Every musician who has played a number of gigs has some kind of story about something that went wrong. It doesn't matter how good or how famous they are, something has gone wrong or, in all likelihood, will go wrong at some point or another. Here is a quick little "pocket" guide to help you out should you out find yourself in one of these unfortunate circumstances.
Each situation has 2 parts, prevention and quick fix. The prevention will explain how to avoid the problem in the first place, and the quick fix will explain how to fix things should they happen during a show.
Situation #1: There Is A Lot Of Feedback Going On
Prevention: Set up at home like you will on stage to look for problems if possible. Before the gig starts, make sure you are there plenty early to set up and to run a quick sound check to ensure everything is in order. If you have a sound guy to run the board for you, he may be able to help you in spotting the trouble spots before they start.
Quick Fix: Well, the show has started and there is a lot of feedback coming through the speakers. Now what? Know that the most common source of feedback is by sound entering the microphone, coming through an amp or a speaker, and then going right back into the mic, creating a sound loop, better known as the ear-piercing screech you keep hearing. Make sure that the vocal mics are not pointed directly at an amp or speaker, and make sure those amps or speakers are not pointed directly at a wall of furniture. Or, the volume may be up too high. If you have a guy running the soundboard, he may be able to adjust the EQ to eliminate the bad frequencies (it can't always be done though). This is one of the most preventable problems and prevention is the best method here.
Situation #2: Right In The Middle Of A Hot Lead, TWANG; A String Breaks
Prevention: Having your main axe and a good backup just in case is never a bad idea. A second axe for an alternative tuning is a good idea as well since strings are like rubber bands, they can only stretch and relax so many time before they snap. You can always change a string during a set break. Also, newer strings don't break as easily as older ones, so it wouldn't hurt to change your strings no sooner than 48 hours before a show. I say 48 hours because you want to give your strings time to settle in, and time to practice on them to help break them in so they are not constantly going out of tune on you. Plus, taking the strings off gives you a chance to polish it and make it look oh so good for the gig.
Quick Fix: Well, at the spur of the moment, you're just going to have to work with it. If you have your second guitar, switch at the earliest convenience. BRING AN EXTRA PACK OF STRINGS! If you don't have strings and no backup, you are pretty much screwed. Avoiding changing strings in the middle of a set if possible, but if there is no backup and you have to fix that string, then do what you must.
Situation #3: I'm Out Of Tune
Prevention: Tune up before the show. Make sure you have a guitar stand with you too to keep the guitar from tipping over and what not. Bring a tuner of some sort with you on stage. Avoid banging the guitar against walls or other bandmates.
Quick Fix: Once the song is started, you may have to ride it out until the song is over. If you have a break in the song, you can always turn the volume off and try tuning it by ear real quick if you can hear it well enough. Again make sure the volume is off though. Or when the song is over, tune it up quick and try not to delay the show too long. Again, prevention is the main key here.
Situation #4: I Go To Play And Uh-oh, No Sound
Prevention: Sound check, sound check, sound check! Real simple, if it works then, chances are it will also work during the show. Also, try and lay out your cables somewhere where they are not likely to be stepped on, or rolled over by equipment, that sort of thing.
Quick Fix: Before the show starts, just strum a chord or pluck a few notes to make sure you can be heard. If there is no sound, start from the guitar and work down. Is the volume knob on? Is the cable plugged in all the way to the guitar and the amp? Is the amp turned on? Better yet, is it plugged in? Same for your effects pedal(s). Is everything hooked up in the right channel (ex, is the guitar in the input, or is it in the line out)? For the most part, this problem is caused by something simple. If you have eliminated all the simple stuff, it could be mechanical. Try the second input channel on the amp. Try a different cable (assuming you have a spare). Try switching guitars. If the amp is hopelessly dead, you can go through the second channel on another amp or directly through the board through the PA. It won't sound as good, but it's better than nothing.
Situation #5: I Can't Hear The Rest Of The Band
Prevention: *Sigh*. I hate to say this yet again, but sound check. Yes they are important, so don't show up last minute/late and skip it. If you are using monitor speakers, make sure they are working properly. If you are monitoring through your headphones, make sure they are working properly as well. The other important thing to look for during the sound check is if everybody's levels are where they should be. Generally, you want to be loud enough to be heard fine from the back, but don't overkill it to the point where people can't even think and get annoyed and leave. Smaller venues tend to have more places for sound to bounce off of, so you may get away with not being hooked up at all.
Quick Fix: If you are in the middle of a song and you can't hear anybody, about the only thing you can do is reposition yourself if you have room on stage to where you can. Again, this is another situation where preparation is key, it's a hard thing to fix once the show is on the road.
Situation #6: The Band Just Isn't Together
Prevention: Practice, practice, practice! You should know these songs inside and out before you even hit the stage. If they day of the show you don't feel comfortable playing a song, you're too late. Come prepared.
Quick Fix: Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to unfix a mistake, but don't let it bother you. Even great bands are going to have an off-night every now and then. It becomes a mental game at this point. It's like a pitcher who gives up a home run to the other team, you have to shake it off and move on. Smile, thank the audience for coming out, introduce the next song, and move on. If it's early in the show, it may just mean that it's going to take a song or two before the band clicks. But if all you can think is "don't screw up, don't screw up," then you are likely headed for trouble.
Situation #7: The Drummer (or Guitar, Or Bass Player) Didn't Show!
Prevention: Sorry, another lame shot at drummers, but we all know that they are at least a little crazy. The key to prevention is took look for hints during practice. Is everybody getting along? Are people showing up for practice? The latter is a big one, if somebody isn't showing up for a time set by the band, then they probably aren't reliable enough to show up on the day of the gig. Generally, unreliable people don't suddenly become reliable just because you ask them to. Also, plan some sort of dinner or some little get-together before you head over to the show. If they aren't there for that, it gives you time to track them down.
Quick Fix: All you can do here is call, and hope that they got the wrong address or they slept in, or some reason where they are accidentally not there. If they purposefully aren't showing up, then there is little you can do to change their minds at this point. If he says a day or two before the gig he isn't showing up, at least let the club/bar owner know ASAP so they can try to make other arrangements for entertainment. This is the worst type of situation because there is so little you can do, you usually don't see it coming, and there may be somebody getting kicked out in the near future, provided that they don't have a good excuse for letting everybody down.
Now, some miscellaneous tips:
- Should your band have a bad night, don't trash the bar and certainly don't take it out on the fans or the bar owner. Reputation means a lot in this business, and you hurt your chances of getting booked if everybody thinks you're a bunch of a**holes.
- DO NOT DRINK DURING A SHOW! I say no more than 2 drinks before, and drink all you want after, but don't let booze affect your performance. Alcohol leads to more conflicts than anything else, so avoid it on the stage.
- Be careful what you eat before a show. Big meals can make you groggy and sleepy afterward. Dairy products are bad for vocals, they can make your throat feel like you have a cold so consume in moderation. Energy drinks like red bull give you a burst of energy for a bit, then you'll crash afterward. Know what is good for you and what isn't.
- I don't recommend practicing the day before or the day of a show. You want to be cool, calm and relaxed come show time, and worrying about it and listening to other people say "this is bad, this needs to be fixed," right before a show isn't going to help that. Really, you either know it at this point or you don't. An emergency practice rarely fixes anything.
- Here are a few extra things to take with you, just in case: extra strings, extra picks, spare cable, multi-use tool, and a tuner. All of these things can help you out should you end up in a bind.
- A towel is the one of the best tools to have. They are great for sweaty palms and strings, cleaning spills on or near the equipment, getting smudges off of the drum set, eliminating dust, extra padding for equipment, removing sweat from your brow, a simple doorstop if need be, and all sorts of things. Bring a hand towel or two along with you.
I know there are a number of other things that can go wrong, just covering the basics here. Also, there may be more than one solution to any problem, but that's what a comments section is for, isn't it? Good luck, and hope all goes well at your next gig.