Nothing saps your energy on stage like running late and being in a rush. To boot, you can’t always get into a venue at 9AM like the big shows do and set up. So, getting your stage set up done quickly and efficiently is crucial to ongoing success as a gigging musician.
Here are some of our best tips for getting your setup done quickly and easily, so you might have a chance at a good sound check and a little break before rocking the crowd.
Spend some time on an off day to organize gear. Label cables, fix equipment, and pack gear so you know exactly where everything is. Make sure you have fresh batteries (and backups) in all your battery powered gear such as wireless receivers and pedals.
You can even go so far as to carry an inventory checklist, color code cables, or preassemble racks and pedal boards.
No matter what you do, use high quality cables and coil them properly.
An easy setup starts before the gig. In fact, it starts at the end of the previous gig. You’ll be tempted to just throw everything in a bag and get going after a long night and plenty of peer pressure to either get to the party (or bed). Fight that urge and pack up gear properly – especially cables.
If possible, visit the venue days ahead of time and get the lay of the land. Note the size and location of the stage, the parking situation, when and where you’ll be loading in, and any obstacles you may face on show day. Get to know the staff and management well enough that you can ask for their help with things like getting in the door and moving furniture.
Especially important: find out whether you’ll need to provide a P.A.
As an extra bonus, prepare a stage plot even if the venue doesn’t need one. This will help you lay things out consistently, which is faster than re-inventing the wheel every show.
Setting up gear is like any other musical skill. The more you practice, the more proficient you become. So, dedicate some rehearsal time to starting from ground zero, setting yourself up, setting up a P.A., and getting ready.
Things almost never go as planned. Arrive at least a half an hour before planned load in time to get your bearings, introduce yourself (again) to the staff, and get the process started. In some cases, this will mean waiting half an hour for somebody to arrive and open the door, but that’s better than being late and looking unprofessional.
When you start loading in, don’t put gear directly on the stage. Find a designated area off stage for prep, and load only what you need onto the stage when you’re ready. This may be required if you’re closely following another band. In that case, you can use the between time to pre-assemble drum kits, tune guitars, and generally get as much done as possible before taking the stage.
As much as you love your entourage and those rabid fans that come three hours early, you should ignore them during setup. Be friendly, of course, but set up the expectation beforehand that when you’re setting up, you’re not available for chit-chat and beers.
While you’re at it, stay focused on your own task, rather than managing the work of your other band members. When you’re completely done with your part you should offer to help, but be sure to take direction and do what actually helps.
If you’ve got extra hands, use them! Minimize the number of trips you take from the car by getting multiple people to carry or using carts.
Finally, relax. Probably the number one reason for arriving early, not being in a rush may be your number one efficiency tool. If you’re well prepared, organized, and calm set up will run smoothly, you’ll iron out any problems quickly, and the night is very likely to go well.Try these tips out at your next gig and let us know how it went. And for tips on keeping your stage clean and tidy, check out Streamlining Your Band’s Stage Setup. Do you have any set up tips? Let us know in the comments below.
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