One of the best songwriters in America right now, Michael Smith (http://www.artistsofnote.com/michael/), has been a house guest for the last four days and is doing a series of shows here in southern California. Today at breakfast we got to talking about gigs and what makes them wonderful and what makes the terrible. We have all made choices and mistakes from which we learn what it is we need to do a successful show. And a successful show is one that pleases both the audience and the performer. Michael told me about one of his nightmare gigs.
He said that he left too late to arrive at the gig in time to go thru his psychological set up—whatever it is that each of us does to put us in that place that allows us to access the best of particular gifts. Just like a golfer has his approach to the ball so do we performers have our approach to a concert.
So, first he was late. He arrived there hungry, so he ate something instead of warming up in the dressing room, and because of where and when he ate, there were people about and he felt some nobles oblige to interact with them, to socialize with them. This took up a lot of time that should have been devoted to preparing for the concert.
He finally went into the dressing room and changed his strings for the show. For me, I have to change the strings at least twelve hours before the gig. I want to give the guitar plenty of time to set up the strings. They can slip at both the bridge pin and the spindle and the strings themselves have to stretch out. All of us, I know, stretch our strings out when we put them on. Partly to get that slow going out of tune part overwith before we go on to the stage and partly to ascertain that there will be no slippage. Be that as it may, Michael changed the strings right before he went out, which he says he does frequently. He then went out to do the show.
He didn’t have the time to really check out the set up before he began because of the eating choice he made, so he ended up on a stool that was almost exactly the wrong height to be comfortable. He didn’t have a strap as he left it back at the hotel by accident because he was rushed leaving. He had to borrow one and the guitar kept slipping because of the angle he had to sit on the stool. The strap was for a much smaller person and he began playing before he really sussed that out, so he had the guitar way too high and at an odd angle compared to the way he normally holds and plays a guitar. So he was extremely uncomfortable on several levels...and he hadn't started the show yet.
The lights on the stage were very bright and the lights in the house were very dim, so he couldn’t really see the neck of his guitar at that angle, because the lights were slightly blinding him. Now it is true that there are many blind musicians who know exactly where they are on a neck or a keyboard, but most sighted musicians end up looking down at the neck at some point. Michael could not see where he was on the neck so he made some clams that he normally would never make.
The strings started going out of tune and that is when he realized that he left his tuner back in the dressing room, somewhere and he didn’t know where, so he was reluctant to send someone in there to rummage thru all his belongings looking for it. Not that he didn’t trust the people, just that he felt it would be even more lame if he couldn’t tell them where the tuner was. So he spent most of the show trying to get the guitar in tune and never really getting it where he always gets it when he isn’t frazzled and shows up prepared. He never got into his own songs, his own playing, his own performance because he never got comfortable on any level.
So here is the message of today’s post. You know what it takes for you to do a good show. If you are unsure, then make a list of what should happen, ideally, for you to put on a good show. Before I leave the house or the hotel, I make certain that I have all the above, a guitar strap, all my pedals, all the cables that connect the pedals, a direct box, ground lifter plug adapters, an extension cord, one extra wallwort (power supply for my boss pedals, the me-50 and the loop station).
Michael, if he sits down, likes a simple straight back chair with no arms. So do I. Those stools that venues frequently provide for us, I simply use as a small table to hold two extra sets of strings, pliers, extra finger picks, a capo (tho I never use one—I still bring one on stage—you never know), a string crank, water, and I always have an extra guitar cable just in case.
I set the mic stands exactly where I want them, at the height that I want them and I request that if someone has to announce me that they use another mic. I have the monitors exactly where I want them, I have the lights if they have them, exactly how I like them so I am not blinded and cannot see the neck of my guitar.
What I actually try to do is to think of everything that could go wrong for the performance and then try to provide a remedy, replacement or fix for whatever shows up. And I always get to the gig in plenty of time. I’d rather sit there for hours and warm up then show up at the last minute, unable to access the simple gifts God gave me. Then i ascertain that everything is so right for me, that I only have to think about having a good time doing a good show. The Boy Scouts were right…be prepared.