August 27, 2021
Playing music is fun – a lot of fun – and it should be. But what’s not fun is never getting invited back to a venue. Equally not fun is trying to build an act and finding it harder to get gigs over time rather than easier.
If your band has great tunes, you know how to play, and you’ve got great stage presence, you’d think that would be enough, but one thing that a lot of otherwise awesome bands lack is professionalism. Exuding professionalism on stage can work wonders for a career, in more ways than one. Venues and other professionals will be relieved to work with you, gigs won’t be as stressful, and audiences will respond better.
So, here are some tips for becoming a true pro on the stage.
“Fashionably late” isn’t for gigs. Arriving at show time is not only late, it’s hours late. Find out when load in time is, be there a good 15 minutes before that time, and get to work.
Changing your strings 5 minutes before the gig? Wondering what the set list is during sound check? These and a whole list of common habits are big no-nos. Instead, rehearse well and often, plan your show, and do all your gear maintenance before show day. To boot, make sure you practice loading and setting up gear and streamline that process. And of course, tune up before sound check.
Discipline comes in a lot of flavors at gigs. To start, keep silent during sound check. You should not be riffing, tuning, or otherwise making noise with a bass or a guitar while the drums are being sussed out (or vice-versa). You should warm up, but you should do that before sound check.
Probably the best way to keep things running smoothly is to communicate well, and thoroughly. Let band members know where you’ll be before the gig. If your car breaks down the day before, call a bandmate immediately. On stage, communicate everything about your set up when the sound engineer asks. Talk about the set list and any changes that need to be made. If you’re planning any cool surprises during the show, tell the band so they don’t freak out.
Even if you communicate well, you won’t always get all of your needs met. Even if you’re prepared, problems still crop up. Be prepared to go with the flow and still be positive. It could be there’s only one mic when you’d rather have two so you don’t have to carry it. It could be that the show time is pushed due to unforeseen circumstances. Maybe a string breaks mid-song or a band member doesn’t show up. The nimbler you are, the better you’ll fare.
Crew people, audience members, and bandmates don’t easily forgive rudeness, entitlement, or being mean – even if you are a big shot. So, keep polite, courteous, and humble. Ask for what you need, offer help, and generally just be a cool person to everyone. Believe it or not, this one is often the thing that creates the biggest sense of professionalism.
If you want to be helpful, that’s fabulous. But you should ask if bandmates need help before grabbing their stuff or interfering in their set up time. Focus on your job, and if you’re done and ready to go, be ready to assist. This goes double for the sound engineer. Don’t mess with their set up. Instead, assume they know what they’re doing and let them concentrate – and be ready to help with a smile if they need something from you.
Professionals don’t get high or drunk on the job. That’s just the end of that story. You may counter with stories about Jimmy Hendrix or Jim Morrison or any number of legendary inebriated rock stars, but even for stars, that can only lead to ruin. Have a beer, sure. But having twenty just isn’t a pro move.
We all make mistakes. You can earn big points when you own up to yours. If you’ve forgotten a stand, stepped on a lyric sheet, or said the wrong thing, it’s ok. Be quick to own up and quick to forgive others’ mistakes.
In case you hadn’t heard, musicians get a bit of a bad rap when it comes to integrity, and it’s no wonder. Many musicians promise a lot and deliver little in the way of kept promises. Be the opposite. Do what you say, when you say. That includes being on time, but it also extends to everything else you can imagine. This one may be the most powerful tool in a professional’s arsenal.
Finally, be honest and fair, especially when it comes to money. We all know that music can be a tough business, rife with swindlers and thieves, but if you’re not one of those, everyone will notice and love you for it. They’ll also appreciate you being honest with your feelings, communicating thoroughly, and being forthcoming and transparent about money.
Being a gigging musician is a gas – it really is. Being a real professional only serves to make it easier and more fun, so don’t be afraid to take honest stock of your professionalism on stage and make any necessary improvements. You won’t be sorry.
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"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all of the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm." - Psalm 98:4-5