Since my last post about nerves before a gig, I’ve had a lot of people asking what I do to prepare for my live shows. I’ve covered some of this in the past in my Playing Live Guide, but it’s worth covering the basics again.
The first thing, obviously, is having a live set ready to perform in the first place. I normally try and have at least an hour of music I play before I start looking into getting booked gigs, or agreeing to take any. Sometimes if I’m close to having enough material ready I’ll accept and use that to motivate me to finish, but normally I try and have the basics down first.
Once I get booked for a show, I want to know the details. Where is it, what kind of crowd, when am I playing, how long am I playing, etc. Normally the promoter will give you all this information when they contact you with the booking in the first place, but if not it’s worth getting ahold of them asap so you know exactly what to expect and what to plan for.
Think about other, less obvious things too though. Is there a hotel nearby, and how are you getting there? Will there be some place secure for you to stash your gear before and after the gig, or are you responsible for it? What kind of connections will you be plugging into, DI’s or a FOH (or even DJ) mixer? Who has the drink tickets?
Usually by this point I’m a couple weeks out from the show, and I’m putting the finishing touches on the set based on what the promoter told me. Tailoring it for the crowd, are they looking to dance or chill out, fine tune the track order, etc. I then make back ups of all my data to DVDr to bring with me. You can’t count on it, but it seems more often than not someone has a laptop available if you need it these days. I don’t just back up the data for my sets, but also the apps needed to use/send it to my gear too. It helps to have these installers for both OSX and Windows.
The next phase for me is the trial run of the set. I force myself to pretend I’m doing it for real, and do it front to back to make sure there’s no issues (at least on that day). Ideally I’m doing the set someplace else, a local small bar or a friends house, you name it. Some place I have to physically leave my studio and pack like I was going to a gig. I look at all the cables and connections I need, and then I bring twice as many of the same types.
Cables always fail at your first big show. I swear gnomes exist that do nothing but trash your most important cables minutes before you’re supposed to start playing.
Not only do I pretend that I’m performing in front of people. but also setting up and tearing down my gear. Will I be able to hook everything up in advance with a soundcheck, and just leave it in place until I play? Or will I have to set up while someone else is finishing their set before me? Plan for both, and know what to do so you can do it quickly and correctly.
Speaking of sound checks, when possible, insist on them! This is your last trial run before the show, and it also lets you see if your set is sounding the way you want on the sound system you’ll actually be using. Hopefully there’s a sound guy there to help you sort any issue (too bright, too bassy, etc), but if not, play some of your live songs and walk around where the audience will be. If there’s a mixer you’ll be plugged into, use it’s EQ to get things sounding the way you want later on. Keep in mind an empty space will sound much brighter than one full of people too.
When you’re done practicing the set, pack your stuff up like you were leaving for the night. Imagine someone else is trying to get their gear set up too, and plan to keep things as simple as possible. Flag or tape your own cables so there’s no confusion, make them unique.
I’m a big believer in packing everything up neat so the next show I could just unpack and set up as if I just left the studio. Coil cables carefully and use velcro wire wraps to keep everything separated. Don’t just toss it all in your bag in a big heap, that’s how you break cables and forget things at the venue. Do it right, but be efficient and considerate of those playing after you. Double-check that you actually grabbed everything you brought with you.
For the most part, this is pretty much all I do when prepping for shows. Sometimes during the trial run I’ll hear some things I need to go back and tweak, but I try and not obsess over this too much beforehand. It’s always a fine line between practicing enough to be prepared, versus hearing the same music so many times you get sick of it. Plus, each time you change something, you need to create new back ups and burn new DVDr’s, so that’s a consideration too.
I generally try and get all the prep work finished 3-4 days in advance of a show. Gives me enough time to rush order anything that breaks or needs replacing, and it also gives me a few days away from the set before I actually do it for real. Like I said, no need to get burned out on the set before you even get in front of people. 🙂