5 Etiquette Rules Every Musician Should Follow

Posted by Jessica Roveda on Apr 14, 2016 08:00 AM

musician-1153066_960_720Image via pixabay.com; used under Creative Commons

In any industry, being respectful will do you wonders. This especially applies to being a musician. When it comes to networking, a little politeness goes a long way. Unfortunately, there are also some rude musicians in every scene who forget the concept of basic manners and end up ruining their reputations. Here are five rules of etiquette you show follow when interacting with other musicians.

1. Don't publicly insult other musicians

Sometimes you come across a fellow musician you don’t like. Maybe they’re someone from your local scene or someone you met once on tour. That’s fine – you don’t have to like everybody. A problem is created, however, when you start being public about it.

With social media, it’s incredibly easy to let the subtweets fly, or worse, direct name dropping. Publicly venting about your beef with another person online makes you look incredibly immature and hurts your personal brand as a musician. Your fans don’t need to see this, and others in the industry will view you as unprofessional. If you really need to vent about someone, do it privately – or better yet, communicate with the other person and sort out your problems. The world doesn’t need to know about how much you can’t stand so-and-so’s new album.

[4 Ways You Might Be Damaging Your Band's Reputation Without Even Realizing It]

2. Don't complain when you can't play a show

After belonging to your local music scene for a while, chances are you’ve made friends with other musicians along the way. Sometimes three or four of you might play one show together. Terrific! Then one day, it happens: you find out there’s an upcoming show with your three friends on the bill, and you’re not part of it. What happened? You might be sad about this, maybe even a little angry, and that’s okay – it’s normal to feel offended by something like this.

The important thing to remember is to not take it personally. There are plenty of possible reasons as to why you weren’t included that likely don’t go against who you are as a person. It might not even be the fault of any of your friends who are playing. What you need to keep in mind in this situation is that there will always be more opportunities in the future. If you’re really that upset about not being able to play the gig, you can put a positive spin on the situation and use it as a reason to put on your own show.

3. Don't expect to borrow gear

This can either be a harmless situation or legitimate mooching. Oftentimes at gigs, there’ll be one drum kit that everyone can use to save time setting up, and it usually isn’t a big deal to the drummer offering. The only way for this situation to work is with prior communication. If a member from one of the bands says in advance, "To my fellow bassists, you can plug into my amp tonight," then that’s great. If you show up to the venue with only your bass saying, "Well, I just assumed that maybe someone would be okay with letting me use their amp," it doesn’t look good on you. It’s up to you to ensure your gear is ready for the night, and pressuring someone else to loan to you last minute will make them want to never deal with you again.

The other side of this is remembering to always practice common courtesy when borrowing gear. If you need to borrow someone’s microphone for the night, return it as quickly as possible, not five days later. The person you’re borrowing from trusted you with expensive equipment he or she was probably hesitant to loan out in the first place, so don’t make him or her regret that decision.

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4. Don't be a sore loser in a competition

Every now and then, a battle of the bands contest will come up. If you think your band is good enough, you’re probably going to enter. When a nice, big prize is at stake, sometimes people get competitive. But when the competitive attitude gets to a point of poor musicianship, that’s when you need to slow down.

If you lose the competition, the absolute worst thing you can do is be salty about it. It’s fine to be disappointed that you didn’t win, but don’t be a jerk. Complaining about how much you believe you deserved it won't change the fact that the other band won fair and square. Move on, and seek out other opportunities. Losing one local competition isn't the end of your career.

5. Don't ask to be in someone else's band

This may sound harmless, and chances are, you only have good intentions in asking this, but what you’re actually doing is making people not want to play with you. It’s annoying for any musician to have to politely decline someone who's completely aware that the band already has a full lineup. It’s great that you’re enthusiastic about joining a band, maybe even flattering, but unless you're certain that band is looking for a new member and holding auditions, don't ask to join.

"Let me know in the future if you guys are looking for a new guitarist" may sound like a sincere comment, but it’s not. First of all, it’s incredibly insulting to the person who already holds the role. Their guitarist is their guitarist for a reason, and it’s highly doubtful that they’ll fire him or her just because you asked to take over. Secondly, your pushiness will lower your chances of being asked if a time ever came for the band to search for a new member. If you want to be in a band that bad, round up some friends, post some ads, and start your own.


What it all comes down to is putting yourself in other people’s shoes. Ask yourself, "Would I be okay working with someone who creates public drama? Am I okay with loaning my instruments to unreliable people? Would I like it if someone from outside of my band tried to tamper with how we work?" Chances are, you answered "no" to all. The less of a pain in the ass you are, the more likely people will want to keep you around. Keep your actions positive, stay in your lane, and deal with any conflict in a professional and mature manner.


Jess Roveda is a journalist and musician living in Toronto. She is in the process of recording her first solo EP. You can connect with her on Twitter @JessRoveda.

Topics: Musician Success Guide, Strategies for Success


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