Several years ago, when I was working with David Nordschow at Eden, I was responsible for moderating the forum on the Eden web site. One of the things we did there was to create a list of tips to help bands have better gigs.
These tips are presented in no particular order, but I do recommend you seriously consider all of them. I can tell you that I do my best to follow pretty much ALL of them at every gig, small or large. To be honest, it’s one of the ways I’ve kept myself working over the years. Everyone – band leaders, promoters, club owners, managers and staff, and technical personnel – have all shown appreciation for my professionalism, and it’s gotten me a lot of work over the years. If you plan to ever play in public, this is a great list to memorize.
So… on to the tips!
Be cool with your band – show up on time, bring the right size rig for the room, know your tunes (ask for help if you don’t), leave your issues in the car, don’t be drunk before the gig, and help with load-out before you continue drinking.
Be cool with the club – learn the soundman’s (and monitor engineer’s) name, and address them with respect, (because they are your new best friends), take care of the waitstaff- you ate and drank for free or discounted, so tip bigger than you normally would (the $5 you leave them means much more to them than you), and don’t play rockstar and trash the green room.
Be cool to the listening public – again, address them with respect, even if they are drunk and berate you for not playing their favorite cover songs.
Be cool to yourself – play tastefully, play solidly (it’s a word now), have fun, and do the best you can. Not to get cosmic, but play each gig like it’s your last. And be happy you have someplace to play that night. Lots of cats don’t.
Reality check #1 – You wonder if the audience is hearing you clearly, so you wait until you’re doing a solid groove during someone’s solo and you look around the audience.
If they’re watching the soloist, but their heads are bobbing to the rhythm of what you’re playing, you’re being accurately heard, and you’re doing your job.
If they’re bobbing their heads, but watching you, you’re being heard way too clearly, and you’re not doing your job.
If they’re watching the soloist, but their heads aren’t bobbing, either you’re not doing your job, or you’re not being heard clearly. You decide which.
Reality check #2 – You go down for a break and several people in the audience tell you how well you play.
You’re way too loud, or the stuff you’re playing is either inappropriate for the music you’re playing, or way too busy. Average people don’t have a clue what the bass player is doing if they’re doing their job properly. They just think the band is “awesome” because it’s so tight.
Be prepared – There is no such thing as being overprepared. As John Wooden put it, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Expect adversity and be prepared to adapt – Rare is the gig that goes smoothly, either for you or the band or the logistics. Rarer still is a gig that goes perfectly. Songs will get muffed in all kinds of ways, you won’t be able to hear one or more of the instruments (maybe your bass!) well or at all, your strap may break – whatever it may be, play through it. And smile through it all (at least with your eyes, I don’t mean a goofy grin). Fake it if you have to – but you shouldn’t have to very often. No one in the audience cares about the adversity the band is going through, and we all know most don’t even notice what we consider huge gaffes.
A list of tips for small gigs:
After you arrive at the club (you did arrive early, right?) ask to talk to the person in charge. It is always good to introduce yourself and go over the ground rules (security\crowd control, emergency situations, bar tab\allowance, band volume, over PA annoucements from club personell or band, ‘bar brawl’ rules – ‘do we stop playing when told or on our own’, and who will pay whom at the end of the gig and the correct amount). It is a business transaction and should be treated as such. It’s a classy move that will get your band more gigs.
Before moving anything (like tables, video games, TV’s, etc.), ask the guy in charge.
When the gig is over and your gear is packed, make sure the stage (if any) and anything you may have moved is put back. It sounds basic but it can go along way in getting you more gigs.
Always assume the power in a club is: A) Poor quality, noisy, and possibly lower in voltage. And, B) Not enough plugs near the performance area! Prepare accordingly.
A list of tips for larger gigs:
Introduce yourself to the Stage Manager (SM), Monitorland Engineer (ME), & Front Of House (FOH) Engineer if at all possible. The SM should be able to answer most of your non-audio questions and be able to communcate where you need to be & when to be there.
Never play when anyone is near your rig. Nothing upsets an engineer faster than a blast to their ear drums form an over zealous bassist. Leave that stuff for drummers!
When asking for monitoring adjustments, be calm and clear about what you want. ‘More kick’ means different things to us all so give the ME a little slack if he doesn’t get it right the first time. Also, give him some time to get to your requests. He’s got alot to do.
When FOH engineer asks you to play…just play. No need to ask him ‘what’ to play. Play at the volume and most of the intesity you will play during show time.
When the FOH or the ME ask you to turn down your amp, just do it. A little at a time until everyone is happy and then do not change the volume again. Although it may sound cool to you and your bandmates to rumble the stage, high stage volumes can make the sound crew’s job more diificult.
When the FOH asks you to stop playing, stop & remained stopped!
When doing a sound check, don’t ask about ‘your tone & how it should sound’. Discuss your tonal concerns after sound check but don’t expect to ‘tell’ these guys how to do their job. It will only upset them to be dictated to. The end result will be be a terrible bass tone in the house.
If you have a trusted friend listening to sound check, make sure they don’t upset the FOH guys either with their uninvited concerns on sound\mix quality in an empty arena. These guys are hired to know what they are doing. Tell your friends to stay quiet.
The whole load in & sound check ordeal is nothing but a process. Once you get on these 3 folks’ good side, you will: Get a great front of house mix, great stage monitong and quick adjustments during the show, and a great reputation of being prefessional band that knows what they are doing.
Be Prepared #1 Find a direct box or lightweight preamp that you like, and keep it in your gig bag. If the worst happens with your amp, you’ll get a better result and have more control using the direct than going straight into the board.
Be Prepared #2 Bring clothespins or some kind of clip to hold down charts under windy conditions.
Be Prepared #3 Have a selection of all kinds of different adapters – RCA – TRS, Mini 1/8″ to 1/4″ etc, etc. You just never know when you need to cobble together a rig with just the stuff in your collective gig bags.
Be Prepared #4 – If the venue is not familiar and it’s not a dedicated music club, at least bring an extension cord and power strip (I thought you would bring one…No, I thought you would bring one).
Arrive on time – Figure out how long it will take to drive to the gig, then add a minimum of 15 minutes for unexpected delays (longer if it’s a long drive). Then, add another fifteen minutes just because.
Be nice to the staff – They can be your best friends or your worst enemies.
Always bring your own amp to a gig – You’ve paid good money for that stuff. Use it and save yourself the stress of not knowing what you’ll sound like that day.
Bring spares – At the very least, show up for a gig with spare strings, strap, cables, and batteries. A spare bass, amp, and even cabinet if you can swing it. The paying folks don’t care that you broke a string, they want you to play.
Don’t diss the sound crew – Vail Johnson, long-time bassist for Kenny G, has a great article in recent issue of Bass Player titled “Sound men are not servants”. Read it and heed it.
Expectations: You need to get at least two of three things out of any gig. Money, connections, fun. How you split the balance between these three is up to you. But realize that while it’s nice to get all three, sometimes you only get two of them.
Play to the gig – If you’re hired to do an old style R’n’B gig, play like Duck Dunn or Willie Weeks, not Billy Shehann or Tim Bogert. If you think your really hip Marcus Miller/Victor Wooten double thumb lick will fit perfectly in the middle of the guitar solo in “Under The Double Eagle” you may be right, but you’re probably wrong.
Bad gigs happen – It’s not that you have a bad gig, it’s both what you do to make it as good as possible, and what you take away from the experience to make it less likely for it to happen again.
Don’t drink and drive – ‘Nuff said.
Practice playing in different positions – to learn how to play with a broken string (in case you forget to bring back-up strings, bass, etc.) I have only broken a few strings in my life, but I have never needed to stop to replace it. I continued to play because I knew my way around the whole fretboard, not just the part of the fretboard I usually played our tunes in. It sounds ridiculous, but the show must go on. As JTE said,”The paying folks don’t care that you broke a string, they want you to play.” I bring this up because I had to loan my bass to a young player at a gig recently who would not continue playing when he broke a string (on a 5-string no less). I could have been a jerk and refused, but I let him borrow it anyway (only after I told him to bring back-up in the future).
Hear what they hear – Use a long cable or a wireless to get away from your amp. Hear what your bandmates and the audience hear and adjust EQ or volume accordingly. You may even discover your singer is standing in a bass node (a really bad thing).
Got a light? – Lights are easy to over look at outdoor night gigs without professional PA support.
Know how to play Happy Birthday – it’s trickier than you think. It only takes a few minutes to get it down correctly, and it will sound SO much better than barely getting through it. (NOTE: I do a Blues shuffle version, and the audience loves it. You might also learn other Birthday appropriate songs, such as the Beatles Birthday.)
Emergency Tools – Other than the essential bass equipment, a leatherman can be very handy. It used to be my toolbox on the road, and it fits in your pocket.
The most essential non-bass equipment is the almighty TOWEL! – A lesson from Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe. A towel will most dutifully wipe your sweat off your head, strings, bass and human neck as well as clean up spills on your amp and on the stage so you don’t fall while trying to be a rock star.
Get a cheap microphone – At private parties people, especially drunk girls, think they own you for the night and therefore can make announcements or just be annoying over your mics. A cheap mic on hand is good for that application. They can drop it and you don’t care.
Bring a cheap CD player – Some people hiring a band for a private event expect you to play background music when not performing. Know this up front and plan accordingly.
Consider this question: How do you handle the guy at the party that stands right by you and when the song ends asks to play guitar, bass, or drums. Or, he has a representative who says, “yo, you guys are good…hey, my cousin is a wicked drummer, etc….” Knowing how you’ll deal with this beforehand can save you a lot of hassle.
And there you have it – a quick list of great tips to help you have a better gig. If you have a tip not listed, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.
By the way, I’d like to point out that this is all part of what I mean when I say,
Aim High – Play Low!
Was this lesson helpful? Let me know in the comments below. And feel free to ask questions! Share it with your friends using the tiles below, and hit the LIKE button if you’re of a mind! ~ Lane