The show must go on
Gigging is, for most people, the fun part of playing an instrument. Those long hours of practicing, writing tracks, re-arranging chord structures, tinkering with effects pedals and elongating difficult outros are usually done with one singular end-goal; getting up on a stage and showing the world what you can do when you try.
That’s not to say they don’t come without a level of inherent stress or pressure. Clearly, you’ve put the work into making your songs the way you want them, but if you get on a stage and your mind goes blank before the intro riff to your belter of a new tune, you’ll feel pretty awful.
To ease the burden and help you prepare, we’ve put together a list of things you need to be aware of before you start splashing out on matching spandex leotards and walls of 4x12s. To regular, gigging musicians, these may be pretty obvious, so feel free to add your own in the comments box below.
We’re not normally one for the passive-aggressive capitalising of words in a blog, but in this case, we can make an exception. Do not, we repeat, DO NOT go on stage until you know your songs inside out, back to front, and in at least four different world languages. You should be able to, at the drop of a hat, pick up from any point of the song without missing a beat (literally.)
Practice doesn’t just mean knowing the order of the chords you’re meant to play, or in which bits you can do your ‘cool’ synchronised head-banging with the bassist. It means knowing which order to turn on your pedals. It means knowing which cues your singer will give you when they’ve forgotten the words. It also means building stamina in your arms and fingers so you can keep up with the pace for your whole set. Particularly important for metal bands; the speed you’re comfortable playing at and the speed you end up performing at aren’t necessarily the same thing, so make sure you’re well practiced and always have something left in the tank if it’s required.
Once you’re happy with the songs, and in your heart of hearts you’re confident you can pull it off flawlessly on stage, go ahead and practice looking like you’re in a band. And please, try and make it look fun.
2. Equipment MOT
Set yourself some standards here. Yes, those strings you fitted to your guitar a month ago look fine but fitting a new set before every gig has many benefits. It not only reduces the risk of string snappage (it is a word), they also sound better and are easier to play. Other things to check include straps and straplocks; cables; pedal batteries or power supplies. If possible, take a backup of everything. There are plenty of workarounds for expensive items like amps; certain multi-fx units like the BOSS GT-100, BOSS GT-1000, HeadRush Pedalboard or Line 6 Helix can run directly into a PA, which makes them perfect backups for failing valve amps. Just ensure you have good quality presets saved so, if the worst happens, you’re not spending valuable time on your knees sculpting the perfect lead tone.
This part of gigging-prep is the most boring, but potentially the most valuable. Remember this phrase: prepare for the worst but hope for the best.
3. Promote your wares
These days, it’s easy to promote your show. Social media has opening up a wealth of new ways to get the message out that you’re playing. Have a look at what the big local bands on your scene do and try using some of their tactics. A following can only be built up over time, so be realistic, but don’t let that stop you being adventurous. Work with a designer to create a decent, eye-catching poster graphic. Change your band’s Facebook cover picture to highlight your next show, and create an event page to tell your fans the basic information they need like venue, date and time, line up etc. Make people think they’ll be missing out if they don’t come. And, if they don’t come, don’t let that put you off your strategy.
4. Check your flow
Way before you set foot in the venue, you should have decided on your setlist. Consider the flow of the songs. Do you start with your fastest song, grabbing people’s attention and enticing them to watch, or do you start slowly and build it up? The creative decisions here should have been made well in advance, and with a clear vision of how you see the set panning out. If you’re coming onto a 60 second backing tape of Gregorian chanting, practice it in the rehearsal space beforehand so you’re absolutely certain you don’t come off as pretentious.
5. Arrive early, be prepared to wait
Ask any world-touring, behemoth-sized, stadium-filling band what the worst part of touring is, and they’ll all answer the same thing: the waiting around. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about this, but it doesn’t mean you can negate it by turning up late. Turn up on time and you should get a decent soundcheck. Once that is out of the way, there are plenty of things you could be doing. You could build relationships with the other bands on the bill, embark on a last-minute promotional campaign or get some technical warmups under your belt. Whatever you do though, don’t use the downtime as an opportunity to start drinking. Again, we speak from experience, no good can come of this…
6. Show some respect
Very important; don’t be ‘that’ band. You know the ones; they turn up late, badmouth the support acts, moan to the promoter about the colour of the walls. Acting like a tool is the quickest and easiest way to alienate yourself in your local scene, and you’ll soon find gig offers start drying up.
Instead, show a bit of humility and respect. Ask the support bands what they’re into musically, where they’re from, what gear they use. Make yourself available to offer support or advice to the band of 15-year olds whose dad dropped them off at the gig in his battered estate car. A friendly attitude will pay off in the long run.
This concept of positivity extends to the venue staff too. Remember, the sound man at the venue is your friend and should be treated with respect. He or she has the power to make your amazing band sound horrendous with but a few ‘accidentally-on-purpose’ nudges of his desk.
Once your show is over, stick around and listen to the other bands. Dance, head bang, cheer and be merry. Make yourself, and your bandmates, into people who others want to have around.
There’s a couple of schools of thought over your mental preparation before you step onto the stage. For some, the inevitable nervousness should be embraced and enjoyed. Getting up on a stage and exposing yourself to the opinions of complete strangers isn’t something we do every day and shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, almost everyone will experience some kind of nerves before a show, so don’t let it worry you, and let the stress compel you into playing the show of your life.
The other school of thought involves simply trying to relax. You know the songs, you trust your bandmates, what could possibly go wrong…
8. Tuner manoeuvre
So, you’re up on the stage, it looks a lot smaller when you’re up there, and everyone is looking at you. It’s boiling hot, the lights are burning the retinas from your eyes, and your mates keep mock-chanting your name. Ignore it. Ignore it all. You’re there to do a job. Switch on your amp, pick up your guitar or bass and…wait…TUNE UP. There we go with those capital letters again, but it’s true. If you are out of tune, you will sound terrible. It really is that simple. Seriously, what’s the point of waxing wads of cash on decent quality, road-worthy gear then not spending out on a reliable tuner. Anyone with a pair of functioning ears can tell when your instrument is out of tune. And, if it is, that is what they’ll take away with them.
Basic gig etiquette decrees the following; yes, tuning up between songs should be done silently. Yes, feedback can be musical, but can also make your audience cry. Yes, you’ve got a solo, but the band is bigger than the individual so stop showboating. Yes, you should thank the audience, support acts, sound man, your mum. No, cheesy shout-outs are not ironic and cool. No, we don’t want to see your bare chest.
10. Enjoy it!
Bit pithy we know, but it’s true. We play music because we like it. Nobody is forcing a gun against your head and ordering you on-stage, so try and at least look like you’re having fun. Nobody cares if you miss a note or fluff a riff. If you have a genuine smile/grin/war face throughout, people will forgive a lot of basic errors.
And, once it’s done, acknowledge the crowd, look like you’re grateful, and get the hell off the stage so the next band can begin setting up.
Get the gear
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Check out our 10 First Gig Essentials for Guitarists and you’ll be on your way to success in no time.
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Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.