Live Music Etiquette: Music Scene Do’s and Don’t’s

Be cool and don't set your drinks on the amps.
Be cool and don't set your drinks on the amps. Roderick Pullum

If your personality hinges on your musical tastes, then your ability to look smart when talking about them is imperative to your survival in the local scene. Here is a loose, easy guide to music terminology and some etiquette that will hopefully make you sound like you know what you’re talking about. The great music critic Lester Bangs is quoted to have said, “The first mistake of art is to assume it is serious” and that is the best way to approach this guide.

Don’t beg to be on the guest list. Are you a sarcastic writer for a local blog? Is your girlfriend in the second to last band but you’re in the middle of a fight? Did you share a beer with the singer six months ago and she promised that you’re on the “list for life” despite blocking you on social media? Congratulations, these are all terrible reasons to be let into the venue for free. The musicians work hard for the few dollars they make. Help everyone out a bit by paying the meager cover.

Do let the musicians set up in peace. “Wow, I didn’t think anyone else used that synth besides SURVIVE, who I’ve seen twice in Austin” is something no one wants to hear. Telling the drummer that you could probably be in a band if your dad hadn’t made you get into insurance sales while they’re setting up cymbal stands is not the way to get into the green room.

Do know the terminology if you're gonna engage musicians about their gear. If you’re going to talk about guitar pedals, know what they do. Be aware that this can be tricky if you’re not familiar with each one’s purpose. Let’s break it down: Distortion pedal: distorts the tone of the guitar so that it sounds upset about having to work in insurance sales. Delay pedal: repeats phrases over and over, as if you didn’t hear it the first time, Dad. Wah-wah: manipulates the mid-ranges to make the guitar sound awfully close to your late-night sobbing when you’re home alone in bed. Remember that these are just the basics and they come in all kinds of styles and packages. If you’re unsure what one does, just ask the musician and after they explain it, assert scene dominance by telling them that you’ve actually seen it before and could probably get one for cheaper than what they paid.

Do know other music scene words. Understanding the difference between a booking agent and a promoter, for example. This is an easy one, the booking agent does the hard work of sending emails and networking to book shows for bands and a promoter puts the show together, spending most of their time coming up with witty names to call their companies, ignoring Facebook messages from strangers and crushing the dreams of small-town nobodies.

Don’t act like you are friends with musicians from Dallas who have made it big. No one cares that you had a drink with Leon Bridges the other night in the back of Twilite Lounge or that Sarah Jaffe gave you a piece of gum. Maybe you served St. Vincent a sandwich and now you tell people you had a power lunch. We’re all doing our best to keep our eyes from rolling out of our heads.

Don't haggle. Merch prices aren’t negotiable. This goes back to the “musicians are broke” reason for not being a cheapskate. Most likely the merch was made by a local shop which keeps the scene thriving. Traveling bands use the money made from merch sales to buy gas, food, and even places to stay. It truly can be a lifeline for small bands. Help them out and get a clean shirt in the process since yours is covered in booze.

Don't film the whole show, unless you were hired to do so. There are quite a few things that one should abide by when listening to live music. Obviously yelling “Wooo!” and fist-pumping or doing the Dio sign of the devil are still staples but keep your phone in your pocket, especially if you’re in the front row.

Don't assume that the gear doubles as a table. Never ever set your drink on any gear, even if you bought the band a round of shots. Listen to the bouncers and don’t be a nuisance. Are you going to get too drunk, try to mosh and end up pushing the monitors off the stage? Who let you in here?

Don't quote Lester Bangs.
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