Bring It On: What to Bring to Gigs
By David Himes |
Let us celebrate the many virtues of "stupidly obvious"
‘The Gig Kahuna’
by David Himes
Here’s a fun little topic: what to bring with you to a gig. Many of the items I’m going to mention are stupidly obvious. Yet the bands that don’t bring even the most basic necessities never cease to amaze me. Equally as amazing is many of the items cost little or no money, so there’s absolutely no excuse to not bring at least some of the things you are about to read about. Professional bands always follow these guidelines, while amateurs do not. Some bands seem to assume the club or venue will supply everything the bands should bring. Here’s a little bit of advice: never assume the venue will supply anything you need! Here is a list off the top of my head...
Yes, that’s right. I know most of you reading this are wondering why I’m even mentioning something so ridiculously obvious. But think about it: How many shows have you played where one or more of the other bands asked if you have any duct tape? And if you’re in one of those bands that asks another band for duct tape, do you really mean to say that no member can run to a place like Home Depot or Lowe’s and pick up a roll or two of duct tape (preferably black or gaffer’s tape, but if nothing else, the gray tape will get the job done)? And for the truly creative, duct tape has uses that border on the potentially insane - like bands who wear Christmas light-impregnated duct tape space suit costumes.
I shouldn’t have to mention the infinitely countless times that duct tape has been the lifesaver of the gig, and its many other uses, so I’ll stop here. Besides, Christmas light-impregnated duct tape space suit costumes is a tough act to follow.
This one goes out to the many of you I see lugging larger cabinets and other heavier gear. Uh, I hate to break this to you, but you’ve been breaking your backs for nothing on load in and out. The idea here is to make use of that timely invention known as the wheel. All you have to do is get a two-wheel dolly cart. My personal favorite is the kind that fold down into almost nothing that you can get at a place like Home Depot or Lowe’s for $25-$40. At that price, you should get a couple.
Another way to save your back is to install casters on the bottom of your cabinets and/or amps. You can get a set of casters for cheap at places like Home Depot or Lowe’s, and they’re easy to install. Yet another option is a four-wheel mover’s dolly, cheap and available in different sizes. You can also go deluxe with the RocknRoller Multi-Cart, which looks like something out of a Transformers movie that had a really, really low budget.
The wheel was invented for a reason. Take advantage of it.
You should know that selling merch is just one of several objectives of playing a gig. While several of the better venues already have tables for that purpose, or will at least let you use bar tables, what tables they have might have already been grabbed or hogged by other bands on the bill. So it’s a good idea to bring your own. I personally like the ones you can get at places like WalMart in different sizes that fold in half. Depending on what size you get, these tables can be had for $30-$50.
While on this subject, and while at that WalMart, pick up some of those wire clothes racks to hang your T-shirts, etc. Also, be sure to bring your own lighting. This could be floodlights, utility lights, flashing lights—anything to light up your merch table so people can see it. Finally, whenever possible, place the table by the door. Remember, people aren’t going to buy your merch if they can’t see it! All can be had for very little money.
Spare Cables, Strings, Sticks, Tubes, etc.
Yet another painfully obvious one. If you’re using a wireless (be it for guitar or vocal mics), you should still have a cable handy. You never know when a wireless will crap out. While on the subject of wirelesses, always make sure you have a fresh, alkaline battery in it. If you’re using rechargeable batteries, make sure they're fully charged. If you’re using a wireless mic, please get the best one you can afford—or your vocals will sound like ass, the soundman will hate you, the audience will leave in disgust, and send out tweets about how bad a vocalist you are. You don't want that. Also, if you can, it doesn’t hurt to bring a spare guitar, snare, or whatever. If you’re a wild frontman who is going to fling the mic around by the cable or anything like that, it’s a good idea to bring your own mic and cable or again, the soundman will hate you. You don’t want a soundman to hate you.
Guitarists, bring plenty of picks. Tape them to your mic stand, guitar, amp, or whatever so you always have a pick within easy reach. Don’t embarrass yourself by being seen picking up a pick when you drop it. And you can always toss a spare pick out to that fetching female and/or male in the front.
Equally as important as spare strings, etc., is having your gear ready before the show. Hopefully, you will have rehearsed a day or two before the show. This is the time to re-string your guitar, because the rehearsal gives you the chance to “play in” the new strings and retune as necessary. That way, you will have virtually eliminated the chance of going out of tune on stage—assuming you know how to properly string up your guitar.
A pre-gig rehearsal is also the time to make sure your gear is functioning properly. Check your effects, make sure you have fresh or fully-charged batteries, your cables are in good working order, etc. Drummers: make sure your kit is good to go as far as tuning, properly muffled, pedals are lubed, etc.
There is nothing worse and more amateur than tuning your instrument out loud where the whole crowd can hear it. Tuners are relatively inexpensive. If you’re using special tunings, even chromatic tuners are cheap.
Laptop, iPad, Tablet, Smart Phone, Binder and/or Clipboard
You more than likely don’t have someone you can depend on gig after gig to capture email or social network information, so guess what? You’re elected! Don’t let the stage adrenaline or crowd love get to your head and cloud your logic. Get out there with a binder, clipboard, iPad, laptop, smart phone, anything and grab as many emails and social network urls as you can. And make sure they print it neatly so you can read it. Better yet, let them type in their contact info on your laptop, iPad, smart phone, or whatever. Even better still (if you can) is to bring a laptop, iPad, smart phone, or whatever, and get your new fans to sign on to your network site, social network, or whatever, right there on the spot.
So far, most of the items I’ve mentioned cost little or no money, and are pretty much absolute necessities. So I know buying your own monitors or an earbud system is stretching it for many of you. This would likely apply to the more upper-level local bands. And unless you have someone in or with the band who is good with this sort of thing, earbud systems (like sequences and backing tracks) can be difficult to get working properly. So you will need someone who can patch the system in and out of different house PAs, and do so quickly, which means someone you’ll need to pay (unless that someone is a band member).
The good news, however, is if you can afford an in-ear monitor system, and get it working properly gig after gig with different house PAs, the benefits can be well worth it. In particular, the most obvious benefit would be never again having to worry about the house monitor system, or if there is even a house monitor system at all.
Here are a few last tidbits to help you be ready for your next gigs. While they should be obvious, it boggles my mind how careless some musicians can be when it comes to their instruments and other gear. Ask any club or venue, and they’ll tell you how common it is for musicians to leave instruments and other gear behind.
Stencil Your Gear
For cripes sake, I can’t believe the bands that don’t do something so easy and costs almost nothing. All you need is a computer with some kind of stencil font and some cardstock. From there, you just cut out the outlines and get a white spray bomb. Or what works equally as good is to just slap your band sticker (if you have one) on your gear. The idea is to make it easy to identify your gear and cases.
If you can do so and space in the venue permits, it’s best to stack your gear in a corner at the venue after your set. Bring a black cloth or tarp and cover it up until the end of the night. It will more than likely be safer there than leaving it outside in your vehicle. Another reason for doing this is to give you more time to work any new fans, sell merch, kiss babies, have babes kiss you, etc. Then load out at the end of the night. This will also make you look more professional when you’re not seen loading out in the middle of the crowd—especially if the venue has no back door.
Case Up Your Instruments
Yet another mind-boggler is musicians who have no cases for their instruments! I’ve seen so many bands with nice instruments—even expensive Les Pauls and other high-end gear, and no case. Totally ludicrous. You preferably want hardshell cases, but if you can’t afford it, even a gig bag is better than nothing.
I’ve only touched on some of the things bands should bring to every gig. And I’m sure there are other things that some of you might think of that I didn’t. But hopefully, even the most inexperienced of you will now have a better perspective on the subject. Most of the things I pointed out cost little or no money, so not having them is simply inexcusable. Of course, there’s nothing you can do to guarantee that nothing will go wrong during your set. But you can at least minimize the chances of going through those Spinal Tap mishaps. The idea is to come to a gig prepared to quickly recover from anything that Murphy’s Law can throw at you. Never assume the venue, the other bands, or anyone else involved will have what you failed to bring.
David Himes is the author of the book Realities for Local Bands: Talent is not Enough. You can find it at Amazon. For a FREE sneak preview, click here. The book is also available in PDF format. Also, David published a local music scene paper for over 16 years and has held over 400 live shows, giving him a unique insight on the scene. Your feedback and comments are welcome.