Even if your organizational skill matches your amazing musical skill, there eventually will be a gig that was predestined to humble you. We’ve all been there looking frantically through a gig bag hoping that the “one” thing that is desperately needed will magically appear, that another musician will have it in their bag or a music store is right next door. Either way, you either have to make do, succumb to failure or forever owe someone for saving the night.
There is a simple way to avoid the stress, have a great show and sometimes be the one that is owed the favor. Be prepared. Not just a motto for the Boy Scouts it is a mark of a truly professional musician.
Preparation starts with a healthy dose of mild paranoia tempered by a “what can go wrong that I can fix” mentality. Hurricanes, sinkholes or falling ceilings are not in your purview. Bad cables, blown amps and broken strings are.
So let’s keep it real, or in better words, let’s keep it portable. Portable can vary depending on strength of back and transportation. Regardless, there are some items that are must haves for every professional.
- A Good Power Strip with a built in breaker of appropriate rating for your rig
- Grounded Extension Cord - heavy duty enough to do the job but packable
- Ground Lift – you may find yourself in a club with 1950s wiring
- Instrument cables – One long and One short (minimum) – a third backup cable is easy to carry
- Quality XLR, speaker cables and backups to any specialty cable you use
- An extra amplifier power cable – you are playing an amplified instrument, no power, no play
- Extra strings – no explanation needed, strings break
- Electronic tuner with an easy to see display that is silent when tuning
- Fuses for anything in your rig that uses them
- Direct box – in case the extra power cord and the fuses don’t fix the amp
- Extra picks and some blue-tack, have spare picks handy when you lose one without missing a beat
- Gaffers tape or stage tape, zip ties and hair bungies (or rubber bands) – when you have to “rig” a fix or just keep that cable from tripping you
- Batteries and backup batteries for everything that needs them in your kit even if can use a supply
- Tuner cleaner or electronics cleaner – a small can, can itch that scratch
- Spare pedal – a budget backup could save your night.
- Multi-tool and hex keys – a multi tool gives you everything from a tape knife to a string cutter
- Extra strap – nothing fancy, a cheap backup could save you.
- Extra instrument – plug and play, restring between sets
- Backup Amplifier - if space permits or driving yourself
- Pocket flashlight – you will use it more than you expect
- Fine point Sharpie – it will write on anything and is perfectly capable of writing a set list
- Spare tubes – carry tubes in matched sets; these are easy enough to swap out if needed and you can get through one gig without re-biasing
- Switch tips – take up no room in the bag and easily replaced
- Nail clippers and file (if your multi-tool doesn’t have one)
- Bridge pins- easy to lose when changing that broken string, easier to pack
- Drum Key – yes the drummer forgot it
- Tea bags, instant soup, and cough drops – someone is always working on a cold or a sore throat
- Wet wipes, tissue paper and old lint free towels
- Basic First Aid – band aids, antibiotic cream, sanitizer, alcohol wipes and q-tips – small kit is easy to pack
- Energy Bars – sometimes you don’t have time to eat and this will keep your energy up
- Bug Wipes – don’t use spray, if it gets on your vintage guitar it could ruin the finish
- Ear plugs- always asked for by someone and never brought.
- Extra shirt and deodorant if you don’t need it the drummer will
- Drink bottles and electrolyte drink mix – especially if you are singing
- Soldering Iron and solder
I know what you are thinking, “how can I pack all that?” The list is long, but except for the cables, most of the essentials take up little space. Finding a good quality bag and using the travel size of the toiletry items makes transporting all this easier. Organizing small items in zip lock bags and labeling them with your always handy sharpie keeps them close at hand. Winding gaffers tape on your drink bottle keeps tape handy and saves weight.
Also you can organize an extra small bag if you often play gigs that have backline and you don’t need to bring the big bag out. Being prepared you can have the small bag packed with essentials like picks, strings, toiletries and tools etc. This also gives you a backup to your backup in the back of the car.
If you drive to most of your gigs have a small, affordable amp head that can be stored in your ride. Heck, you never know when you or someone else may need it.