Gig Planning 101

by Eric Scot Porter

November 2001


Editor's Note: This is number one in a series of two columns focused on planning ahead for gigs and being prepared for the unplanned. In this column Eric will relate some of his experience on gig planning. Column two will help you develop a 'Drummer's Emergency Kit'...

The Drummerís Nightmare!

Itís the day of the big gig! Youíve finally landed the job youíve been waiting for. Big and the Babes drummer came down with the flu and they asked you of all the drummers in L.A. to sit in. This could be it. The BIG break youíve been waiting for.

You finish schlepping your gear into your car and hit the road to the gig. Of course, youíve never been to the venue your playing at tonight, but you have directions and it canít be that hard to find, right?

After an hour of driving in circles you finally find the spot. Youíve got an hour to spare until the gig starts, so it shouldnít be a problem. At least thatís what you thought until you see the mountain of 150 stairs you have to climb to get to the stage.

You start hauling your gear in and Big is there to greet you. "So youíre the banger tonight. Hi, Iím Big," he says. Youíre not really sure if he was talking about his name when he said that.

You find the spot to set up in and reach for the rug to set your drums on. "Crud," you say to yourself. You forgot the rug! It looks like youíll have to play gingerly on those pedals tonight or your set might slide right into Bigís big bottom.

You finally get your stuff set up and Big wants to have a sound check. He calls the Babes up to the stage and throws a few charts to you. You set them on the music stand you never thought youíd use and grab your sticks out of your stick bag.

Big turns around and says, "Hey Banger, on the first song we're cutting the bridge out of here and moving it to here. On the third song, I want you to change tempo in section C and then go to ĺ time in section A the second time around. In the 12th song I want you to sit out until we reach the second verse, and then only come in softly. Oh yeah, and on the encore song, I want you to play a drum solo on the third time we hit the verse, and make it 16 measures long. You got that?"

You reply, looking as confident as you can, "OK, no problem." You knew you should not have taken that pencil out of your stick bag and forgotten to put it back.

The concert finally starts, and you feel the exhilaration as the lights go out, the crowd starts to roar, and you walk on the stage. You sit down on your THRONE, and the spotlights go on. You can feel the heat as they shine on you and your awesome drum set. Then the first song starts. The volume vibrates the stage as you play like a God Warrior from some long forgotten Tribe of pure Manhood. The snare drum thuds and cracks like thunder and lightening, supplying the backbeat that the masses clap to in eerie unison. That is, until your snare string breaks and your thundering snare turns into some sort of muffled, half dead timbale. If you only had another snare to switch to. Youíll just have to repair it as fast as you can in the break coming up. You did remember your extra snare strainer materials, didnít you?

This, along with a number of equally horrifying experiences can be yours, if you are the next contestant on THE DRUMMERS NIGHTMARE.

All kidding aside, as a drummer, you have an extra obligation to the brotherhood of drummers to be extra prepared and ready each time you go out to show youíre professionalism. Drummers have gotten a bad reputation through the years of being ill prepared and unprofessional. Part of this is because many of them are, but those of us who arenít, must try extra hard to turn the tide of opinion.

As a drum set player, you have 10 to 30 instruments and components that you have to look after and make sure that everything is in working order. This is in addition to the other responsibilities and concerns you have that we will go over later. There is a lot to think about and remember. It is best to get all of your ducks in a row before the excitement of the big gig fogs your mind.

In this article, we will look at some of the preparations you should make to try to prevent an emergency before it happens. There are two steps to preventing problems. One is to be as prepared ahead of time as you can, and the other is to have the means to face the emergency you are confronted with when it happens. We'll look at the first item in this column.

The Preparedness Factor

It is important to be prepared well before the day the gig arrives. One of the first things you should do is make sure you know where you are going to play at. Donít assume it will be easy to find. Go and find the place a day or two before the gig if at all possible. Talk to the manager of the club or concert hall you will be playing at. Introduce yourself and find out when you can start setting up and who will be unlocking the doors for you. Take a good look at the spot where you will be setting up. See if it is carpeted or not. See if you have plenty of room for your drums or if you need to bring a reduced setup.

Secondly, be sure to leave extra early for the gig. This not only works as an insurance policy if you should run into road trouble on the way, but it also leaves the band with a good feeling and gives them confidence in you. If you leave the band sweating, wondering if youíre going to show up in time, chances are they wonít ask you to play again.

Thirdly, go through your set a day or two before the gig and make sure everything is in working order. Check your snare strainer for wear. Tune your drums. Check your pedals for worn parts and functionality.

Finally, do you have charts to practice? If so, make sure you are very familiar with the material. Do you know the order of the music? If so, put your charts in order and paper clip them together before you go to the gig. They can always be adjusted later for last minute changes, but if they are in the general order in which they are going to be played to start with, this will save you some time and anxiety.

The next thing you should do is have a checklist, mental or written, of the gear you must bring. This may seem obvious, but if you donít go through your checklist it is all too easy to leave that bass drum pedal or stick bag in that dark corner of youíre practice room as you load your plethora of gear. I have been doing it enough years that I have a pretty good working mental checklist, but it doesnít hurt anyone to actually have a written checklist. Make certain you have packed all of the essentials. These may seem obvious, but the results are cataclysmic if you forget any of these: snare drum, hihat stand, bass drum pedal, cymbal bag, drum throne, drum sticks and music.

Of course, that is not all you want to bring, but if you forget any one of these, you are going to be in trouble. Another item that is sometimes very important is a music stand. If you are going to be reading charts, do you really want to have to use your floor tom as a music stand? Sure you do. You lugged that 18" monster all the way to the gig not to play it, but to use it to sit a few pieces of paper on.

If you are going to use a music stand, do you need a music stand light? Did you check the lighting while you were checking out the club you are going to be playing at? If you do need your music stand light, is there an outlet nearby? If not, remember to bring an extension cord.

Another important item to put on your mental checklist is a drum set rug. As mentioned in the story above, you donít want your set to be sliding around as you play. If the stage is not carpeted, you will definitely need one of these.

For the extra cautious drummer, it would not be vain to make yourself a checklist of every piece of equipment you want to bring with you to your gig.

Here is a sample checklist. Feel free to use it as your own, or make your own custom checklist specifically for your gear.

Drummerís loading checklist:

__ Pencil

__ Music

__ Music stand

__ Music stand light

__ Extension cord

__ Drumstick bag (with all types of sticks and mallets needed.)

__ Drum set rug

__ Directions to gig

__ Drum throne

__ Snare drum and stand

__ Base Drum Pedal(s)

__ HiHat Pedal(s) (clutch still attached)

__ Cymbal Bag with all cymbals needed

__ Bass Drum

__ Tom Toms and hardware

__ Floor Toms and hardware

__ Correct number of cymbal stands (check all wing nuts)

__ Correct number of microphones if applicable

__ Correct number of mic stands if applicable

__ Change of clothes if applicable

__ Any other percussion gadgets not listed above you plan on using.

Remember, there are two ways to help prevent a drumming catastrophe. One is to do your homework and be prepared for your gig ahead of time. The second is to bring with you the necessary materials that may be needed to repair an essential piece of equipment on the fly. We'll take a look at the latter next month...

Eric Scot Porter is an accomplished drummer out of Oregon's own Bay Area. His recent solo project, Kingdom, is available on-line from Amazon or CDNOW . You can check out several MP3 audio clips of Kingdom at The Orchard. You may forward your comments and suggestions to him via esp@acousticdrums.com ...

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