Starting Out

Taking Your Sound Live

The Art Of Playing Live

So you’ve practised until you can play your songs with your hands tied behind your backs and the big day has arrived. Whether you’re playing a pub, club or friend’s garage, give your first gig your all and you won’t have any regrets.

It’s only natural that you’ll get nervous before going on stage, but resist the urge to drink before getting up on stage. Liquid courage can help to calm your nerves, but while everything may sound great to you when you’re drunk, it won’t to the audience. Despite what anyone may claim, nobody plays better drunk, and it can be uncomfortable watching someone obviously wrecked onstage. By the time you’re up there and have hit your first note, you won’t be focusing on your nerves anymore - so just enjoy being on stage and save the partying until you’ve finished your set.

If you’re a support band, it’s likely that people are going to make their mind up about you after your first song – sad but true. That’s not to say that you won’t be able to convert any doubters later in your set, but first impressions have a huge influence on how you’ll be viewed by the audience. Audiences want a show and a degree of professionalism, so make sure that all of your kit is setup before you hit the stage. Every mic should be tested and every instrument tuned in soundcheck, so don’t keep your loyal public waiting while you fiddle about with your equipment. If you need to change effects pedals or instruments during your set, make sure that your songs are ordered in a way that minimises these changes. The longer you are setting up, the longer the queue at the bar will become.

Once you’re on stage it’s your chance to let people know who you are. It’s amazing how many acts will walk onstage, play an impressive set and then leave the venue before letting anybody know what they’re called. If you’ve ever been to a gig where members of the audience are shouting: “Who are you?”, you’ll know what we mean.

Introduce yourselves when you walk on or after your first song. It’s hard to create a buzz for yourself if nobody knows what your band’s called, and if people like you they can spread the word or find your music online. Keep in mind that not everybody in the crowd may be there when you start playing, so be sure to tell the crowd what you’re called before you head off stage again. Standard practice is to thank the crowd and tell them who you are once more, just before your last song.

Playing live involves using a lot of technical equipment and, from time to time, things can go wrong. There’s not a person on the gigging circuit that hasn’t fallen victim to equipment malfunction at some point in their career, and more often than not it’ll happen at the worst possible moment.

Do your best to prevent any major problems by bringing spares of everything that you can, and making sure that those are tuned up and ready to go if you need them in a hurry. If something fundamental to your sound has failed, chances are people will notice, so take the opportunity to show that your band has guts. If your guitar breaks mid-song, sing A cappella; it’s a chance to show that you’ve got heart, that behind all that technical trickery are good songs. In the worst-case scenario, play a tune that you can jam along to with a reduced line-up, just as you would in practice, while you get everything set up.

It’s when you’re waiting on someone else and not able to play your songs that a lot of artists come unstuck. Banter between the stage and the crowd is a difficult thing to pull off, particularly as the lights will probably mean you can’t see past a couple of people in the audience. If you’re confident and a good speaker, give it a go, but don’t rant. Use the opportunity to plug your newest EP or merchandise, or let people know where they can find you online. A lot of bands try to make themselves seem moody and mysterious by not engaging with the crowd, but they generally come off looking a little arrogant. Do whatever comes naturally to you, but to get the best crowd reactions you’ll need to look your audience in the eye when you play and talk slowly and clearly when you speak between tracks. Start by introducing songs by their title or explaining what they’re about and see how you get on from there, it gets easier with practice. Gigs will go like a flash once you’re up there, and before you know it you’ll be walking off stage again.

Generally at smaller gigs the bands share the same 'backline'. This is a phrase that promoters and venues use to refer to the kit and amps used on stage. At your early gigs you're most likely to be sharing the same core kit with other bands whilst bringing your own instruments and a few extra bits and pieces. For example, you may all use the same drum kit but bring your own cymbals, you'll use the same amps but you'll need to bring your own guitar and FX pedals. If you're doing this try and get in touch with the other bands beforehand to co-ordinate how things will work on the night.

If you're not sharing equipment (this usually happens at bigger gigs) you’ll need to factor in time at the end of your set to take your equipment off with you to make room for the next act. Don’t bother dismantling your drum kit on stage, just lift in into the wings and take it apart backstage. Move any amps and instruments out of the way and ask the acts on after you if they need any of your equipment before you put it away in your car or van.

While your bandmates are packing all your kit up, there are two other jobs that need to be taken care of. First off, send someone round the venue to get some names and addresses for your mailing list and to peddle any CDs you might have for sale. Hammer that e-mail list because there will be people there who’ve come to see another band but will want to watch you again. If you’ve got any fliers for your next gig, make sure they’re given out too. The second, arguably most important, job is to collect the money from the promoter or venue owner!

You’ll find that a lot of the time the actual promoter won’t be at the venue, often leaving the engineer and door staff to give feedback on how the night went. With this in mind it's always worth buying the resident sound engineer, if the pub or club has one, a drink and being especially nice to them. Remember: they have the power to make you sound great or terrible. In fact, make sure you’re nice to everyone at the venue. Nobody’s going to have an act back if they were rude to their staff, but a glowing report could be all you need to get another booking.

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