Whether you’re in a band or not, it can be easy to wonder what musicians do before a concert. Typically, there are quite a few preparations that musicians will take before getting on stage to perform.
What do musicians do before a show? Before a show, musicians travel to the venue, set up their gear, perform a soundcheck, and physically prepare to get on stage. Some musicians take additional time to interact with fans, relax, work on other projects, or warm-up with pre-show rituals.
Of course, no two bands are exactly the same, and in groups with multiple band members, the before show activities can vary from day-to-day.
But generally, most bands and musicians will have a similar checklist of things to do before their concert begins. Here are 12 things musicians do before a show:
1. Travel To The Venue
The day of the show has arrived. For most bands, traveling to the venue is usually the first priority.
Touring bands will travel from city to city, performing multiple weeks in a row, with very few days off in between shows.
If a gig is booked in Seattle on Tuesday, and another gig is booked in Portland on Wednesday, the band may spend Tuesday night at a hotel in Seattle and make the drive to Portland Wednesday morning.
Unfortunately, not all bands have the luxury of sleeping in a hotel every night.
Even for local bands that aren’t traveling between cities, the first step is still travel — unless the band booked a house show at their own house, they’ll have to get their gear loaded into a van or trailer, and drive to the venue.
The reason travel is usually the first priority, is because so many things could go wrong in transition.
The bus or van could break down, there could be traffic between cities, or it may just take longer than expected to get to the next venue.
The sooner the band can get where they need to be, the sooner they can start loading-in and setting-up for soundcheck.
2. Load-in and Set-up
Once the band has made it to the venue, it might immediately be time to start setting up the stage, or there might be a few hours before the scheduled load-time.
A typical load-in schedule on a club tour with 3 bands, where doors open at 8 PM, might look something like this:
~~ LOAD SCHEDULE ~~
1:00-3:00 PM — HEADLINE BAND
3:15-4:45 PM — SUPPORT BAND
5:00-6:00 PM — OPENING BAND
The amount of time a band gets for load-in and set-up is usually determined a few days before the show.
Waiting around for the scheduled load-time can be a frustrating delay for many bands.
Because of this, and because drums and amps are heavy and fragile, most bands hire a road crew to handle loading gear into the venue and setting everything up.
Delegating the load-in process frees up some time for the band members to relax, work on new music, prepare mentally and physically for the show, or just focus on other things.
However, many bands can’t afford a road crew and will keep the responsibility of loading the gear into the venue and setting it up themselves.
3. Run Through Soundcheck
Once everything is loaded in and set up, the band will run through important aspects of their set-list to make sure everything is working properly, and sounding optimal.
Bands with a road crew will usually bring along a sound engineer, and a few stage technicians to adjust the tuning and volume of each instrument.
In instances where bands don’t have a designated sound engineer, venues will usually have someone on staff who can manage the house’s sound for a reasonable price.
The sound engineer will create a back and forth dialogue with the band, and adjust volume levels on stage so that everything is balanced.
For bands that have the capability, individual mixes will also be set for each band member via in-ear monitors.
This is so the drummer can hear the guitarist, the bassist can hear the keyboard player, the vocalist can hear him or herself on stage, and nobody is getting drowned out by unnecessary noise.
However, a lot of musicians prefer to hear the sound on-stage, and opt out of using in-ears, despite the risks to their hearing.
Soundcheck also ensures that the volume in the venue (or Front of House) is mixed well — so no matter where fans are standing/sitting everyone will be able to hear the concert at a suitable volume.
4. Interact With Fans
In recent years, many bands have begun to open up their soundcheck to fans as a ticket add-on. This usually includes a private meet-and-greet or Q&A session with the band.
For the fans, this creates a unique and intimate opportunity to connect with touring musicians on a personal level. Fans can usually get an autograph or photo with the band, and create a lasting memory.
Because traditional meet-and-greets and autograph lines can get over-crowded and repetitive, soundcheck offers artists the chance to devote more of their time and attention to their fans.
Taking the time to interact with fans before the show also creates an opportunity for bands to sell more merchandise — increasing the profit value of the tour.
Music is a full-time job for many touring musicians, so spending that extra time to connect with their most loyal fans is essential to their success.
And, for the fans, interacting with the band is not only an exciting experience but also a great opportunity to directly support their favorite artists in a meaningful way.
5. Engage With Press
Sometimes, bands may have the opportunity to participate in press before the show.
This can be in the form of photo-shoots, radio performances, talk shows, news programs, magazine interviews, social media meet-ups, or anything that might help to get the word out about the tour.
Typically a band will do a press run before a new album is released, or tour cycle begins, to try and spread awareness and sell more records and tickets to the upcoming shows.
However, press engagements can also be spread throughout the tour as bands stop in various cities.
Audiotree Live is a perfect example. Audiotree is a record label in Chicago that records and publishes live music sessions, promotes artists, and organizes live events.
Their live sessions series has over 600K subscribers on Youtube and has featured bands like Vacationer, From Indian Lakes, Delta Sleep, and Shakey Graves.
Many established bands that perform in Chicago will schedule a time to do a live performance and interview with Audiotree, because of the exposure it can help bring to their tour or record.
Festivals also tend to be a hotspot for press because of the number of artists at any given festival.
If you buy tickets to an event like Bumbershoot or Lollapalooza, you can probably assume that most bands on the lineup spent a few hours before the show with various reporters and music journalists.
6. Relax Backstage
It might be a surprise, but most bands don’t actually have a lot time to relax.
The persona that rock-stars created in the 1980s just doesn’t exist anymore.
The sex-addicted playboy misogynist that sleeps all day and only wakes up to get high, trash hotel rooms, and do it all again is a fantasy as delusional as The Flat Earth Society.
And the losers that still try to act like being in a band is nothing but hooking up with groupies and snorting mountains of cocaine don’t stand a chance in today’s industry — it’s not sustainable.
Being in a successful band is hard work and there isn’t much room for relaxation.
However, after load-in and set-up are done, if there’s no press or meet-and-greet scheduled, band members can usually find an hour or two to wind down and mentally prepare for another show.
A traditional US club tour lasts 4-6 weeks, however many bands tour for several months of the year because ticket sales are the main source of income for most bands.
For musicians that have families, it’s pretty rare that bands have the money, or space in the van/bus to bring spouses, girlfriends, or kids along for extended periods of time.
So if there are a few quiet hours before a show, tour moms and dads will usually call home to check-in and make sure everyone is doing OK.
For younger bands that don’t have to leave a family behind at home, their downtime might include video games, Netflix, or just enjoying a few drinks backstage to catch a buzz before the show.
More than likely though, bands will often use their downtime to focus on other aspects of the band, like writing new music or pursuing other business opportunities.
7. Write New Music
There’s a line in the movie “La La Land” where Ryan Gosling’s character Seb says, “After we finish [this tour] we’re gonna go record. Then we go back on tour. You know we tour so we can make the records so we can go back and tour the records.”
Even if you don’t like that movie, that quote couldn’t be more true for most touring musicians.
When bands are on the road for months out of the year, they’ll often use every second of downtime to write songs for their next record.
And although more and more bands are building their own studios, and the technology that allows artists to record from home is getting better all the time, many bands — especially those signed to major labels — still book time at traditional studios to record their albums.
This means artists only have a few weeks to write and record new material before going back on tour.
In order to be better prepared for that studio time, bands will write songs backstage, on the tour bus, in hotels, on park benches, and anywhere else they can find a few minutes to get into a creative headspace.
But often, only one or two members of a band are the primary songwriters.
So while the singer and guitar player head off to write new songs, the other band members might take some time to pursue other business opportunities.
8. Pursue Other Business Opportunities
Touring is usually the way most bands make money — with ticket and merchandise sales being the primary sources of income.
In today’s industry touring isn’t always the most reliable way to pay the bills. Even before COVID-19, most money made on tour got re-invested into the band to cover recording and tour expenses.
Most musicians depend on a side-hustle, or an additional part-time job to help provide a supplemental source of income.
Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance), Lights Poxleitner-Bokan (Lights), Claudio Sanchez (Coheed & Cambria), and Max Bemis (Say Anything, Perma) have all had successful ventures in writing and producing comic books.
Hayley Williams (Paramore) started Good Dye Young, a vibrant, vegan, cruelty-free hair dye company with Celebrity Hair Stylist Brian O’Connor.
Travis Barker (Blink-182) started the hugely influential streetwear brand, Famous Stars & Straps, and also is a part-owner of a vegan restaurant in LA called Crossroads Kitchen.
Bradley Walden (Emarosa) teaches vocal lessons, offers songwriting workshops, and helps to manage independent artists like The True Blue.
Tim McTague (Underoath) also manages multiple independent artists and co-owns a pizza-and-coffee-bar called King State, with Nathan Young (Anberlin) in Tampa, FL.
Hundreds of musicians are part-time graphic designers, tattoo artists, video game streamers, producers, bloggers, ghostwriters — the list goes on.
Some musicians even use their free-time to continue going to school.
Bands like We Came As Romans and All Time Low had band members that were still in high school when they booked their first tours, so homework had to get done in the time off between shows.
But even for “older” bands — lots of musicians go back to school online just because they want to continue their education.
Justin Shekoski and Chris Sorenson (Saosin) used to take music theory and ear training classes from Berklee Online.
Remote programs at most universities and even trade schools have become extremely accessible, and many touring musicians take advantage of that.
9. Explore The Area
For some bands, it’s important to explore the towns and cities that they’re performing in.
There’s a saying in the industry that touring bands get to travel the world but they only get to see it from gas stations and green rooms.
Because touring bands are always on the move, it’s hard to find time to stop and take in the scenery. But for the musicians that prioritize their time off, there usually are opportunities before the show to get out and explore.
On longer tours, bands will actually schedule days off throughout the tour (like a weekend) to rest before getting back to work.
Artists that need some fresh air might go on a hike, or find a lake to swim in. Or, if they’re in a city, maybe visit a museum or art gallery, or just walk around downtown.
Like any traveler, food is always an exciting part of being somewhere new.
Before a show, a band may try to find somewhere interesting to go for lunch to sample the local cuisine.
10. Eat Something
Regardless of how much time off a band has on tour, everyone has to eat. So the time before a show will usually include a meal or some snacks.
Most bands are entirely on their own for all meals that they’ll eat on tour.
If there are any festival dates or college campus shows, a few meals may be provided by the event organizers, but typically, the food on tour is not exactly glamourous.
A meal budget (usually only $10-20 per day) might be given to each band member to order a meal from a fast-food chain, or buy ingredients to make something like a turkey sandwich or hot dog.
Other places online will tell you that promoters will prepare snacks backstage for the band to pick from — because of the band’s rider.
What is a rider? A rider is a list of requests that a band or musician might have before playing a show. Riders are usually negotiated with the venue as part of a band’s performance agreement.
However, unless the band we’re talking about is in such high demand that getting paid to play the show isn’t a sweet enough deal (ie. The Jonas Brothers, Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5) nobody’s getting a rider.
Independent bands, minor label artists, and really anyone who’s not a household name (like Ed Sheeran) can assume they’ll be feeding themselves on tour.
In instances where a rider may be included in an artist’s performance agreement, difficult details are sometimes included as a way to see if the venue really paid attention to all of the band’s requests.
A standard rider will usually include light snacks like fruit, cheese, sandwiches, water, and sometimes a few alcoholic beverages like beer.
11. Get Warmed Up
Warming up is an essential part of any pre-show preperations.
Physically, live shows can be very demanding for musicians. Bands may channel a very high-energy performance, and warming up can help prevent both short and long term injuries.
Band members may warm up individually, or together, but typically will stretch, do jumping jacks, push-ups, or something to loosen their muscles.
Some musicians like to go for a short jog to get their blood flowing and others like to meditate or do yoga.
I personally used to pull or twist a muscle almost every performance — even in high school.
It took a few years to nail down a routine that worked for me, but I prevented a lot of sprained ankles once I finally started stretching and warming up before shows.
Many musicians will also warm up on their individual instruments.
Bands will usually run through a few songs as a group during soundcheck, but backstage the members may continue warming up with scales or vocal exercises to feel fully prepared.
12. Pre-Show Rituals
Finally, in the moments immediately before getting on stage, many bands will repeat a ‘ritual’ to help feel completely prepared to perform.
Pre-show rituals usually consist of a group chant, high fives, a team huddle or pep talk, and sometimes a prayer or mantra.
Some musicians have unusual pre-show rituals like Mark Hoppus (Blink-182), who claims to brush his teeth just before every show.
I wouldn’t recommend trying that one, unless you rinse really, really well — I tried brushing my teeth just before a show in high school and ended up choking mid-song because the toothpaste residue made my throat feel chalky and dry.
Other artists, like Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers) likes to have wrestling matches with his bandmate Flea, to get his blood flowing.
Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones) likes to eat an entire shepherds pie, Jon Legend is known for eating a rotisserie chicken, and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) consumes an incredible concoction of Advil, Coors Light, and Jägermeister.
Everyone’s pre-show rituals are different, and some are incredibly superstitious, but the repetition of food, drinks, or toothpaste is sometimes all a band needs to get in the right headspace before a show.
How early do bands get to a venue? Bands arrive at the venue a minimum of 6-8 hours before the concert begins. Once the band has made it to the venue, they might quickly start setting up the stage, or there might be a few hours of downtime before they can begin unloading their equipment.
How long does a concert last? Concerts normally last 3-4 hours but can run longer depending on how many bands or artists are performing. Each band that is scheduled to perform will be given 30 minutes to 1 hour of stage time. If there are 4 bands performing, you can expect the show to last 3-4 hours.
How early should I get to a concert to get to the front? In order to get to the front of a concert, you should arrive a minimum of 2-3 hours early. The sooner you get to the venue, the sooner you can get in line, and the better your chances will be to find a spot in the front row.