The Complete Guitarist: How to Get Through a Nightmare Show
The following are true stories. No names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Have you ever played a gig during which your gear inexplicably goes dead in the middle of a face-blistering lead? Have you ever been on your way to a show and have the back of the van pop open and watch a drum set and keyboard spill onto the New York State Thruway at 70 mph?
Have you ever watched the singer in your band run a bar tab so high that it exceeded what your band was supposed to earn that night? Have you ever had your drummer pass out drunk behind the drum kit halfway through the three sets you were scheduled to play? Has your band ever broken up on the way to a gig? Have you ever had your drummer throw a heart attack five days before your first gig?
At first glance these, events look like the new script for Spinal Tap II, III and IV, but all these events happened to me throughout my 30 years of playing in bands and gigging around the New York tri-state area. And I'm still standing. At the time, these seemed catastrophic. But looking back, I can say with certainty that they made me a stronger performer and musician, able to deal with any adversity thrown before me.
This blog post is dedicated to different ways we can deal with difficult gig situations.
Foolproof Everything. At gigs there are certain circumstances that occur that are really out of our control. For every other circumstance, we must foolproof. Always carry extra batteries for your pedals, a backup guitar or two, extra strings, extra patch chords, etc. Make sure your setup works before you pack it up and get to the gig. Bringing a small backup amp would probably be a good idea. Stock up on fuses and tubes. It may seem silly, but try and bring a small fan with you. I have played shows where it was ungodly warm in the venue, and having a cool breeze on you at all times makes all the difference. And let's face it, if you have long hair, it looks cool too. It is for practical and aesthetic purposes. Confirm everything with the person who is booking you that night. Make sure you know when the start time is, the load-in time, how many sets you will be playing, what the pay is going to be, if the drinks are free, etc., before the gig, if possible. You don't want any other surprises that night, so be diligent and get these things established, in writing if you can.
Get Rid of the Problem. If the nightmare at your gigs isn't faulty gear, less-than-perfect working conditions or a jerk of a club owner, if it's a member of your band, address the problem immediately. Nothing will ruin a night or a band's reputation quicker than a negative influence in the band. If a member of your group brings their issues to the gig, they have to go. These issues include: partaking of various substances that render them unable to finish the gig, belligerence and a negative attitude, rock star and diva-like egos and chronic lateness. Remember this is called the music business. If you wouldn't act a certain way at a "real" job, then you shouldn't act that way at a gig, and that behavior is totally unprofessional. Your attitude and how you treat yourself at shows and with everyone around you is what separates chicken you-know-what from chicken salad.
This Too Shall Pass. As I wrote before, at gigs and in life, there will always be circumstances beyond our control. It is how we respond to them that defines us as musicians and as people. In the midst of a stressful show, try and ask yourself if this situation will matter five years from now. The answer is usually no. The key is to use that negative and turn it into a positive. Usually that means to never let that situation happen again or to nip it in the bud before it starts. If the same negativity creeps in at every gig, you have to change your approach or do things a bit differently. Gigging should be fun and uplifting, not a chore. No matter how bad a gig may seem, always remember that this too shall pass.
One time I was given the privilege of performing classical guitar at a Master Class taught by a very successful guitarist. Midway through my piece, I forgot what I was playing. Totally froze. All that preparation and practice went out the window. When I saw my teacher the next week, he gave me his feedback about my performance, most of which was positive. He didn't even mention the fact that I forgot half the piece. He looked at me, smiled and said, "Stuff like that happens; remember no matter how you played, the sun still rose this morning." I have carried those words with me everywhere I go.
So remember, no matter how bad it gets, the sun will rise tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe one day you will even get to write about your experiences in a respected guitar publication. Now get out there and play! Feel free to share any of your gigging nightmares. Comments and feedback are always welcome.
Guitarist Richard Rossicone is a veteran of the New York City and Long Island original and cover band scene. He's been playing since he was 8, when he attended his first concert (Kiss) and saw Pete Townshend smash a guitar. He has studied with various instructors over the years, which led him to a career in music therapy. He began his educational journey at Queensboro Community College, where the faculty introducing him to classical music. He received his associate's degree in fine arts in 1997 and went on to receive his bachelor's in music therapy in 2001 and his master's in music therapy from New York University in 2004. He's been Board Certified as a music therapist since 2002. Richard continued his studies at C.W. Post University, pursuing a second master's degree in classical guitar performance and music history, studying under Harris Becker. He's been teaching guitar, piano and theory since 2002 and in 2006 started his own company, Rossicone Music Studios. Richard is the co-lead guitarist in Bad Habits, NYC's premier Thin Lizzy tribute band. Visit him at Axgrinder.com
Photo: Joseph Triano Photography