Setting Up for the Gig: Proper Etiquette

Gigging requires a good deal of equipment that needs to be set up before the gig and torn down after the gig is done. If a band plays a venue that doesn’t have a house PA system then the amount of equipment being hauled, set up and torn down increases quite a bit. It’s all part of the job and what gets done by whom is mostly a common sense drill. For bands that cannot afford roadies, which is most of us, the basic tenet is if you bring it, it’s your responsibility to haul it in, set it up, use it, tear it down and load it back into your vehicle. Most musicians would prefer not to have someone else haul their gear anyway. They’ve sunk quite a bit of cash into their tools of the trade and would rather not have someone else bang it around, unless it’s someone they know quite well who hasn’t been drinking all night and even then they’ll often decline assistance.

There are some areas that bands traditionally do combine efforts on and those are primarily things that the whole band uses. When the group is tasked with providing the sound system, has lighting and promotional gear like banners or signs, this is usually the area where the members pool their efforts and usually the drummer is excused from this given the amount of gear he or she has to deal with. Usually the person with the fastest set up takes lead on getting the sound system set up and then as the others wrap up they join in, helping to put speakers on stands and get the lights up and running. Banners are usually undeniably a two-person job and all of the work gets done very quickly when people help.

If you’re a newbie when it comes to set ups and tear downs, it can be a bit confusing, and not all bands do things the same way. Some folks end up with different band members providing different parts of the system and cables might end up belonging to different folks as well. If you’re not sure what goes where, just ask and someone will tell you. Different people also have different preferred methods of cable storage as well, so it’s always wise to check how they wrap them up so you’re on the same page and not putting kinks in the wires that shorten lifespans. Always be gentle with the equipment: tossing a cable might not harm it, but tossing a microphone could kill it and earn you a spot on someone’s shit list really quickly. The same thing goes with lighting arrays. Would you throw a light bulb toward a bag and hope it went in? I didn’t think so.

Problems primarily arise when people don’t pull their weight with set up and tear downs. This can lead to resentment on the part of the people who always get stuck with it, which in turn can lead to some disagreeable interactions. If you occasionally have to cut out before the PA is broken down, your bandmates will understand. They’ll also be pretty understanding if you have an injury or health condition that prevents you from helping, but if it’s just because you don’t want to, they won’t take that well. If you’re one of the vocalists and all you have is your mic and mic stand to set up and you’re not helping haul and set up the PA system, folks won’t be pleased, regardless of what gender you are.

Personally I like to travel as light as I can, which takes some planning as a bass player. I’ve done my research and spent the effort to find reliable equipment that doesn’t take too much out of me getting in and out of the clubs. I run either one or two 15” speaker cabinets with a 500 watt head, and if one cab will do I’m more than happy to oblige. I usually also have a music stand and a guitar stand. I load as much as I can onto my collapsible hand truck, usually my full rig, put my bass on my back and haul everything in and out in one trip each. I can reliably load in within 15 minutes, if that, and be ready to perform. Once I’m set up, I’ll help set up the PA if help is needed. The gigs I usually play are at least a forty-five minute drive from home, so I’ve planned my equipment usage to allow me to hit the road after work as soon as I can. Getting my gear loaded is a priority for me and it’s not unusual for me to already be fully loaded out before some of the other guys have even started breaking down their equipment. If there’s a PA to set up or tear down, I help with that before hitting the road.

The hard and fast rule to all of this is that if it’s your instrument, it’s your responsibility. You should know how long it takes to set up your equipment and have it ready for sound check on time. You should also have a good idea of how long it takes to tear it down and get it stowed away. If you need a little help and your bandmates can and are willing to provide it, just ask. Hauling in a full-scale old Hammond B3 organ, for example, is not a one person job and if it’s part of the act, then the others will expect that you need help with it. However, if you’re a bass player, guitarist, drummer or keyboard player the expectation is that you’ll take care of your own equipment. Don’t expect help. If you get it upon occasion, count it as a bonus.

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