My “One Page One Sentence / Two Word Book On The Live Music Business”

Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

I recently did a live gig that shockingly did not go like how the venue presented it to me (smile), prompting to me quip to the band as we were setting up “I’m writing a book on the live music business, and it has one sentence with two words: ‘Be Prepared’”. You might say,“What the heck does THAT mean?”. Well, read on and hopefully it will give you some insight on how to make all your future gigs go way smoother and with less stress, or, as someone I used to work with used to say, “you’re learning how to shave on someone else’s beard”.

The venue I was working at for the first time was a cool, upscale & trendy watering hole that had only been open a few months, but was already successful, and some of the best jazz musicians in town were starting to work there. I had talked to the bartender who booked the bands and he told me that while they sometimes had bands outside, they preferred to have them inside, since some of the performance time they would be competing with a rock band across the way outside at another club. So of course I opted for the indoor location, especially because Kansas City is very humid and my body that had been in the aridness of Los Angeles for decades sweats a lot when outdoor and unfortunately, always through my head. I had decided that from now on I would bring a hat in my car for outdoor gigs, since my wet hair tends to look like I’m a scarecrow or something.

When I got there I was told that there was a last minute private party inside, and we would be playing outside – and it was in the low 90s with the setting sun baking right on our heads as we set up for our 6pm set – and I hadn’t gotten the hat in the car policy going yet. Also, the organist asked me if he should bring his full or cut down Hammond organ, and I told him to be safe he should bring the cut down organ. That was a good thing, since the stage was up about 4 feet off the ground, and the last time I had to carry an organ like that up stairs I think I was about 18….and then of course, there was the Leslie which we were able to get up there by tilting it on a carpet he carried with him and hoisting it up to the stage without really any problem. Besides that, I usually have clothes pins on me to keep music from flying on any outdoor gig, but I didn’t have any on me not planning on being outside, so was using whatever I had of any weight to hold music on the stand.

So this is why I made my little joke about the one sentence that I had learned about playing live music gigs, but obviously, I hadn’t really learned it all the way or I would have had everything that I needed. I have known for years that most any gig can go in a 180 degree shift from how you were told it was going to be, and you really have to roll with it. I remember doing a wedding reception for a couple that insisted that all they wanted was jazz all night long, but still instead of hiring players that were only jazz experts, I got well rounded players and made sure that at least one of them could sing besides me. Sure enough, after two sets of Weather Report, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and standards; they came up to the bandstand and asked us for dance music as soon as they got some alcohol in them. It would have been a disaster to just remind them of what they said, so I just shifted gears and went into “Brick House” or something and everyone made considerable tip money that night besides their normal pay. So that covers being prepared musically, but what I find to be the WORST AREA where a live gig disaster can happen is being unprepared with GEAR. Here’s my solution for that, and a new thing I am doing as of now to really make sure that I have no future issues with that.

I have gone from just keeping a few “extras” in my car like an AC cable, power strip, guitar strap and cable, etc. to buying a zipped multi-pouched tech bag on line (mine is for lighting, but get whatever looks like it will do what you need). I have put things in there that I have NOT had on gigs in the past and almost had not been able to do the gig because of (which I could have gotten sued for besides not getting paid). I have included as a separate attachment here my “general bag contents”, and my “custom bag” whose contents vary gig to gig, as well as my check list for what goes into that bag and the basics of what I need on any particular gig.

Let’s talk about a checklist – you might say, “who needs that, I always take the same stuff, and only a moron wouldn’t have it”. Well, if you do a lot of mental multi-tasking like I do, you can sometimes think that you did something that you actually only THOUGHT about, and it did not actually get into the car – and on this particular gig, one of those “oopps” items I remembered last second was the tripods for the PA speakers that we sang through (the venue wanted both instrumental and vocals, so once again I hired an organist that sang to help me out). Those things could turn out to be a guitar strap (I once had to cut some clothes line at a gig to make a strap for the one that I forgot, that REALLY cut into my shoulder) or a simple 9 volt battery, which I once had to source from a radio at a solo guitar gig I was on – if you don’t already know, when a battery dies on a guitar, they go all at once with no warning.

Ben Franklin Preparing to Fail

So here’s the lists that I use, and I don’t check things off until they are actually IN THE CAR. I also am very careful to make sure that everything finds their way back into the right bag after the gig, or will sort it out the next day. Granted, I do a whole not of different kinds of gigs that others may not from musical show pit bands to solo guitar to 3 to 12 piece with horns where I bring the sound system and mic, so that is a pretty huge amount of gear to chose from. The idea with the checklist that I have enclosed is to sit down and think about the gig beforehand and check off the items you need and make any custom notes that go beyond your standard stuff. You should be able to come up with a good checklist for yourself after you look over mine, and I have included a blank list that you can customize for yourself, they are at the bottom of the post and are all Word documents that will go to your downloads when you click on them.

That’s it – remember that quote “Proper preparation Prevents Poor Performance”: since it’s all about the performance for musicians, it’s a topic that most people should put a lot more thought into. It really doesn’t take much to make sure your gigs go smoothly and I think if you try this you will have taken care of at least all the foreseeable problems that might come up – which will leave a lot more energy to solve the unforeseeable ones 😉

Doug Perkins

Sept. 27, 2017

Custom Gear Bag Checklist Gig Gear Checklist General Gig Gear Contents Gig Gear Checklist (Blank)