Gig 411: A Checklist for New Gigs

Whenever you book a gig at a fresh venue, you’re on a learning curve. Circumstances are different in every room and if you don’t know the deal, the night can go off the rails before you hit the first downbeat. As any well-gigged player will tell you, gathering a little information ahead of time can prevent some big headaches.

Here's what you need to know before you go:

Is there a backline? Detailed info about available backline gear typically is available in advance through the booking person, the sound engineer or the venue’s website. Even if you learn there’s a backline in place, make no assumptions until you have some solid intel. For example, there may be amps but no drum kit; or there may be drums but no snare or cymbals.

Is there a frontline and sound engineer? Microphones, a PA and monitors are part of a stage’s frontline, and though they’re commonplace at performance venues, don’t take them for granted even if you know there’s a backline, and vice versa. When there is a PA, find out whether a sound engineer will be working or if you’ll have to run the soundboard yourself.


Who's the contact? When your booking is confirmed, ask who the onsite point person will be. You don’t want to be asking every bartender or waitress if it’s okay to play long or how to get paid.

What time is load in? Bars and restaurants can be choosy about when the band should bring gear into the room, especially if there are patrons dining or other acts performing. Ask what time you’ll be clear for load in, which entrance to load through and where to stash the gear.

What's the line up? Unless you’ll have the stage to yourself, figure out where you’re scheduled in the lineup. A multi-band bill can affect when you load your gear, whether onstage or backstage, how the door pay is divided, when your people should arrive, whether set durations are strict, and how your start may be delayed by another band’s encore or breakdown. On the upside, if someone you respect is sharing the bill, you might work up some cross-promo before the show, share gear or make plans for sitting in.

What's start time? When does your set realistically start? Seems like playing in bars is one of those few jobs where arriving too early is thankless, though arriving too late is unforgivable. When you book your slot, ask if the start time is realistic and whether there’s a strict end time.


What's the door charge? You should know the band’s pay arrangement ahead of time, but you also should discuss details about a door or gate charge. Ask how much the venue will charge at the door so your guests don’t start the night with an expensive surprise.

Who's buying? Will the band be comped for food or drinks? Given a good performance and a friendly barkeep, the policy may be loose on this one. But ask ahead of time, diplomatically, so that you know what the band is entitled to and so that no one accidentally drinks the night’s earnings.

Help a brother out by adding to our checklist in the comments below. And, if you’re feeling humble, share your hard-earned lessons.

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