Photo: Maciej Bledowski/Shutterstock

10 Things to Know Before Your Next Rock Show

by Tom Gates Dec 7, 2009
How does the show go on? Matador takes a peek at what goes on behind the scenes behind your favorite concerts and tours.


It can take fifty shows for a band to perfect harmonies and learn how to perform under difficult conditions. Auto-Tune is an audio processor that fixes pitch problems for singers who are incapable of singing, as well as those who just haven’t gotten their chops together. Sadly, nothing ever seems to help Stephen Jenkins of Third Eye Blind.

The Ticket Price

Moan as you might, the artist is not making nearly as much as you think, unless they’re charging Eagles prices. They are given a guaranteed lump sum but any income beyond this amount is subject to turnout (ticket sales), as well as whatever overhead is incurred for the night.

This can include the venue’s crew, the support artist’s guarantee, union fees, security and even the cost of printing backstage passes. Do you know those ads for venues in newspapers with 16 boxes promoting each show? Each band is charged back for their own little box.

Catering Rider

This is a list that is sent ahead to the promoter and includes the band’s backstage wishes. Famous indulgences are too long to list but are easily perused here. Don’t let opulence requests fool you – the most popular items are often socks and underwear, of which a band can never have enough on tour.

Because these lists are sent out in advance of the dates, it is guaranteed that the artist will be sick of the catering rider by the middle of the tour, condemning the sight of 30 orange Vitamin Waters and 9 Toblerone bars.

College Shows

Do you know why your favorite band is playing community colleges in North Dakota? Because they’re bagging a pile of money. Universities have budgets for such things and artists are all-too-happy to take the check, often making triple their normal guarantee. One string of college dates can help cover the crew’s overhead for an entire year.

The Band Doesn’t Know Where They Are

No matter what the night means to you, you’re just where the bus pulled up that morning. Look closely on stage and you might catch a piece of tape with “Austin” taped to a piano, microphone or monitor. Hope for their sake that it was changed from last night.

In Ear Monitors

Bands used to hear their live mix through stage monitors (“wedges”), which pointed back at them and caused for ridiculous hearing loss. Nowadays most artists reach a point where they can afford an in-ear monitor system. A live mix is transmitted directly to the band’s ears, via a wireless system and custom-molded hearing pieces.

Most often you’ll notice a person on the side of the stage working a board – it’s their job to mix the sound just for the band. Telltale signs of technical problems include a desperate ear-picking, hilarious pantomimes and horrific pitch.

Merchandise Is Money

T-shirt sales might make an artist more money than their performance fee, depending on the venue. Buying one definitely puts money into the band’s pocket, but only after a percentage is taken by the venue (anywhere from 10 to 30 percent) and the materials are paid for.

A basic t-shirt usually costs the band around $3, unless they’re offering American Apparel, which will run at least double. The more colors on a design, the more the band paid to have it created – you’ll notice the price differences.

The Lighting Director

This is a sure-fire way to see if the band is broke or cheap. If the lights look like they’re done by a Radio Shack employee with a seizure disorder, that means that the band is using the “house” lighting tech, who probably hasn’t even heard the band’s album.

If the show looks smart and sharp, that’s because they have paid dearly to bring their own LD. This person usually spends a few days before tour, locked in a blazing-hot room full of lights, programming to a list of songs that the artist has given them in advance.

Sleep With The TM, Not the GT

Other than the promoter, the Tour Manager has supreme power. If you’re looking to flirt your way into a backstage pass, don’t waste time with a Guitar Tech, who will simply have to ask the TM for one (sorry GT’s, your secret is out). It is not recommended that you sleep with any of these people, especially because they all have girlfriends and boyfriends back home. But you’ll never know that, will you?

Tour Buses Are Really Expensive

One tour bus can easily cost $75,000 for an eight-week tour, and that’s not even for a fancy one. The band also pays for things like gas, the driver’s hotels, overtime for long drives, cleaning and satellite TV. Fines can be thrown on top for things like pooping in the toilet (a huge no-no on tour). Add extra money for a “slider”, which allows for more living space in the main berth by popping the wall out another 3-4 feet, when parked.

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