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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Four-Band Bill

posted by on June 19 at 10:53 AM

04_oscar.jpgIs it too much?

Are four bands in one night at one club too much?

With that fourth band, yes, itís one more band bringing people out. And venues need to make money. More bands, more draw.

But dealing with three set changes and four drum sets? Epic hassle, in a dark, crowded club. The key is sharing drums. But does that happen much?

Having an acoustic opener or a DJ is different too. Sometimes, though, acoustic bands and DJs donít match well with certain bills.

With four bands, it seems on some occasions, more time is spent on set changes than on the bands actually playing. And on the four-band bill, that first band has to start at what, 9:00 pm?

As a club owner, Iíd be for the four-band bill. As a soundman or a musician, Iím not for it. As a show goer, Iím indifferent somewhat.

RSS icon Comments


Oscar frikking kicks ass.

Posted by timothy | June 19, 2007 11:06 AM

Ah yes, the four-band bill dilemma. First off, I think 3 is the perfect number of bands for a show. That said, there are times where if you have 3 bands, no one's going to come to the show (like if you have 2 bands no one's heard of touring together - I have played many versions of this show).

As someone with limited draw, I often find myself on a four-band bill. On a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, I think it's fine, and not really a big deal. On a Monday or Tuesday, it bites. But again, it's preferable to playing to no one but the other bands (and if you end up still only playing to the other bands, well, at least there are more of them!).

This is, of course, from the performer's perspective. From the showgoer's perspective, I guess it would probably just decrease the odds of my seeing all the bands playing that night, and increase the odds of showing up late or leaving early (more likely the latter, especially if it's a weeknight).

I visited my home town of Boston last week, and went to two different shows, on Sundays or week nights, with 5 or more bands playing full sets. (Actually I did not go into the second show specifically because it was, I think, 6 bands and my friends were playing last.) This was a horrible, horrible idea, and could only be good for the venues, and further hammered home the fact that I did right in moving here.

Posted by Levislade | June 19, 2007 11:08 AM


Posted by Boss LDJ | June 19, 2007 11:08 AM

Correction, that Boston trip was last year.

Posted by Levislade | June 19, 2007 11:09 AM

6 bands, holy shit. What time did the first band start?

Posted by timothy | June 19, 2007 11:11 AM

True story:

4-Band bills blow giant donkey chunks. First off, the opener ALWAYS complains and wants to start later. The second band takes forever to set up. The third band, who are still pretending they are from the 1970s, will play waaaaaay to long and the headliner gets stuck playing a shorter set due to time issues. 1970s band will take forever to clear the stage and then procees to be dicks about it.

Fuck that noise.

Posted by Bombs Away | June 19, 2007 11:13 AM

@5 - I can't remember. I got there after it had started, but whatever time it started it was not early enough. I probably got there between 10 and 11 and there were four bands to go.

Posted by Levislade | June 19, 2007 11:17 AM


That was beautiful. So true. 1970's band loves the tear down. There, they get to bask in the glory of the 1 song they just played for 53 minutes.

Posted by Big Hands You Know You're the One | June 19, 2007 11:19 AM

I was more a Snufalufagus fan (sp?).

Getting to the club at 10:30 and there's still 4 bands to go? Recockulous.

When is last call in Boston?

Posted by Zelda | June 19, 2007 11:25 AM

@9 - not sure, maybe 1 something? At least I think that's what it used to be.

Posted by Levislade | June 19, 2007 11:29 AM

If there are 4 bands on a bill, there is no way I am staying to watch them all. I kind of love the idea of only a two band bill, but I know that's not cost-effective for the club. I've played a weeknight show at the Croc with three bands, which seems like a happy medium.

Posted by Joel | June 19, 2007 11:31 AM

Levislade, they must have been sharing drums. Were they sharing drums?

Posted by Zelda | June 19, 2007 11:32 AM

4 band bills are a cluster fuck and too long, 3 is perfect. Unless the bands started earlier in the evening, which I wish there were more earlier shows. I love early shows, seeing a couple acts and still having the rest of the evening to do something else.

Also, if you're stuck on a 4 band bill, I would negotiate to play 2nd or 3rd...get in there and out while people have energy. Playing fourth kinda sucks in a lot of ways.

Posted by Sally Struthers Lawnchair | June 19, 2007 11:39 AM

@12 - not sure, as I didn't make it in. My friends' band uses home made, non-traditional drums, so I know they at least were not sharing.

And regarding early shows, I agree. Who's with me in trying to get the Croc to start having free happy hour shows on Mondays or Tuesdays with 2 or 3 bands? I think that would be awesome. I've been meaning to write someone there about this, but instead I'll post it here and hope someone takes the bait (and maybe I'll write Pete at some point, too).

Posted by Levislade | June 19, 2007 11:52 AM

1970s band, putting on a good, energetic show is great. But basing your entire "band persona/image" on tired 70s schtick is played.

Now move your fucking drums.

Posted by Giddy Up | June 19, 2007 11:54 AM

4 Bands - one too many...

Posted by Rapport | June 19, 2007 12:07 PM

i love big bills. we've put on shows with anywhere from 5-12 bands, and they've come off incredibly. here's some reasons why:
1-we have free food. nobody has fun when they're hungry, and the crowd will be if it runs longer than a normal bill. that and they'll be extra drunk which inevitably leads to all kinds of hassles.
2-we make multiple areas to set up in. there's next to no downtime because every band has 45 minutes to set up/break down. it's more interesting visually this way too.
3-we diversify the bills. i love folk music as much as i do metal, but if the bill is a one trick pony i'll get tired of either of them after a few sets. an eclectic schedule keeps everybody's ears fresh, sets each act apart from the others, and in turn diversifies the audience which more often than not also has eclectic tastes.
4-everyone agrees to the schedule, and we stick to it. there's ample load in time, and 45 minutes is more than enough time to get a good set in. you can go led zep when you're selling out arenas. (i personally like the king's approach of leaving them wanting, and try to keep things short and sweet. 20-30 minutes.)
5-we toast together. a few bottles of cheap champagne goes a long way towards getting everybody on the same page. often i'll say a few words of encouragement or thanks, but the important thing is that everybody is being reminded that we're all there to have a good time together. people act accordingly, generally with respect and enthusiasm.

all these things started at house shows first, but we've had success using the same rules of thumb in clubs recently too...

Posted by randy | June 19, 2007 12:39 PM


"4-everyone agrees to the schedule, and we stick to it. there's ample load in time, and 45 minutes is more than enough time to get a good set in."

Bands don't stick to the schedule. It ALWAYS starts late and runs longer.

It would be cool if everyone stuck to the plan. But I'm sorry to say it never turns out that way.

I'm still up for a toast though.

Posted by Howards | June 19, 2007 1:18 PM

great topic! I would love to hear one on door/show times and the like.

Color me indifferent as well. There are so many variables... Is it on the Hill or in Ballard where I can wander off and get a cheeseburger or a quieter beer and skip #1, 2, and/or 3 if I'm not feeling it?

How much of the draw for me is the headliner? Hopefully Slint just has one short opener, because I'm probably not going to care at all. But I definitely made sure to come out and catch Grand Archives the other day opening for whoever they were opening for at Neumo's (see?)

Most of "the kids" don't seem to mind 4 or 5 band bills at El Corazon, as it's more of a social/hangout scene and they get pretty excited about everything. Changeovers are a pain, and soundguys are truly one of the unsung heroes out there, but if most of those bands are touring together then they are usually sharing some gear, and have a system going.

Posted by abe | June 19, 2007 1:47 PM

yeah that's a tough one.. generally i like the 3 band bill best, but i'm more open to the 4 band bill on a fri/sat (from both the performer and audience perspective). i like to stay out longer on a weekend. but if i'm setting up the show and inviting a band to open for us, i feel like they're getting screwed by having to do a shorter set and having to play before anyone even arrives at the venue. and as the headliner, you tend to have to be at the venue even longer (earlier soundcheck, later set time), perhaps having too many drinks before your set and not playing your best show.

Posted by jasun | June 19, 2007 2:00 PM

It's almost like the headliner isn't the headliner anymore.

Whoever is playing last goes on too late. People have become restless and in today's attention deficit world they leave.

Usually I think people come for the band they want to hear and that's pretty much it.

Playing last = too much beer.

Posted by shane | June 19, 2007 2:42 PM

I like two band bills - the less bands there are, the less the crowd gets fatigued, and they can focus on the music more. Plus, when the show's over, there's more eveningtime for hanging with buddies without having to shout over the band - which sucks for the band and sucks for the crowd too.





Posted by Pecknold | June 19, 2007 2:43 PM

4 bands are way too much, especially on a weeknight, unless bands are sharing gear, or have very modest set-ups.

oh by the way- you should all come out to the high dive on thursday where me and the author of this thread rock the house with a 4 band bill.

you guys are playing acoustic that night, right?

Posted by graig markel | June 19, 2007 3:39 PM

I have occasional four band bills at the Moon, but very rarely for all of the previously mentioned cons. We did one last week at the request of one band and it actually worked out fine -- the last two acts shared gear and the first band was done in 25 minutes. Three is fine, two is ideal if both bands can draw well. We did that last week with The Moondoggies and Weener and it worked out great!

Posted by Jason Josephes | June 19, 2007 3:51 PM

Hey bands? Here's a suggestion: PRACTICE SETTING UP AND BREAKING DOWN; LEARN TO DO IT AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. Trust me, it works, yet nobody does it. At the gig, be semi-set up in the green room or hallway. Drummers: this means having your cymbals on stands, floor tom legs extended, snare on a stand, and toms mounted or ready to be mounted on stands. Anyone who brings a full road case onto the stage is fucking up. Guitarists/bassists: this means have your speaker cables plugged into something at ONE END, so all you do is make one connection plus power to get the backline up. Have your pedals all connected at one end so all you have to do is line them up, connect them to each other, and plug in your guitar. If you're deciding how your pedals should be hooked up when you're loading onto the stage, you're fucking up. Breakdown for bands is simple: pretend that a curtain went down between the stage and your fucking friends. Anyone high-fiving or leaning on a mic stand for 10 minutes after their set is over is fucking up. Do your work, dig?

Posted by Phil Petrocelli | June 19, 2007 5:00 PM

hell yes. 3 is perfect. 4 is grueling.

Posted by w5 | June 19, 2007 5:19 PM

bombs away... care to name names!

4 band bills the first band does always seem to start late. and bands take too long in the set up tear down. it all especially sucks for the last band, especially if they are not a true headliner.

Posted by infrequent | June 19, 2007 5:45 PM

Four+ band bills are almost always a losing proposition, especially on weeknights. Whoever is deadlining gets to play for their girlfriends and a couple of dudes from the other bands who feel bad about leaving. Plus, depending on the size of the venue, there's barely enough room for the bands to put all their shit. It doesn't foster a very relaxing atmosphere. And the longer a band waits = more beer they drink = shittier performance (or better, depending on the band.)

That said, it can work if there's a backline (all the bands using the same equipment), then it's less of a headache for everyone involved.

But yeah - three is better than four.

Posted by Potatoes O'Brien | June 19, 2007 5:47 PM

3, it's the magic #.

And look at Oscar, smiling like a true pimp.

Posted by glo | June 19, 2007 5:54 PM

#6 pretty much said it for me: I don't like 4-band bills and now that I'm older, I don't go to them.

If there must be a 4+ band bill, make on a Friday or Saturday night or an afternoon show so you can make a day of it.

I always feel bad for band #4 because no one sticks around for them on a weeknight.

I know there are pros to 4-band bills, but I think the cons outweigh them.

Posted by shows | June 19, 2007 6:05 PM

I hope the venue planners are keeping up with this. Three bands sharing equipment is really enough for a week night. We all want to come out and listen but not watch gear heads do the gearfreak dance in the bumpitybump dark. THREE and thanks,

Posted by tante | June 19, 2007 6:17 PM

Four band bills are great if the headliner sucks ass. You just leave. If the headliner is good it's a problem because they will get shorted on time. Bands should only play for 30 minutes, anyways (unless they're the Lucksmiths), but they never do. Setup isn't a problem because that's drinkie schmooze time.

I've enjoyed many a festival with as many as twelve bands in a row, but you gotta share drums and at least one amp, and maybe everything except the guitars.

The best transition I ever saw was deep in the hold of a boat on the Hudson River, when Bunnygrunt finished their set with Beat Happening's "Indian Summer", and one by one members of Tullycraft came up and started playing too, while members of Bunnygrunt left, until it was just Tullycraft playing "Indian Summer", then they stopped and played their own set. No setup time at all. Practice THAT, you kids. Nobody gives a shit about your fancy gear.

Posted by Fnarf | June 19, 2007 6:28 PM

I'm going for a four-band Wednesday-night bar show tomorrow night. The venue's official site versus its MySpace are inconsistent on which band is officially headlining; I do hope the pair I'm interested in aren't, as #28 most excellently put it, deadlining.

I've attended big chunks of many, but I truthfully have never made it to the end of a four-band weeknight show. I usually want to stay, but I've inevitably been awake for eighteen hours and I've gotta work in the morning.

Posted by Christin | June 19, 2007 7:29 PM

i hate shows of four or more bands--of course, coming from a show-going perspective. while theoretically, more bands means more potential fans will show up, it seems like the first band or two's shows are so sparsely attended that it's not worth it for the amount of people who get annoyed at four-band shows and decline to show up. i'd rather stay home or go somewhere else than deal with a bunch of set changes and waiting.

but if you are going to have a four-band show, I think the key to keeping people engaged is having a fairly cohesive lineup. There's nothing worse than sitting through a bunch of random genres or sounds while waiting for the act you really want to see at the end.

Posted by mirror | June 19, 2007 9:15 PM

The only time I like 4 band bills is when they share members, especially if one person is playing in all four bands. Then it becomes an endurance test.

Thanks for the fries!

Posted by djgirth | June 19, 2007 9:25 PM

This is highly dependent on the venue and the style of music.

The Vera Project have 4-band bills all the time. Then again, many bands who play there play really abrupt sets, and hence do have experience breaking down and setting up very quickly. It would seem weird if they had a bill with less than 3 bands.

On the other hand, I'd feel weighed upon if more than two bands played at the Triple Door or the Showbox. I usually come just for the main act, then want to get out of there.

There are so many different cultural factors at play, that saying there's a magic number for an appropriate lineup quantity is absurd.

Posted by matthew fisher wilder | June 20, 2007 2:22 AM

Bon Von Wheelie of Girl Trouble already wrote a definitive exposition on this subject years ago. I wouldn't normally quote a whole article, but this is so perfect I'm breaking internet protocol:

by Bon Von Wheelie

The four band bill. When did this monster raise its ugly head? Nowadays the dreaded "More the Merrier" seems to be the trend and I say...BULL SHIT! I will admit during the experimental/college/punk days of the Tropicana more bands played on the bill. But that was an all-ages venue where things started early and all the bands had about 6 real songs they'd learned or made up in their dorm rooms. When we started playing "real" over-21 clubs this was the formula:
The BIG ROOMS: THREE bands per night
SMALLER CLUBS: TWO bands per night
That was the standard. The only exceptions would come later during the "fests, shocks, grinds, stomps" era and even that can be tricky and sometimes doesn't work well.


I've always been crappy at math. I usually got a D or C- (at best) for my mathematic ability. But if I learned one thing in those twelve years of school it was that when you divide up that old chalkboard drawn pie, three people are going to get a bigger slice than four people. "We're not in it for the money" looks great in print, but when the club is only handing out a couple hundred dollars total at the end of the night, a three-way split looks better.

10/11/12 is the magic time schedule at a bar. When this formula is working correctly the first band will be playing by 10:30. The second band will be close to schedule and the headliner will have time to get up there, play a full hour and give the club enough time for a "last call" or the standard "drink 'em up, clear 'em out" closing routine. This is the perfect formula that has always stood the test of time. Adding one more band upsets this perfect bar universe. With four bands somebody is going to forfit stage time. Somebody is going to lose out. It's either going to be the first band (play at 9:30 to the bartenders) or more often times the headliner (because the first band purposely farted around so somebody would show up before they play). On the four band schedule the big band you most likely came to see will be getting their set cut short. "Well all four bands can just play shorter sets," you may say. What planet are you living on, pal? Trust me. It never happens! EVER!

Here's another math problem. I think this one pertains to geometry. I was still working on the math basics at school when this subject came up. But this I do know. Most clubs don't allow enough space for band equipment. In fact, most times it seems almost like an afterthought. The equipment may get a small room or closet but it's often only enough for two band's worth of stuff. The third band can usually squeeze in, but add four bands to the fray and it becomes a horrible puzzle of instruments, band members, spilled beer and drunken well-wishers all vying for space the entire night. You've got four drumsets, 4-8 guitar amps, 4-8 guitars and cases, 4 bass amps, 4 basses and whatever else the band brings in (like the sax and prize box for instance!) to deal with. Stuff gets misplaced, lost, knocked around and broken. And if there's no equipment room, the audience gets to "handle" your stuff. We've found that your amp makes the perfect go-go platform and your floor tom can be a great substitue for a bar stool or table. We will submit the beer stain/rings and cigarette burns all over our equipment as Exhibit A.

Or as Mr. Spock says, "pure energy." An audience exibits characteristics as if it were one being. No, this isn't me trying out some new age mumbo-jumbo. The fact is that you can count on certain things happening during certain times of the night. We've conducted a twenty year study on this phenomenon, so hear me out. I'm sure that the consuption of alcohol and the effects of it on the human body have some bearing on it. Am I talking about physchology or biology? - now that I think about it I probably didn't do well in these subjects either. But here's how it works:

FIRST BAND: Interested audience, polite applause, no dancing
SECOND BAND: More interest, cheering and applause, more dancing
LAST BAND: Off the scale, wild applause, biggest crowd, dancing and yelling

The basic idea is to get the whole show to build until the last band is over. But this isn't always the case. The energy level is always very high by the end of the second band's set. By the time the headliner gets on, the audience is rarin' to go. But the third spot can be tricky. There's a possibility of losing your audience, espeically if they've had too much to drink or get distracted in the bar. That's why bar/show timing is so critical. The four band bill upsets that delicate balance of nature, and again the loser is always going to be the last band. The audience can seldom sustain that super-intense level of interest past the third band. The alcohol has peaked and people file away: WARNING WILL ROBINSON! SHOW OVERLOAD! (And just for my own personal selfishness, if we're headlining, I hate waiting through three other bands before we play. It's draining. We once did a Sub-Pop spectacular with too many bands and we ended up playing at 3 am! I was physically ill by "showtime". Not many people could endure that much entertainment. We played to very few diehards and we were pretty much ready to go home too.)

So keep these facts in mind when somebody gives you that "more the merrier" routine. In the nightclub, more bands definitely doesn't make it merrier.


Posted by Diana | June 20, 2007 8:39 AM

4 Bands in a night only works if it is at a club that runs a very tight schedule, ie the Crocodile. Although I had a very bad experience there with their security, the sound man at the croc is the best in town.

Bands don't get to decide when their set is.. that's the clubs responsiblity and the bookers. If the opening band wants to wait til' more people show up.. too bad.. you're the opener, get your fans their earlier... nuff said.

1st band 9:30-10:00
2nd band 10:15-10:45
3rd band 11:00-11:40
4th band 12:00-????

That might seem early for the club, but - people will still drink after a show, during a show, before a show...get enough staff there to sell the shit outta your booze....that's not the bands responsibiity... What what???

I've been playing shows for 25 years, seriously.. still love doing it... But rarely do I want to play a four band bill...

If it's at the croc, the showbox, a club that has their shit together and very tight set times, then yea.. do it...

If you are the first band and you take your sweet time and start 7 minutes late - that's 7 minutes out of your set time.. period... and when you are done... move it.. get your shit outta the way- and like someone else said.. get your gear as ready as it can be. I always have my cords even plugged into my head and my speaker cables plugged in - all I gotta do is put it on the stage, plug it in and RAWK!!!

Peace... thanks Trent... lovin' your rants..

Posted by Shawn | June 20, 2007 2:35 PM

From the perspective of a show-goer and show-player, 3 band bills are where it's at.

Posted by Erik R | June 21, 2007 1:51 AM

In case there are any bookers reading this who are still on the fence: After almost 15 years of playing shows, I can say without a shred of doubt that 4-band bills never ever ever work. Ever.

Posted by A-Train | June 22, 2007 9:00 PM

In case there are any bookers reading this who are still on the fence: After almost 15 years of playing shows, I can say without a shred of doubt that 4-band bills never ever ever work. Ever.

Posted by A-Train | June 22, 2007 9:01 PM

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