PREPARE FOR A GIG
You’ve booked a gig. This is it! The moment your years of learning, practise and rehearsal have been preparing you for. Are you ready?
There are some things you can’t change; it takes time to get good at playing gigs, but the least you can do is give yourself the best possible chance to have a good gig.
So let’s go over what you need to do in order to prepare.
CLICK HERE to download the 'gig-prep' checklist to go through before each show, to make sure you have the best possible chance of having a good gig.
We’ve discussed this before, but it’s so essential it needs reiterating. You need to be well-rehearsed. Mistakes will happen sometimes, it’s just life, but if you know your material you can continue without too much worry.
Here’s what the pro’s do: when something goes wrong, always finish the song. Break a guitar string? Finish the song without it. Miss a beat and come in at the wrong time? Keep playing and adjust, look to your band members for the next cue. Make a mistake? Once is a mistake, play it twice and it’s obvious, play it three times and it’s meant to be played like that. Because here’s the thing: your audience probably won't know you’ve made a mistake unless you stop playing mid-song. The average person will just keep nodding along; they are listening to the overall sound, not analysing your part.
Also, never apologise if you mess up! There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than listening to a musician apologise to a room full of people for missing a chord. No one cares and we didn’t even know you messed up until you told us.
It sounds pretentious but try to rehearse what you say while on stage, or don’t say anything at all. Awkward silences can clear a room; you don’t want to be on stage wondering what to say between songs. I don’t mean you should write a script to recite word for word but unless you are naturally charismatic, either decide what you want to say before the show or let your music do the talking. If you do prepare something to say between songs, write a word or two on the set-list beside the song you want to say it with, as your cue.
If you write a set-list you will always know what’s coming next and how to transition into it. Leave no doubt that you’re meant to be on that stage by having a set-list written up and by knowing the songs like the back of your hand.
Your gear should be maintained and in the best working order it can be. Instrument failure is easily the number one reason musicians have problems at gigs. Whatever instruments and gear you need should have been serviced and tested before your gig - your voice should be warmed up - you should have more than two drumsticks - your instrument leads shouldn’t crackle. You might break a guitar string, either have spare strings and be really fast at changing them, or have a spare guitar. Consider everything that could potentially fail and take steps to minimise the risk.
At some point your gear is going to fail you. It’s ok, everyone will understand. Just continue the best you can, even if you have to borrow someone else’s keyboard and worry about it later.
Show up on time.
Punctuality is important for many reasons, but in this instance it’s another way to give yourself the best chance of a great gig. Being at the venue on-time tells other people that not only are you prepared, you are considerate of their time.
Now the sound engineer doesn’t have to wait for you, the other acts don’t have to wait for you and the audience won’t have to wait for you. You might spend more time waiting than you would like, but it’s not your fault if the gig runs late and you’ve got plenty of time to get yourself ready before the music starts.
What you wear on stage, assuming you are wearing anything at all, is up to you. I’m not going to talk image just yet, the most important thing for now is that your clothing is comfortable and appropriate. You don’t want to be thinking about how constricting or itchy or annoying your clothes are when you’re trying to put on a great performance.
Here's what Linda Gravenites, designer for Janis Joplin, had to say on the subject.
"No matter what it looks like, it has to be at least as comfortable as jeans and a T-shirt. You have to be able to forget it the minute it's on. It has to move and just be able to be forgotten. Because you can't afford to be self-concious and do whatever it is you're supposed to do" - Ellis Amburn - 'Pearl - A Biography Of Janis Joplin'.
That giant wasp mask looks amazing, but can you sing in it? Will your trench-coat be too hot after 10 seconds under stage lights? Can you drum freely in tight jeans? Your audience want to be impressed, but I guarantee your incredible, concentrated performance will do a better job at that than your bondage costume.
Talk to people.
Put on a friendly face, introduce yourself and make conversation with the sound engineer, promoter, bar staff and other acts. Talk to the people who come to see you play. Talk to the people on the door. The more people in the room you are familiar with, the more people there are to give you a smile and pay attention when you’re on stage. It’s a great way to make yourself comfortable and give yourself a confidence boost on the night. It’s also a great way to make new friends and connections in your music scene; you will probably be dealing with these people again at some point.
Find some space.
Preparing yourself mentally is important as well. Find a space to get into gig-mode. This might be a quiet area to yourself outside the venue, or it could be at the bar with your band-mates, the point is to hype yourself up a little so you’re ready to perform in front of people. Most people use this time to double as a warm-up. Vocalists will warm up their voice while focusing on bringing their A-game to the stage.
I like to find a quiet spot to myself where I can warm-up with my drumsticks, do some exercises to warm-up my body, maybe sing to warm-up my voice a little; just get into ‘the zone’. Once I’ve prepped myself I like to find whoever I’m performing with and connect with them before we go on stage together. Use those nerves and turn them into excitement.
Drugs and Alcohol.
This is very important. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, I can only speak from my own experience. People ALWAYS play better when they're sober. You might be a better performer after a few drinks, but your playing will suffer. Sure, you might argue that some of the great musicians of history were epic drug-users, but you aren’t one of the greats are you?
If you’re keen on experimenting with this, get drunk and record a rehearsal. Listen to it when you’re sober and hear how messy your playing will be. That’s how your audience will hear your music at a gig. You might have had a great time, but play drunk at a gig and the audience WILL notice how sloppy you are.