Oof!!! Can you believe that after five hastily written, mildly aggressive Starting A Band installments you still haven’t played a single show? Rough, right? Feeling stupid yet? No? Nice, keep going.
If throughout all of these little lessons you’ve managed to maintain a regular, harmonious practice schedule, to ingratiate yourself to the local scene, and promote yourselves without being terribly annoying, then my only advice is to stop lying to yourself. Conversely, if your band has been fumbling through a handful of predictable covers and you still haven’t put up that stack of posters for the show that you had to lie to get in the first place, then congratulations, you’re right where you should be — AKA very fucked.
At this point, all you can do is make sure the show goes as smoothly as possible and that happens two places: in the rehearsal room and on the phone (or internet … whatever).
PRACTICING FOR THE GIG
As the date of the show nears, the focus of your practices should shift from your songs to your set as a whole. By this point, your songs are probably as well rehearsed as they’re going to be, it’s time to go to the whiteboard and put the whole thing together beginning to end.
Before you figure out what tunes you’re going to open and close with, cut the songs that don’t fit in. Cohesion is your first priority when putting a set together; regardless of the image you present on stage, make sure it’s a unified one.
After you’ve trimmed the fat, put the songs in order. In terms of sequence, studies show that people remember best what they hear first and last. Stack your set accordingly if you like.
Now that your set is laid out you can play through it in its entirety. Position yourselves as if you’re on stage and, as painful as it may be, don’t stop to address any musical miscues, play through them to give yourself an idea of just how much work needs to be done. When you’ve finished your final tune, work as a band to address the issues.
Pay close attention to what’s happening between songs, is the guitar player turning to the drummer to call out songs? Is the bassist caught off guard by the tempo the drummer counts in at? Where could you build transitions?
Knowing your songs isn’t enough to put on a killer show and practicing beginning to end will allow the group to gain a better understanding of your set’s dynamics or lack thereof. After a couple run throughs, start making notes on the whiteboard of the extracurriculars; when is the guitar player going to tune? When is the lead singer going to address the crowd?
As you practice your set, the singer should be also rehearsing things he/she is going to say between songs. As silly as it’ll feel to do so, having the muscle memory to say things like “thank you guys so much for coming out,” or “meet us at the merch table after our set” will be invaluable when you’re trying to appear poised during a trainwreck of a set.
While nothing can substitute for experience and stage-time, practicing your entire show before a gig will add a sense of professionalism and will cut down your on-stage surprises significantly. This is the single most important thing your band can do in the weeks leading up to a show.
STAYING IN CONTACT
“Hey dude, super sorry but our guitarist has to work late and we won’t be able to get to the club until 11. We’ll haul ass after we pick him up though!!!”
That’s a real text I’ve received from a band that was supposed to play a show at 9 pm with us before. It was in response to a text I sent them explaining that load-in had been pushed back to 8 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. These things happen ALL THE FUCKING TIME but you can prepare yourself for them with regular communication with the bands and venues in the month leading up to the show.
Create an email, text, or Facebook message chain with all parties involved and make sure all of the following information is in the open:
– Day-of contact for each party (phone number)
– Load in
– Sound check
– Show time
– Bill order and length of each set
– How, when, and what the bands will be paid
– Gear (Who is bringing what? What does the venue provide?)
– Attach a digital copy of the poster for good measure
Make sure to get a confirmation from all parties involved because hammering out these details a month in advance will eliminate most last-minute stress. After all, emergencies will always come up, musicians will always be late, and venues will always try to short you, but straightforward and timely communication will cut down on showtime mishaps.
As with all things, the ability to predict future hurdles and prepare accordingly is crucial to your success. Treating your upcoming show the same way you would a job interview or exam will do nothing but positive things for yours and everyone else’s experience.
Playing a show is a lot of damn work and, like starting a band in the first place, you’ve got to have a screw loose somewhere to do it. But if the high of being onstage is worth it to you, these tips will help you cut through the extra bullshit so you can focus on what’s important, playing your ass off.