What does it mean when a venue says all bands will backline equipment?
First, let’s define “backline” vs. “frontline”.
An easy way to remember frontline is that it means the equipment typically placed on stage in front of the band. Sound equipment is set up on the stage to reduce feedback. So, the basic PA system, including monitors is set to the front of the stage while the instrument amps are set towards the back. Hence, backline is easily remembered as the equipment that is placed in back of the band, typically this means instrument amps but can also include drums and other instruments.
The Technically correct answer:
When a venue says the “bands will backline equipment” they mean the venue will provide the frontline equipment while each band will provide their own backline equipment and set it up in reverse order of the performance. So, the band who is playing last sets their amps etc. on stage first, furthest back on the stage. The band playing second to last puts their equipment on stage directly in front of the last band but only after the last band is completely set up. Often the venue will want the last band to soundcheck before the second to last band puts any of their equipment on stage. The band that plays first puts their equipment on stage last and soundchecks last. When the first bands set is completed they carry their equipment off stage immediately. The second band simply slides their equipment a little forward on the stage and they are ready to play… and so forth until all the bands have played.
Venues that require bands to backline are attempting to limit the amount of time in between each bands set for set up and tear down, to keep the audience from leaving.
In other words, they are trying to be efficient to gain your band more fans! Unfortunately some bands get an attitude when asked to backline because there is less room on stage, especially for the first band. Being asked to backline your gear is not an insult, it is often the well thought out process of a seasoned booker. Their goal is to keep the fans engaged and happy. This should be your bands goal as well, even if it means you do not have as much room as you would like on stage.
When a venue says “backline will be provided” they mean they will provide the frontline equipment as well as the backline equipment. All the bands will play through the same amps and most often will use the same drum kit. All the equipment will already be set up when your band arrives, you will most often be expected to plug in and play with very little soundcheck. Most of the time, bands will experience this arrangement at a Battle of the Bands. Each band is probably only playing a couple songs and the bookers are trying to fit in as many bands as possible with almost no time in between bands.
Be careful with the technically correct answer because not everyone uses the term backline to mean the same thing. Many people will throw in the word “backline” in an attempt to sound professional without knowing what they are referring to. Ultimately your fans do not know who messed up when the sound isn’t right, they just know your band sounds bad. So, it is up to the bands booking agent to find out exactly what the booker has planned for sound before the band arrives at the venue.
During the booking process, if I hear the word backline, I immediately ask if the band gets to play on their own drum kit. The answer to that one question will give you some insight as to what the booker means. From there you can ask more questions to determine if the venue is providing the backline or asking bands to backline equipment. It is far better to ask questions during the booking process than to try to fix problems with the sound during set up the day of the show.
Do you want to know more about live sound? Check out this book – it is small enough to carry with you to gigs!
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