What is Backline?

I get this question quite often. Some people are a little embarrassed to ask the question, and others have absolutely no idea what it is or why an artist is asking for the buyer to provide it.  

Backline is the collection of musical instruments that the artist needs for their set.  When working with a DJ, EDM or Hip Hop artist that has a track show, backline is their turntables and mixers.  

Why do artists ask the buyer to provide it?

Usually artists ask for the buyer to provide the backline when they are flying into your town for the show, instead of routing a tour through.  Flying with these items can be expensive and cumbersome. Some artists may carry an item or two from their list, such as a special guitar, but otherwise they’d rather use local instruments that can be delivered to the venue by a backline company. That way they show up, set up, and sound check instead of the added steps of unpacking all the equipment, putting it together, and packing it back up post-show. It can also be expensive for the artists to fly with instruments, especially a drum kit that is so many pieces of checked luggage.

How much does backline cost?

If an artist has asked you to provide backline, before saying yes you should always ask for their backline rider (which is their list of backline needs) and reach out to a backline company to get a quote. Backline usually costs between $500-5,000, depending what is needed and where you are located.

What if my backline company doesn’t have something they requested?

Your backline company can typically offer suggestions for substitutions, and then you can ask the artist team if they will accept those substitute items instead of what they requested. Normally artists can be a little flexible unless they have a sponsorship agreement with certain brands.

What if I live in a small market and there are no backline companies nearby?

You can either say no to their request and hope they still confirm your show, or you can offer a backline buyout, which means you pay them a sum of money on top of their guaranteed payment to pay for their backline to travel with them.

If I cannot afford the backline, will the artist turn down my offer?

Not necessarily.  Most artists will still try to make it work.  If you cannot afford the backline, try to offer contact info to the artist for your local backline company, so they themselves can pay for and arrange for the backline to arrive onsite.  That way they don’t have to travel with it; they cover the expense and it shows that you are trying to be accommodating.  

Always advance!

In general, be sure to clarify who is paying for and arranging for backline, even if no one asks.  In some cases, such as Hip Hop and EDM artists, the artist considers those turntables and mixers just part of their sound and lighting requests.  They expect them to be there onsite and you don’t want to surprise anyone by not having equipment there. It’s necessary to fully advance your show to make sure all their needs are met. Have your production person connect with the artist’s and review who is providing what to make sure nothing is missed.  

Jolene Chevalier

Founder & Talent Buyer | How To Concerts

Jolene has been a middle buyer for over a decade, helping colleges and others with their concerts, comedians, and speakers. (And, yes, she is named after the Dolly Parton song.) She would love to talk with you about helping to book, plan, and prepare for your event.

920.764.1200   |   [email protected]

Jolene Chevalier

Founder & Talent Buyer | How To Concerts

Jolene has been a middle buyer for over a decade, helping colleges and others with their concerts, comedians, and speakers. (And, yes, she is named after the Dolly Parton song.) She would love to talk with you about helping to book, plan, and prepare for your event.

920.764.1200   |   [email protected]