Working in an office full of musicians means two things.
- You go to a lot of gigs
- You talk about gigs, a lot.
And one of the subjects that comes up most is the dreaded first gig. What did you do? How did you cope? What you wished you knew when you first started out?
If you’re about to do your first gig, fear not! Our digital geek – and gig-meister, Lawrence, shares his best tips.
I’ve played a fair few gigs in my time. Here’s a hastily cobbled together list of tips to help you through your first one. Enjoy.
1. BRING A SPARE
Strings, guitar leads, plectrums – you name it. If you own more than one, bring it along just in case. If you own a second guitar I would recommend bringing that as well.
There’s always a chance that something will go wrong technically when playing live – just make sure that you are as prepared as you can be.
Your bandmates will not appreciate being forced into a 10 minute Jazz Odyssey while you replace a broken string.
2. LOOP YOUR GUITAR LEAD THROUGH YOUR STRAP
Probably the simplest tip on this list, but by no means the least important. When plugging your cable into your guitar, make sure that you loop the lead through your guitar strap first. This will prevent it being pulled out if you accidentally step on it.
Imagine stepping forward to deliver a career-defining solo, rock star face firmly in place, then suddenly “Thunk — screeeeeee!”, and your once powerful Axe is reduced to nothing more than an impotent slab of wood. You will look like a wally.
3. DON’T GO EFFECTS PEDAL CRAZY
When first playing live, you have enough things to be thinking about. You don’t want to be trying select your tuner and accidentally engage your Mega Death Fuzz pedal.
I would personally recommend starting out with a multi effects unit. You can set all the tones and levels for each song before the gig, and avoid the dreaded on stage pedal dance.
If you really must go down the individual pedal route, try to keep it to a maximum of four. Look for the pedals that really complement your style, and focus on getting the best sound out of a minimal setup.
4. KEEP CALM IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE
Everyone makes mistakes when playing live for the first time, just make sure don’t freeze up when it happens. Take a deep breath, find the beat and re-join the band at the next bar.
Remember, most of the audience won’t even notice the error. They will however notice if you suddenly stop playing and begin to cry.
5. MAKE SURE YOUR LEVELS ARE SET UP CORRECTLY
It is important that you understand the difference between what you hear on stage and what the audience will hear during the gig.
The smaller speakers pointing towards you are the stage monitors, these are for the band. Make sure that you can hear a good mix of your instruments through them. During the gig, don’t be afraid to ask the sound engineer to turn up whatever you need to hear.
The large speakers directed at the audience is the PA. During sound check, have one of your band members step off the stage and have a listen. The sound engineer won’t always welcome advice, but don’t be afraid to ask if you feel the levels are off.
6. PRACTICE YOUR SET FROM START TO FINISH
Try to spend the last rehearsal before your gig doing this. Not only is it a great way to practice, it will help you perfect the order of your set. Try not to play too many similar sounding songs in a row to keep your audience excited!
Also, try practicing in the same positions that you will be in for the gig. Most practices are done facing the other members of the band, this will look very strange in a live setting. Your drummer might feel a little bit lonely with everyone facing away, but you need to get used to this set up.
7. PRINT OFF YOUR SET LIST USING BIG CAPITAL LETTERS
Trust me on this one, it’s easy to do and one less thing to think about. You will be first in line for a deserved after gig wedgie if you launch into a furious drop D riff at the wrong time.
It can help to write notes next to each song title. Do you need to drop tune your guitar? Is there a riff at the start? After what section do you need to perform a rad knee slide?
8. ENGAGE THE AUDIENCE
Be aware that the audience is there to see as well as hear you. It will be difficult for them really get in to the music if you are standing statue still with your eyes glued to your fret board.
If the audience are making you nervous, try to interact with your bandmates more. Throw some rockstar shapes. Jump around a bit. Try to enjoy your time up there on stage, because that can be very infectious for the audience. Remember, you’re allowed to act a little crazy on stage.
9. IT’S NOT COOL TO ACT LIKE A FOOL
Being in a band does not mean you are suddenly much cooler than everyone else. It does not give you a licence to wear sunglasses in poorly lit areas, or turn up 2 hours late for sound check and expect everyone to accommodate you.
Even if you are the next Jimi Hendrix, no-one will think you are cool for being unprofessional and behaving like an arse.
10. HAVE FUN!
Playing live is the reason why most people start playing music – your first gig is always going to be a pretty nerve-wracking experience, but it’s a fantastic feeling when you finally get up on stage.
Hopefully you’ve found some of these tips useful, remember that the most important thing is to have a good time!