November 20, 2016
In our previous article, Five Things You Must Bring to the Gig: Part 1, we talked about your gear and an emergency bag. In this article we cover 3 more things you must bring to your gigs to ensure you have a successful performance.
Onstage Essentials So You Can Perform at Your Best
These are whatever things you need to keep everyone at their best during the show. It might be as simple as assigning somebody to make sure everyone has water right before you go on or as needed during the set. Maybe your drummer needs a dry towel to keep their hands from getting slick under the hot lights or someone in the band is asthmatic and needs an inhaler on hand. Van Halen became infamous because their tour rider specified they required two pounds of M&Ms backstage with all the brown ones removed (back then you could only buy them mixed), but years later David Lee Roth revealed the reason was if they saw someone went to the trouble of sorting the M&Ms then the management had actually read the tour rider. Just like your emergency bag, once you take the time to make a list of what you need it will be much easier to ensure all of these things actually make it to the gig.
A Plan for the Show
Think back to the last time you went to see a band and they kept stopping after every song to discuss what to do next. Or they didn’t seem to choose the right songs at the right time because they didn’t have a set list. Maybe one of the musicians had to wave off a song they weren’t ready for, or they had to stop the band to adjust their settings before the song could start. You wouldn’t want to undermine the excitement you generated with a great opener by leaving dead air in the middle of your set, and you certainly wouldn’t want to run out of time and have to skip a really great song either. Come prepared and knowing exactly what you intend to play (and in which order) and the whole band will be confident enough to roll one song after another like professional performing artists. Other things you should do to plan ahead might include visiting the venue in advance, so you know exactly how to get there, look into what electrical power is available and what you need to reach it, what type of lighting and sound reinforcement is provided and what you might need to bring to supplement it, which entrance is best to use when loading in, and what time the management prefers you arrive.
A Way to Record Your Performance
While not strictly essential in order to put on a great show this time, making a recording of your show is certainly an investment into making the next show an even bigger success. Professional sports teams make game films every time they go out on the field, because it gives the players a way to learn from both their mistakes and their best moments too. With the proliferation of high quality video recorders on most smart phones and tablets, it really doesn’t make sense to miss out on this incredibly valuable tool. Do some experiments so you know the best place to record from in order to get a good picture and sound. It is less important for the video to look impressive than it is for you to be able to see and hear everything that happened, although going to the trouble to get broadcast quality video could also give you a great tool to market your band. If you really want to seriously invest in getting really good video, try looking into micro-sized sport cams which are getting quite affordable and have HD video capability. You can even stick one right on your guitar for an extreme close-up! Of course getting a good look at your band from an armchair perspective may well send you back to the rehearsal room for some woodshedding. But now that you know how the band is coming across you will be armed with the knowledge of what to focus on and how you want to refine your presentation on stage.
My father used to play with big bands back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. When I was first starting out with a band he told me, “The only excuse for being late for a show is that you’re in the hospital or in jail!” It was an exaggeration and of course we hope those things never happen. But the underlying lesson he was really trying to teach me was that as musicians we are responsible to prepare ourselves to overcome the many unpredictable obstacles which can wreck a great performance. By consolidating the many crucial items you need into a small number of categories you’ll be less likely to forget one of them. The individual items that you choose to include in your five gig essentials will be as unique as your music is. Go to the extra trouble to work out the logistics as carefully as you practiced your instrument and you will be rewarded with many fun and successful shows.
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