WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE
You know what I’m talking about. Those times when Murphy’s Law strikes. Your arrive late to the gig, your kit doesn’t work right, the bar owner is furious and the crowd is restless. You suck it up and start playing and for a minute it seems like you can put the cold start behind you. Then the power goes out. Could it get any worse? I doubt it. If you perform on a regular basis, it will happen to you one day. The good news is you can survive all of these problems by being prepared. It may seem insurmountable, but I have played a gig where nearly all of this happened in one night, and we survived. It’s all preparation. This is what you need to do to survive this nightmare.
FORTUNE FAVORS THE CREW THAT STICKS TOGETHER…
There is no excuse to be late to a gig. With today’s modern communications technology, everyone has the potential to be contactable all of the time. Even if you got the time wrong, a simple phone call would have solved all the problems. However, it is always a great idea for a band to meet at a central location at some point before a show, and travel together “convoy” style if possible. This is a sure fire way to make sure everyone arrives on time, doesn’t get lost, or can get assistance if something does go wrong.
The spill over effect of this is that when you arrive on time, you can take your time and set up properly, sound check, as well as check your equipment for problems and in general, relax before the show starts.
KEEP A COPY OF THE SET LIST
Unless you are some freeform jam rock improv jazz type thing, you need to know what you are going to play. Every member of the band should know what song is coming next so they can prepare for it without having to debate first what song to play in the first place. Have a set list in sight for every member of the band. Know in advance what songs may require guitar changes or change of tuning so that you don’t kick off the tune until everyone is ready. Moments like that are easily filled with some banter, usually between the singer and the audience.
SPARE A THOUGHT FOR ME
It’s not always possible, but you should aim to have a backup ready to go at all times. However sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get through it. Once the set is over you can grab your backup and play the rest of the gig without keeping everyone hanging around while you fiddle with your kit.
If you can’t keep a spare kit handy and need to make do, have some backup material. This applies to all band members. You should have a song that can be played when any member of the band is incapacitated. Then any running repairs can be made while the rest of the band covers.
KEEP YOUR WITS ABOUT YOU
It doesn’t matter what you think, you do not sound better when you are smashed. Sure, maybe to your ears, but not to mine or anyone else’s. A few years ago, I remember playing a huge New Years Eve show where there were two bands. There was us playing inside, and the main band playing on the outside stage. The other band I had seen many times before and they were great. In fact they were one of the most popular bands to play this particular venue. In between sets, they were heading up to their rooms, getting stoned and drunk, then coming back down to play their set is a semi comatose state. We were inside, enjoying a few drinks between sets and keeping it together. Our sets overlapped slightly and by the end of the night, whenever both bands were playing, inside was packed and outside the other band was ignored. The following year, we were asked back to play New Years again as the only band. In fact after that New Years gig we were booked regularly to play both nights of the weekend every month (think about that for a second, we were booked for 25% of that venues available shows). It may be fun to get tanked and play, but it won’t get you anywhere.
NEVER TRUST A BATTERY
To this day I still cannot believe people run their effects off batteries. It is just a disaster waiting to happen. Sure, I have batteries in my pedals that I swap out every few months. But they are the BACKUP for when some drunken idiot in the crowd falls onto the stage and pulls out a power lead or something similar. Or perhaps you accidentally leave a cable plugged in between sets and the battery drains on you. If you do need to run off battery, work out how long they last and change the battery in half that time. This should help avoid unwanted failures at critical times, and make sure you have extra batteries.
PLAY ON, PLAYA
There is not a lot you can do about this but ride it out. Although it’s not as bad as it sounds. When a venue loses power, you can be sure it will be up in less than minute unless something MAJOR has gone wrong, in which case the venue will normally shut if it is a building wide blackout. So for the next 60 seconds, what do you do? It’s easy. Nobody stops. The entire band keeps playing. The singer goes to the front of the stage and starts yelling the lyrics at the crowd. I am yet to see this not work. The crowd will start singing back. When the power kicks back in the band hasn’t missed a beat and the crowd will go crazy. It is slick and professional and will fire up the crowd for the rest of the night.
If it goes over the 60 seconds just finish the song and wait. Not much more you can do, but at least you tried.
JUST BE PREPARED
If you are prepared and use common sense, you can cope with any disaster. I personally have had all these issues, besides the drunken stupidity, happen in one night, and we survived by having an escape plan and sticking to it. It’s not that hard to come up with your own emergency escape route, and I hope these examples can inspire you to be even more gig ready.