Whether you are a professional musician, an aspiring student or someone who plays for fun, chances are that sooner or later you’ll want to find a gig. Perhaps you were invited to play a top venue or you were called to fill in for a pro band for the first time. Maybe you were asked to play for a friend’s wedding or lead worship for your congregation at church. Wherever you are invited to play there is always one thing that most gigs have in common: you’re expected to show up ready to play. Of course there is another thing far too many gigs have in common: unexpected challenges that could ruin your show. If you have ever found yourself in the embarrassing situation of being caught unprepared, you probably vowed you wouldn’t let it happen the next time! But you probably also know that eventually you’ll have to face the unknown. So what can we do as musicians to make sure we’re ready to handle whatever comes our way? Here are five things you must bring to every gig if you want to be successful.
Okay, I know this sounds ridiculously obvious, but forgotten gear might be the most common cause of gig disasters. You packed up for the gig and didn’t realize that you forgot something back at the rehearsal studio that you can’t live without. When it happens to one of the other players in the band it might make you angry until you remember you were the one that blew it the last time! Just to be sure nothing gets left behind, you want to carefully pack everything you need ahead of time (make a checklist if necessary) and put it all together in one pile separate from everything else in the room. Do it the day before or at the end of your last rehearsal when you can afford to really take your time and get it right. When you arrive to load in your equipment on the day of the show it will be easy to get everything in that pile and have confidence you didn’t miss something small but important. Is this a good time to consider if you can get through the rest of a song if your guitar breaks a string? Now you’re getting the idea! This writer keeps a separate set of equipment packed and set aside just for gigs to prevent leaving something in the studio. If you have the gear to do it, this might be a smart option. At the very least you need to show up with one complete set of gear. This extra step can really go a long way towards preventing delays at setup which could affect your show (or rattle you before a big performance). It also would be a good excuse to pick up a lightweight portable Carvin amplifier like the BX700 or the V3M as a backup!
An Emergency Bag
In the same way you want to bring all of your main equipment, you should also have a separate bag with backups for your most critical equipment and that which is most prone to breaking. Start with one reliable backup cable of each kind you use on stage (hint: “new cables” are not reliable *until* you test them). Since you can always substitute a longer cable for a shorter one, carry a nice long instrument cable, a microphone cable, a speaker cable, an AC power cable, and an extra extension cord. Rather than use dangerous “cheater plugs” to lift the ground on your amplifier to stop it from buzzing, keep an instrument cable marked with the ground disconnected on one end. If you have the solder skills, you can connect the ground in the cable with 100 ohm resistor and a 0.01uF capacitor. This will make the cable work like a ground lift switch. When you have a connection with a ground-loop issue (120 Hz hum), try this special ground-lifted cable to eliminate the ground loop without defeating your amplifier’s safety ground system! Note: this will not work for your guitar if the ground is disconnected in the cable, because the signal needs an alternate ground path. It may not work for many other cases also, but when it does you can go on with the show.
Toss in other show stopping essentials like: a spare mic, extra guitar and bass strings (and tools to change them fast), backup power adapters for effects and synthesizers that have proprietary power supplies, a small tool kit with a multi-tool or screwdrivers and wrenches etc., a soldering kit with a quality iron and solder, a bright flashlight with fresh batteries, a tuner (yes everyone in the band has one but you will want one right there with the strings in an emergency), extra tubes for those amps that need them, guitar picks, a nail file or fresh emery board, and a compact, well-stocked first aid kit. If you really want to amaze your friends include an AC outlet tester ($7 at the hardware store) so you can make sure the stage wiring is safe. Carvin Audio’s AC120S Power Conditioner can be a good investment to protect your equipment too. If your regular gear was checked and tested, this bag can probably backstop the whole band pretty effectively. Besides, the extra peace of mind will allow you to relax and focus on what’s important- playing at your very best from the downbeat.
Read part 2 of this article to learn three more things you should bring to every gig. What items do you always bring to your gigs? Tell us in the comments.
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Practice the Art of Being a Team Player
In the same way that learning the other players' parts will help you to fit in well, so too will learning to become a team player. Any guitarist can tell you that your amp sounds great when it's shaking the rafters. But if you crank up indiscriminately, it makes it hard for the other musicians to play at their best. Remember, they need to be able to hear as well. So, when they tell you they need you to adjust your volume, try to accommodate them to the extent possible. A good stage mix allows the whole band to hear not only themselves, but all the other parts as well. It does not require the ultimate guitar tone; that is essential out front, but it isn't always the top priority on stage.
In this article, you will learn how to focus your efforts on the areas you need to improve the most, and we will see how important it can be to see the 'big picture' when playing in a band. Last time, we learned some effective practice strategies, but how do you know which areas in which to invest your time? How can you improve your ability to "see" where you are taking your music?
If you are really serious about becoming the best musician that you can be, it makes good sense to cultivate habits that will help you achieve your goal, rather than hinder you. In this series, we will learn seven habits that will help you become a better musician. There is a lot to learn when mastering a musical instrument, but these basic principles will help you achieve success more easily, and they apply no matter which instrument you play.