Getting the most out of playing a gig.

I have been doing the music biz thing for a quarter of a century now, I don’t call it a career or say I’m in the Industry. I’m a performing musician. People ask me all the time for advice about how to do thing so I thought I would write a few blogs on the subject. 

Playing gigs is the main aim for most musicians, most want to play there very best to a receptive audience that hopefully will grow as time goes on. 

When you start out the rules of the game are pretty much the same as they are when your 25 years into the game like I am so here are a few pointers that hopefully will hold you in good stead for the future. 

These view are my own from over half of my life of experience. 

I will take it as read that you have a gig booked, it may be a fixed fee, a door split, a gig for ‘Exposure’ (I will talk about this in another post) or you may be playing as a favour to someone. Either way you are there to entertain an audience and you have to be professional about it. In essence it is a job of work and like any job you do your work well in time you will be rewarded. 

Safety First.

All your gear should be in good condition and safe. These days modern kit is well made but some older kit esp amps can suffer. As musicians you should have public liabilities insurance to cover your equipment causing injury to others. If your lights fall over in a pub or your drop an amp onto someone’s foot you are liable. The musicians union have loads of advice about this. Many venues will insist that your equipment has been PAT tested and may inspect. And NEVER take pints on stage. Bottle drinks with screw caps are fine. Liquid and electricity never mix!

Take what you need. 

Never take too much kit to a gig, most the time you wont need it and it its always one more thing that can get lost. That what you need. Spare guitar, but there is no need to take 2 4x12s or 5 bass guitars for the 30 minute set. 

When you arrive.

You will probably be told when you can load in, when or of there is a sound check and your stage times. The rule always be on time. 

Load in time may be say between 4 and 5 pm. Make sure that is when you arrive and that you are loaded in by 5pm. Many venues have load in entrances or use the front doors the venue may provide security to assist you as well. When you load in always have someone by the car / van and the rest carry the gear. Yes you can get insurance, but mostly they will not pay out especially if you have left an unlocked van unattended. Once loaded in the venue can lock the doors. In many instances the venue can on start a sound check if the doors are left open because of noise so don’t wander in at 5.30 because your sound check time is estimated at starting at 6. Another good reason to get early is all the bands can introduce themselves to each other and you may find you can share kit for the show. Kit share in a very good way of making life easier for everyone and you may even save enough time that you might get to so 1 extra song in your set. If you are say a rock band and you all have big amps and 4x12s then it is a much better bet to share the same cab rather than lugging marshall stacks (other brands are available) around the place in a small club. Bass amps and some drums can normally be shared. But don’t turn up without everything you need on the off chance that you can blag kit off another band. In essence its always best to speak to each other beforehand and work out a plan. 

The third reason to be there on time, is that sometimes sound checks can run ahead of time so be prepared to get ready sooner. 

Testing Testing 1 - 2 - 3. 

The sound check itself is that a check. Its not a rehearsal, its not a place to share new ideas, its where you test everything works and that you can all hear what you need to hear. If you get to a gig and you need to run through songs because you don’t know them then drop said songs for the set and just play what you know best. Or if you have to run through things acoustically in the dressing room or in a quiet area of the venue. Again turn up on time you will have time to do this. 

Not too loud on stage

 Keep the on stage sound as quiet as you can, it makes it much better to balance the sound out front and your band will have a far better sound. One of the many reasons why smaller amps are very popular these days such as the Fender Valve Jnr or the Orange Tiny Terror is that you do not need big volume on stage. 

In house engineers (normally) know best this is a fact. 

Then we move on to the in house sound engineer and in bigger venues the in house lighting engineer and monitor engineer. These people are your BEST FRIENDS on the night.  These are the people that shape your sound and look.  You may well have a mate that thinks they can mix the sound for you better than anyone else. This may be true if they have had extensive experience with a wide verity of sound desks both digital and analogue but most won't have. The in house engineers know the kit they are using backwards. A good in house engineer can sound check a band in less than 5 minutes. Yes less than 5 minutes. They know precisely how things should sound they probably mix 3 bands a night 5 nights a week that is a lot of bands. If you think you have a unique sound that you want to convey they have probably done it 100 times before. 
Always good to have a good working relationship with the sound engineer. I have worked with Leeds based Phil Curtis Hall at various gigs for around 20 years. 

If you do have something unique you may want some extra delay on the vocals here or there. Write down a set list for the engineer with your requirements same goes for lighting, If they have something to work with they can normally help you saying please and thank you will get you a lot further. 

Whatever you do don’t get one of your band member to walk out front and dictate to the sound engineer how it should sound. It NEVER sounds right in an empty room, the engineer knows that and knows how it will sound when people are on the room. If you annoy an engineer they will not be as helpful and they will remember you for the next time. 

Always good to review your work

Recording. Its always handy to have a recording of a gig to see where you are at as a live band. Its always good to have a decent desk recording if you want to put a clip of something on social media. A good desk recording edited with some good video footage will give you the edge over wobbly phone videos. Many engineers will let you do this. Some may charge you a few pounds it’s a perk for them but as long as they don’t take the Mickey everyone is a winner. Some will ever record your gig and email you a link to the file afterwards. Some may have a desk with a usb recorder others may just have a line out so get a little recorder, some adapter cables and a usb stick and you have all angles covered. 

Some venues such as ones owned by the Academy group / 02 / Live Nation do have rules about recording, some will insist on you paying a fee to record. In essence its always best to play it by ear on the night, be polite, speak to the engineers and you should be ok esp if you tell them its for your own use because if you ever want to release a live album a 2 track recording out the desk will normally be nowhere near good enough. 

On stage vocal effects, normally a bad idea. 

While we are here on stage vocal effects. These are a bad idea avoid if you can, Yes they sound great at home, yes they may sound great in the practice room but in a live situation they usually sound awful. In the gig environment most of the time you need very little in the way of effects on the voice a small bit of reverb or delay but nothing else. I have seen many singers use harmony generators on stage, and sometimes they end up sounding like daleks. 

Play a blinder, do your best. 

The performance itself. Play your best stuff, play the songs that you think people will remember. If you do a cover or 2 do NOT play them at the end, because its always the last song people remember. Always play to time, or make your set a couple minutes shorter, promoters hate bands that over run, if you do overrun you may have the power cut. 
Say who you are, say come see us afterwards or mention you have CDs for sale, but don’t start reading out website addresses or social media links, people are not there with pen and paper or have there phones out, if you have a band name people will search you out if they want to find you. If you get people to chat to you afterwards that’s when you get them to add you on facebook, get them to sign up to your email list and buy your CD. 

If you stick to this guide then your not going to go far wrong in my book. 

Matthew North 24th October 2017. 


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