Stage Etiquette For Performing Guitarists
Have you ever seen a performing band get up on stage and just not have their stuff together? They are either out of tune, drunk, don’t know the correct chords, say weird stuff on the mic, smell or just don’t seem to realize people are there to hear some great music, see a great show, and have a kick ass time. I guess you could say there is a certain etiquette for performing on stage, regardless of whether you are a singer-songwriter, jazz combo, or heavy metal band.
Band setups can get pretty complex, but at the heart of every stage setup are a few key guidelines to follow that not only help setup flow smoothly, but also help with sound quality, feedback issues and band member communication.
One of the most common hiccups I see during stage setup is other band members setting their gear up before the drummer. If you have a drummer, they should place their carpet and the Bass drum before anyone starts putting amps and keyboards anywhere.
Band Members should communicate at the venue or prior to arriving how load-in should go, especially if you have a complex instrumentation.
SET YOUR VOLUME ACCORDING TO THE ROOM AND THE AUDIENCE
Depending on the gig, they may not really even care if you are there because they want to talk to people.
Now if there’s a crowd that is there to dance or have fun, turn up enough to coat the room with sound, but not loud enough where people have to scream in each other’s ears.
Everyone’s been to a club or bar or wherever and had to scream at the person next to them. It’s unenjoyable and is just fucking annoying. Being the performer, you have the power to control that. Let people have a good time. Spend time on your levels BEFORE you get to the show and have a sound check to ensure proper levels.
WHO’S THE LEADER AND WHAT ARE THEIR ROLES?
Depending on the band format, the leader can be a predetermined member, the band member that booked the gig and hired you, the lead vocalist or the lead instrument.They should be commanding the stage to make sure that you don’t all embarrass yourselves up there.
Being the Leader is always great, but it comes with some responsibilities. Some of these include:
Calling Intros, Endings, and Keys
Making the final call on tunes
Making those split second decisions on stage when things go wrong or things are going really right
Making announcements and easing any tense moments in the show.
It is the leaders job to CONNECT with the audience
When I am the band leader, I also like to include the dissemination of all relevant details for a gig. When I hire another instrument, I always include an in depth email with the pay, the dress code, arrival time, start time, parking, meal situation, lodging if necessary and anything that will help them get to the gig and perform on time and at their best. I will also send them any contracts, songslists, etc…
WHEN TO SOLO
This always changes depending on the song, band, genre, gig and musical moment. My advice for musicians that are in soloing scenarios is to LOOK AROUND. Make eye contact with everyone, the audience and the band included. If you are all looking around at each, you’ll get a head nod or a sign that it’s your time to step up and let it rip.
WHEN TO STOP SOLOING
This is even more important than when to solo.
Pro tip: Stop soloing BEFORE you run out of ideas. If you feel you’re starting to ramble or exhaust your musical vocabulary, find your stopping point, let the other band members know that you are done soloing before the form ends!
You usually want to stop soloing when you are closing out a section of the form or someone else is about to step up. Give everyone a clear nod or eye gaze or big jump in the air and end your solo strong. Nobody likes a guitar solo that goes limp at the end of the form.
Also, be careful when you are soloing over vocalists or other musicians. Intertwining lines are awesome when everyone is focused on call-and-response. It’s going to sound like garbage if 3 or 4 people are all soloing at the same time and not listening to each other.
DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS
Be mindful if where cables are. Be careful not to tangle yourself or anyone around you. I usually use some gaffers tape and Velcro ties to keep cables organized on stage and cover as much with rugs as possible.
Deciding on whether or not to have a drink on a gig is a matter of appropriate timing and the appropriate amount.
If the people that hired you are drinking and gave you the green light, I don’t find anything wrong with having a drink or two over a few hours. Don’t ever go to the bar and start downing shots or chugging beers. It’s tacky and unprofessional.
REMEMBER THERE’S AN AUDIENCE OUT THERE
If I had my way, I would play guitar in my office and pretend I was a rock star in my underwear for the rest of my life. Crazy, I know, but eventually you’ll find yourself in front of a live audience. Look out at them sometimes! Don’t retreat into your own world.
I sit down a lot when I was solo Jazz guitar and there have definitely been times where I found that I was hunched over my guitar and all the audience could see was the top of my head and how much hair I’ve lost over the years. Look at them. Smile. If anyone walks by, say Hello or give them a nod. It’s actually quite relaxing once you break that performer/audience barrier.
Clapping is funny in the music world. It’s something we all hope that people do for us, but we put restrictions and customs on it. In the classical world, it is highly frowned upon to applaud in between movements. You must wait until after the entire the piece has been performed.
In Jazz, it’s customary to clap after each solo and after the song ends.
In Rock and roll, you clap whenever the heck you want.
Screw it, If you are loving the music, show it. However, don’t be that person that everyone starts rolling their eyes at. Show your love for the music to the extent in which it doesn’t affect anyone else’s enjoyment.
I already kind of went over this, but if they clap, look up and give a nod or a small wave. If you want, you can use my move: a Clint Eastwood type head nod and a half smirk that shows my dimple (It’s how I met my wife)
I love bowing because it’s usually a result of applause. It’s your chance to clap back at the audience and acknowledge the fact that they appreciate what you are doing. So don’t give a weak bow. Give them a full bow. Act almost as if you are reaching for your toes. Give yourself to the audience. Show your appreciation for their support and applause.
And at the end of all of it, just remember to BE PROFESSIONAL AND HAVE FUN DOING IT!