Playing in the Band

So, you want to see if you’ve got what it takes to make it on stage. Before you head out for the limelight, let’s make sure you’re ready, ok?

Playing in a band is about more than making good music. After all, even though we say we play music, we call it the music business. In order to be successful, you’ll need to be business-like in your approach to playing live. What follows are the basics of approaching live performance in a business-like manner. Learn these simple guidelines and you stand a much better chance of being asked back to the club you’re about to storm.

A band leader once offered this sage advice: “if you can show up on time, stay in tune and not get too drunk, you’ll play as often as you want.” While it’s not quite that simple, these are three things that are of paramount importance so let’s look at them first.

Be on Time
This is a no-brainer. Show up to the gig no later than load-in time. If possible, leave for the gig somewhat early in case of traffic, car trouble or a hold-up at your favorite convenience store. Fill up your tank before you head out on a long drive so you don’t run out of gas on that long, lonely road. If you get to the gig early, always check with the staff before loading in. Sometimes there are strict times set aside for loading equipment.


The Stomp Classic, one of many tuning products available from Peterson Tuners.

Stay in Tune
Another no-brainer. If you don’t have a tuner, buy one now. At the very least, tune before each set. If possible, run your tuner as part of your rig so you can check tuning between songs if need be. It won’t matter how fast you can play, or how many bassists you can sound like if your G string is always a quarter step flat.

Stay Sober
Or, at the very least, relatively so. If you want to party with your friends and get sloppy drunk, invite them over to your basement and play/drink to your heart’s content. But if you’re playing for an audience, they didn’t come to see you make a fool of yourself. And your band mates aren’t going to be impressed with the way you missed every chorus of every song. Unless they’re drunk, too. In which case you’re in the wrong band.

Once you’ve committed yourself to the three keys, as I call them, you can move on to the next items.

Old Car

It doesn't have to be pretty, but it does need to be reliable.

Have Transportation
Your car should not be on its last legs, leaving you (and others) to worry about whether you can actually make it to the gig. Also, it never hurts to have some brake fluid, transmission fluid, a quart or two of oil, etc. in case something happens at 2 in the morning. You do want to get home, don’t you?

Maintain Your Gear
Your bass, amp and accessories are your tools. You wouldn’t expect a carpenter to show up at your house with faulty tools. Why should you show up to a gig with sub-par equipment? If anything is broken, fix it. If it needs maintenance, get it done. No excuses. This is your livelihood.

Get Your Gig Bag Together
A gig bag holds all your cords, spare parts, strings, etc. If you don’t have one already, get one and fill it up.

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Be Nice
You might think it’s cool to have a snotty attitude with your friends. And if they’ll tolerate it without breaking your nose, no problem. But the staff at clubs, concert halls, etc., aren’t your friends. They don’t think you’re cool. They see twenty or thirty bands a month and, believe me, you probably don’t impress them. (They can be very jaded, ok? It isn’t always your fault.) Treat staff courteously. Use please, thank you, may I, could you help me and other respectful phrases. You and your band have a much better chance of being asked back for a future gig if you learn to treat people with respect – even if they don’t deserve it.

Happy PeopleDo What the Boss Tells You
And do it without argument. Set the drums up in the bathroom? Sure, no problem. Turn all the amps down? OK, how’s this? First and foremost, you have to please the person handing you the money. So stop crying and get it done. Afterwards, if the gig was a nightmare and the money didn’t make it worth the trouble, don’t play there again. And do other bands you know a favor by warning them.

Set a Clean Stage
Like it or not, live performance is a visual medium, as much as it is about the music. Your stage should be as clean and organized as possible. Group cords together whenever possible. Hide the drum and guitar cases. Use black Gaffer’s Tape instead of silver duct tape. Once set up is complete, step back into the room and look at your stage. Is anything out of place? If so, fix it now.

Dress Like You Mean It
Obviously, in certain styles, this is going to be a very fine distinction. However, there is a difference between the dirty, ragged jeans you wore when loading in and the ragged jeans with the strategic holes you wear during your performance. Your band should have a unified look; not uniforms (unless you’re on the show circuit) but coordinated. If one member is all slicked up, another is in jeans and the third in shorts and no shirt, you run the risk of looking amateurish. Get your act together and dress like you’re a band, not a bunch of know-nothings that just walked in off the street

Get Out Fast
Once your gig is over, get out and go home. That cute bartender really doesn’t want to stick around an extra hour while you get drunk, tell her lies, and hit on her. Sure, take a few minutes to catch your breath. Then, pack your stuff and load it out. Then, and only then, can you sit down and have a nightcap. If the staff gives even the slightest signal that you’ve overstayed your welcome, smile, thank them, and say goodnight.

These are the bare minimum requirements for acting professionally. And, if you want to be a professional musician, you’d better get used to them. If you aren’t willing to be business-like, don’t expect anyone to do business with you. On the other hand, there are countless bands playing several nights a week that aren’t outstanding musicians. They play well enough to get by. And they make up for their lack of musical ability by being consummate professionals. How wonderful it will be for you if you can do both extremely well.

Aim High – Play Low!


Was this article helpful or inspiring? What other subjects would you like me to cover? Leave a comment below to tell me. And don’t forget to LIKE it, OK? Thanks! ~ Lane

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