Playing A Gig Survival Guide

What to do and what not to do at a gig and general tips and advice.

Ultimate Guitar
What to do and what not to do at a gig and general tips and advice.

Checklist Of Gear/Tools:

1. Spare guitar and strap: You never know when your guitar will fail or when your strap will break. 2. Spare strings: See article "Top 10 Onstage Embarrassments". 3. Tuner: See article "Top 10 Onstage Embarrassments". 4. Batteries: The last thing you need before you start your solo is realising that your Wah doesn't have a battery. 5. Spare Picks: Unless you play with your fingers, bring at least 5 spares and put them in your pocket. Every guitarist's nightmare is dropping a pick. 6. Cables: This is the most important part. Bring a cable long enough to cover the stage, unless you want to sit next to your pedal board playing through a patch cable.

To Do List:

1. Turn your amp on about 5 minutes before the start: This lets the tubes warm up before you start your gig. 2. Tune EVERY guitar: Even if you think you'll never use your backup, tune it. You don't want to keep your audience and band waiting while you tune. 3. Check all gear and sound: Especially guitarists. check all amps, guitars and pedals during the soundcheck so you can make sure some pedals aren't louder than others, unless it's meant to be like that. Check some guitars don't have their volume down. And check that all amps are ON. 4. Take some water onstage: NOT ALCOHOL, Water. You'll never think you'll need it but you'll realise that onstage your mouth goes dry, for no apparent reason. 5. Write your setlist: Write it down on about 5 pages and put them all around the stage: On the side of your amps, on feedback speakers, on the floor beside your pedal board, etc. You need to know what to play next and you can't just run to the other side of the stage to check the list. Put them EVERYWHERE.


1. Drink lots of alcohol before going onstage. 2. Forget to say the name of your band or yourself between songs: Tell people who you are, get your name out there. 3. Think you can share gear: I've done this before and I'll never do it again. I was at a local music store before a gig that night. I needed strings and picks, but I thought I could just borrow from my rhythm guitarist because he always brings more than he ever needs. When I arrived he brought 1 pick and no spare strings. 4. Take alcohol/cigarettes onstage with you: Unless you're playing a huge stadium gig, don't take this stuff onstage. It looks bad if you're playing in a bar/club with a cigarette in your mouth. 5. 'Shred' during the soundcheck: The PA Engineer doesn't like it when you do this, play a few chords or some of your riffs. But don't play solos, they don't like it.

45 comments sorted by best / new / date

    #3 under don't: that's a big one. I've done it before and regretted it.
    agreed. I was in a band where the other guys were always relying on me for shit and the day came when i had no extra stuff and they were stuck. its really unprofessional and almost childish in my opinion. Have all your own stuff! ALWAYS.
    I guess this is a hit-or-miss thing because I enjoy sharing gear with my colleagues. Mostly because they have good gear and take excellent care of it.
    I think the idea is don't be dependant on your bandmates to bring something you need to a gig unless you specifically asked them to bring it and they agreed. So if you don't have a pick don't just expect your band mate to have a spare one for you.
    My lead-guitarist and I share his Gibson LP as a backup. My Squier Affinity Strat's neck warped and I'm saving to get a new trem to replace the crap that is the Lo-TRS II in my '98 Ibanez RG350 DX. He has much nicer gear, LOL. Once that happens, I will have my a backup. It works pretty well, and he keeps it very well maintained, with a set of .10's (I use .11's, he uses .09's). TL;DR, sharing CAN work if both parties are aware of the situation and planning is done.
    im always competely hammered on stage no ones noticed ... that cant be a good sign
    Nah, thats the best sign. Either means you're so crap at guitar no one noticed, or that you're so good at playing drunk that no one could tell. I'm really good at playing when Im sloshed as shit. So I've heard.
    Not saying I don't think the author is very experienced, but I disagree with quite a bit of this list... things I disagree with: Spare strap... yes, if you mean having a strap on spare guitars (unless you use straps that clip on and off the guitar easily), but spare straps in case one breaks... never seen a strap break if it is in decent condition. I have a strap on each guitar, no need for extras lying around. Also doesn't mention strap locks - essential in my opinion. Spare strings - the whole point of bringing a backup guitar (one per tuning, if you use several tunings) is that you DON'T have to restring during the gig. Nothing ruins a set more than a guitarist stopping to restring, and it takes far too long compared to just swapping guitars, which can even be done mid-song if you aren't playing an important part for a while. 'Cables' should be less about the length (10ft and over is fine, usually, unless you wanna swap sides with the other guitarist, in which case 20+ is better) and more about bringing spare cables - several spare cables, in fact. They break far more often than straps. Liquids on stage - should probably mention using your brain when placing them - especially if it is a glass or open bottle, as liquid + electricity = boom. No open containers on amp heads either, if the amps are vented (i.e most valve amps) as this is an obvious risk. Also, alcohol on stage is fine - I agree about ciggarettes purely as it is illegal in a lot of countries now. Gear-sharing is fine if you plan in advance and are liasing with the other bands/venue/promoter etc. As a sound engineer myself, let me clarify - sound engineers HATE when guitarists shred WHILE WE'RE TRYING TO SET UP OTHER INSTRUMENTS/MICS. Shred your heart out for all we care WHEN IT IS YOUR TURN TO BE HEARD, and obviously you'll want to make sure your lead channel/boost pedal/whatever is set to boost enough and not too much when you need it to, so go through songs where all the important elements are there (i.e a song where all vocalists sing at some point, any lead guitarists play solos etc.). Hating people shredding about is not just about hating hearing it - it's about it interfering with what we're trying to do in limited time constraints, and it applies to onstage noise in general - whether that is drummers messing around, bassists funking the slap bass or the triangle player hanging the triangle off his bell-end and distracting our attention/getting our puke over the desk.
    I actually saw a strap break once. It just the hole in the strap ripped open. But it was a cheap (10-type) strap.
    Some of these are decent tips, most of them are so anti-rock'n'roll it's unbeleivable
    link no1
    I always have a few drinks before I go on, despite being told not to -.- I have terrible stage fright and won't go near the stage sober...
    Try and limit what you drink, and try to drink a little less each time. You should be able to build up your confidence over time and eventually not need to drink.
    I usually drink a bottle of light beer right before stepping on stage not because I have stage fright, I just feel better that way. Had no problems playing without it though.
    I don't say this to poke fun nor do I intend to cause offense, but if that's the case, maybe the stage is not for you. There are ways to be huge as a musician without ever really having to play live. Either that or seek professional help? No one should have to go on stage panicking.
    I have to disagree with you, whenever I go onstage I always get nervous but I see it as a good sign, shows that I still enjoy playing live
    I just realized that'd be a great "don't": panic. Don't panic before a show even if you think it's not gonna be great. Most people going to the show are probably going to be more intoxicated than you are, unfamiliar with your music, and are unlikely to care if you make one or two small blunders. Not everyone in the audience is judging your guitar playing skill or your vocal talents.
    ive heard of famous musicians that suffered from stage fright. Ive heard that charlie daniels wore the big hat n glasses because he had some form of stage fright. Non of the information is confirmed.
    Addition to the 'to do' list: Bring more picks, batteries, strings and cables than you think you'll need. Nothing sucks more than breaking one string too many and finding out you have to play the rest of the gig on 5 strings or a wrong-sounding backup guitar.
    Or having someone who didn't read "Don't #3" yoink your spares and leaving none for yourself.
    This batteries should be in the to do list. Goddamnit my 2nd gig i got 2 pedals (compressor and distortion) running only with a dc cable. The DC got ****ed up at the last/best song so my guitar sound died. If that happened on the first or second songs i probably **** up everything. Guys bring extra batteries if ur gonna use pedals!!!
    4 don't: A cig actually looks cool if you can pull it off and although I agree getting drunk is retarded before a gig but I have found that a sip between songs or when the frontman is talking is actually helpful.
    I think the no alcohol part could be left out. Not everyone who drinks is going to immediately forget their parts. i generally prefer a slight buzz when playing. Helps me get into it more and give less of a shit about playing on stage. Some people are just shy you know? Nothing like some liquid courage. However, if you're a lightweight who can't handle their booze, then by all means refrain. I'm pretty sure most musicians have a few drinks before hand. Also who cares about cigarettes on stage? "Oh no, tobacco, this completely discredits the band" yeah right. The rest of the list is pretty solid though.
    I played a gig once. We invited about fifty-sixty people. We played with just four 15-60 watt amplifiers on all members. Two of them dropped dead after half an hour of playing... Worst gig ever... We didn't even earn any money if broken amps are not counted.
    Was that cheap amplifiers, or did you have too low watt on the cabinets? because I'm thinking about buying an Orange TH30 watt head and use for gigging.
    @2. under Don't: only half true. Yes, you need to get your BAND's name out, but the crowd doesn't care what the names of band members are, they want what they came for: your music. And I'm not speaking as a member of a band, but a "member" of the crowd. Other than that, a very nice list/guide.
    If you have to get it out, make it short and sweet. I won't spend five minutes introducing my bandmates with skanky backing music and retarded nicknames. Just a "hey these are my bandmates [x] on bass and [y] on drums". That's it.
    Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Tom Morello, Flea, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Elvis, Kobain.... These are just a few of the many famous musicians who suffered from stage fright. Being *born* to do something is just a myth, and hence, bullshit. If you are afraid to go onstage, you must overcome that fear, not shrivel up and tell yourself "Maybe the stage isn't for me".
    In response to the don'ts: 1. Always drink lots of alcohol before going onstage, otherwise you're doing it wrong. 2. No talky talky, more music 3. Heck, just show up, the roadies will handle getting all your stuff for you. 4. Smoking indoors is illegal most places, illegal stuff makes you cool and rock harder. 5. Never stop shredding.
    I obviously seem to have a lot to say about this article. It's pretty decent, and there's a lot I'd add to it, but even for simpler gigs, these are some great tips. I think the most important thing to do before, during, and after a gig, though, is to have fun. You're up there to play your music and people are there to see it. Doesn't matter if you're playing for 5,000 or 5 people, to that audience, you're the star. Even if you don't believe in yourself, believe in the audience who believes in you.
    Unfortunately this is the sort of thing that can become a habit (aka addiction). If you can keep it to a beer or two, that's one thing, but beyond that I'm convinced that it will ultimately be a deterrent to playing well. Of course, there are some well-known musicians who have well-deserved notoriety for their drinking, like James Hetfield of "Alcoholica", Dimebag Darrell and the rest of Pantera, Motley Crue, etc. etc. Many have suffered damage to their careers, relationships and health as a result. The same goes for other drugs, too. I had the dubious pleasure of winding up with heroin addicts in my band. They always self-destructed, leaving us without a drummer or bass player. When they couldn't connect with their "good friend" to get their daily dose, they wouldn't come to rehearsal. Early on I used to ingest a healthy dose of a perception altering substance whenever we rehearsed. Let's just say that I was known for playing very "authentic" acid rock guitar. Eventually it got stronger and I found myself staring at the waves in the carpet, so I stopped. I know about stage fright, but I never experienced it personally. On the contrary, I actually looked forward to playing in front of an audience and always felt calm and relaxed, like I was just where I knew I was supposed to be. That's not meant to imply any criticism to those who tend to get stage fright. Some of the best performers have crippling stage fright, yet they manage to provide hours of entertainment to their fans. In my experience, I've found that anything beyond a couple of beers or some weed will affect the performance negatively . . .
    Insanity ninja
    We don't let the bassist anywhere near alcohol before we play. His timing goes right out of the window. But I don't see the problem with having a beer on stage. I tend to have one before the gig, either with the other bands just to socialize, or if I like the sound tech he gets one aswell. Then I take one on stage with me, I take water on too. My only advice, would be keep your drinks well out of the way of where you might kick or hit them. A soaking wet pedalboard pretty much finishes you off, a soaking wet plug pretty much finishes the gig off.
    As the lead( a nd only) guitarist (I am band leader,and dont sing a note and my name is the name of the band,(all of this being impossible unless I am one entertaining bad ass,having earned my credibility by being better doing more not quitting,and driving the bass player to Burger King SO HE COULD TAKE A MID GIG SHIT (AND EVERY STUPID UNBELIEVABLE CONTINGENCY TO PICK UP MY BAND MEMBERS SLACK)Here is the bottom line....You better be prepared to give up EVERYTHING,your family,your health,a home,day job,all your friends,AND YOUR FREEDOM.YOU CAN NOT EVER BE FAT -YOU MUST GO TO THE GYM.YOU GOT TO OWN ALL EQUIPMENT,I OWNED A MUSIC STORE AS A SIDE LINE.IF YOU CAN DO ALL THIS WITH OUT DRUGS THEN DO IT,IF NOT YOU BETTER TAKE WHAT EVER IS YOUR THING OR YOUR IN THE WRONG BUSINESS.AND NOW...after 9 very successful years of slugging it out,my profile raised accordingly...a big fish in a small all ended with A FUCKING SWAT TEAM AND 15 GUYS WITH MACHINE GUNS KICKING THE WHOLE SHIT HOUSE IN.THAT WAS 2008,JAN 16.....Do not underestimate the cliche "paying your dues".Think its bullshit?Then tell me what YOU HAVE DONE,CURRENT SITUATION,AND PLEASE BE LOGICAL IN YOUR ARGUMENTS AND COMMENTS BECAUSE I AM OFFERING MY BEST ADVISE HAVING ACHIEVED MORE THAN I EVER THOUGHT,GRANTED THE CONSEQUENCE WAS AWFUL.(Prediction,responses,if any will remind me of my literally almost 50 or so" band members"Not a single one who put thier"money where their mouth is"Want proof? ,OF COURSE I GOT IT.A picture tells a thousand words,well I got a thousand pictures of me ,the audience a nd band members in the clubs ,shot on stage that provide a grisly context .Will post or email.WHAT SAY YOU?Warm regards,JACK BEARD,
    Uhum ... I always drink a few beers before getting on stage. It helps me to chill down.. But I hate the situations where you arrive at the show with your band a 5pm (to check out the first band etc.) and need to perform at 11pm =p That has BAD news written all over it! mwuahahaha
    This should go without saying, but it happened to me when I gigged with my friend's band as a favor: Don't leave the stage in the middle of a set to meander around the bar without telling your rhythm section in advance. And definitely, DEFINITELY don't do it twice.