Scissormen

“Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail...”? Okay, playing a gig is hardly a matter of life and death, but when it comes to matters of live, then preparation is key. It's easy to get wrapped up in the exciting prospects of playing a show – it could be the one that changes everything for your musical dreams – but it's also important to prepare well and plan diligently.

Not very rock'n'roll? No, that comes when you're ready to rock'n'roll. Here are just a few well-trusted tips on getting your gig fret-free.

Gibson True Historic hardshell case

1. Prepare your gigbag

Who climbs a mountain without a first aid kit? An idiot, that's who! So although it's obvious, make sure your gigbag is stuffed with aids for every eventuality. Spare strings, extra picks, capos, screwdrivers, a few first aid (!) must-haves, batteries and more can all alleviate worry. Here's a fuller list of

2. Know your venue

If you're booked to play somewhere you haven't played before, visit on a previous day if at all possible. If there's in-house sound-staff, introduce yourself, ask their name. Ask for any tips. It's not only courteous, they'll remember you and do their best for you on the night. Plus, you can also check out other bands playing to see how they've set-up and what sort of standard they're setting at the venue.

Gibson hardshell case

3. Soundchecking #1

Be sensible about levels. Louder is not always better for your backline, especially if you're going through a good PA system.

4. Soundchecking #2

Don't see soundchecks as time to practice/starting jamming on a concept album idea! You should be doing that in your regular practice/writing time. For soundchecks, run through songs/parts of songs that will test your mix in the best way for all instruments in your band.

5. Soundchecking #3

If you're a lead guitarist, you may have more tones than, say, a bassist. You should test them all for levels if you can. And we said “levels.” As per Tip #4, a soundcheck is not the time to try and invent/discover a new alien-attracting uber-flange tone. Unless you're The Edge. And, much as though it hurts us to say this, he's not reading this...

6. Listen to the engineer

Again, a sound engineer will know from experience what's likely to sound good in that venue, so listen to them. Room acoustics are as important as backline, and the engineer will know this. Acts sound different at empty soundchecks to, hopefully, full floors – so take that volume and tone advice on board.

7. Listen to yourself

If you've got a decent PA, you don't need to rattle teeth by blaring your amp at the front row. Angle it onstage so you can hear yourself, and the PA will/should take care of the crowd. If you play out a smaller combo amp, be prepared to place it at a raised level closer to your ear height. (Assuming you don't play lying down, that is.)

8. Can you share “stuff”?

At smaller venues, acts may often share equipment. But don't simply assume... especially if you're lower on the bill. Clarify with other performers what's good and what's not to “pool” - drum stands et al can be common, favourite amps less-so. And offer back. In short, play nice. You can blow the other acts offstage later!

9. Can you record?

We're hoping that you already record your practices and listen back. Can you get a recording from your show engineer's desk? Listen back to that as well, and see how different you sound in your band-cave and a “proper” venue. (The ideal answer is, of course, just as good and really popular!)

Better still, video your show, too. Much of winning over a crowd is how you look and perform. It can be uncomfortable viewing to see that half your audience heads for the bar / chats during your 5 minute shred solo, but... well, that's telling you all you need to know. Note: best not to listen solely to the audio from a video recording. It'll probably suck. Save that analysis for the proper audio recording.

Add audio and video together, and you'll gauge how your audience see and hear you.

Gibson hardshell case

10. Know your set-list

You have got one, right? Stick to it. If you don't, what was the point in planning and preparing it?

11. Engage!

Speak to your audience. Make sure you they know your name, thank them for coming, thank them for applauding and all that stuff. Look your audience in the eye whenever you can: you're there to entertain them, so check their reaction.

12. Explain!

Playing covers? Say who did the original. That hard-riffing album cut by “band x” may be familiar to you, but may not be on the hits playlist of your audience. But if they at least know you dig the same bands? In this case, familiarity breeds content.

13. Keep the show a-rollin'

Every player may have to swap guitars/tune-up between songs, so be prepared. Any necessary tuning-up should be done silently with a digital tuner while another band member takes care of #11. Jokes (appropriate ones!), general audience chit-chat, plugging your website, plugging your merch, mentioning future shows / when you're coming back et al can all be contingency plans for when an unwanted mid-set delay arises. You shouldn't expect long gaps between songs, but if they occur... make sure you're prepared.

14. Be prepared for stagefright

Even big artists get it some days. The best solution is, again, preparation. If it happens, try not to be too phazed: it shows you care about you sound and play. Here are some more tips on dealing with stagefright.

15. It ain't over til it's over

Wise words, Mr Lenny Kravitz. Even after your last song, you're still on show. Thank your audience again, pack your gear quickly and efficiently as possible, and be prepared to mingle. 1: you can relax with an adult beverage. 2: You may get invaluable feedback from your audience. 3. Bands still get bookings/deals from live shows (it ain't all YouTube showcase videos!) and you just may meet that someone who can help you step-up.

If all this seems a lot of worry about, it really isn't. Your music and performance is obviously the key thing but if you factor these other aspects of gigging in advance, your show will run a lot more smoother. Happy playing... and please add your own gigging tips below. You've been a great audience.. thank you very much!

Photo: Scissormen by Ted Drozdowski