Performing Live: What to Bring to Your First Gig
Performing live for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience, so don't leave anything to chance. By following these helpful suggestions, you'll be ready to take the stage with confidence – and prepared when things happen to go wrong.
In my first piece for the Shure Blog, I detailed how to have a successful open mic performance for beginner songwriters. One of the points I discussed was preparedness and how it is essential to delivering a good performance. This is something that goes beyond just practicing and knowing your parts. If you're just starting out as a live performer, leaving things to chance is bound to increase any pre-show jitters you might have. So here's what you should consider adding to your performance kit:
A Set List
Traditionally, a set list is a coveted piece of live music history to many show-goers. (I've definitely collected a few over the years.) However, to a musician it should serve as much more than that. While primarily an organizational item, a set list can be a road map to figuring out what songs work best together. Using one and changing the song order with every performance will teach good pacing and flow, which is crucial to how an audience enjoys a performance. A set list can also help keep you in touch with the music you are performing. They can also include any set breaks or extra information (e.g. mentioning an upcoming release or show, offering thanks, banter, etc.)
Tools if Something Goes Wrong
If you are playing an instrument for your performance, make sure you are prepared for any technical issues onstage. In my opinion, the best decision a musician can make is having a spare instrument on hand. Since that isn't always possible when you're just starting out, you'll need to be ready to evaluate any issues that could arise.
Here, for example, is what I have on hand for an acoustic guitar performance:
1. Tuning peg winder, wire cutter, two packs of backup strings
One of the most common problems that can occur with playing a stringed instrument is having a string break. A peg winder and wire cutter can assure a quick string change onstage. And since I'm extra paranoid, I always have two packs of backup strings.
2. A plethora of guitar picks and a capo
These are no brainers. I always try to be stocked on picks and even if I don't use one I will usually bring a capo to a set in case someone else needs one.
3. A backup guitar cable and backup guitar strap
While there might be some spare guitar cables that can be provided by other performers or an audio engineer, it's best to have your own spare cables. Also, although I've been using the same three guitar straps for ages, I bring a spare strap, as it has come in handy a couple times.
4. Tuner pedal, backup tuner, two AC adapters, spare 9V battery
I use a Boss TU-3 tuner and have a backup headstock tuner just to be safe. The AC adapters serve as a primary and backup. I keep the 9V battery just in case there is no onstage power source for the pedal tuner (which is rare but does happen).
5. A good mic with a spare XLR cable
Of course, I bring my own microphone for personal use - I use a Beta 58A. You could also consider starting with Shure PG Alta microphones. It is also smart to bring a backup XLR just in case the venue is unable to provide one.
6. A power strip and extension cord
These might be items you can get at a venue, but you never know. You don't want to be stuck on the far corner of the stage because there's no extension cord available.
7. A Swiss Army knife
Make sure your pocketknife has the kind of screwdrivers that your equipment needs. (Potentially bring hex wrenches for guitars that use them on the headstock.) You might also need your knife to cut something – or open a bottle of wine later.
8. Gaffer's Tape
This stuff can save your life. From taping down your set list to temporarily repairing cables and gear, a roll of gaffer's tape is always in my kit!
Nothing is more embarrassing than having to cut a set short because you don't have the tools needed to fix a minor problem. I know this is a guitar-oriented list, but it goes the same for any instrument. Make sure you can fix the solvable issues by being prepared and having the tools of your trade close by. This is what makes a good performer.
Water, Water and More Water
Hydration is important, so much so that I've decided to dedicate an entire paragraph to the topic. While it might seem obvious in most scenarios, I can't count the number of times I've seen performers go through a set without water by his or her side. The fact is, if you're performing onstage you will need something to drink. You will most likely stand under stage lighting, your adrenaline will be rushing and you will probably be sweating because performing is always physical act (even if you're just standing and singing). So be smart and keep water by your side. If you're someone who partakes in alcohol or caffeine prior to a set, it might be best to wait until after your performance.
Whatever Makes You Comfortable
This naturally isn't the longest list I could have compiled. The most important thing you need to know is that you will have experiences that will let you grow as a performer over time. This will shape how you understand your own craft, which in turn will affect your performance preparations. Some musicians just need the basics, while others have countless technical requirements that go beyond the musical realm (e.g. stage attire, lighting, multiple instruments, etc.)
Essentially, I believe whatever makes you comfortable is important, even if it seems unnecessary at times. So go out and hit the stage as much as possible. Try your best to be prepared. You'll learn over time exactly what you need to be the best performer you can be down the line.