April 20, 2018
Your moment of truth has arrived. You did your homework and mastered your instrument. You know the material. You walk into the gig looking healthy and professional. So far, you have conveyed to the band that you know what you're doing. That's the good news. The bad news is you can blow it all in spite of your hard work if you don't conduct yourself like a pro. But what does that entail? What are the basic expectations demanded of the whole band, and what pitfalls can make you tarnish the solid first impression you've made? In this article, we'll explore the things you need to know at showtime.
Showtime: Delivering the Goods
Know where you're going before you start, because a good show doesn't leave room for fumbling around deciding what to do. The first step is to obtain a set list if possible. If the band calls every song on the fly, your job will be much more difficult, especially for your first few gigs with a new band. A set list allows you to plan ahead for the next song, so you don't hold up the band between songs. Go over the list before downbeat, making notes of any instrument changes or tone adjustments the song calls for. This could mean a different guitar or adjusting one of your pedals. It might mean a tuning adjustment (which has to happen invisibly, remember?) or maybe you will be singing and need to grab a quick drink of water to moisten your vocal cords. By planning ahead, these changes can be performed very efficiently. Your goal is to get ready to start the song in seconds and without seeming to break a sweat. Strive to be nonchalant and avoid being a distraction from the show. Pros don't seem rushed even when they're under extreme pressure. That's hard to accomplish, so stack the deck in your favor by knowing everything you need to do in advance.
When the band starts playing there are rules you need to observe as well. These are common sense and you need to make them become second nature.
Rules of the Road
Rule number one: Silence is golden! Avoid making noise between songs at all costs. When is the last time you went to see your favorite band in concert and the guitarist was riffing on random stuff between songs? Don't play between songs. It is one of the fastest ways to lose respect among the band members, and it really detracts from the show. "What if I need to check a sound?" If you properly test your gear before the show, you won't need to. In the rare exception, you can usually verify everything is okay by lightly thumping your muted strings once or twice without being noticed. But make every effort to be absolutely silent. And yes, this includes breaks!
Rule number two: Don't play too loud for the mix. This means the sound tech has the final say over your stage volume. If you get the 'turn down signal' from the board, cooperate immediately, because you can ruin the sound of the band by taking away the engineer's control of the mix. If you're going to be a working musician, you'll have to get used to playing even when you can't hear your own instrument quite as well as you'd like. Even if the room is large and stage volume isn't a problem out front, avoid playing so loud it affects the stage mix and monitor balance. Volume wars are amateur hour; don't be the offender or you may be playing solo before long. Modern guitar amps can achieve great tone without blasting. Get one and make use of it. If you prefer a vintage amp that needs to be cranked to get the sound, invest in an attenuator between the amp and cabinet so you can manage the volume and still get the tone you're looking for.
In our next article, Showtime: Getting Started, Part 2, we'll learn five more rules for conveying a professional image on the job.
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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