Like some of you, I was perplexed the first time I heard all these terms. The meaning of the word backline in the concert industry is actually quite simple: it’s everything you need in the way of gear to put on a show, except for the P.A. system and monitors. This includes amplifiers, keyboards, drums, stands, outboard rack gear, and sometimes even the stage risers.
What you actually need is dependent on the kind of group you have, the instrumentation, musical style(s) you play, and the demands of the particular gig or concert, such as the size of the stage and hall. It might also depend on the budget of the Promoter, or availability of certain equipment at a location.
In the most general terms, when describing the backline you should create a list, to include the following:
- Guitar amplifier(s)
- Bass amplifier
- Keyboard amplifiers and/or sound mixer
- Miscellaneous, such as amp stands, risers, guitar stands, etc.
Image courtesy of Andy Bergsten.
In addition to the general description of gear needed, the backline list should include specifications (i.e. specs) for all pieces of equipment, such as make and model, speaker size and power handling capacity, drum sizes, plus any other details specific to each piece of equipment. All of your backline specs will ultimately go into the contract rider, which I’ll explain below.
You need this complete list to communicate to Promoters and Stage Crews all equipment for the stage your group will need in order to put on a performance.
There are times where you might bring all your own gear, such as to a local small gig. But for the bigger shows, and especially when you must travel to perform at some far-off destination, you will likely not be carrying all your gear with you.
In this case, it’s crucial that you communicate all your equipment needs in advance to the venue or sponsoring organization. This way they can have everything you need ready so that you can just walk out on stage and play (usually after a brief soundcheck conducted earlier).