having a drink when you’re playing and feeding back onstage, however, PLEASE FEEL FREE to tear him a new one.
  • Pro tip. If you point the microphone into the stage monitor, it will feed back. I do this all the time. I’m sometimes evil.
  • If you need to move the monitors on the stage during soundcheck, just ask the engineer first. I know this is something that tends to piss them off. I’m guilty of this, too, but I try to be a little more mindful.

There’s more stuff I could say, but I’m sure you’ve zoned out by now so I’ll wrap this one up. In closing, bands shouldn’t assume that their sound engineer doesn’t have a life outside of meeting them at a venue for the 3 p.m. load-in. They might play in a band you like. They might like your band. They might even know where the cleanest bathroom is hidden. Poop wisely, my friends.

Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus), is a musician-songwriter, film/theater score composer, screenwriter, mustachioed multi-hyphenate living in Los Angeles. Texas-born, he grew up in the Philippines, South Carolina, Germany, Illinois, Alabama and Missouri before finally settling in Philadelphia and pouring his scattered upbringing into his bands Man Man and Mister Heavenly. He’s releasing his first solo album in 2016. Michael J. Fox as Teen Wolf is his spirit animal. You can follow him on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. (photo credit: Mike Gerry)