Ultimate Guide To Going Live. Part 1: The Basics

The first part of UG's Ultimate Guide to Going Live. This article lays down the laws of how to survive your gigs.

Ultimate Guitar
Hello readers, and welcome to Ultimate-Guitar's Ultimate Guide to Going Live. This series of articles will do just what it sounds like, and give you some good solid advice and guidelines for how to obtain, perform, and survive your band's live performances. This article will focus on how to survive your show, covering everything from stage fright to making sure you don't get your ass kicked by bar patrons. This article will be making the assumption that you and your band are attempting to get somewhere in the music industry, and make a living as musicians. This means that you are intending to please your audience a little bit, and are willing to make a few minor concessions in order to survive as a musician. All purists, be warned: Parts of this article may upset you. Go write a song about it.

The Audience:

If you are a live band, then the audience is the single most important thing when it comes to your show. How you treat them, and how they react to your band literally makes or breaks your band's success. If nobody likes your band, you won't get any work. Simple as that. So be good to your audience. Remember that people in groups are inherently a bunch of assholes. And when you get a bunch of assholes together in a bar, and give them booze, they become loud obnoxious assholes. This can lead to a number of problems that you must be prepared to deal with.
  • Hecklers: Every crowd has a wise-ass. He's the guy shouting at you to tune your guitar up, telling you that you suck, booing you between songs, and claiming that he's a WAY better drummer than that piece of trash behind your drum kit. You'll pretty much just have to ignore this kind of jerk. Don't respond to him, and don't encourage him. If he's willing to hurl insults at you, he's probably about one step away from hurling a beer bottle at you, and your expensive equipment. I've seen it a dozen times, and if you just ignore him, he'll almost always settle down and enjoy the show. There is one exception though. If a heckler wanders onstage with you and starts causing trouble, beat the living piss out of him. Nobody needs that kind of annoyance when they're trying to play a show.
  • Talkers: Some people simply chose the wrong night to come to the bar and have a pleasant conversation with each other. Not everyone is there to see your band, and those who aren't will consider you to be a nuisance, and they will talk right over you. Once again, just let it go. Unless people have paid for a ticket to your private concert, they have every right (however rude it is) to sit in the bar and talk. Simply don't let it get to you. Hell, you'll be louder than them most of the time anyways. An important piece of advice is this: Don't be shocked when your band goes into it's first quiet song/section and you can still hear bar patrons talking. This is normal for a crowded bar.
  • People Looking For Trouble: Some people are just looking for a fight, or someone to pick on. If a heckler gets too out of hand, and there appears to be danger to you or your equipment, have the bar's bouncer escort the guy out. If a brawl breaks out, grab your stuff and leave. You're a musician, not a prize-fighter.

    The Venue:

    A bar is a business. As such, you are a business associate of any bar that books you to play there, so act professional. Call ahead to confirm everything. Confirm a load-in time, a show-time, how much money you'll be making that night, what amenities (free beer!) the bar is providing, and any special conditions there may be. Once you've confirmed everything, here's a great tip: be on time. Nothing is worse for your band's reputation with a bar than showing up 20 minutes late and unprepared. The only reason you should ever back out of a show is if someone is too sick to move, or if there's a genuine family emergency. Your bassist getting called in to work at Arby's is NOT an excuse, nor is your singer getting dumped by his girlfriend. Know the venue. Make sure you know if there is a PA system supplied, or if you will need to rent one. Know exactly how to get there, and how long the commute is. Know what entrance you load in at, and know the exits. Know the manager and the names of the staff, and be nice to them. Be especially nice to the guy in charge of the house PA system. He can make you sound really good or really pathetic. Make sure your band has an appointed "leader," who will be in charge of handling the business side of things. If only one of you is doing the talking, there won't be any crossed wires or misunderstandings. More importantly, know the bar itself, it's atmosphere, and it's patrons. If the atmosphere of the place is somewhat relaxed, you can play a wider range of tunes, like acoustic ballads and experimental stuff. But if you're playing downtown at some questionable dive full of rough-looking scumbags, you better be playing nothing but rock, and it had damn well better rock hard. It's one thing to be true to your artistic self, and play an acoustic song in a rock club. But it's quite another to play "It's Rainin' Men" in a biker bar. You can only take your creative license so far when you're playing bar gigs.

    The Show:

    Remember that you aren't just being heard at a live gig, you are being seen. Therefore, you must put on a show. Unless your name is John, Paul, George or Ringo, you won't get by just standing there strumming your guitar like a zombie. Now, I'm not advocating the sacrifice of playing quality in the name of jumping around like an idiot, but at least try to look like you're enjoying yourself. Rock out as much as is appropriate. Discuss with your band what clothes you will be wearing at the show, and make sure you're all cool with how the band is presenting itself. It's not totally queer to plan some stage tricks/moves/stunts with the rest of your band as well, such as timing a jump so that you all jump and land on the same chord is cool. My band always does the big jump when we finish the chorus to "Back In Black." Even just making sure to interact with your bandmates onstage is good enough. This will make you look like you really know your stuff, and are able to think on your feet. Another very important item to have with you is a set list. Plan what songs you will play, and in what order. You should also include the cues for when to introduce the band, when to talk to the crowd, etc... Why is this so important? Because when you're onstage in a busy bar, any time that you are not entertaining is dead time. It disrupts the flow of the show, and ruins the experience. When it comes time for your frontman to talk with the crowd, make sure you all know what he's going to say. If you're not a punk band, don't make jokes about masturbating and crapping your pants. And if you do make jokes, make sure they are a little relevant. At a recent show, the frontman of the band I was watching said: "Man, it's good to have an audience at the show, for once... the other week I played for two people... and they were in the other band." Light humour like that is what you should aim for. Don't try to be a stand-up comedian when you're not. Beware of joking about touchy news issues, or government stuff, or politics. If you're going to offend someone, do it with your music, not with your opinons on the news. It's also good to briefly introduce songs that have some kind of background story to them. Another thing that the venue managers will appreciate is to welcome people to Jim's Pub, or wherever you're playing, and encourage patrons to drink. It's also good to remember the absolute basics. If you make a mistake, keep playing. This cannot be stressed enough. Nothing is more unprofessional than stopping in the middle of a song, and starting over, after stuttering an apology to the crowd. Just keep on going. My brother was a Default concert, and THEY screwed up and started over. It was pathetic. If you play a song poorly, then play the next one perfectly. Whenever it's possible, stand at the front of the stage and face the audience. I've seen bands that just huddle around the drummer and stare at each other the whole time. If you don't know your tunes well enough to play them without looking at each other the whole time, then you need more practice. It's fine to just give a nod and a glance, or a little eye contact when there's a tricky part coming up, but don't huddle for the whole show. It's also a good idea to have the guitarist step forward and the singer step back when it comes time for a guitar solo, as it draws attention to the music, and away from the singer. Simply put, make sure your putting on a good show to go with your music. It's live entertainment, and it's a tough business, so the better your showmanship is, the better you will do.

    Stage Fright:

    When it comes to stage fright, there's little I can offer in terms of a real cure. Simply remember that most people can't even do a fraction of what you're doing on stage, and they are just impressed that you have the balls to go up there and perform. Most people also don't notice or care when you hit one wrong note, or forget a chorus in a cover song, either. And if you're playing original material, who's gonna know when you screw up? They've never heard it before, right? Now, it's normal to be a little nervous before the show, regardless of your experience, so here's what I reccommend: Pick a first song that is not incredibly hard for anyone in the band to do. It shouldn't have a hook that requires utter percision to play correctly, nor should it have vocals that will strain your singer too early in the show. By the time you've finished your first song, most normal stage fright will be gone, and you'll be good to go. You'd be surprised how confident you become when people are cheering you on.

    The Equipment:

    Time for a very important tip: Watch your shit. Keep a damn close eye on any of your property that you bring to a bar. Drunks have sticky fingers, and a guitar is a pretty easy thing to run off with, and pawn for a few hundred dollars. Wherever there is equipment of yours, there must be at least one member of the band. What my band does is this: The four of us get to the venue, with our gear. Three of us grab as much stuff as we can, and take it inside. One guy stays back and guards the van. Once we're inside, one of us stays with the gear onstage and starts setting up, all the while keeping a close eye on everything. The other two of us simply go back and forth unloading gear. This way, all the gear is under constant supervision all of the time. On another equipment note, make sure your gear is adequate to play a live show. If your amps are just not loud enough, or if one is way louder than the other, you have to do something about it. Rent or borrow an amp, or buy a suitable one. You can't have a 100W Marshall stack going up against a 30W solid-state practice-amp for the bassist. A good rule of thumb is that your bass amp should have approximately twice the wattage of the guitar amp, and your PA should be about the same. However, the more watts you have on your PA, the better, as this allows for more headroom before you get any feedback. This isn't a set-in-stone rule, but it's a fairly good guideline. It is of absolute importance that your singer can be heard clearly over the band. Nothing kills a crowd's interest like not being able to understand the signer.

    The Perks:

    Most bars will provide some kind of complimentary service for the band, usually in the form of a couple rounds of beer, and some food. There are a few things to watch out for in this department. Firstly, don't be greedy. Don't pig out on the complimentary chow just because you can. It's rude and unprofessional, so just take what you need. Secondly, and most importantly, don't get drunk. It's one thing to have one or two beers to relax a little, but don't get horse-faced. The two first things that happen when you are drunk are slurred speech and a loss of fine motor control. If your singer is slurring, and your guitarist can't even tell where his fingers are, your show will sound like crap, plain and simple. You're there to play, not to drink. Would you drink at your day job as if it were nothing? Money is a definite perk. Make sure you have agreed on your payment terms before you play, including deductions, bonuses, and anything else that could affect the final payment. Don't collect until you are just about ready to leave. Just go up to the man in charge and politely ask if it's time to settle up. If the guy tries to stiff you on the money, be firm but polite, and insist on the original agreed-upon terms. It never pays to beat the crap out of the promoter over a money issue. But if he's definitely pulling a fast one on you, don't play there again. And when you DO get paid, remember that you are in a bar. Don't wander around with a roll of $20's in your hand, unless you want to get mugged. I think I'll finish with a little word of caution about the best perk of all: Groupies. Girls love a rock band, and believe me, if you put on a proper show, you stand a good chance of getting hit on by a few ladies. All I'll say is this: If she'll go home with you, what makes you think she won't go home with anyone else? Don't think that you're the first guy she's ever propositioned in a bar. Good luck everyone! Happy gigging. Contact Info: Tom LeBlanc, aka: FrigginJerk, asstoupee@hotmail.com. Interested in writing articles for UG? You should follow this link, and post in the forum, so that you can get started on writing your own column!
  • 112 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Lurch: it really depends on the person. if you experiment and discover that it helps, then fine, but if you simply DECIDE that you are going to start taking drugs because you are SURE that it's gonna make you a better writer, you probably are in for a surprise. the beatles weren't into psychedelic drugs until they were already famous. Van Halen and AC/DC never got into anything worse than a little pot. Keith Richards never did anything but grass before the Stones got big. some bands are exceptions. the peppers were on heroin for years before they made it big. either way, yeah. if it works for ya, great. but i've heard some really terrible music that was made while the band was high, and MOST of the best rockers got famous on their own, and THEN got into drugs.
      I agree w/ friggenjerk here, practicing/equipment is definitely a better investment of time and money than toking/weed is. However, I believe I read somewhere that Brandon Boyd of Incubus started smoking pot in his early teens, and he said that it sort of opened the creative floodgates (he is the singer/lyricist). I don't agree with the method, but some musicians were potheads before they got radio play and platinum albums. Granted, lots weren't, but there is one example.
      okay, well, you take your drugs, and i'll play my guitar, and we'll see who ends up better off.
      frigginjerk : Well I knew you wouldn't understand, take an example of Jimi Page or Hendrix you, they'er down dirty in drugs (not grass though). To achieve those Pschedelic Sound of Illusion you don't need to be broke or to being a famous musician, of course not. It's just the way to go dipper into the overloading the senses and discover something beyond your talent or you would end up in blue grass jazz type of bands which isn't bad but it isn't ground shaking either. Think about that !!!
      Nice, I'm new to this but i can definately say that your article hit the right notes. I can't wait to read your next article, thanks
      well said, im going bed, it feels like my head, isnt on my shoulders, and its holding, to much to bear, im not wearing underwear, because im naked.....! jk...! well said, it was a pleasure to read
      ^Yeah, I agree, music made WHILE high is pretty much teh sux, and someone who sucks at writing isn't going to get good at it by getting hammered/bombed/stoned/bl itzed/wasted/high/toked/c ranked etc. Short story: I'm pretty sure we agree :
      what the heck is beback talkin bout
      i posted the address of MY band's website because someone asked about it, and he didn't like the site. it's REALLY under construction.
      what the heck is beback talkin bout, i guess i missed something. As for the article, its stuff most already know about, but its still a good article for beginners or just to read.
      be-back: the site is under construction, and it WAS thrown together in one night. it clearly states that we are working on the final version. and what's this about Joe Perry? that's right out of left field. and surely you realize that all of these artists got talented BEFORE they started in with the drugs, right? when you're a broke musician, you have to choose between a bag of grass and a pack of guitar strings. only one of those choices allows you to make music. if you are one of those people who is under the illusion that you must be under the influence of drugs at all times to even BEGIN being a famous musician, you are in for a surprise when you realize you've spent too much time getting wasted and not enough time practicing. think about it.
      1) Site 101% sucks, like you made it night before you submit this article. 2)You don't have to say there are bunch of whiny ass (all know that) and we are better, just prove it. 3) Joe parry he is really alright, check out that UG featured artist Jarle H. Olsen Project way way talented, and ya Audio slave? that falls straight into poprock.... 4) Finally, if you can't take 2 drop of ACID you don't know how to rock like them for sure!! It takes real man a hard trip to make such a creative stuff, just stick to article ehhhhh.....
      great article friggin'(better not call you 'jerk' huh?) anyways, my band is not far from its first live and this really helped.
      And great article, I enjoyed it even though I have about a snowball's chance of hell freezing over (yes, I thought that was a well-mixed metaphor) of actually performing a "gig", as you semi-professional musicians call it.
      thx, seems like i made alot of mistakes in my first gigs :s
      i love this aritcle...very interestin i am not plaaning to have a band or stuff like that buttits fun!
      WhiteKnight123 wrote: Lots of musicians did drugs, then gave up later, like Red Hot Chillis, thats what 'Under the Bridge' is about, and Kurt Cobain stopped Kurt Cobain stopped because he died...
      no man he didnt you retard.. he stopped a while before he died. he didnt even drink alcohol. know ur shit before u run your mouth.
      Nothing but the truth, the article awnsered most questions I had and raised a few new interesting ones I really love this article and know it by hart Thanks a bunch though you may have just changed my life
      Lots of musicians did drugs, then gave up later, like Red Hot Chillis, thats what 'Under the Bridge' is about, and Kurt Cobain stopped
      Kurt Cobain stopped because he died...
      thnx for the tips, i have my first gig in 13 days (problably gonna be a nerve wreck, the band wants me to be the singer, but i'm not convinced of my singing skills ) great article oh, one more tip. Bring some friends who can cheer you on, and are (over)enthoustiatic (did i spell that correctly? ) When there are people already cheering, the rest of the crowd will join faster than when it's a bit quiet. And it gives the impression that your band did something right, cause they already have fans :p
      Above all man, have fun. You're getting to do what most people only dream about.
      I hate to say but beating the piss out of people can cause riots and therefore you will never play at that venue again
      tyler larsen
      ***ing great article...as far as drinks i have two shots of scotch and a beer and it helps me loosen up.
      Ax Man
      Good article...As far as someone gettin' on your stage...That's why they put the heavy bottoms on mic stands...THINK about it One part that I really like was about the drinkin', I think that it's cool to have a beer/drink or two, BUT the bottom line is that (altho havin' fun) you are still workin', and you never know who's watchin' your show.
      Ive got a gig with my band in a couple of months it were dead easy to get the place! cos im organising it! but the first thing we did was get a band who everyone knew in the school and get them to play last then got a few bands who had played at another gig in february who can kick ass aswell!
      ive taken drugs before and it didnt help much, i discovered more just by chillin and playing than drugs. U(be-back) just think its an easy way when its not, to create music. Some people just got talent or an idea, not drugs. If i woulda spent my money on equipment than drugs id have my stuff like 4 years ago too. Basically your just giving an excuse for takin drugs. if you wanna do it dont be a pussy about it by makin excuses and ill tell u from personal experience. lots of bad sh** happens when u take drugs and may end up not being able to play at all
      lol, great article man, and on your final note in the article, the women, the main rule around here for any band member is safety first, cause some of em are cash hunters and the less they have to work with the better. But then on the subject of drugs, whoever brought up hendrix, he was a great guitarist/composer before all that like frig said, and not only that but the drugs he used were the cause of his career rapidly degrading, no disrespect to him, he is my idol, but he made some sorry choices, and he lost everything for his kicks so, you pick whats important, id just rather concentrate on why i started playing in the first place and forget about money and pot and all that, i started playing guitar cause i loved it, period