5 things bands should never do at a gig

Tip no.1 – don’t talk drivel.

People fail to appreciate that a set needs to be considered in its entirety. They rehearse the songs and perceive the silence in-between the songs as separate to the gig. It’s not!

On a good day, you can have interaction with the crowd that flows naturally and easily. However, I wouldn’t bank on it. Chances are, the gig won’t be perfect, the sound won’t be right, and there will not be as many people in the crowd as you’d like. While all these thoughts are buzzing around your head, you’ll find yourself underprepared and you will get caught out.  You may do something uncool, or worse encounter a technical problem. You may even be tempted to say the worst thing to the audience – ‘does anyone know any jokes?’

This will say to the crowd, ‘the band is amateur will you please go to the bar and spare us all this painful embarrassment.’

My advice is to just precisely prepare what will be said in-between songs. I’m talking everything from guitar changes to tuning breaks. Plan what you are going to say, this doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous, but you always know you will land back on the script.

Tip no.2 – don’t be surprised when something breaks

Expect that things are going to break. Strings are going to break, amps are going to blow. Don’t start thinking ‘oh that’s weird, I didn’t expect that to happen.’ Music equipment will break. Everything needs a spare. If you know you are going to bust a string, what do you do?  I’ve seen big gigs where all the members are banking on a good show, then someone breaks a string, and there isn’t a spare guitar – it’s nuts.

Tip no.3 – don’t let your set overrun

This is not fair for the other bands, and the knock-on effect to you is it demonstrates that your act isn’t professional. It is a small scene these days, and bands need the support of other bands to get through. This is why, in the present day, you find a much nicer breed of rock star then you would in the 1980’s. To get through, you need teamwork, and you need support. If you blow that by overrunning, it’s massively uncool, so please don’t do it!

Tip no.4 – control the pace of the set  

Drummers, I’m talking to you! The singer has got the stage and can control the interaction with the audience, it’s a massive responsibility – and it’s a tough gig. As a drummer, you need to play your part, you control the endings of the songs and the tempos. You must realise that your job isn’t to just play drums but the control of the way the set feels.

Nothing kills the vibe of a gig quicker than a singer introducing a song, and the song doesn’t start because the drummer is fiddling with the poxy hi-hat.  This drives me nuts, and at the point, I’m gone – it is more interesting to have a drink at the bar.

If you don’t understand how fundamental this is, you are missing the point of the show. It’s not you playing through the tunes. You are in the entertainment business. The crowd have not paid money to see you fiddle with your hi-hat.  If you have a technical problem, you work out how to deal with it without alerting the of the band and the audience.  I’ve seen all sorts of technical problems happen for drummers and pro’s deal with it, without anyone noticing!

Drummers need to watch the crowd and feel for the right moment to start a song.  A gap of one or two seconds is enough to kill the vibe, whereas if you get straight on it, the excitement builds. Monitoring the level of excitement is like controlling the gears.  Start in the most exciting way possible, and be in the right tempo. Count in the right tempo of the track, you’ll be surprised how many people don’t do that. You also control the outro or ending of the set. If you have a little bit of a jam to end, then it’s your job to gauge the feel. The audience, and finish it at the right point. I’ve seen a lot of jams where it reaches its peak, then it carries on and on until it peters out. That’s your fault – take charge of it!

Tip no.5 – forget to say who you are

Often when you are on a multi-band bill, you do not have the luxury of putting a backdrop up. You may be on a borrowed kit, so you can’t use the bass drum skin to display the band name. You need to repeatedly tell people who you are. Tell people ‘we are the blind donkeys (or enter a band name), and we will see you at the merch stand’.

The whole point of doing the gig is to build your audience, and you need to consolidate the great stuff you have done on stage. People are into the band; you will seal the deal when people discover what amazingly cool people you are and you will sell some merch. If you do this well, you will break even on your support tours and make money on your headline tours.

If you are interested in learning more and are serious about progressing in your career as a musician please join us at WaterBear HQ for an Open Day or Order a Prospectus.

By Bruce Dickinson

Bruce has had 11 top forty hits and a number 1 album with Little Angels. He’s toured with Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Van Halen, and opened for Guns N’ Roses on their first UK shows. With his group Colour of Noise, he has run a successful Pledge album campaign and he continues to help new bands through curating the Rising Stage at the Ramblin’ Man Fair festival and Underground Music Conference events. Bruce was a founder of the BIMM group of colleges, leaving in 2012 for the Little Angels reunion at Download Festival and UK tour. He has negotiated several university partnerships and written many validated degree courses, with thousands of undergraduates studying those courses still. He holds an MA in Education Management.
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