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Getting Started with Performing

Bridging the gap between playing music at your home and performing it live in front of an audience, at a place new to you, can be daunting. Here are some tips from a few folks in North Coast Modular Collective who have performed for decades. These are meant to be helpful things to think about, but each person will be different in their exact approach. If you’re interested in trying to perform live in a safe, low-stress environment, NCMC often includes 5-10 minute community performances for folks who are new to playing out live. You can sign up to be put in the queue for consideration with this form.

Questions to ask before the gig

Before the show, here are some good questions to know the answers to.

  • When and with whom, and where do I check in when I get there?
  • Is the venue providing table space, or should I bring my own? Either way, know what sizes you’re dealing with and how much space you need.
  • What audio cable connection is the house expecting?
  • Can I get a sound check before the gig starts (when)?
  • How early can I show up to set up?
  • Who and how do I contact someone if something comes up on the day of the event (like, get a cell number)?
  • Is there somewhere special I need to park or load in?
  • Find out how long your set is, and what the transitions between sets should look like (do you tear down right after you perform, or wait until everyone is done?)
  • Find out about promotions. Are there any graphics you can use in social media posts? Posters, etc.? Are there keywords or hashtags to use? Get the specific details: title, description, times, location, etc.
  • Is there a cover charge? If so, be sure to find out if you can put any friends on a list to get in free.
  • Make sure you know what type of gig it is you’re playing, and that you’re the right match for it. For example, playing background music for an art opening in a gallery is quite different from a gig at a frat party.
  • Make sure you know the lineup, set times, and how transitions between sets are being handled. In some cases you might do your teardown right after you’re done performing. Or, you might move your table away while the next artist moves theirs up. Sometimes, all the tables and gear might stay in place and everyone just walks up at their time with fast transitions and then does teardown at the same time at the end.

Things to bring

  • Gig bags are great – there is a large variety of them — some are designed for very specific gear, and some for DJs work well. But, also don’t forget that portable toolboxes might work for you too- like you’d get from a hardware store. Which bag(s) work well for someone is deeply personal and depends on lots of factors, including personal preferences.
  • A gig bag with:
    • Every adapter you own
    • Headphones (for setup, and/or monitoring in show)
    • As many different cables as you can bring
    • Power extension cable
    • Power strip(s) with enough outlets for all your gear +1
    • A hands free light in case the venue darkens the place and you can’t see a thing on your gear!
    • If you’re going to do these regularly, then your own trusted DI box(s) (what’s a DI box?)
    • A way to record your set that’s built into your setup
    • Ear protection (depending on venue)
    • gaffer tape
    • replacement batteries (if needed for your gear)
    • phone charger + cables
    • small toolkit / multitool
    • water bottle
    • snacks

Reduce stress and perform well

  • Practice. Know your setup, patches, and gear. Practice early and often.
    • When you practice, use the same setup each time and make sure to do some sessions where you run through the entire set non-stop, like you would at the gig. Time it and aim to stay within the time you have for your gig.
    • Record your run through practices and review it for things that were noteworthy – things that went well and you want to remember, trouble spots to pay attention to. Did you rush certain spots? Dwell on anything too long? etc.
    • Sometimes the gear starts to act weird or plugins don’t load up right. By practicing frequently you will be more likely to find out the most common kinds of issues that might crop up for you and you’ll learn how to address them.
    • It can be difficult to perceive time correctly when you’re playing live in front of people, so practice often with a clock or timer and get to know how your set flows and where you should be at certain times so you aren’t too drastically off with time. Of course the caveat to this is if you’re reading the room and gotta adapt the flow to match the vibe. But, that’s all the more reason to know the timing of your set inside out.
  • Keep your setup simple as possible. You don’t want to be setting up a complicated rig, running 5 pieces of newly bought gear, or troubleshooting confusing connections at the event. Got an especially flakey piece of gear that sounds great, but isn’t very reliable? Consider sampling it or swapping it out for something more reliable for your performance.
  • Practice breaking down and setting up a couple of times. Try relocating your setup to another space (or tear it down, pack it up, and put it back together in the same place). Note all the things you need to make it work (cables, power cables, adapters, outlets, table space, etc.). This can be the foundation of your packing list.
  • Resist adding to or changing your performance close to the event, like adding that new effect or editing patterns etc.
  • Write down some helpful notes that will help during your performance or setup. Maybe you have a machine running a pattern that matches a preset on another machine. Write that down so you can quickly make that happen live. Maybe you have connections between two pieces of gear, write that down for a quick setup. Many artists do this and have notes near them to glance at to help set up and move through a set.
  • If you have cables between gear that will need to be plugged in during setup, use some washitape, or painters tape and label the ends of the cables with which gear and which port it should go to (for example, “Digitakt MIDI in”). If you leave things to memory the chances will increase that something gets plugged in to somewhere incorrect, possibly leading to a lot of troubleshooting time.
  • Know how much table space you’ll need regardless of whether you’re bringing your own table or using a venue table. Don’t forget to use the depth of the table as well as the width. Also, don’t forget to think about what the audience will see.
  • Label your cables, adapters, and equipment so it’s easy to identify what is yours.
  • Try your set on different speakers if you can. Acoustics from different speakers and spaces have a way of making things sound different than they do at home.
  • Go back and review recordings from previous practice run throughs — this helps you catch things that you might notice after having a little time away from it. It can help you try to listen to it like you’re an audience member.

At the venue

  • Show up as early as you can so you have a relaxed time setting up and aren’t feeling rushed.
  • Get to know the other folks performing that night. This is a great time to network if you want to do other gigs later on. It’s a small world, so you’ll start to see familiar faces.
  • If it’s the type of gig where you have a chance to talk before your set, be brief. Don’t forget to tell folks your artist name (so they can search for you online). Thank the venue and their staff.
  • During setup, listen to the way your gear sounds through the PA speakers and make EQ adjustments if possible. Sometimes the highs and lows are more extreme than the speakers you were using at home. The sound person running the mixer may catch it but they may not. In general, too much high end is not pleasant, and low bass frequencies may appear that you did not expect. Turn these down on the EQ if they show up. Also, the mix you hear on stage may be very different from what the audience hears – make sure to walk out and hear what they hear during a sound check.
  • Make sure your process of recording your set is set up and getting good levels too. It’s a sad time to have a great performance and then the recording doesn’t come out.
  • Tip for anyone with analog synth gear: Don’t forget to tune your oscillators after they’ve warmed up for a bit.

During your performance

  • Unexpected things happen. Try not to let it knock your confidence — often times we are far more critical of ourselves than the audience. The audience usually don’t know what you had intended to play, just what was actually played.
  • Record your performance! Even if someone else is recording, always have your own in case the other person forgets or it doesn’t work out.
  • Be aware of the lineup and set times. Don’t go over your time — use a stopwatch, clock, or timer if you have to. It’s not unheard of for a schedule to get behind or change. If in doubt, ask the person who’s running the show if you should adjust your set time or start/stop times.

After your performance

  • Depending on the environment (type of gig, type of venue, type of audience) you may get folks who walk up to you and want to talk with you about your performance or gear right after you’re done performing.
  • Be sure to tear down your equipment as efficiently as possible. Be super aware of all the cables and adapters you’re bagging to make sure they are actually yours (label your gear to make this easier!).
  • Don’t forget to send the person who invited you a thank you message.

Do you have any tips that weren’t mentioned above? Send them our way!

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