You will hopefully be playing an open-air music festival show such as Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, Roskilde or Pukkelpop this summer – maybe for the first time. And, while providing you with the potential to reach out to an increased number of music fans, the scale of a festival stage may be daunting.
One of the many things to consider is that festivals operate on almost split-second timing; festival promoters are subject to very heavy financial fines if they run past an agreed-upon sound curfew. Bands performing at festivals are therefore given a strict time to be onstage and offstage, with another set time for changeover (getting the previous act’s gear off and their gear on). The pressure is on you to get on stage, play and get off in your allotted time and with all that rushing around it is easy to forget about health and safety.
So, I do not want to come across as being like your mother, but please be careful up there onstage – there is a lot of electricity in those cables and a lot of things to bump into or fall off, so watch yourself! To explain a bit further, I have compiled the following dos and don’ts when it comes to stage safety, all based on (sometimes bitter) experience. The following hints and tips apply to a festival show, as well as club and theatre gigs:
- Never, never, never put drinks on top of amps, combos, or speakers, even if they are in sealed bottles or cans. Vibrations and human error caused by flashing stage lights, hazers, and so on will almost certainly cause those drinks to spill. The resulting mix of sugary liquids and electricity will be expensive, fatal, or both. Do not do it! If you have to take drinks onstage, then place them on the floor, behind and to one side of where you will be performing or working. The best place for drinks is on the front of the drum riser (if applicable), inside a shallow tray or a rack case lid.
- Places bottles and cans in a lid – the fluid is contained in the lid if the bottle tips over.
- Close all butterfly catches on cases and press the butterfly flat against the case. An open butterfly clasp can result in a very painful and bloody wound if you rush past, and catch yourself on it.
- Always ask before plugging anything into a mains supply. A modern stage has power outlets for a variety of functions, not just backline power. You could be plugging your Korg TRITON into the stage lighting power, an action that will result in a quick trip to the local music shop to buy a new keyboard!
- On a similar note, never unplug anything onstage without asking first. As well as causing huge audio “bangs” and damaging equipment, your personal health will be threatened if the audio or backline crew gets hold of you.
- Look up. Working as part of a modern concert means that you will see lots of equipment “flown”—that is, suspended in the air. Get in the habit of looking up when you first get on the stage, and try not to stand under flown PA speakers or lighting trusses or near truss ladders. Listen if someone shouts, “Moving!” The command, ‘moving’ means someone is lowering (“bringing in”) or raising (“taking out”) a lighting truss or a PA hang. Although bringing in or taking out a truss is a fairly slow and smooth action, objects have been known to become dislodged and fall off the trussduring this time. There are also many cables that go from ground to the flown system, and these may drag across the stage as the truss is moving. All of this creates a hazard to anyone on stage at the time.
- Look down. As well as nasty, great big monitor wedges, there will also be raised stage sections with sharp corners and lots of cables. Get in the habit of marking corners of risers and platforms with strips of white gaffer.
- Tape down your cables after you are sure everything is plugged in and working. Use a heavy gaffer-type tape, not masking tape. (You would not believe how many times I have seen this on stage. As well as being uselessly weak, masking tape is made of paper and will catch fire when hot. ) Group cables together (avoiding mains cable with signal cable if you can) and keep them flat—in other words, side by side. Apply short sections of tape across the cable run, not along it.
- Avoid going barefoot or wearing sandals onstage. There are sharp corners, big boxes and cables everywhere on a stage. The stage crew and other musicians will be lifting heavy equipment, and the stage may be dark and filled with stage smoke; do you want to risk your toes in this environment?
- Do not run cables that cannot reach and end up suspended between equipment or to the mains supply. Move your gear so that cables can run along the ground, or borrow or buy a longer cable or extension cord.
- Never throw drumsticks into the crowd. If you must show your appreciation to the aspiring drummers in the audience, then walk forward to the lip of the stage and hand your sticks off to someone in the front row. A thrown stick can blind someone if it hits them in the eye.
- Likewise, never hand out bottles or cans of beer or soft drinks to the crowd. Many venues issue plastic glasses to the audience. You may be breaking the venue laws by introducing cans and bottle into that environment. You also run the risk of having the bottle thrown back at you.
- Watch your back. Lift gear from your knees, keeping your back straight. Hold heavy gear from the bottom, with both hands. Do not use the handles on the sides of your equipment cases—gravity acts upon the bottom half and makes the case twice as heavy!
- Never carry your drink with one hand and your gear with another. Put the drink down (somewhere safe), carry the gear, go back to your beverage, pick it up, and drink it—in that order.
- If you are a performer, do not climb on speakers or up trusses or cables without checking first with the stage manager, production manager or the sound and light technicians.You have no idea how much weight these items can support, and you have no idea whether the are speakers are fixed in place. It’s bad enough if you fall and hurt yourself—it will be worse if you and the speakers come crashing down on top of the audience. Also, bear in mind that after you have clambered up the truss or on top of the speakers, you have to get all the way down again and still look dignified!
- If you have to smoke onstage, watch where you place your finished cigarettes. The headline act may be using pyrotechnics, or someone may be painting a flight case or refilling a generator.
- Do not leave the lids of hinged cases open. The vibrations caused by loud music may make them fall shut, trapping someone’s hands or severing a cable. Also, never let the lid on a hinged trunk drop when you are closing it—the place where the chest and the lid join is usually about the same height as a man’s…well, you get the idea….
Be careful up there and you will have an amazing show!