The top 10 things musicians don’t want to experience at a show

As a performer, giving your all on stage is taxing enough. You don’t want to leave the gig feeling like it was an uphill battle on enemy terrain the entire time.

Here are ten things that can quickly turn a good night bad, listed below to:

  • help you scout out more friendly concert territory
  • encourage venues to do their best
  • give concertgoers a sense of how to be good fans

Musicians don’t want to deal with:

1. Condescension

This happens more often to female performers than male performers, but we all get it from time to time, the “fan” — usually an older dude, btw — who comes over and makes “helpful” “suggestions.” After the fact, when you can’t do anything to change the show you just played. Not that you WOULD change anything. I mean, what does this bloviator know anyway? Have they ever had the guts to get onstage themselves?

And yet their unsolicited opinion runs loose in your head and eats up all the good vibes from the night. Thanks buddy. And thanks for framing your critique as if it was a compliment. I bow to your unquestionable expertise. By “bow” I mean I’m going to leave right now and try my best to forget your entitled utterances. I won’t though. I won’t. You ruined my night.

2. Feeling unsafe

This is by far the most serious item on the list. Whether it’s an all-out stalker who keeps showing up to intimidate the performer, a drunk dude who doesn’t know when to walk away or take no for an answer, someone spouting belligerence or intolerance, or just a surly bunch at the bar who seem to be on the edge of a brawl — musicians should NOT have to be hyper-vigilant about their own safety in a space that is supposed to be THEIRS at least for the evening.

Of course venues should do their best to create a safe environment, but fans and fellow musicians have a responsibility to make sure the performers know we’ve got their backs too. That might mean getting the bouncer, calling the cops, or asking the friends of the person causing the issue to take him home.

3. Vampire fans

Adoration feels good, right?

But there’s a point after a show where you need to come back down, land with your feet on the ground, and chill with your friends and band members. Sometimes fans won’t take the hint. They’re thrilled to be chatting you up, getting access.

Then their praise starts to feel weighted, like some weird tractor beam. You can’t get away. Not without offending the fan. They want more. They want as much as they can get.

Suddenly you realize you have fang-marks in your neck, you’ve been drained of blood, and you can’t go out in the daylight ever again.

4. Merch table dawdlers

These people aren’t as soul-sucking as the vampire fans. They’re just sapping your ability to make more merch sales… because they can’t make up their minds. They want to try on seventeen different t-shirts. They’re trying to haggle with you. They’re asking about every single song on every single one of your CDs.

Once the sale is made they want to have a long conversation with you. Meanwhile the people in line behind them start heading for the parking lot.

5. Indifference from the staff

Hostility from the staff would be worse. But I’ve honestly never experienced outright hostility from a venue.

I’ve been in plenty of venues where the staff is tired though, their ears are shot, they’re annoyed to be there, they’re indifferent to the music, they’ve heard it all and you’re just another sucker in an endless string of nights that bleed together.

All the worse if it’s the sound engineer giving you the whatevs attitude.

In the best cases you win them over and get some kind of compliment after the show, which feels good. But it doesn’t really make up for the fact that you had to psych yourself up in the face of the blah reception they gave you when you walked through the door.

6. Hecklers

I can only recall one heckler in my whole life. It wasn’t even that bad, but it threw me off.

Some guy yelled something about my set being “cheery and uplifting” (it wasn’t) and then later something like “Jesus, play something happy.” At the end of the set I played a wicked noisy, unscripted guitar solo. Then I threw my guitar on the ground and left it there feeding back as I walked offstage.

It might’ve looked like a rock move or something, or it might’ve looked like the guy got under my skin and I just couldn’t deal. The latter would be true, and that felt gross. He’d put me on the defensive and I lost control.

Lesson one: Find a way to deal with hecklers so they don’t get under your skin.

Lesson two: Hecklers, shut up and go home already. Thank you for your money.

7. Broken house gear

Are you a music venue? Then don’t have busted mics, frayed cables, buzzing monitors, and crackly mains. That ain’t gonna make a musician feel confident during soundcheck.

Also, while I understand why some venues make musicians check gear in and out like it’s some kind of lending library, it does create a weird feeling of mistrust. Like every musician is now given a suspicious welcome because one bad apple stole an SM57 once upon a time?

Maybe the venue should take responsibility for inventory and address missing items directly with the bands who performed on the night the gear disappeared.

8. Being double-booked

Getting double-booked sucks! Some disorganized talent buyer or club owner hired more than one act to fill a particular slot. Even worse, because they’re often not onsite, a lot of times they leave it to YOU the musicians to negotiate who is actually gonna play.

Got a contract? Great. You might get paid even if you’re the band that drives home. No contract? Now you’ve gotta negotiate the money split with the other act as well.

Bookers: It’s called a calendar. It’s your job.

9. Your name spelled wrong on the marquee

Look; they care!

(Just not enough.)

10. A sign that says “no covers”

This is an awkward indicator that the venue doesn’t understand some basics about operating a legal music venue.

Why? Because a “no covers” sign usually means they’re not paying blanket license fees to P.R.O.s such as ASCAP and BMI to cover performance royalties generated by the songs played in their venue.

And just because someone doesn’t play a popular cover song doesn’t mean they aren’t owed performance royalties. I’m affiliated as a songwriter with ASCAP and am technically owed publishing royalties every time I play a set of original songs. So the venue is on the line whether I play originals OR covers.

But when you see a “no covers” sign, it suddenly puts YOU in the strange position of either relinquishing your rights (and your publishing royalties for live performances) or informing the venue about how things really work. Then you risk seeming like you’re lecturing.

For extra credit, you can lecture the venue AND relinquish your rights at the same time. Just so they know you’re not going to rat them out to the big bad P.R.O.s.

Now nobody is happy.

What are some things you dread about live shows? What are the warning signs of a terrible venue? How about bad fan behavior? Lemme know in the comments.


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