It’s show time! There you are, waiting in the wings for what’s shaping up to be one heck of night, and lo and behold, something’s gone wrong. Here’s a few common problems you might face as a gigging band, and how to deal with them as and when they occur.
1. Breaking a string
We’ve all been there: you’ve been playing a blinder so far, the air’s electric with energy and your favourite part’s coming up. You just know you’re going to nail it. And then, disaster strikes. You hear a discordant twang, something shiny whips past your wrist and suddenly the song sounds awful.
You have three main options here:
- Carry on with the car crash despite the sound of screeching metal and crunching glass
- Remove the offending string and try to tune up the survivors on the fly
- Stop playing your part and let the others limp along.
You could try and stop mid-song, but this may seem a little melodramatic, and probably just call more attention to your mishap. It also shows you’re not equipped to cope with an emergency. Something that’ll show you can is to always bring a spare set of strings to a gig. Even if you’ve only used one out of a whole pack, be sure to replenish your stock as soon as possible. It may also be worth having a back up instrument. This may seem like a fairly expensive safety measure, but unless you’re uncommonly swift at restringing, it might take an uncomfortably long time in between songs to repair the damage.
2. Being Out of Tune With One Another
While it’s tempting to inundate your pedal board with as many wacky effects as you can fit on it, never underestimate the importance of a tuner. Many models mute your signal, so you can spare your audience the dreaded ‘tuning song’. You may well be able to tune easily by ear, and if so, congratulations. But in a gig scenario, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You could be perfectly in tune with yourself, and your band mate could be perfectly in tune with themselves, but if those frequencies are just a little out, it’ll be painful to listen to. Use the tuner as a standard, and you’ll be all set.
3. Someone Messing Up
You may have heard that no one will notice a musical gaffe as much as you will. That’s not hard to believe – you’ll probably know your songs inside out by the time you’re playing them in public, so it stands to reason that you’d pick up on the tiniest bum note. If the tiniest bum note is all that’s wrong with the performance, then sure, the audience might not notice at all. But if the mistake is glaringly obvious … ever had that dream where you arrive at school only to realise that you’re naked? Mistakes are frustrating enough as it is, but making them in front of a roomful of puzzled faces can make you want to shrivel up and die.
There are various possible explanations for why you or your band mate didn’t play quite what everyone else expected you to today. It could be a new song, or one you’ve not rehearsed as much as the others. You might have a classic case of nerviness. You could be tired, or drunk. But, whatever the reason may be, the fact remains that you’re stood in front of a baffled group of people, onstage with an angry group of people, and you need to nip it in the bud before it gets any worse. If you can dive straight back in, great – it was just a blip on the radar. Try your best to salvage the song by ploughing on regardless, and the whole thing won’t fall apart.
4. Forgetting Something Important
You’re probably familiar with that sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you lay out your pedals, strap on your gee-tar and realise you’re one jack lead short of a picnic. Or you delve into your pockets and pull out fluff, keys, but no plectrum. This may not sound like the end of the world, but not every venue will be able or willing to supply you with that oh-so-essential piece of equipment you’ve unwittingly left behind. It’s not worth risking not being able to play, so put some preventative measures in place. Work out a equipment checklist with your band mates so you can help each other remember everything you’re going to need, and, if you can afford it, get as many spares as your can.
5. Emptying The Room
The walk-on moment you’ve been psyching yourself up for all day has been irrevocably sullied by a sea of no faces. It’s as if nobody showed up for your birthday party after weeks of careful planning, and then your parents decide this unexpectedly free evening would be the perfect opportunity to take you to the dentist. It’s hard not to take a mass exodus personally, as, after all, they were polite enough to listen to the other bands. The best thing to do hear is play your heart out anyway. Sure, the dream is to have thousands of adoring fans shouting every word back to you, but if an unsuccessful promotion campaign, a large portion of the audience turning up only to support their friends’ bands or a slot that clashes with something more popular has lead you to playing in front of no one, absolutely do not flounce offstage. If there are any stragglers, you’ll make yourself look like a proper diva, and if you haven’t played, you won’t get paid. Treat it instead as a live rehearsal, with lights and everything.
6. Venue Overcrowding
While this could serve as evidence that the gig was a success, if a room exceeds its capacity, problems will almost certainly ensue. People won’t be comfortable, and won’t be able to access services such as the bar or bathrooms as easily as they should. If they’re made to stand still in one sweaty spot for a second too long, they’re going to leap at any opportunity to change their situation. These urges may manifest themselves as a stage invasion, which, while music videos might give us the impression that this is the sign of a riotous good time, will put yourselves and your precious equipment at risk. If you’re playing at a venue that usually packs out, have a word with the promoters beforehand and put a cap on ticket sales.
7. Get Paid Less Than Expected
It may seem a little tactless to demand money from someone who’s essentially done you a favour by putting your band on the bill, but business is business. Always try to agree upon a figure with your venue owner well before the gig, because spirits are going to be running high on the night. And blame is quickly thrown around if the night isn’t the success it should have been. If intake behind the bar and ticket sold don’t justify the expense of the fee you’ve requested, and you haven’t secured the agreement in writing, you’re going to find it pretty difficult to squeeze the full amount out of the venue owner. And, while you need to look out for yourselves, a confrontational approach will most likely result in a burned bridge.
8. Falling Out On Stage
Hopefully this is an extremely rare occurrence, if it even ever happens. But sometimes stress and nerves get the better of us, and we say things in anger we wish we could take back. Sadly, that’s not how this game works. If you’ve had a particularly hard run of it recently, and find yourselves bickering and sniping at each other, you’re all going to be more sensitive than usual – and heaven forbid this comes to a head during a performance. It’s embarrassing for the audience to witness, and you’ll wish you never did it. Don’t just let things slide – make sure you all air your dirty laundry in private before you wear it in public.
9. Falling Over On Stage
People love to see an energetic show, and this coupled with your own excitement is going to make you want to jump around like a lunatic when the beat drops. However, don’t forget that you’re operating heavy machinery in a confined and potentially sticky environment. If you’ve got a 3m jack lead, don’t try to walk more than 3m away from your amp, because it’ll either unplug itself or it’ll fall over. Also, don’t try to swing your guitar around your neck if you haven’t got the space, because you’ll hit a wall or a face. And as for balancing on the monitors, if they don’t belong to you, don’t risk it. Unless you’re a trained acrobat, it’s an accident waiting to happen. Especially after a couple of pints.
10. Not Having a Ride
It’s important to make yourself as independent as possible when you’re in a band. If you’re late, being accountable for your own actions by explaining that you’ve broken down is going to go down a lot better with the venue owner than blaming your friend with a car who didn’t show up in time. At least you’re taking your fate into your own hands this way. This is probably more of a pressing issue on the way to the show, but it’s reassuring to know you’ll be able to get home again.
Written by Joe Hoten at Bands For Hire, a live entertainment agency in the UK offering a range of live party bands and musicians for hire.
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