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more... Gigging AdviceHow-TosMay 2012

10 Tips for Summer Gigging

10 Tips for Summer Gigging

4. Shop for Gear in every Town
Here’s a touring tip we can all get enthusiastic about: Look for gear in every town you visit while touring. One might think that with our current world market of eBay, the days of discovering bargains on the road are gone, but that’s not the case. Deals exist everywhere. I check the local Craigslist, mom-and-pop music stores, thrift shops, and even garage sales in every town I can.

Here are a few examples of recent road scores:
Ventura, California, two years ago: One wouldn’t peg this exotic locale—with a high cost of living and plenty of musicians—as a haven for pawnshop bargains. But in this pretty coastal town, I found a Fender lap steel from the early ’50s for $70. The knobs, pots, and the pickup on this instrument alone are worth four times that amount. Even if I never wanted to play lap steel, I could part this thing out for a tidy profit and still have the basic wood of an incredibly cool instrument, which I could turn into a lamp, wall hanging or cutting board for my kitchen.
Seattle, Washington, two weeks ago: I found a hard-shell guitar case at Goodwill for $1.50 that perfectly fits a dreadnought. Because airlines crush cases every year, I bought it even though I currently don’t need one because I will before long.
St. Louis, Missouri, last summer: While touring with my wife in the town that gave us Chuck Berry, we found a cool accordion on Craigslist for $60. The seller was kind enough to meet us near a downtown restaurant where we were lunching. After lunch, bellies full, accordion in tow, we stumbled onto a little music store where we found a great violin that had been hanging on the wall so long that they forgot it was there. Although the price tag said $450, the guy behind the counter was sick of looking at it and said, “Make me an offer.” We bought it for half the price. During the haggling, our bandmate discovered a cache of old ribbon mics adorning the rafters, more as decoration then inventory. We asked the clerk how much and he dumped the old mics so cheap that I can’t even remember what we paid. Who knows what was going on in that store—maybe the guy really needed money, or maybe he was a disgruntled employee sticking it to the man (I hope not). Maybe that’s just how they do it in St. Louie, but we walked with some bargains.

5. Get Out of Your Hotel
Another benefit to searching for road gear: It gives you an opportunity to see the sights. Paradoxically, being on the road can make one a shut-in—traveling musicians tend to only see their hotel and venue of each town they visit. Exploring gets you out and moving instead of lying all day in a questionable rented bed with the curtains drawn and TV blaring in some dingy hotel. If you have any say in the matter, try to book hotels in the center of town, walking distance to the sights and shopping.

You work in the arts, so what the heck? Check out the local museums and galleries. Don’t limit your culture to the yogurt you eat at your hotel’s continental breakfast.

6. Utilize Apps
My phone has become my most valuable tour tool thanks to free apps that are like having a tour manager in your pocket. The GPS app gets me to the gig, a sleep machine app drowns out hotel noise, a toilet finder helps on long walks through foreign cities, a translator app helps me communicate when overseas or in Los Angeles, and a flashlight app lights my way through dark stages. I have apps from my favorite airlines for booking flights, checking in and keeping track of my miles. iParking helps me find my car. My bank has an app so I can transfer money and know when checks arrive back home. All this as well as a great metronome and tuner, what else could you want?

7. Easy on the Booze, Pound the H2O
A guy I know played a summer punk festival tour that included The Misfits in its cavalcade of semi-stars. He imagined these punk pioneers would be out of their collective minds. Much to his surprise, The Misfits spent all of their time working out and drinking bottle after endless bottle of water. That discipline (along with the deal they cut with Satan) is probably responsible for the group’s incredible longevity. Limiting your booze intake, particularly during hot August festivals, can save your life. Mix a few drinks with intense heat and you might not make it through the show. Have lots of drinks on a hot stage and you may be in the emergency room when the rest of the band goes on for an encore.

Though climate controlled, club tours are even more dangerous because club owners aren’t selling music, they are selling booze, and they want you to help. When club owners send drinks to the stage, their hope is the audience will watch you shoot it down and be inspired to match you drink for drink. The club doesn’t care about how this affects your health—they’re just looking for big sales. Don’t feel obligated to chug everything that’s sent your way. Raise the glass in a toast and toss it over your shoulder if you must.

8. Don’t Use a House Mic
Germs. Those ubiquitous, nasty microbes can shut your tour down. Let’s try to keep our bad funk to ourselves. If you sing, don’t share a microphone—it’s a bit like sharing a toothbrush. Buy your own damn mic, write your name on it, and carry it with you (in my case it’s an old Shure SM57 I’ve lugged around in my gig bag for years). Ask the front desk at your hotel for a complimentary travel size mouthwash and a toothbrush and use it to clean your sweet, personal mic; then keep the whole cleaning kit in the little pouch that the mic comes in.

Assume Your Monitors Will Sonically Suck

When I first started gigging in clubs, we didn’t even have monitors so I toughed it out, listened for my voice in the mains, and dreamed of a day where I’d be on a professional, big stage with a great-sounding monitor system. After nearly two decades of big tours with professional monitor rigs, I’ve learned that if one needs a perfect monitor rig in order to perform—quit now. If you’re a mega-star, you’re still going to be disappointed now and then. If you are a sideman or an up-and-comer—expect little. Here are some tips for coping with this hard truth.

  • Only ask for necessities in your monitor: your voice, your instrument, maybe some high-hat. The more you put in your mix, the less well you will be able to hear what’s really important—you.
  • Wearing earplugs on a loud stage not only protects your hearing, but also can help balance an overly loud, omnipresent bass or ripping snare.
  • If you are in the middle of a show and your monitor is torturing you, unplug it rather than trying to fix it on the fly. It will never get right.
  • Place your left foot on your monitor to emphasize your epic awesomeness.

9. Get a Dedicated Drunk Mic
If you have drunken jammers who jump onstage regularly, have a dedicated “drunk jammer” mic line run. This will keep them from passing their bacterium to you. As an added bonus, if they are terrible singers, your soundman can cut them off and you can take over vocals at any time without prying the offending mic from their drunken clutches.

10. Get Some Rest
It’s easy to fall into the vampire schedule: Up all night, sleep all day. In reality you seldom get to sleep all day because on tour you’re traveling, doing promotion, or whatever other duty calls during the day. Stay up all night and there’s a good chance you won’t ever get caught up. Sleep deprivation becomes accumulative. Miss a few sleeps and everything goes to hell. People get grumpy and your perception of meter, tonality, and everything in general becomes inaccurate. When fatigue really sets in, your body can quit altogether and you get sick. As tempting as it is to let the party onstage roll on until morning, this will quickly turn you into an irritable, sickly, bag-eyed dope.

By all rights, musicians should not be allowed to take vacations because musicians never really work. That being the case, let’s milk this scam for all we can and turn the summer tour into a fabulous play-cation. These principles can go a long way to making the most of it.

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