By now you should have most of the information you need to book, advance, and prepare for gigs in previous sections of this four-part post. After my first two-week tour though, I thought it was worth sharing some parting thoughts on what it’s like to be a “gigging” musician traveling with a band.
First and most importantly, the music makes everything else worth it. Just like any other experience, touring has its highs and lows, especially when you’re dealing with different accommodations, venues, and audiences every night. For better or worse, no two gigs are exactly the same. Some nights we played for packed houses, but others we outnumbered our audiences. Sound was typically easy to manage, but there was certainly shared frustration when we loaded into a seemingly impossible room. In the end, it boiled down to one thing: we all loved the process of sharing our music. Once we started to play, the mutual desire to challenge one another, listen, and create a positive musical experience took over. The rush of that experience always made the rest of the day worth it.
Second, you meet a lot of interesting people when you travel. That’s especially true if you’re interacting with different fans, clubowners, and hosts as you move from town to town. People can be incredibly generous with their time and energy, especially if they enjoy your music. My only advice to others setting out on a first tour would be to make time to develop those relationships. I was amazed at some of the stories our new friends told us.
Finally, touring is a great way to form deeper bonds with your peers. Since everyone has the same schedule for the duration of the trip, it’s inevitable that the band will spend a lot of time together. That means countless meals together, hours practicing together, and conversations in the car. Personalities and values start to become even more clear as bandmates grow more comfortable with each other. That group intimacy and chemistry ultimately shows on as well as off the bandstand.
As always, I’d love to get your thoughts on gigging and travelling. You all probably have more experience with some of these topics than I do anyways, considering I’m only 23 years old!
Morningside Music Studio Intern
Now imagine all the pre-booking is done, your charts are neatly compiled, and that your band has rehearsed. It’s the day of the gig, so there are only a few details left to take care of. The checklist below proved very effective during the Affinity Quintet’s recent New Mexico tour:
1) Call ahead. It doesn’t hurt to give your contact a ring the afternoon of a gig just to make sure everything is on-schedule. Confirm once again the start time, the load-in location, and maybe even ask if there’s time to sound-check beforehand. You’d be surprised how often club owners throw in an extra clause that changes everything at the last minute. “Do you guys mind eating after the gig?” is a common one, along with “guests will be in the room for cocktails an hour earlier, so you should sound-check before then.” It’s no problem to eat beforehand or arrive sooner, but you need to know those things before you leave.
2) Know your space. If you’ve played there before, you don’t have to worry about this part. If you haven’t, find out as much as you can about what’s there. Is the piano in working condition? Is it a small or large space? Are the walls mostly glass or wood? Most importantly, what kind of audience are you expecting? Those details can make a big difference in what equipment you decide to bring. If the room is especially live, the drummer might opt to bring a partial kit or use only brushes. If you’re playing for a brunch crowd, it might be a better time to play standards than original compositions. In any case, it’s worth walking around the space before loading in if you have time during the day.
3) Be early. I can’t stress this one enough. Countless things can go wrong on any gig day, making it critical to build in extra time. For your education and entertainment, here’s a list of mishaps that actually happened during our tour:
1) We forgot the CDs at home, so we had to drive all the way back to get them.Thankfully we still arrived at the gig with time to spare.
2) We couldn’t figure out how to turn off the flashing multicolored lights pointed at the stage, even though we spent nearly 15 minutes fiddling with the top of the control panel. Eventually we gave up, but it still threw off our setup.
3) The load-in door to one club turned out to be on a different street than the main entrance. We figured out the alternate address eventually, but we ended up driving in circles for a little while.
4) Our soundcheck at the Rio Grande Theater took far longer than we expected, since the bass mic kept feeding back through the pickup.
5) The “nice grand piano” in the lobby of one hotel turned out to actually be an electric piano that needed power. It took a little while for a maintenance worker to track down the right cable.
Some of these details were annoying to figure out, but none of them were a big deal since we had time to spare. Plus, it simply looks unprofessional to hurry around dealing with those types of things at the last minute. The downbeat time didn’t change no matter what happened beforehand. Stay tuned for Part 4, and happy gigging in the meantime!
Morningside Music Studio Intern