What is backline?
Backline is the musical equipment that a band uses for a performance. This can include, but is not limited to amplifiers, instruments, effect pedals, drum kits, cymbals, percussion, keyboards, synthesizers, you name it.
Why would you hire backline?
At some point in time you are going to have a performance where it is going to make considerably more sense both logistically, as well as financially to hire backline locally. Maybe it is a one-off half way across the country, or perhaps you are finishing a tour and need to get to a press event quickly where there would be no way for your gear to make it in time. Perhaps you simply can’t afford to pay the cost of freighting your gear, or maybe you just want to try out a new amp. A number of situations abound, and this is where your local backline vendor is going to come into play.
How to put together a backline rider
Putting together a clear, concise backline rider is important, because this is what you’re going to service to the backline vendor, in an effort at getting exactly what you want. Emphasis on being specific. Don’t casually omit important information that the backline company needs in order to fulfill your order. Make, model, version, etc. The last thing you want is a surprise when showing up to an engagement on a tight schedule.
Let’s say you are working with a band who has a standard rock n’ roll setup: guitar, bass, and drums. The first step is to sit down with each individual band member and collect the information you will need to compile a backline rider. Let’s use the guitar player as an example. Remember that you are looking for gear preferences for situations where the own players gear will not be there.
- What kind of electric guitar do you prefer?*
- What kind of acoustic guitar do you prefer?
- What kind of amplifier do you prefer?
As budget increases, you are able to get a bit more specific with certain requests. You can have the backline company deliver a set-up guitar to the player’s preference, or augment some of the features. For example:
- What kind of strings do you use?
- What kind of pick ups do you use?
It’s important to go back and get a second and third preference for the guitars and amplifiers. Why you ask? Because often times the vendor will not have what you need. Perhaps a piece of gear was discontinued, what you need has been rented out already, they never carried it to begin with, etc. You need to be prepared for those situations. If you have options two and three, you can go to those in a pinch, without having to have a dialogue with the backline company. They can simply let you know, “Hey, we don’t have #1, but we do have #2.” This also helps to reduce stress on the road when there are a billion things happening at once.
IMPORTANT! If any kind of gear substitution is going to be made, it’s important that this be communicated not only to yourself, but more importantly to the player. Lots of issues can be mitigated if you simply communicate in advance with the person who is actually using the gear.
*It’s worth noting that on a fly date, often times a guitar player or bass player is going to be flying with their primary instrument as part of the fly pack. The guitar/bass that you are hiring is going to be used as a backup, should the first instrument have a failure mid set.
Go back through the remaining positions to make sure their needs are covered. For example:
- What kind of bass do you use?
- What kind of bass amp do you prefer?
- What kind of speaker cabinet do you prefer?
- What brand drum kit do you prefer? What color?
- What size shells do you use?
- What kind of cymbals do you use?
- What kind of heads do you prefer? Be specific for which drum you are requesting a certain head.
Don’t skimp on player preference. Keep things short and concise, but make the information count. Is your drummer left handed? Do they like there cymbals placed at a certain angle? What kind of beater do they like on their kick drum? Will you need sticks? Will you not need something? These are all valid points to include in the initial email to the backline company.
Have you already put together a stage plot and input list? Head over here if you haven’t. Submitting this with your backline rider is going to help the local backline tech pre-stage gear and set it up to your specifications. Once you arrive on site, you’ll be able to fine tune it.
Take all of the information and preferences you have collected, and compile it into an easy to send out PDF. Make sure you date this PDF with the year and season (IE: Spring 2017) somewhere on the document, along with the date in the file name itself. Old riders will haunt you, and you want to make sure everyone is working off of the most current rider. Below I’ve included a very basic example of what this might look like.
For this example, I have omitted some of the more specific requests. This is a very basic template of what a sample backline rider might look like. Most of the items here, with the exception of the drums I would consider very plentiful in the backline world.
(1) Fender Deluxe Reverb
(1) Fender Twin
(1) American Telecaster OR (1) Fender Stratocaster
(1) Ampeg SVT-CL Bass Head w/ speaker cables
(1) Ampeg SVT-810 Bass Cabinet
DRUMS (Up Center) MAPEX kit requested
(1) 20″ Kick
(1) 14″ x 5.5″ Snare
(1) 10″ Tom
(1) 14″ Tom
(1) 14″ K or Mastersound Hi-Hat
(1) 17″ K Custom Dark Crash
(1) 19″ K Custom Dark Crash
(1) 20″ K Custom Ride
(3) Boom Stands
(1) High Hat Stand
(1) Snare Stand
(1) DW 9000 Bass drum pedal
(1) Roc n Soc Saddle Throne
Color preference: Natural Wood Finish, Dark Red, Black.
(2) Hanging Guitar Stands
(2) Black Sand Bags for Drums
(2) Instrument Cable Packages
(1) 8′ x 8′ Drum Rug
**Don’t forget to attach your stage plot and input list to this rider. You’ll notice that I did not include specific drumheads in this example.
IMPORTANT! Put your name and contact information directly onto the rider. Often times there will be a question, and the person setting up the gear won’t be the person you were in contact with at the shop. Make yourself available because things often come up and need a quick answer.
Where do I find a backline vendor?
Most major metropolitan areas have multiple backline rental vendors. Speak to local production to see which vendor they prefer to work with, unless you have previous experience in that city. As the longer you tour, you will develop a list of trusted backline vendors and you’ll know who to contact in certain cities (or maybe even avoid!)
Most vendors will cover general gear rental needs, but some are more specific depending on what you’re looking for. Maybe you are in search of a vintage drum kit that would wouldn’t find at a normal backline vendor. In major entertainment hubs (New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, Austin) you are going to find more of these niche rental companies.
Other things to think about
Pedal boards are very unique to a player. Instead of trying to piecemeal together different effect pedals locally, I would suggest purchasing a flight case for the player’s pedal board. Some players have a very verbose arsenal of effects. If at all possible, it is beneficial to have a smaller pedal board for flight dates that is reasonably sized and not overweight. This will save a ton of money if your band has to fly a lot.
Beyond the scope of this article, but something to keep in mind is that gear endorsement is going to affect what gear you hire. If you are a Fender artist, you wouldn’t want to be seen playing a Gibson on national television. Call your rep when you are a specific city, and see what they can do for you.
Not all vendors, but some vendors have a reputation for renting out gear that has seen better days. It’s very important that the player be comfortable with the gear that is hired. There is nothing worse than having a performer uncomfortable on stage. When you have a performer on stage who is squirming because of gear that you hired, take a moment to reflect and ask yourself if it was worth saving the $50. Nope! Work with reputable vendors and save yourself some grief.
Give a close inspection of the gear when it is delivered. If it isn’t to spec, or simply isn’t what you ordered, get your backline rep on the phone immediately. Don’t send them an email. Call them, and let them know that something is wrong with the order and it needs attention immediately. Oftentimes you are being delivered an order far from the backline warehouse, and any time you can save is important! Confirm and reconfirm that the order is correct to begin with.
Ask the backline vendor if they will include backup equipment on your order for free. Some companies will do this without an additional charge if they have the stock available. Regardless, it is important to have a back up plan. Have a back up plan!
Going beyond this, it’s especially important that you hire gear that aesthetically looks good for performances that will be broadcast or archived. There is nothing worse than being delivered a backline kit that is all banged up, and seeing that sad look on the drummers face. Make that drummer smile!