Have you ever listened to two computer programmers talk to each other? How about two or three people obsessed with the same video game? Maybe it was your Grandma and Great Aunt Betty talking about knitting techniques.
Often vocations or hobbies that have a very specific niche will also have a very specific vocabulary. The music industry is no different.
For musicians who are just beginning to venture into the world of live shows, the terms that get thrown around can be confusing. Even musicians who have been playing professionally for a while will occasionally stumble upon a phrase they’ve never heard before.
We’re going to help ease your mind as you prepare for your next gig by getting you familiar with the jargon before you head out for the venue.
Load in is the time when you are expected to be at the venue to bring all your equipment inside. This time is typically the same for all musicians, unless you’ve been specifically told that your load in will be directly before your soundcheck.
This is your time before the show to get comfortable in the space on stage, make sure you can hear yourself well, and run over any last minute adjustments with the band. During soundcheck you will usually play each instrument individually, then play together so the sound guy can make sure that you sound amazing. Sound check is also when you need to let the sound engineer know if you have any special needs for your mix. If the violin needs to be cranked for the whole set, or if you have vocalists swapping microphones, they need to know about it.
Front of House
This is the mix of your music that the audience hears. The sound guy who makes all the magic happen for the audience is called the “FOH Engineer.” Always make sure you are extra polite and gracious to the FOH Engineer (and ALL the staff at the venue!), because they control how you sound. If you are playing a new venue, or you’ve never met the FOH Engineer at a venue you play often, take a few minutes and get to know them. Sound guys are the most important member of your band, regardless of where you are playing.
Monitors are the speakers that are angled up at you onstage, and they are your best friends. Monitors allow you to hear a different mix from the audience, so that you can hear exactly what you need to perform well. This is called a monitor mix. If you are playing a small venue, they may only have one or two monitors. Bigger venues may have one for each member of the band. If possible, it’s a good idea to try and get a separate monitor mix for each member of the band. If that’s not possible, a drummer and bassist can usually share a monitor mix; guitars will probably have their own or share with keys, and vocalists will typically have their own. A keyboardist and vocalist can share a monitor mix if necessary. Some venues may also have a set up for in ear monitors, although the band usually brings that with them. Make sure you clarify what the monitor setup is going to be before the show so that there is no confusion when you get to your gig.
This room may or may not be green, but it always refers to the room that performers can hang out in before they go onstage. In some venues, a green room may be replaced with dressing rooms, or there may be dressing rooms in addition to a green room. Sometimes only the headliner is given access to the green room, so if you aren’t headlining, you might want to clarify with the venue what their policy is.
This is a term that you will probably encounter as you are booking shows. This term is used most often by promoters and booking agents when they are talking to venues, but it’s important for musicians to understand what it means.
When a promoter (or band) asks for a “hold” they are asking that the venue not book anything else on that day. Typically holds are placed far in advance of the show date, and they happen on a first come, first served basis.
Many venues will place several holds on a date as they try to fill up their calendars. When this happens, each person with a hold is assigned a position–first, second, third etc.– based on when they contacted the venue. A first hold will have priority in booking the date. A second hold would only be able to book that date if the first hold decided they didn’t want it. For some venues, these holds can be 6 people deep as promoters compete for dates.
If you are booking yourself, and you’ve run into a “hold” on your perfect date, don’t worry. Just because there is a hold on a date doesn’t mean the date is booked. Be sure to follow up with the venue in a week or so to see if the hold is still there.
If you are getting a guarantee for your show, it means that no matter how many people show up, you are still going to get paid. This is every artist’s goal for each show they book, though a guarantee doesn’t always happen.
Door cut is not sawing the venue’s front doors into pieces and giving them to the band.
A door cut means that you are going to be paid a percentage of ticket sales. Your door cut might be a percentage of all ticket sales, or a percentage of the tickets sales for fans that came to see you specifically. Be sure to find out before you play, so you can tell your fans if they need to mention your name to the person selling tickets.
This is the time you play, as opposed to when the show starts or when doors open. It can also refer to the amount of time you have to play.
Usually comps come in the form of drinks or food. A venue will usually “comp” each band member a drink or two for the evening.
Bonus! The Infamous Ceiling Point
This one really isn’t a term. It’s a gesture that you may have seen bands use during soundcheck. When it comes time to mix monitors, each musician will play individually, and then the other members of the band will either point up, down, or give a thumbs up to the engineer. This is a way of non-verbally signaling exactly what you need in your monitor. It’s much more efficient than constantly stopping to ask the monitor engineer to tweak something, especially for a band member who doesn’t have a microphone. Pretty much anytime you ask the sound engineer for a change in levels, you can use these simple signals to make sure you get your monitor levels where you want them. Just make sure you clarify what instrument you need turned up or down!