Ok, so you've spent hours and hours practicing to get your chops together; you've practiced Cherokee and Giant Steps at breakneck tempos in every key; and you're feeling really confident. Now you want to show the world that you're someone who's going to be on everyone's lips in a few week's time. Well, this page is devoted to you...welcome to the real world! This page is divided into 3 broad categories: Gigging Conditions, That Embarrassing Moment, and Pre- and Post-Gig Problems. Some of the problems you encounter can easily be sorted out with a bit of forethought. Others have no solution. The only thing that can really help in those cases is experience - "paying your dues", as it's called, and a lot of ad-libbing. The solutions that I offer here have come from a number of people. If you would like to add any gigging tips, please do so.
What do you do if...
...it's too hot?
Sweat, so take a towel and deodorant. Drink a lot. Otherwise, no idea.
...it's too cold?
Wear extra layers of clothes. But that won't help your fingers. The trouble is that you don't often know beforehand if it's going to be too hot or too cold.
...it's windy on an outside gig?
take a few clothes pegs, a wind iron or some perspex sheets. If it's so windy that your music stand falls over, you've got real problems.
...it starts to rain on an outside gig?
Stop playing! No-one should expect musicians to play in the rain and it can be very dangerous in the case of instruments that require electricity. If there's absolutely no way you can avoid playing, for instance at a parade or at a grave-site, you have my sympathy.
...it's too dark to see the music?
Take a light for your stand. Adjust the lighting that does exist.
..you don't have a music stand?
Buy one. Think of the rhythm section players who have to cart heavy equipment around. Surely taking a light-weight fold-up stand is much preferable to arranging chairs to make an ad-lib music-stand which can't be adjusted anyway.
...it's too cramped?
Often you just have to put up with it, especially on a small bandstand. If it's possible to get more room, ask/demand it from the management.
...you can't hear the other instruments well?
Try and get some monitors positioned so you can hear, or shift your relative positions. Or if it happens lots of times, buy a little monitor to take along.
...the band's missing a vital player, such as a missing piano-player, bass player or drummer, or lead player?
Make do as well as you can.
...there's no reaction from the audience to your playing?
So, what's new? It can be soul-destroying when you think you've played well only to be met with deafening silence, but at least you enjoyed it.
...the band-stand collapses, the building catches fire, the ship sinks, Armageddon occurs, your mother arrives, etc
What do you do if...
...your instrument/equipment goes wrong on the gig?
If you can't fix it, seek help - other musos (musicians) might know a few tricks of the trade. If it still can't be fixed, try singing your part - you might end up as a vocalist. (Only joking.) A good idea, though, is to keep a few things handy, such as a screw-driver, spare reeds, elastic bands, sello-tape (or perhaps cello-tape), blue tack, car mechanic and a surgeon. Also become adept at fixing your instrument.
...you need to go to the toilet in the middle of a set?
To paraphrase a saying, cross your legs and think of England (or wherever). Many musicians get into the habit of going to the toilet just before each set. If you have to sneak off, do it unobtrusively.
...you fall ill or feel sick on the gig?
Most musicians would be sympathetic and carry on without you. But you might find a bandleader who would prefer you to die on the job rather than go off the stand.
...you die on the job?
Make sure you brought the last round if you want to be remembered fondly.
...you can't read the music well enough or you can't play as well as the other members of the band?
This may be that you are not ready for doing the gig, or it could be nerves or lack of confidence. If not skilled enough, practice - take the music home or practice the tunes at home ready for the next time. If nerves, try doing things like deep breathing. If lack of confidence, try positive thinking or hypnotism. If totally unsuited, you'll be sacked anyway.
...the rest of the band is terrible?
Do your best on the gig itself and then resign from the band.
..you get lost in the music?
Look for any clues that help you find it again. Don't draw wide attention to the fact as you don't want the audience to know, but discretely ask another sympathetic player where the music has got to. It's reassuring to know that many players, even top players, do occasionally get lost, but you'd never know it.
...everyone in the band is drunk, except you?
Grin and bear it. Don't be tempted to get drunk yourself. There's no point in lowering your own standards. Try recording your playing when you are drunk to see what you sound like. Odds are, you'll never get drunk again.
...everyone in the band, including yourself, is drunk - except the bandleader?
See last answer.
...all the band remains sober, but the bandleader gets drunk?
Record the session and then give it to him.
...you pass wind (with a capital F) during the gig?
Stare at the female vocalist with a disgusted look on your face.
...you've played one or two bum notes?
Who doesn't?! Don't dwell on it. If it's a live gig you can't do anything about it, so concentrate on the present.
...you're put off by someone in the audience who doesn't like your playing?
It you're worried that it's a musician who's much better than you, show them how good you are. Odds are, it's not.
...you turn up in the wrong dress/uniform?
Scrounge around amongst the other musos to see if they've got anything spare. If you've a front-line player, you can safely borrow the drummer's trousers as no-one can usually see them when he's playing. Seriously though, be sure to check on the right dress when you accept the booking.
...you turn up and the gig's cancelled or another band is playing?
Sort it out with the management/union.
...you forget the gig?
Keep a diary with all relevant details. Apologise to the bandleader, other musicians, and the priest.
...the music is not suitable for the venue.
Try and learn a few things in a different style to get by. Learn Happy Birthday , the National Anthem, and a few odd things, like Auld Lang Syne, the Okey Cokey, and For he/she's a jolly good fellow to save any potential embarrassing moments. If the problem lies with an agent who made the booking, sort it out later.
...there are complaints about the band, eg. too loud?
If the complaints are reasonable, comply. If unreasonable, try to reach a compromise that satisfies the band and the audience/management. Don't behave badly as it gives all musos a bad name.
...you get lost on the way to a gig?
Get a good map and good directions and carry a mobile phone to get in touch with the bandleader or others.
...your car breaks down, the train is late, the plane is delayed, etc?
Ring as soon as possible in case a dep has to be found.
...you injure yourself/fall sick on the way to the gig or on the way back?
Ring someone quick.
...you lose your music or leave your music (or one of your instruments/bit of equipment) at home?
Ad-lib it in every sense. Try and think clearly.
...you don't get paid for the job.
Take the matter up with the management/union/legal representative.
Well that's brought me out in a cold sweat just thinking about these things, but anything can happen at any time. Perfect gigs are very few and far between, and there'd be much fewer stories to tell if nothing ever went wrong. But on the other hand it's not all Doomsville.
By the way, it's not really necessary to be able to play Giant Steps in F# at lighting speed in order to play at a tea-dance in a Nursing Home. But it may help, if that's what's requested!!!