A few days ago Brian, Alex and I were talking as Brian was thinking about video ideas for YouTube, and we were discussing guitarists who play live regularly but still get a few things wrong. Not necessarily in terms of their playing, but their approach to the instrument. Once I started to give ideas for subjects it occurred to me that I was just talking about me when I first started playing live, some 27 or so years ago (Man, that makes me sound old).

This conversation made me think about what I would say to myself if I had the opportunity to go back and advise the younger me with the benefit of what I have learned in the thousands of gigs I’ve done since…

  • You aren’t as good as they tell you.
    When I was 17 I was able to play virtually anything I wanted, I was in a rock covers band playing stuff that was designed purely to impress other guitar players. After a year or so, I thought I was brilliant because people kept telling me I was as I could play fast complicated stuff, but the reality of it was that I was just showing off. Playing for their appreciation and not caring one iota about what really mattered. I should have been more humble and understood that just because I played “It’s a Monster” as an opener, including the solo without warming up (see, still showing off), it didn’t mean I was good, I was just flashy. All style and no substance, or as my dear ol’ cockney Granddad would have said, “all mouth and no trousers”. Which leads me nicely too…
  • Take some lessons and learn to read.
    My biggest regret in life, thus far, was not sourcing a decent teacher and learning to read properly. I was proud of the fact “I’ve never taken a lesson in my life” and thought it made me a better musician. It didn’t, it just restricted the future me. In the last few years I’ve had the pleasure and honour of becoming good friends with amazing guitar teachers and the things I’ve learned from them, just in passing, have made me 100 times the player I was. Imagine if I’d actually had some proper lessons earlier in life…
  • Listen to the rest of the band, ALL of the time.
    This was the hardest learning curve of them all, and it’s something I struggle with now. I really wish I had got this into my head much much earlier. After all, being in a band is about creating and playing music with a bunch of like-minded people. Listening to them, bouncing off them, playing WITH them (instead of just playing with yourself – double entendre COMPLETELY intended) is everything. Be in a band, they are not there to back you up, you are an equal part in the end product.
  • Gain. GAIN! Turn it the hell down!
    The most powerful gain tones are not the ones with loads of gain, just the ones with the right amount properly EQ’d. You will probably need two distinct gain tones, one for rhythm and one for lead. How this is achieved is variable, either volume control on the guitar or via a boost pedal, but you know, your lead tone is gonna sound utterly horrible for rhythm. Usually. Also worth remembering the louder you play, the less gain you are likely to need. I expect there is a technical explaination for this, but I don’t know it!
  • Practice the subtle stuff, it’s what will define you to your peers.
    Especially vibrato and bends. Make sure your intonation is on point, make sure your vibrato isn’t crap. Because when you don’t work on either, you will sound bloody awful and to the guys in the know that are listening, you will be severely lacking.
  • Don’t be afraid of new music.
    When grunge hit I was terrified, my dazzling technique meant nothing to anyone, I got completely lost so I decided I hated it and refused to play it. What an idiot. Roll with it youngling, roll with it.
  • Learn the neck properly
    This is something I’ve been working on recently after a long discussion with Mr Tom Quayle on a very long flight. As usual, he was trying to help me and I was arguing for the fun of it, but he won in the end. He calls it fretboard visualisation. This is knowing what all the notes are on the neck, and how the relate to each other… this way, when improvising, you can move around the neck easier as you know where the sweet spots are. And not the complicated ones, ending a passage on a third, fifth or seventh of the chord you are currently over sounds so much better than landing on the root… so, this is directly related to breaking out the boxes I suppose, something else I was stuck in when I was trying to be me back in the day.
  • If it’s being played properly, there’s no such thing as crap music
    Kinda guessing that I wasn’t alone in thinking that the music I liked was great and the rest was crap when I was young. I don’t particularly like certain styles/genres of music still, but I listen to it often, because you absorb stuff when you listen to it and it will increase your vocabulary considerably when you are in full flow without realising it.
  • If the crowd aren’t being responsive, it ain’t their fault
    If the band is boring, make up to you to make it more interesting. Well, this is going to be a contentious one I think... As a lead guitar player, or even the rhythm guitar player, it’s kinda up to you to bring the colour to the songs. If you are working with a great bass player, they will do their bit, but if you are still banging out boring chords and predictable solos, then look at yourself before you judge your audience.
  • Protect your hearing
    Pretty certain I don't need to explain this any further...
  • Carry spares. Of everything
    I know, kinda obvious isn’t it. However, there was a time when I didn’t… turned out to be the worst gig of my life!

That’s my ‘have a word with yourself’ moment... For your amusement, the header picture of me is from 1992, and this is the 2018 version - and yes, I do miss my hair!

 

 

Gigging - Part 2

on August 31, 2017
Following up on my last blog regarding the shining example of where things can go very wrong at a gig (you can read that here: http://www.wamplerpedals.com/news/blog/general-chat/gigging-what-not-to-do-part-1) , I’ve compiled this quick list with the help of some friends from the industry regarding things that will help prepare anyone for a successful gig.
 
1.    Know the material – Practicing learning and knowing the songs back and forth is a major thing. If you’re not comfortable with a part, discuss it with the band and see what options there are. In the end though, there’s nothing that can replace good practice. Practicing the full set will help get the bugs out of the performance. Your singer can even practice the banter with the crowd during each set. Locking down that show to where it’s second nature will make your performance and the audience’s experience much more enjoyable for everyone. In the end that’s the main goal, right? We all love playing music and the audience is there because they love the music. It’s far more fun when you don’t have to worry about whether you recall the chord changes in the verse or what key the solo is in!
 
2.    Be Prepared – I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying of “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pack an extra amp and 15 guitars, but you can if you want! We do our best to maintain our gear, but often it’s at the least opportune timing that something is prone to failure. Having a few backup items can really help when the time comes and you’re in a pinch. An extra set of strings, extra picks, extra patch cables and long cables, a headstock tuner, super glue, a multi-tool, and even in some cases a fallback for when an amp goes down. If your amp goes down mid-gig, it’s not a bad idea to have some backup setup, maybe a cheap cab sim that you can run directly into the mixer from your board. The hopes are that you’ll never need it, but again it’s better to have it. Having trusted and reliable gear will cut out a lot of worries. Make sure you’ve got solid patch cables that can handle a bit of contorting and movement. If you notice a short at any point then troubleshoot or swap it out. If a guitar has a problem, it’s good to bring a spare just in case as well.
 
3.    Tuning – This seems like a no-brainer, but there are still some that jump in head first without tuning, and that’s completely preventable. Take the time to ensure each band member with applicable instruments are in tune (also part of #2). There’s nothing worse than an out of tune instrument. Pedal tuners and headstock tuners are cheaper and more reliable now than ever. They’re also great because you can tune silently so you’re not bothering the audience while you’re getting setup. If you’re having problems with your guitar staying in tune, throw on a new set of strings and stretch them properly before the gig. If there’s still a problem it may be worth taking it to a tech to see if it needs a setup. Also, if you have songs in different tunings, be prepared to either tune quickly and quietly, or have a backup guitar that’s already in the alternate tuning (see #1).
 
4.    See #1
 
5.    Stage Prep and Presence – Before getting to the gig, practice setting up and tearing down your rig. Getting it down to a science will make it quick and efficient (especially if playing with another band at the gig). It’s a good idea to get a feel for the stage if possible. When plugging in your guitar, be sure to loop it through your strap to ensure that when it’s stepped on, that it won’t rip the cable out of the input jack. Make sure cables going into and out of your pedalboard are away from high traffic areas if possible. You don’t want your drummer or singer stomping on the output cable and breaking the jack on your pedal. Aesthetics are a big part because the audience will be looking at the band as their source of visual entertainment. That may seem contrived or like selling out, but people judge with their eyes first (it’s just the way the world is now). Trying to keep a cohesive attire that’s appropriate for the gig is great. Stage presence, lights, all of it adds up to the combined experience for the audience, so plan accordingly to give the best visual representation of where you want the band to be. Again, it’s leaving a lasting impression on the audience as to what they will remember. 
 
6.    In the Mix – After setting up, it’s good to test the mix with a soundcheck. Be sure to take the time to setup each instrument so the level sits right in the mix. Nobody wants to hear only one instrument drowning out the others. If you can find a way to do so, step back from the stage to where the audience will be to see how it sounds. Having the levels right can really make a dramatic difference, especially when it comes to guitar tone. Depending on the height of the stage, you don’t want to blow the ear drums of the people in the front row, so the position of the amp makes a difference too. An important thing to remember is that your tone at home is going to be very different than in a live situation. Each room has its own contours and obstructions that absorb or reflect the sound, and the natural compression of the speakers and the added character of a louder amp will make your drives sound different. All of those goes back to #1 (can you see a pattern yet) where practice makes perfect and eliminating variables can make for a smoother gig. Usually, more often than not, the venue that you’re playing in won’t need a 100w half stack. Finding a nice combo amp (1x12 or 2x12, etc) makes for easier portability and less overkill on volume. 
 
7.    Identify Yourself – It’s good practice to make sure that your band’s name is very easy to see, so that way it leaves an impression and something memorable. If you can have it advertised by the venue, perfect! The goal is to create brand/band awareness to create an image for the band and subsequently what kind of a show people will expect when they see or hear the name. It’s not a bad thing at all to promote your social media pages, so long as it’s tastefully mentioned. Having a defined name that’s memorable and easily searchable will make it easier for users to find your page and your music going forward.
 
8.    See #1
 
9.    Promote the Venue – Venues have bands come play because it offers a show for their patrons. The end goal is that everyone likes getting paid, so the more the venue makes, the higher chances there are of being asked to come back and subsequently fostering that relationship with venues. While we’re on venues, it’s not a bad idea to have a contract signed by the band and the venue owner, just to be covered. You never know sometimes…
 
10.    Promote Yourself – The goal is always to spread the word and help people identify your band. Taking the time to make sure your band’s name and social media usernames are present makes a significant difference in our age of technology. You want to be easily searchable, so a banner or something that has the username of your pages is great to have posted somewhere for people to easily see. Have the singer promote the pages and repeat the band name periodically through the gig to leave that impression on people’s minds.
 
11.    Make People Move – People come out to have a good time, and they’re choosing to spend their money and time to see a show. Playing covers establishes a connection for a feeling of familiarity, and depending on the song it can make people dance (fast or slow songs), sing along, etc. Original songs are fine sporadically mixed in, but when just starting out it’s good do have a set of songs that will keep your audience entertained and wanting more. As much as it may not be fun to do, top 40 songs and songs that are currently relevant go a long way. Not saying that originals are terrible in the least bit, but gradual introduction will go a lot further to building your audience. If you can get people moving and involved, you’ve done your job! 
 
12.    Be good to your audience – I recently saw a video of Nickelback in Portugal that was having rocks thrown at them. Despite the hate they receive, they were there to play their music and the people paid to see them. After the second song, the band gave them the middle finger and walked off the stage. I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but keeping the audience happy is an integral part of any gig. Reading the crowd and gauging their responses as you go along is key. If things aren’t going so well (maybe a low-key crowd, etc), have a few songs that are a bit different than ones you played before. 
 
13.    See #1
 
14.    Play for the Song – We all want to include massive solos in songs, mainly because they’re insanely fun to play. That being said, knowing when to play is just as important as knowing WHAT to play (see #1). Just like Miles Davis said: “Don’t worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one.” It’s okay to embellish some, but it’s also good to let the song “breathe” so to speak. 
 
15.    Have Fun – The main thing is to have fun! Yes, it may be a gig that will put food on the table, but most of us picked up the instrument because we love it and love playing. Most of the things listed above are all precautionary and once you do a once-over on your rig they’re done for good. Play the music you love, soak in the moment and enjoy yourself. You put in the work to get there, you deserve a bit of fun!
 
These are definitely not all of the things that can help create a successful gig, but it at least gets you started!