If you’re getting ready to play a live gig, be it your first or fiftieth time, showing up prepared is the best way to make sure your show goes smoothly & sounds great. On any given night, the venue, crowd, and gear you encounter could present you with any number of scenarios that you should be ready for. Fortunately, being aware of the kinds of common issues that trouble live musicians can help ensure you are ready to meet them and get back to focusing on the music. In this guide, we will take a look at a few basic gigging essentials that should help you out in many of the kinds of situations you may find yourself in!
A Good Gig Requires Good Preparation
While the equipment that you pack and carry with you to a show may vary depending on your instrument and the type of show you are playing, many musicians end up facing the same issues before, during, and after the show. This includes everything from snapped strings and under-supplied venues to blown-out cables, broken gear, and even dealing with really, really bad sound systems.
It’s not all just about practicing to be prepared for your live performance at the end of the day. You need to be able to show up with a clear head, ready to focus on nothing but your music when the time comes to kick things off. Having all the backup tools and supplies on hand (with the know-how to use them) will help make sure nothing can take you by surprise or send you into a dreaded last-minute scramble to get things working.
Below we take a look at a few of the most basic live show & gigging essentials you’ll want to have in your gig bag at all times, and, with any luck, you may never need to use them. But in all probability, you will run into a scenario where you will need them sooner than later, and it’s better to be prepared for this in advance.
5 Gigging Essentials That Every Musician Needs For Live Shows
Below are five items that just about any musician will find useful at some point throughout their live music career. Pack ‘em & don’t forget ‘em- they may just save your show one day!
1) Back-Up Strings, Cables, & Batteries
Of all the gear that tends to mysteriously go from “working perfectly” to “unusable” just in time for a live gig, guitar/ bass strings, instrument cables, and batteries top the list every single time. And it’s really not hard to understand why.
If you’re a guitarist, you are putting your strings through a lot of use every single time you play, not to mention the oils, dirt, and moisture your fingers leave behind when you’re done playing.
Similarly, instrument cables are constantly being plugged & unplugged, rolled up, and let’s face it- people just generally aren’t that gentle with their cables. Finally, anything that requires a battery probably uses a fair amount of juice, and during rehearsals and shows, gear tends to get left ‘on’ (whether by accident or on purpose).
In other words, strings, cables, and batteries comprise some of the hardest working and often most overlooked/ under-appreciated components of your live show. But the fact is, these parts don’t last forever, and you shouldn’t expect them to!
Making sure you have backups for all of these items on hand at all times will save you a lot of very avoidable headaches down the road. Luckily they are all fairly small and fit easily into even the most spartan of gig bags!
2) A Quality & Reliable Tuner
Whether you’re playing at home, in a studio, or in a live setting, making a habit of keeping your instrument in-tune will make your life easier and performances better. While you may start to develop an ear for it over time, there is simply no substitute for a good quality tuner for your instrument- especially if you play guitar.
There are many different types of tuners out there, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. While you probably don’t need to drop a ton of money to get the best guitar tuner on the market, finding one that works reliably for you will help keep your instruments sounding the way you want them to.
And hey, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup if you can afford it (and some batteries too)!
3) Gaffer Tape
Having a good roll of gaffer tape on hand may seem out of place in this list, but the more shows you play, the quicker you will realize how invaluable it can really be. The uses are nearly endless. From taping your setlist down, to fixing broken gear like mic stands and gear cases, to securing cables to prevent people from tripping, having a strong, durable roll of tape will help to ensure you’re ready to meet & McGyver any unexpected little challenge that comes your way.
4) Tools For Your Gear
There’s no way around that fact that all musical equipment is built to be used and abused- and as a result, sometimes things break. We aren’t just talking about some snapped guitar strings or a dead battery in a pedal. No, sometimes your instruments & gear need some proper love and care in order to fix the issue and prevent further issues down the road.
The kinds of tools that you may need will vary depending on the instrument you play and gear you use, so you should spend time getting to know your gear well in advance. Guitarists, on one hand, will probably benefit from having a few allen keys on hand, in addition to a string winder, action gauge, string cutter, and microfiber wipes on hand.
A drummer on the other hand may show up to their gigs armed with back up with a multi-head drum tool that allows them to maintain & adjust the entire kit. Knowing what you need often comes over time with experience, but most instruments can be serviced with a few simple tools that you would benefit from keeping close by.
5) A Portable PA System
How many times have you showed up for a gig, only to find the venue’s sound system is broken, or worse, completely non-existent? For many seasoned giggers, the answer to that question is “too many times.” That’s why it can be a huge asset in the long run to own your own portable PA system, if possible (especially for vocalists & singer-songwriters).
Having your own portable PA allows you to work with gear you know and are comfortable with more often, in addition to allowing you greater gigging flexibility. There are many great options out there for all kinds of budgets, and finding the best portable PA system for you will depend on defining your style, needs, and goals.
Once you have your own portable sound system in your go-to bag of gigging essentials, your options for playing live will be almost unlimited!
Having The Right Gear For Your Gig Allows You To Focus On The Music
When it comes down to it, pulling off a great live show relies on the combination of 2 main factors, which include staying well practiced and ready to perform in addition to being prepared to meet any kind of complications that you will likely face along the way. Working as a gigging musician can be an unpredictable, and at times, stressful experience. Keep your bag loaded with the above gigging essentials and it will help give you that little extra peace of mind knowing that you are prepared and covered!