About a year ago my band had the opportunity to perform in one of Europe’s oldest and still operating theaters from the 1700’s. With months of preparation and rehearsals under our belt I had no doubt that we were more than ready.
During a very quick line check before guests would enter the building, my guitar amplifier, which has been on countless stages for many years decided that it was time to call it a day and abruptly retire. Definite WTF moment.
I didn’t know what the problem was and to this day still don’t have a clue. I did however have a solution. This came in the form of a portable (but very loud) amplifier that is present with me at every club, pub and now theater that I happen to be performing in as a backup/life saver.
The above is just one of the ways that a minute addition to your checklist before a gig can change the whole outcome of such a long awaited night. Or any kind of show for that matter. Because, let’s face it, if you perform frequently enough then I’m sure you’ve come to the conclusion that It’s not if something goes wrong, It’s when.
Double your cables
Simple right? Whether you're a guitarist, vocalist or electric oboe extraordinaire, buy the exact same amount of wires used in your setup twice and keep them packed neatly as back up.
Be it patch cables, daisy chain power cables, ¼ inch to phonos, etc. remember that everything you use can, in worst case scenarios, let you down during your set, so be prepared.
Let’s face it. As a guitarist, no matter how many pedals or cool accessories you have to enhance your sound, nothing compares to the importance of your amplifier's output. There’s no question that if your amp blows then you're screwed. And to make matters worse, you'll be left with having to plug directly into the house pa. Hell no!
Luckily things have moved on since the 70’s and amplification today comes in all sizes and is designed to make your life easier. My weapon of choice? The ZT Lunchbox! This little guy has had my back so many times that I could write a whole blog post about it. No kidding!
Super light and sized to fit anywhere (It’s a 6.5” combo that pumps out 200 watts!), the Lunchbox is your comfort pillow for any live situation. Another great feature is that this amp can effortlessly drive an external cab! Yeah, even your Marshall 4x12!
Use it as your main, keep as a backup, hell, maybe the drummer could benefit from his/her own personal guitar monitor. Either way, you're covered.
Duct-tape, masking tape or any other kind of tape for that matter. I could also write an entire blog post on this one but let’s keep it straight to the point.
From fixing that tear in your bass drum to the mic stand that split in half during your rendition of God Save The Queen. This Nobel prize worthy invention is a musician’s saving grace and will eventually find its way from your guitar case to the stage one way or another.
Drummers, we all know those drum heads are what takes the beating. In fact, you’d be better off breaking your drum shells at a show than the skins tightened around them. Point is, no head, no sound.
I’m sure many of you have played at least one show where your snare drum, bass drum or tom tom is left with nothing but a gaping soundless hole and I’m also certain that it has happened in the middle of a set at least once.
A complete extra set of drum heads is ideal but snare and bass drum are absolutely vital! You could imagine a set without drum fills but no pumping kick? No way! Get the band to play that standard blues number while you change that drum head with stealth and precision.
Light it up
The more I do these DIY shows, the more I realize just how important that visual representation of a performance really is.
Whether you’re playing in a cellar or proper venue, it doesn’t hurt to pack a simple little set of lights that you could use to style up your stage presence. I did a show about a month ago which involved a fantastic room, a great location but one bright monotonous light to fill up the room with its fluorescent yellow rays.
Luckily I was able to switch that damn thing off and plug in my trusty Christmas tree lights that I had packed earlier. Sure, it was still a little dark, but it looked a hell of a lot better. It’s just great to have that option. Hail santa.
This one seems to always make its way into these articles. However I don't think I could stress enough on the importance of physically collecting emails during your live shows.
No matter how many facebook fans you have, most of them are not gonna see your posts. It’s not that you're boring, that’s just the way it works. Whether you get one of those fancy clipboards, or a little black book, be sure to include a pen and encourage gig attendees to write their email down which will be added to your mailing list.
This will allow you to contact fans directly and personally with any upcoming releases or awesome stuff.
Don’t be that band/artist that always relies on the sound engineer for the technical needs of your set up. Remember, these guys frequently have cables, accessories and other wire related products misplaced or stolen by performing musicians so It’s no surprise that some can be a bit standoffish about lending you that extra power cable.
Keep things flowing with your own extension leads and power supplies. If the engineer doesn’t like power usage out of his hands then he’ll offer but the relationship will start off on a good note and keep everyone alive.
“Man, if only we had that recorded”. Does that sound familiar?
There are countless companies out there that make portable recorders at affordable prices. And the quality is insane! From stereo condenser mics to direct input interfaces, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn't record your live shows.
You’ll always learn from listening back to yourself in front of an audience and if the take was really good, then give a boost/mix on you favorite studio software to keep as a solid record. Who knows, you may use it sometime as a rare B-side or something.
So there you have it. I hope this quick check-list has helped put things into a little perspective and make it easier for you to pack whatever vehicle you may be using to transport your wall of sound in.
Whether you're a Rock & Roll band, DJ or Singer/Songwriter, preparation is key to making through your list of live shows in one piece. The more at ease you are, the more you’ll be able to focus on the art that inspires you to get up on stage in the first place.
If there’s anything else that you think you could benefit from then add it to this list to be printed it out and keep with you at all times.
Or get it tattooed. If you get it tattooed, please send us photos.