This article has been written for those of you who have your
first gig on the horizon. You have already stepped out of the
bedroom and into the big wide world of performing music and
someone in your band has booked your first gig in a local club.
Every gig has something to teach us about performing, but what if you haven't had the experience? This list will hopefully give you some pointers as to what you should expect from yourself and from your band. It comes from my own experience and will hopefully make this gig as enjoyable as the ones to come.
The better you can prepare for the gig, the more enjoyable and less nerve racking it will be. There is no feeling better than going into a gig knowing that you know your part and that the band are tight and well rehearsed. It is well worth hiring the largest rehearsal room out at your local studio to go through the whole set as you would play it on stage. There should be no breaks and no fixing of any mistakes. You should also get used to hearing yourselves using stage monitors. The sound you will get on-stage will be very different to what you are used to in the rehearsal room.
If you can do this two or three times before the gig, you should have no problems at all when the time comes. Most mistakes are caused by nerves, and nerves are caused by fear of making a mistake in public. Playing the set as you would play it on stage is the only way to train yourself and your band in knowing what to expect. There is a world of difference between running through numbers at your own pace in a rehearsal room and running through them one after another on stage. You won't be able to do take a break for a chat on stage, so don't do it at the rehearsal.
Every guitar change or keyboard patch change should be noted so that the front man knows when he must speak to the audience to give the player the time he needs. If your front man won't speak to the audience (and some won't), someone else must step up to the job. Their words should be prepared before hand so that they have some idea of what to say. This should also be incorporated in the last rehearsal before the gig. It doesn't matter what he/she says, the audience's attention will be directed away from the guitar player struggling to change guitars, check his tuning or put the capo on in the right place.
Use the night before the gig to check all of your equipment thoroughly. Make sure that all the batteries in your fx pedals are fresh and that you have spare ones if needed. Check all your leads for breaks or badly soldered joints. Ensure that the fuses in your amps are not blown and that the valves are not degrading. Try to imagine something that could go wrong and guard against it. Take a soldering iron to the gig along with some electrical tape. You might not have a problem but you could bet that someone else will. I have seen a PA engineer that I once hired try to repair his mixing desk minutes before the gig was due to start, using two matches held together as a poor substitute for the soldering iron he failed to bring!
A well packed gig bag will make your set up on stage 70% easier. Put the things you need to set up first in the bag last. Don't put your guitar leads on top of guitar stands, they will only get tangled when you try to get the stands out. Try to follow a set method of setting your equipment up at your rehearsals; it will pay dividends when you get on a badly lit stage and try to fumble in your bag for that spare patch lead.
Make a list of all the pieces of equipment in your gig bag and think of the ways they can fail. Leads can start to break the signal up without warning, so take a spare one. Patch leads can do the same so take at least 3 extra ones. Guitar strings can break in the sound check so always have 2 spare packets. Take spare batteries, capos, bottlenecks, guitar straps and fuses for the amps. Put together a 'tool kit' consisting of different sizes of screwdrivers, tape, pliers, wire cutters, penknife, solder and anything else you use on a 'from time to time' basis. A small torch will save you no amount of headaches when you are trying to find something on stage, or when you have to take the scratchplate off of your Telecaster 5 minutes before you are due to go on stage to fix a broken wire on the jack socket.
Please resist the temptation to settle your nerves by taking a shot of Jack Daniel's or Tequila, it will only make things worse and give your band members the wrong impression. If you are serious about your performance, you should treat it as a professional engagement and act accordingly. Your nerves will disappear the moment you get on stage and start to play.
If any member of the band makes a mistake, don't look at him or other members of the band. Most audiences won't notice mistakes unless attention is drawn to them. Make a policy of backing up your fellow band members if they are having some kind of problem. If you in doubt about what comes next in a song, don't play!! If you are playing original material, the odds are immediately stacked in your favor as the audience won't know the songs anyway and will accept any arrangement as your own. Generally, you will notice the mistakes and the audience won't; don't show them that you have.
If you give the impression that you are enjoying yourself on stage, it will rub off onto the audience. They will laugh with you and they will spur you on when you are soloing if you seem to be giving it your all. It only takes one crowd member to get up and dance to get the others going. If one of your band members takes a good solo, acknowledge him with a nod of the head or a yell; it is a great lift to get appreciation from someone on stage with you.
Your first gig may be a very strange experience. The time will just fly and you will be so wrapped up in what you are doing that you won't have the time to think about anything else. Many times, you will be sharing the bill with two or even three other bands that are also making their first public performance. The time in-between sets will be hectic and confusing, as equipment is shuttled on and off the stage. Some equipment may be mislaid or damaged if you are not careful. Don't let sound engineers bully you into hastily packing away your equipment, or throwing them into a dark corner of the stage you can't get at. If you have practiced taking down your equipment at reheasal, you won't need to worry.
Copyright Dale Churchett © 1995. All Rights Reserved.