The dictionary defines etiquette as the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave. The more complete definition is the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life. I am going to refer to how etiquette impacts the musician on the job (or gig). These are gentle reminders of how you should be conducting yourself as well as other things to think about.
Even though you are playing music, it is still a job. You are at work. There is business being conducted, even though a lot of times the event may be a social one. Even though fun can still be had, there are ways to interact with the people around you that you are working with, for, or entertaining. This doesn’t always get discussed, and more times than not it is assumed. However, I have run into more people than I thought I ever would who may be amazing on their instrument, but lacking with these particular skills.
There are three main sections of any event. Before the gig, on the gig and after the gig. The more preparation you do ahead of time will help the gig run more smoothly, especially WHEN the curve balls start coming at you. The first piece of advice I will offer you can be applied to all of the sections of the event. That advice is: GIVE PEOPLE ENOUGH TIME TO REACT TO THE INFORMATION GIVEN WHENEVER POSSIBLE. Sometimes you find out things last minute, and there isn’t much time to relay the information, but better late than never.
BEFORE THE GIG: When I get called for a gig, there are a list of questions I ask if they are not already answered in the request for my performance. There are even more if I am the bandleader and the request is from the client hiring me.
-Preliminary Paperwork (if I am the bandleader): If the date is agreeable and I am available, the first thing I mention is a contract. This will handle the money (don’t be afraid to talk about money -see my blog post about determining how much to charge), the time commitment, what gear is needed (musical, sound reinforcement, lighting, etc.), the location, who the responsible party is, food benefits (or constraints), and accommodations (green room, hotels etc).
-Next, hiring the musicians will include asking about time and date availability as well as giving them all of the information necessary to decide if they can do it. What the gig is for, what gear is needed, music to be learned, clothes to wear, directions to the venue, monies to be paid (and how/when), and who else is on the gig. Also, as the bandleader, you generally have to assume people will forget everything, so be prepared to bring extras (music, cables, stands, mics, etc).
At this point there will probably be correspondence to and from the client. This needs to be done in a professional and timely manner. This includes mutual respect, proper sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation.
-If I am a sideman: I need to be on top of my time management. knowing what time I need to be at the venue, airport, or train station (or if I am getting picked up or using public transportation). I make a checklist for what gear I need to bring (this will come in handy after the gig too). The gear can include, but is not limited to my instrument, sound reinforcement (mics, mixer, PA), cables and chargers, headphones (in case I have to listen to something last min in the green room or on the bandstand), rug (if you are a drummer), survival kit (tools, extra pieces, gaff tape, flashlight, etc), music, music stand, stand light, dolly or cart, and the list goes on. If there is backline available, then this list will be smaller. Speaking of smaller, you may need to scale down your rig depending on the size of the venue, which you can check on beforehand. Figure out the money before the gig. Who is paying you, how and when should you expect payment.
PRO-TIP: Multiple gigs in one day can be lucrative, but sometimes with setup/breakdown/travel time involved they are not possible. Being responsible is knowing when to turn additional requests down. Pleasing one bandleader/client is much better than inconveniencing several. An added bonus is if you can recommend someone who may be able to fill in if you can’t.
-On my way to the venue: I have the directions, the band leader or point of contact’s info, snacks (if eating is not determined for a specific time or at all), gas and tolls figured out or checked bag weight/costs determined, tickets procured, hotel reservation information, and as a bonus music on a playlist (if possible) that I am listening to.
-On the gig: Regardless of whether or not I am the band leader or sideman, upon my arrival, I find the client or point of contact (for the band and/or event), introduce myself and am courteous to all parties. If I am driving, I park in appropriate locations and depending on how much gear I have to set up I have a change of clothes different than the ones I will be performing in. Unless I have been to the venue before, I usually don’t bring gear inside on my first trip as I use that first walk through for my introduction, as well as figuring out the layout of the venue, stage plot, and which entrance is closest to the performance space. Depending on the event, there are probably multiple vendors on location all trying to get their jobs done (flowers, lights, sound, catering, stage hands, etc). When setting up, find out where your cases can be stowed and keep your gear out of other people’s/vendor’s way. If you drove and are parked in a loading zone, move your car to a designated location asap (usually after you load your gear in, BEFORE you set it up). There should be one point of contact for the musicians interacting with the client or event coordinator. If you are the first to arrive, this could be you even if you are not designated to be (as in band leader). You should be respectful and helpful with the way you engage others, conduct yourself, and prepare for the gig (this includes sound checking, and knowing when it is appropriate to do so). As others arrive, you should relay the information you have, and if you aren’t the band leader, alert the event coordinator that they have arrived and introduce them to each other if they aren’t already acquainted. Know the food restrictions as well. Can you eat the same food as the attendees? Is there a specific location for you to eat in? When can you eat? Can you drink alcohol or not?
PRO-TIP: Other things you should probably know that will definitely come in handy are basic stage directions and how to wrap a cable correctly to ensure its longevity (there are dozens of videos on youtube to show you how to do this in 2min or less).
-After the gig: If the event is still going on, you need to know if and when when you can leave and through which exit. If the event is over, can you break down where you are set up, or is it a festival situation where there are multiple bands and you should then clear the stage first, then worry about wrapping cables, removing cymbals and such. (if you are waiting to go on after a band, yield to them clearing the stage. If there aren’t stage hands to help, offer to give a hand). If possible stick around to see the band after you perform a bit. If you are to change clothes out of your performance wear, try to move to a location not used by the guests attending. If someone asks for your card or info, make sure you hand out whomever’s info was contacted. If you are the bandleader, give yours. If you were contacted through an agency, give theirs. Use your checklist to make sure you have all of the gear you came with. Most importantly, thank all parties you interacted with. That could be the bandleader, event coordinator, hotel concierge, car service driver, catering manager, etc.
PRO-TIP: Make an IDIOT CHECK. After you think you have loaded everything, go back and look in every room you have been in to make sure you’re not leaving anything behind.