Updated: Nov 30, 2021
Gigs are the best of both worlds for many musicians. You get paid to do what you love, and it just doesn't get better than that. How do you get the most out of a gig as a working band or solo musician? Here are 10 unwritten rules that are important for playing professional gigs.
10. Practice and Rehearsal: You need both!
Professional musicians need to practice and rehearse their songs before playing. Practice should be done both alone and in your group. When practicing by yourself, first, listen to your song to get a feel for the song's style. Re-listen and find charts of the song. Then keep trying to play your part for several minutes every day. If you need to, make your own charts, and try to practice from them. If you are in a band, be sure to ask about the key and style of your song prior to your practice. Groups need to practice together, as well. Try to get everyone together every week or two and learn your songs as a unified group. This will allow you to learn to keep time, manage sound balance, and modify the song to your band's taste, with everyone else playing their parts before your gig.
Rehearsal should be done with everyone who is playing a particular gig with you. Create your set list and go over every song together to tighten up and work out any last-minute problems that may arise.
9. Get to Know Your Audience.
If you are playing at a new location, research your venue before you play. Different venues carry different audiences. Some want sing-a-long covers. Others want to dance. Others, still, want to hear original music or instrumentals. Ideally, a musician can both select a venue based on the style they feel the most comfortable with, and then select songs based on the typical audience of the venue, to get the best response.
8. Honor Your Band's Performance Policies.
Does your band have a dress code? Do they ask you to gig sober? Do they have a logistical plan for gig arrival or departure? Make sure you familiarize yourself with your band's conduct preferences for every gig and do your best to follow through. If you want to portray yourself as a responsible musician to your band and the venue, make sure to get any important information before you arrive at the gig.
7. Show Up Early.
Many venues allow 45 minutes to an hour of set up time if they are having entertainment. Sometimes, festivals and competitions allow much less time, so in this case, you should expect to be ready to play after about 15 to 20 minutes of set up time. If you carry a lot of heavy equipment, arriving early allows you to unload carefully, without injuring your body or you rig, assess the stage, and set up. Bands that are always ready to play by the posted time tend to get noticed for their promptness among venues, which is good if you're looking to fill up your schedule with gigs.
6. Prepare Your Itinerary to Accommodate a Gig.
If you are fortunate to be free from your other obligations on the day you are playing, you are in a good position to relax before you have to play. Even if your day is busy, however, it is important to get good sleep the night before you play, and eat a balanced diet, especially on the days prior to your performance. Make sure you stay hydrated. Plan your schedule to arrive at an appropriate time. You may need to visit the venue before your gig, so you know where you're going. If possible, shower or bathe before you play on the day of your gig, then put on your performance wear. When a gig is over, it's best to allow two or three hours between leaving the stage and going to sleep. Some people, like myself, require much more time to relax after a gig, especially if anything notable happens at the show. If it's helpful to you, spend some time after your performance socializing with your band mates and audience members. Once you arrive at home, try drinking a glass of hot tea or milk to relax before bed. It also may help to take a walk. If your sleep and work schedule always get too far off to handle when you gig, don't hesitate to discuss the issue with a doctor. They may have other helpful suggestions for you.
5. Plan out Transitions Between your Songs.
There's not many experiences worse than being a musician who gets stuck between song performances. Try to make transitioning adjustments brief to avoid having too much dead time in between songs. For those who are able, one idea that can help is to talk about the previous or following songs, introduce the band, or tell a short story before moving on. Make sure you are comfortable before you try to speak to a crowd. It comes back to practice and rehearsal.
4. Mind the Sound balance.
Some gigs have sound technicians on site. Make sure you are assertive with them, and politely ask them to do what you need done. If there is a sound system, take advantage of it and bring the volume up or down depending on the size and of the venue. Always try to run a sound check and have someone go out into the audience area to see what needs turned up or down. If you are playing and they have problems hearing the soloist of vocalist, for example, they may need to adjust the sound balance before your gig starts.
Gigs can be long and grueling sometimes. Maybe you've had a bad day or you're sleep deprived. Many bands take a break every 60 to 90 minutes of playing so members can relax and regroup before playing. I suggest that beginning bands break fifteen minutes for every hour of playing time. Then as you become more experienced, you can change up the times to better fit to your specific needs.
2. It Takes Time!
Most beginning and experienced bands alike go through slow periods where they aren't gigging very often. Use this free time to grow your band's ability. You should keep practicing together as a band during this time so you are sounding good and "tight" the next time you perform. Try attending your city's local jams and open mics every week so that you are continually playing for an audience and you never get re-sensitized to on-stage experience. Some open jams allow bands to come and jam as a band for a set. Take advantage of this resource so that you all are still being seen together as a band. No matter what your approach is in slow times, do not give up.
1. On and Off Stage, You are Performing.
Bands and musicians who maintain a professional demeanor during their gigs usually are the ones who get more favor from venues than those who don't. We all know no gig is perfect. Everyone has a story of when things went wrong. The important thing is how you respond to problems. If something in your equipment malfunctions and you are no longer able to play, call a break. Then calmly explain to your band members what happened. If the problem can be solved by a quick fix, try to work it out during the break. If not, you still should stay until everyone else finishes the show, and work out the problem afterwards. Either way, try to remain calm and your night will go better than if you had lost your cool. You also will be better off if you carry extra parts for your set-up, such as power cords and strips, drum sticks, guitar strings, microphone and cord for singers, and even a spare amplifier. Usually it is harder to play as well as to interact soundly when you are drinking. If you must drink, drink responsibly and have a full glass of water for every alcoholic beverage. Say hello and socialize to your audience members during the break and as you leave. Be humble and polite with everyone. Leave tips for any service that you get. Try to portray an image of yourself that the audience can be inspired by and look up to.
Showing up to a gig relaxed and in a good mood is another way to ensure that you present well for your venue and audience. Try to avoid any nagging confrontations that you are able opt out of. You may want to try sitting down and relaxing for 15 or 20 minutes before you start playing so you can clear your mind of the day's irritations. Make sure also that you have eaten and used the restroom before you play so that you are comfortable, and can get pleasure out of playing your gig. It's hard to build a good reputation for yourself if you are not enjoying your work.