WHY EVERY BAND SHOULD HAVE A BACKDROP (AND WHY DARK PURPLE CHALK SUCKS)

[Photograph] Man in disguise courtesy of gratisography.com

In this multi-social-digital-media age, significantly fewer people seem prepared to go out to watch bands ‘on the off chance’ any more. Instead, artists are far more likely to be systematically socially stalked way before any potential gig-goer will even lift that pudgy, swiping-finger off their glossy, black smart phone and actually heave themselves out of their custom gaming chair to venture into a venue.


However, plenty of people do still enjoy just rolling up at some random location to take the ‘band lucky dip’ challenge. Unfortunately, they are often at a disadvantage because they do not know who the bands are and there is largely a lack of sufficient evidence to inform them.

Ask yourself this: how many times in your glittering sub-career as an audience member has this happened to you? You turn up at a venue, knowing they have a ‘band night’ and as soon as you walk through the doors, the swelter and sound slap your senses like a whiskey-soaked, wrestler’s towel to the kisser. The place is rocking and the band on stage is awesome. You want to know more and begin desperately searching like Sherlock for juicy clues.

Why do venues insist on using secret message grade, dark purple chalk on advertising blackboards?

With the band’s name scrawled two inches high in some plum-coloured, Bohemian-esque script (which is nigh on illegible by default and definitely cannot be read from ten feet away) you find yourself repeatedly shrieking into other peoples’ already-ringing ears: “What’s this band called?” Eventually (after three time checks and a proposal of marriage) someone will cotton on and yell a splash-cymbal-punctuated response which you can never make out – although it is probably “I have no idea, mate!” After the statutory ‘three repetitions and I start looking like a dick’ timeout, you give up and think to yourself: “If only that awesome band had got a backdrop with their (probably awesome) name on it.”

Bands/artists: put your virgin audiences out of their misery and get yourselves a stage backdrop!

The tried and tested combination of a white bed sheet and a can of black spray paint will always work but that said, it is neither difficult nor prohibitively costly to get a professionally made band backdrop. Most printing/promotional accessory outlets will be able to craft a durable, weatherproof banner that will double up as a backdrop. They work well and will absolutely pay for themselves because, if an act has a clearly legible backdrop then nobody will walk away from their gig not knowing who that awesome band was. With lightweight, portable display frames available as well, bandmates are no longer obliged to form a wobbly human pyramid to be able to string their backdrop up.

Our PVC banner/backdrop was made by local company, Pinders; we are more than happy with it and it attracts plenty of positive comments. Homemade frames will not break the bank and there are a plethora of ideas/resources out there, depending on the type of backdrop. This video from Julio La Rosa shows how to make a frame for a banner style backdrop like ours (a future project for us – we are still at the wobbly human pyramid stage…)

HOW TO MAKE A BANNER STAND / JULIO LA ROSA

In his video, Julio offers a lot of tips (including how not to kill your drummer) and also mentions using Vistaprint for banners. Whilst we do use them for our business cards we have not tested the quality of their banners but the one in Julio’s video looks pretty good.

A ‘backdrop back-up plan’ may also be advisable because sometimes, displaying a backdrop is not viable. Maybe the venue will not allow it, perhaps someone forgot to pack it in the van or it blew away at a festival over the weekend and the last time anyone saw it, it was wrapped around a naked, muddy hippy’s shoulders.

This is where a name/logo works well on a bass drumhead. Bespoke drumheads, like these from Custom Skins, might not fit a fledgling band’s budget but are worth saving up for. Meanwhile, a professional-looking result is achievable with a custom sticker which can usually be bought from the same suppliers that provide the aforementioned vinyl backdrops.

No drummer? Just buy a second hand bass drum for a stage prop (far less trouble).

There are many other inventive, DIY ways that any act can deploy to ensure their name at least is visible when performing live; the key point here is being identifiable to as many people as possible. For example, social media sites are littered with photos from live gigs; many of these snaps will have been uploaded in a surging, intoxicated semi-darkness and as such, artists cannot rely on their name being mentioned and/or spelled correctly but they can guarantee that a lot of those images will have their backdrop in them, if they have one.

[Photograph] Braver than Fiction on stage at The Leadmill, Sheffield for Tramlines 2014

Go ahead and add a website URL and/or incorporate social media links but remember, all of the text on a backdrop must be legible from a distance so follow the ‘less is more’ approach; try and cram too much on there and it will look more like a word search puzzle than a promotional aid.

Oh and keep that backdrop away from other bands. Putting a banner up ‘for the duration’ is not cool and if it has to be in place while other acts take the stage, it should be rolled/folded it back on itself until ready so that the audience is under no illusion who they are watching/listening to. We once did this by accident (forgot to roll our banner back) and it was a very uncomfortable experience; sorry City Phasers (go check them out, they are good and, not us).

This may also seem like a no-brainer but, make sure backdrops have suitable fixings and/or grommets/eyelets (or at least holes poked with a penknife); they are not going to be very useful if they cannot be attached to anything or, incidentally, if there is nothing to attach them with. Gaffer Tape, string, cable ties and a sturdy pair of scissors are essentials in the gigging toolbox.

When transporting a banner, remember to roll it rather than fold it; you can wrap it around a piece of thick dowel and/or house it in a length of drainpipe to keep it clean, safe and uncreased.

Finally, remember to clean up at the end of every gig and do not leave redundant fixings lying on the floor or still attached to walls/stage scaffold; recycle trashed cable ties and leave the space as you would expect to find it but, upon leaving do pilfer the venue’s entire supply of violet chalk. Consider it a mercy theft; one that is doing them (and everyone else) a massive favour.


SHOUTOUTS

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