I wrote an article recently about how to prepare for gigs. I thought I’d take this one step further and outline what goes down at a gig and some tips you can follow. I learnt the good old fashioned hard way when it comes to playing bad gigs and in my experience, the cause of a bad gig is mostly due to bad planning as well as a few other things which I’ll explain. Luckily for you, you can take my advice which I learnt the hard way and apply it to your first gig and start your gigging career off the right way. Here’s a list of tips for your first gig.
Contact The Venue In Advance
Contact the venue the day before just to make sure you are still on and nothing has happened like change of ownership, bankruptcy, floods, double bookings, etc, so you aren’t making an unnecessary trip.
Be On Time
Be on time, or better, be early, allow more time for your journey to the venue, allow for getting lost. Best option is to plot out your journey to the venue using google maps before the time. That way you’ll have an idea of where you’re going and have much less chance of being late. Lateness is one of the biggest causes of a bad impression and in order to avoid this, coming early to a gig or to soundcheck is always better in the long run. Plus it gives you an opportunity to network with the venue owners and other bands.
I say this with two exclamation points because it is so underrated and almost always overlooked, especially by new bands. Stage lights make your band look epic!If the venue doesn’t have stage lights, then you will definitely need your own. No matter how good you are, you won’t look good if you are shrouded in darkness. The new LED lights are by far the easiest to handle. I remember the old days of using stage lights with bulbs in. When you are packing up you need to leave them about half an hour before you can touch them, LED lights are cold to the touch.
Avoid Silly Gimmicks
Smoke machines, strobe lights etc etc. These are unnecessary in the beginning of gigging and rather concentrate on the music and on playing a good gig as a band first. Venue owners tend to dislike these gimmicks too. Once you’ve established your band and built a fan base, you can start introducing these gimmicks in a tasteful way. If the gimmicks are your bands gimmick then go for it! These tips don’t apply to all bands, just some advice for you guys after years of experience from my side.
Communicate With The Audience
One thing that a lot of bands don’t think about prior to playing their first gig is fronting the show. You may be great at playing your songs, but can you talk/communicate with your audience. There are very few natural front people, I have worked with just three natural front people in all of my years of playing. If you don’t have a front person who can just think of the most witty things to say off the cuff, it would pay to work out a script for the entire show, even down to exactly what you will say between songs, word for word, and learn it. At least you won’t spend an entire song worrying about what you will say once the song is finished (trust me, I’ve been there).
Carry Spares For As Many Things As Possible
Prepare for the worst as the saying goes.Try and carry spares for as many things as possible, think of all possible things that could go wrong, what would you do if such and such happened/broke down? I would always use plug banks with surge protection built in, just in case the electrical system at the club isn’t up to scratch, you really don’t want to get electrocuted while playing your show. Things like spare guitar strings, spare drumsticks, guitar picks, guitar straps, power supplies, multi plugs, adapters the list goes on. These things fail and the last thing you want is for your gig to not happen because of a geal malfunction.
Check The Sound Limiter
Beware of the traffic light sound limiter systems, when you first set up, and before you power up your amplifiers (especially if they are valve amps) get the drummer to play as loud as he can, hit the snare drum hard. Then look towards the back of the room, if you see a series of lights (Red, Amber, Green) be warned, this is a sound limiter. If the light stays on red for too long (it could only be a few seconds) the power to the stage is cut. One minute you could be rocking along, the next all you can hear is the drums as the limiter shuts off your gear. This is a pain in itself, but the worst is yet to come. As the limiter then realises the sound has reduced the lights go back to amber and green, and the power returns as a surge to the stage. This process has wrecked many an amplifier, and I’m not even sure if you are insured for the repairs. It possibly results in you not being able to continue. Some clubs will assist in helping you find alternative off stage power so always carry long power extension reels they will be invaluable to you. In the UK I haven’t seen these system very often in pubs and bars, they tend to be found mainly in working mens clubs, I don’t know if these systems exist in other countries, but it certainly is worth checking out.
When you have set up your gear, it’s time for the soundcheck, this is your chance to get your levels balanced so you’ll sound good out front, and also to make sure you can hear yourselves on stage. Bear in mind that when you start your soundcheck in an empty room the sound will be very different when (and if) the room fills up with people. Bodies are great at soaking up sound. You will also find that you will sound differently in different rooms. I prefer rooms with curtains, carpet and soft furnishings because it deadens the sound more, and makes it more controllable. Hard rooms with wooden floors, glass, hard seating are harder to control the sound as the acoustic quality of the room will make the sound bounce and may give you all kinds of feedback problems, but the drums usually sound great in a hard room, so it really is a balancing act.
Don’t Be Too Loud
Try not to be too loud, I hate it when you’ve set up, sound checked, it sounds great, you begin your show, then the boss of the venue asks you to turn it down, and your carefully balanced sound then goes out of the window, as each of you try and turn your amp down by the same amount (and invariably fail to do so), it’s a nightmare.
Play Background Music Between Sets
Bring an ipod / mp3 player and a lead to connect to your PA and load it with songs that are different to your set list, but are in the same genre as the music you play so you can provide your own background music for before you go on and during your breaks. The venue may have their own background music, some venues don’t. It would be quite a shock to an audience to go from silence to that heavy metal Motorhead number at full volume. Start your background music playing reasonably low, then gradually turn it up prior to starting your set, that will condition your audiences ears to the volume you will be playing at.
Pack Up Properly
When packing up and loading the vehicles at the end of the gig (also applies when you first arrive), be extra vigilant. Any band I’ve played with that’s 3 piece and upwards we work a rota system for loading the vehicles, at any one time one person is always out watching the vehicles, one is in the venue with the gear, and one is traveling with gear. I had a bass guitar stolen after a gig some years ago. I was gutted and I’d hate that to happen to you.
At the end of every gig, when all the gear is safely packed and loaded, I always go back in and search across the area where we’ve just played, we call it the “idiot check” just to make sure we haven’t left anything behind.
I you haven’t found a gig yet, perhaps take a look at my “how to find gigs for your band” post as it might help you greatly. If you’ve got a gig for your band but not sure how to get people there, check out my “How to promote your gig” post.