The Four P’s of Playing Live Shows: Preparation

This post was written for Bandzoogle, a website platform for musicians. Bandzoogle is a Montreal-based company, founded and run by musicians, and has every tool a musician needs for their website. Visit to take the tour or get started right away and build your website free. The “Four P’s” is a term used to describe the traditional Marketing Mix: Product, Price, Placement, and Promotion. Well, I’m going to borrow from that expression and talk about the Four P’s of Playing Live Shows: Preparation, Promotion, Performance, and Post-Show. This series of blog posts will cover the things that you can be doing as a live performer to maximize each show. Part 1 is all about preparation.  

The Four P’s of Playing Live Shows: Preparation

We’re going to start with the assumption that you’ve chosen a venue and confirmed a date with the venue booker. For tips about getting booked, see one of my previous posts 5 Ways to Impress Venue Bookers and Get More Gigs. Once the gig is confirmed, here are some things you will need to prepare for the show:

Who will the opening band(s) be?

I guess the first question really is will there even be an opening band? The answer will almost always be yes, as the benefits are clear. An opening band can warm up the crowd, hopefully bring their own fans to the show, and help with the promotion of the show. So when choosing an *opening band, a few things to consider (*and if you happen to be the opening band, much of this advice can still apply): Does their music complement yours? There are two schools of thought: one being that you find a band that is similar to yours for a more cohesive evening of music. The other option is to go for something totally different to give the audience a very different experience from each band. There is no wrong or right answer, it really depends on what kind of show you want people to experience that night. Would their audience like your band’s music? Another consideration to make is if there is a potential for the opening band’s fans to like your music. After all, in an ideal case, you are going to gain some new fans that night. Will they help with promotion? When choosing opening bands, take into consideration whether they are a proactive band that works hard on promoting shows. What you don’t want is a band that will simply show up the night of the show, without having done any legwork to bring their fans, and simply play and ask for their money. This can be hard to avoid sometimes, but do some research, and ask around before making a final decision. Do they have other shows booked around the same date? You also don’t want the opening band to have another show scheduled within a few days of yours, or worse, the same night as your show (I’ve actually seen that happen many times, where an opening act books another gig for later the same night). It is completely demoralizing, and will likely result in that band not drawing as many people to the show.
The Devil is in the Details: Show Logistics It’s a good idea to get the logistics for the show sorted out well in advance. This includes: Compensation What’s the deal at the venue? A guarantee? Percentage of the door? Pass the hat? A percentage of bar sales? Once you know the deal, work out how the compensation will be split with any opening bands. Do not wait until the night of the show to do this. Sort it out well in advance and save yourself the potential headache the night of the show. Food/beverage deals for bands What’s the deal for food and drinks for band members? Free? Staff price? Full price? Any limits on quantity of meals/drinks? Guest List Is there a limit to the number of guest list spots? Do you have to submit the guest list to the venue in advance? Ticketing & Seating What is the cover charge? Is choosing the price up to the venue or the bands? Are tickets sold in advance? If so, where are they available? Or is it simply pay at the door? Can people reserve seats? Load-in time and logistics What time is load-in at the venue? Do the bands load-in at different times? Is there a special entrance to load-in equipment? Sound & Equipment What sound equipment is provided by the venue? What are bands responsible for? Are the bands going to share certain equipment? Is there a sound tech provided by the venue? Can you bring your own sound tech? What time is soundcheck for each band? Start & End Time What time do the doors open for the public? What is the start time for the show? What is the schedule for the bands? Is there a specific time that the show has to be over by? Door logistics Who is taking money at the door? The venue? A volunteer from the band(s)? Is there a cashbox with change supplied by the venue? A stamp to stamp people’s hands? Room set-up Some venues offer different set-up styles for the room, whether it’s all seating, no seating, some tables with chairs, etc. Talk to the venue and decide on the best option for your show. Merch table Is there a table/space for merchandise? Where is it located? Is there lighting provided? Does the venue take a % of sales? Is there a cashbox with change supplied by the venue? Who is responsible for selling merch? Venue? Bands? Can you sell merch throughout the night, or only before and after the show? Promo materials for the venue What does the venue need from you? Posters? Flyers? Bio? Band photo? Press Release? Be sure to supply them with everything they need well in advance of the show. Download a Sample Live Show Logistics Checklist to help stay on top of these details: Download Here

Build Your Set List

I touched on this in a blog post about how to find a booking agent, but building a set list is really an art unto itself. Your set-list will determine what kind of experience your fans will have. Some considerations when building your set-list:
  • Set-length: How long of a set will you play? Decide what length would have the most impact and strikes the right balance between giving a satisfying set, and leaving the audience wanting more.
  • Select the songs: Once you know how long your set will be, choose the songs you want to play that night, including for an encore, if it should come up.
  • Pacing: Do you have high-energy songs and low-energy songs? What kind of experience do you want to give the audience? Start slow then build? Are there songs where the audience can participate? Where do you want those songs to go in the set? Figure out how those songs can best work off of each other.
  • Song transitions: Make sure your songs flow well together and that everybody in the band knows when there will be a small break for interacting with the audience, and when you’ll be going straight into the next song.
  • Type of venue/seating arrangement: Is it a dingy bar, a night club, a fancy theatre, a coffee house? What’s the seating arrangement? This can impact the type of set you want to offer.
Once you’ve decided on your set list, rehearse it. Then rehearse it again. And once more. Make sure everyone in the band can play that set with their eyes closed and that they know all of the cues and transitions between songs without having to think twice.  
Visual Presentation: On Stage & Merch Table On Stage You should also prepare what your visual presentation will be at the show. Does your band have costumes? A certain dress code? Will you have video projections playing in the background? A banner with your band name hanging on stage? A custom drum head with your logo? For some good ideas for visuals at your show, check out Chris “Seth” Jackson’s guest post on the Bandzoogle Blog: No One Will Remember Your Band: 10 Ways to Stop Being Forgettable Merch Table How about for your merch table? Do you have an eye-catching set-up? Proper signage? Here are some essentials to have for your merch table:
  • Signage: Your band name, list of merch items & prices displayed clearly
  • Cashbox with change (don’t rely on the venue for this)
  • Inventory sheets to track your sales
  • Pens/markers (for mailing list, signing autographs)
  • Mailing list sign-up: Email addresses are still the most reliable way to stay in touch with your fans, and the best way to convert fans to paying customers. So get those email addresses anyway you can, even offer a free sticker/pin in return, it will be a great long-term investment for your band.
Here’s an example of a great merch table setup, including proper signage and a mailing list sign-up: What’s Your Merch Setup (Grassrootsy Blog). *Note: Accepting credit card payments at shows can increase your sales dramatically, as not everyone carries cash with them. Services like Square-up or Indie Pool (for Canadian bands) can turn your iPhone into a credit card swiper.
Preparing For Promotion: Give Yourself At Least 6-8 Weeks Part 2 of this blog series will go into detail about promotional tactics you can use to promote your show. But for the purposes of preparation, you should give yourself a good 6-8 weeks lead-time to plan and execute the promotion for your show. This will allow you to take into consideration things like a media & publicity campaign, whether or not you’re going to go after sponsorship for your show, and promotional collaborations with the other bands performing.
So what did you guys think of Part 1? Did you find it helpful? Is there anything missing? Please leave your comments below!

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