Playing live is awesome. It’s why we play drums right? Here are a few tips to make sure you get hired again, and enjoy the experience! These tips are based on my experiences and are not definitive, but I believe these tips have allowed me and the people I work with to get and keep gigs.
Learn The Songs
It may seem obvious, but it is imperative that you learn the songs as best you can. That’s what you’re here for. Nailing those tunes. You may know songs on the set-list already, but it’s always a good idea to revise and check for any changes that the band may have made to the structure or style of the song.
If you’re playing to a click/backing track, make sure you know how many count-ins you get, and how many to give the other musicians. It’s always a good idea to ask for a set-list in advance, and if possible request backing tracks or some time before the gig to check the songs for any differences. Check beginnings and endings of songs as a priority. I like writing brief ‘cheat sheets’ for each song when playing with a band that is out of the ordinary or out of my comfort zone. I load these up onto my iPad which is mounted to my hi-hat stand.
Be reliable in all the ways you can be. As a player, be consistent (or as consistent as you can). As a person, be consistent as well. And by this I mean turn up on time (or early), don’t forget about gigs, don’t forget any gear, bring enough pairs of sticks, be easy to hire and easy to talk to and approach. Take feedback for what it is, advice, and learn from it. If somebody is nasty to you, be the better person and ignore it. At the end of the day, you’ll get hired for more gigs if you’re easy to deal with as a person. In many ways, it’s more important than your playing.
Be ‘Venue Appropriate’
This applies to both gear and volume. You wouldn’t bring your monster Terry Bozzio inspired set-up to a small bar gig, and probably shouldn’t play like Bonham in that venue either. You may not get hired again if you do… That being said, there’s a limit to how small your setup can be if you’re being hired to play drum kit. I like to bring a standard four or five piece set-up to gigs. If I need to minimise, I can leave parts out of my set-up. I also always carry a few lighter pairs of sticks and a pair of rods if I need to really reduce volume.
Voice Your Concerns
Be confident when voicing your concerns. You may notice issues that others don’t, including with the mix, gear, venue etc. Raise these with the band, band manager, sound engineer or the venue. If you’re being hired as a fill-in or for a band you don’t play with regularly, it’s probably best not to approach the venue yourself. Take your concerns to the band and let a more permanent member of the band do this.
Respect & Learn From Your Colleagues
Your colleagues are musicians as well. They may have years of experience over you. Even if they don’t they are people and like everybody, deserve respect. Everybody will have more fun if you get along! If you’re being hired for a gig, then you’re doing a job, and jobs are way more enjoyable if you get along with the people you’re working with. Every musician I’ve played with has been able to help me grow my knowledge of the industry, and I’m always keen to hear stories or take advice from others. Yes, guitarists as well!
Respect the Sound Engineer
You and the sound engineer have a common goal in mind – sounding good. Sound engineers may have many more years of experience over you, so you may have lots you can learn from them. You’ll get some cranky ones, sure, but that’s just humans! Don’t be afraid to ask for changes in your on-stage mix, but be courteous and remember your manners. You should take this approach with everyone you work with. Sometimes you’ll need to make a compromise. If your ‘ringy’ toms sound good to you but are creating on-stage feedback issues, then you may need to muffle them temporary. I always carry extra moongel for this.
Know Your Value
Don’t sell yourself short. Remember that you can and should be being paid for your services as a musician. If you follow these rules, then you’re worth it. Everybody makes mistakes but that doesn’t make you any less of a musician. Take what you can out of every mistake and use it to be a better player.
At the end of the day, we’re here to make music. You might not like all the songs you’re playing, but enjoy it anyway! Variety is the spice of life. If you’re genuinely having fun on stage, this will show and your audience and band mates will notice.
This article is based on my experiences of playing live and in the studio. Your experiences may differ, and I’d love to hear from you if they do. Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via my contact page if you have anything you’d like to add, or have any questions about this article.