Nice job! You got a gig at a decent venue with a decent audience, that isn’t spilling beer on your feet, or where the audience listens to you more than the game on the big t.v. over the bar. Where people look up at you, and when you look out at the crowd, you see this:
Wow! People came to see you. From the back of the venue, you may see this:
Sweet. You’re in the big time now… Don’t blow it.
A bunch of pointers:
1: Be on time for the sound check. This could be rules 1-567, actually.
2: Stay in touch with your contact. Call them around lunch, let them know where you are, how things are going, and your estimated time of arrival. Keep your cell charged. Make sure you have directions. Don;t get lost and show 20 minutes late.
3: Once there, load up, set up and get ready to check. Don’t waste the presenter’s time checking your email, your Instagram, texting some friends, having a cigarette. In fact, don’t smoke at all. If you absolutely have to, wait for a break, step outside, and throw your butts into some form of ashtray in your car, not on the ground. That’s rules 568-1021.
4: Be really mindful of the fact that you’re essentially a nobody still, and that someone took a gamble on you, putting you on a stage while you’re still pretty much an unknown. Be respectful of that fact. They could lose money on you, and they’re definitely spending time they could have spent with a name act, or at home with the kids.
5: When you soundcheck, you’ll either have someone who really knows what they’re doing, or some kid who has done nothing but punk garage bands. For some reason, there’s no in-between. Forget the punk kid, you just have to smile and suggest he turn the volume down. It’s a lost cause. Just play, get paid, and hope for a better sound guy next time. You won’t win. For the good sound guys, listen to them, and learn from them. They know equipment, they know the room. They know what sounds clear and good.
6: When sound checking, rule two, and a critical one, is to check at the volume you’ll play during the show. Nothing sounds worse than a quiet, tentative sound check, and then when the show starts, playing and singing at a higher volume, inducing clipping and feedback. Once the levels are set, don;t change a thing. Don’t play with your own little pre-amps thinking you need a little more “punch.” What you hear on the stage is NOT what the audience hears. Don’t mess with ANYTHING once the check is done. Fiddling with equipment during a show is a sure sign of an amateur.
7: Another sound check rule, also very important. Use as little monitor as possible, none if possible. Monitors only screw up the sound in a small room, and your first gig won’t be Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center. It’ll be a small room, and the monitor reflection off the back wall will cause “time smear”, the dreaded evil which makes all instruments sound like mud. Practice playing without monitors. Conservatories make string quartets play with their backs to one another, so they have to listen to each other, and not rely on perfect sound when at a venue. My favorite quote of all time was from a petite singer with an Irish band we had. When checking, each was getting increasingly fussy with their monitors, each asking for a little more of this, a little less of that. After ten minutes, she got so fed up she yelled out “Kill the f*%#ing monitors. Guys, we’ve played in pubs our whole lives without them, why the _____ do you need them now?” And guess what? They sounded phenomenal.
8: During the gig, have a bunch of amusing stories to tell, jokes, or at least the history of a tune, be it original or not. Fill the space between tunes and avoid “dead air” and just looking at each other, wondering what to do next. If people have to re-tune, keep the audience focused on a storyteller, not the poor guy tuning. It’s all about performance; everyone who gets a good gig can play really well, the return gigs go to those who can entertain and perform, and that’s the part that happens between songs.
9: During intermission, or after the show, the green room is your enemy. This is when you make loyal fans and friends. Be approachable, sell merch, let people take photos with you, shake hands, spend extra time talking to young grade-school age musicians who dream of being on the stage some day. This your chance to show you belong here. Don’t blow it. I’ve seen some remarkably talented people disappear into obscurity because they didn’t want to do the social work.
10: Venues talk, word spreads. You’re a professional now, so act like it, every moment of every day of your life. Careers have been killed by rowdy behavior at festivals or between gigs on tours. There’s a pretty long list of jerks who don’t get shows, and they bands they’re in, don’t get shows. We don’t need the trouble, and we really don’t need our loyal audience/patrons thinking we hire idiots to perform for them. Image is everything.
11: Use social media wisely. Many young artists post things, and only reply to their musician friends, thinking they’re all in the cool club. Wrong. Your fans are the cool club. They buy your stuff, they pay the bills. Your friends just want to get comped in at your shows. Post things that aren’t only about you, but things that appeal to you; you don’t want to look self-absorbed. I don’t follow artists who only post their gigs. Make social media a snapshot of who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’ll be. Respond to the fans, and folks will want to see you in person.
12: Have fun and smile. No matter what goes on, smile, be grateful, thank the audience, the venue, anyone working there. Show them you appreciate it and you’ll get asked back.