You’ve spent months rehearsing in your friend’s spare room that doubles as his mom’s bridal business. Amidst an assortment of paper bells and plastic fauna archways, you and a rag-tag posse have learned a group of songs that will become known to all as your set. No group of free thinking, extroverted weirdos can stay cooped up forever. It’s time to stretch your legs and take the proverbial bike out of the shed for a spin around the block. It’s time for…your first gig.

Now whether this is truly your first gig, or your 200th trip across the Trans Canada, any experienced performer or musician will tell you there are a few basic survival tips and tools that will keep you focused on the crowd and your playing.

Practice and don’t rush in. Nobody wants to experience watching what looks like band practice onstage; that’s what the garage was for. Know your audience and gigs. If you’re hired to play weddings or coffee houses, covers are a must. Playing originals? Make sure you aren’t short on tunes. Early gigs can be great for “trying out” ideas on an audience, but don’t be afraid to make sure your unit is completely ready for battle before hitting the trenches. Another few weeks of tweaking songs and translations can separate the serious from hobbyist .

Attention all stringed instrument players: I’m going to skip the section where I tell you to use a tuner. You all strike me as smart cookies and already figured this one out a long time ago. My personal preference is using the same brand as your band mates for the added benefit of playing together.

Put some thought into your set. Hedley always tries to create dynamics to keep the flow between faster tunes and down-tempo numbers. We dove tail a lot of songs early in the night to keep the show moving at a brisk pace and build in extra time to mess around musically or let Jake work the crowd. Staring at your shoes between each song is a one-trick pony. Picking some good moments to address your listeners is good and make sure to throw some appreciation to whomever you are opening for, or opened for you. Write them down and or put them on your setlist. Also never hurts to put the name of the city up there too. Tulsa isn’t Kansas and Kitchener doesn’t like being called Kingston. While we are on the subject, make a hard copy of the setlist for everyone, including your cousin Larry who quit his job at the box factory to come tune guitars, drive the Van, and drink your rider. It’s always nice to keep a reminder about what the task at hand is.

Since I am a guitar player, I pack a spare guitar. A similar guitar to your main axe is preferable, it’s tough going between different pickup combinations and types, but any axe will do in a pinch. That’s why it’s a backup. Breaking a string and switching guitars is quick, it also gives Larry the chance to fix that string in time for the next song. Bring extra strings too just in case of such an occurrence. Stay calm and patient. Rushing yourself will only take more time. I keep picks all over my mic stand and taped under the bottom edge of guitars. This keeps me strumming and throwing them to fans instead of fishing through pockets mid solo.

Extra, extra. Read all about it. Extra cables, power supply, and other parts and pieces that might wear out. Tubes, string winder, a roll of duct tape, drum key, and a leather man will come in handy under a variety of situations. They can all fit into a small bag and should follow you everywhere.

Now after suggesting a few things to bring, let me tell you not to bring too much stuff. Clubs can have small stages and load in up stairways and down into basements. Maybe save the full 4 guitar cabinets, guitar vault and large rack units for similarly larger venues. A combo amp, small pedal board and quality gig bag will get you to and from your car in one fell swoop. Talk with other bands on the bill about sharing cabs and drums to cut down on change over. A good gig is an efficient and smooth one.  More time to chat with fans and enjoy a post show beverage.

You’re all set. Remember to have fun and enjoy your time onstage. It always flies past you and is over before you know it. Don’t be afraid to experience a couple tough nights either at home or on the road. You learn the most about yourself and as a unit by working through tough moments and problem solving in front of a live audience. The show must go on, this is what the practice and prep was all for. Just remember….no matter how drunk your Uncle Rick gets at your cousins anniversary that you’ve been hired for, under no circumstances will you give in and play “Free Bird.” Why would you when “Crazy Train” is next on the list. Happy gigging. Break legs not strings.

Written by Catherine Powell

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