Lessons about performing, lesson 32: Venue Walk-through!

So, I usually write most of this stuff on the weekends – but this weekend has been pretty busy and last week was too busy to even think about devoting the time to writing articles.

Today is Sunday and most folks have left, so I’m going to write this one up right now and probably put the rest off until tomorrow. I like to keep a few in the queue, ready to give you something to read every day. I like to be prepared and to have a plan!

There’s a reason for writing this! It’s called a lede!

If you’re new to this series then you have a whole lot to catch up on. Basically, I’m compiling a list of rules that will, if followed, increase your odds of being a successful performing musician. No, these rules won’t make you a rock star – but they might enable you to eat something better than Ramen noodles five nights a week.

Fortunately, I’m not going in any particular order. If I was, then this rule should be somewhere near the top of the list. So, you can start with this one!

Rule #32: Do a venue walk-through!

This one goes without saying, but I seldom see it done. I’m not sure why it’s not done. I’ve been with bands that don’t do it. I’m not sure why they don’t do it – as I’m pretty sure it doesn’t save them any time.

What I want you to do is walk into the venue and make a quick walk-through, preferably a guided tour. What you’re looking for are things like bathrooms, dressing rooms, path to the stage, clear paths, and fire escapes.

Yes, bad things can happen. However, they’re pretty rare. Still, it’s a good idea to look for things like fire escapes. It’s not like it’s going to hurt you to know the best escape routes.

As I said, you’ll probably want someone to walk with you – someone that’s familiar with the place. This can be the manager, your venue average worker, or even a janitor. They’ll know the building better than you do. If you must, send the band manager through early and they can give you the tour and show you what you need to know. (I send the drummer. He’s expendable!)

See, it’s gonna be dark. You’re also going to be coming on and off the stage from bright lights – so you won’t have time for your eyes to adjust. You are going to bump into stuff. It’s better to bump into fewer objects than it is to bump into more objects. (Sound first principles on this site!) Really, it’s going to be dark. Trust me. It’s dark.

Now, you’re also going to want to look at how the stage is configured, or where you’re going to set up your stage. You’ll want to figure out the easiest (not always the shortest) path to get your gear onto the stage and back stage. Of course, you’ll also want to plan on how you’re going to set the stage up.

You’ll want to figure out where the best mount points are for your lights, projector, and any off-stage speakers. You’re going to want to figure out where to run cords, where the power is, how close you can get to the main power source, and where to put your sound booth. You’ll want to probably carry a clipboard and maybe have a checklist on it. (I know, right? Formality, professionalism, and forethought!)

Tape comes in handy. I had someone tell me they could write a whole article on gaffer’s tape, but they’ve not yet written said article and I kind of doubt they will.

However, a magic marker and tape are damned handy.

I was with one band that was pretty anal. They made cardboard cut-outs and they were sized to match our equipment. They’d go in, lay those out, move those around, and then tape them to the floor. They’d then put the gear on top of that.

They were also really anal about where I stood. I had an X on the stage and that was my spot – that’s fairly typical. However, I also had a box and I was to stay in my box – unless otherwise given permission to leave my box.

No, that’s not a joke. I couldn’t go over and confer with the rhythm guy, match the drum and play with him for a bit in a solo, or anything like that. I had to stay in my box. I was not to leave my box unless it was planned. Every bit of that show was scripted and rehearsed to the letter – including the same damned jokes we told every week.

Somewhere between those two extremes lies the correct path. Me? We do a walk through, a band meeting, discuss our plan, and then act on our plan of action. We set up and tear down in record times, with great efficiency, and things come off the truck in the order they’re to be used.

We find the bathrooms, dressing areas, and waiting areas, and ensure we know where exits are, stairs are, and which exits are designated as fire exits. We also have a place where we’ll meet, should there be a reason to evacuate the building.

We discuss all those things before we even begin to unload. We’ve already set a mental checklist up, gone through it, and even write things down. We’ll even make a few more trips around and familiarize ourselves with the more important aspects – such as where the bathrooms are.

We even go so far as to plan on where we’re going to put any spare gear we bring into the building, any non-stage materials, and any personal effects that may not fit into our dressing rooms. We point these spaces out, agree on them, remember them, and then use them as we planned to use them.

It might seem like we’re wasting time, but we’re not. We’re actually saving time, because we’re then able to be efficient when we move things in and out. We’re then able to know exactly where things are, instead of spending time looking for them. We’re able to work in a similar fashion and have a fairly similar routine that we’re all able to keep track of and use efficiently and effectively.

Being haphazard backstage is also probably going to be indicative of being sloppy on stage. So, there’s that aspect as well and, frankly, your audience deserves people who aren’t wasting time and mental energy on things other than giving them a quality performance.

It’s also so much safer. I’ve seen a number of accidents, some pretty rough – including a broken leg, from falling off the stage because they missed the steps in the back. I’ve seen broken toes and broken equipment. All that could have been avoided, had they just taken the time to walk through and learn where things are.

Hello? It’s dark! Once you come out from under the lights – everything is dark, and it can take as long as an hour to get your eyes to adjust. ‘Snot like you’ve got to memorize everything – just learn where the big stuff is, the trip hazards are, and set things up properly so that things aren’t in your way!

This is actually pretty basic stuff and yet it’s frequently overlooked. There’s no reason to skip it. It really does make your whole ordeal faster and easier. It’s also safer and you really don’t want to ‘break a leg!’ Take the time to do it and I bet you’ll find that you save time overall. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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