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  • Writer's pictureMark Nanni

6. On the Gig

6. On The Gig

I’ve been trying to make these blogs applicable to other live performance disciplines, but this one really is for the musician. . .

You’ve worked hard. You’ve gotten yourself a gig. Maybe a few. Now you need to execute. I’m a bit odd as a musician in that I’m actually on time. Pretty much always. It all starts hours before the gig.

In the “Psychology of ‘Playing Out’” installment, I talked a little bit about making rituals for yourself as a way to combat the psychological pitfalls that can happen inside our minds when we’re trying to give a good, comfortable live performance, with less of the inner turmoil of thinking about people judging you, judging yourself too harshly, getting distracted by people and things going on in the room, etc.

For me, the rituals start hours before the gig. The very first thing I do is figure out exactly how long it takes me to get to the gig from my house, whether I’m just traveling down the street or 90 minutes away. This gives me my time budget for the day. I generally like to arrive at the venue about 50 minutes before hit time. I’ve discovered over many jobs that this is a comfortable amount of time for me to load in, get set up, and get my head ready to play.

So, the first thing I do is figure out what time I need to leave the house, then I work backwards so that I accomplish everything that I like to get done before I leave: meditate, shower, make dinner that I’ll either eat at home, or in the car on the way, and maybe a coffee. Then I know what time I need to start doing all of that so that I leave on time.

Once I’m out the door and in the car, I’ll do my vocal warm ups about 15 minutes before I arrive at the venue, so that it’s the last thing I do before I start loading in. (Vocal warmups help to shake loose any mucous that collects on the vocal cords and give me the confidence that I can sing whatever song I want first without having to wait for my voice to naturally warm up during the beginning of the gig.)

I get all the gear inside, and set up - the same way every time. This gives me more of the comfort of feeling like I’m in the same cockpit no matter what room I’m in, and a feeling of consistency with my rig. It’s also efficient and allows me to have plenty of time without scrambling. One of the most important aspects of packing up from the last gig is wrapping the cables properly so that I’m not sitting there like an idiot trying to unravel a wad of black spaghetti when I should just be uncoiling them and plugging them in.

Once I’m set up, I like to change into a fresh shirt and put on my gig hat. I mentioned this, as well, as part of a ritual in the above blog. Not only do I get rid of my sweaty load in/set up shirt so that I feel fresh and looking good, but this helps my psychology go from roadie to performing musician.

Then I can go inside, get a drink at the bar, and go to the bathroom just before I hit the stage. It’s just like taking a road trip: “at least try!” There’s nothing more uncomfortable than really having to pee while you’re trying to finish up your set. (Not pounding beers helps with that as well!)

For me, I never take breaks anymore, so it’s extra important. I used to be in a band for a very long time that was infamous for taking egregiously long breaks. When I got on my own, I decided I’m never taking another break unless I really have to pee, and I generally make sure I don’t need to.

I hate taking a break. It’s just an opportunity for half of your audience to leave, kills the momentum that you’ve built up, and leaves you starting a second set to an emptier room with less energy.

Finally, I begin the gig feeling comfy and inspired. Not haggard.

To many of you, this all will sound very “anal.” Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard that. But you know what? Anal is also efficient, and even comforting when you get used to your routine. There’s a damn good reason I’ve chosen to do everything I do, and do it the same way every time. I’m not rushed, I’m building positive reinforcement with myself that in the act of doing these things, I’m being professional, on time, my rig sounds good, my mind is relaxed, and then I can be more improvisational within the music. I do all of the logistics the same way every time so that I can be free to create and improvise while I play.

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George Dale
George Dale
Jul 11, 2023

Hi Mark - this is a great post. I used to do sound back in Tucson and worked with performers who spanned the readiness spectrum from the newbies going to "the" gig who were extra early and anal, to the jaded ones going "another #@$%@n" gig who should have quit a while back. Your point of creating the same little world to live in during the gig is right on. I found this to be even more reassuring in monitor world on stage. Having a familiar and organized bubble lets me do my best for the musicians. And, yes, learn to coil cables correctly. They'll last way longer and reduce your stress in prepping and setting up. If your mic…

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