How to Start Gigging as a Guitarist (Essential Steps And Tips)
Are You Ready to Start Gigging as a Guitarist? If you ask yourself this question, you might say “No”.
It is common to think you are not ready. You’ve been playing a while and learned some of your favorite songs. Heck, maybe you’ve even written some original material.
Now you want to take it from the bedroom and play in front of an audience, but you have no idea where to start. The process of getting hired to play music sounds complicated and overwhelming, but with these tips you’ll have the knowledge and resources to take the stage in no time!
In this article, you’ll learn exactly how to start gigging as a guitarist. And while the focus of this post may be on the guitarist’s role, we will also be discussing what you should know what is supposed to be happening within a band. You are only as valuable as what you bring to the table.
With that said, here are some of the most important things you need to know before your first gig.
Planning Your Song Lineup
Before you gigging, you need to think about the songs you will be playing and how it works for you as either a solo or multi-guitarist in a band. If you are the only guitarist and are covering 2-guitar songs, you need to arrange each dominant guitar part for one guitar.
This could mean taking a riff that is for 2 players and condensing it into one while keeping the major identifiable parts intact.
Separately, if you are playing with a second guitarist and are playing songs with only one guitar, your two need to work together.
Instead of both of you crowding the same riff, once play the riff and the other play a complementary rhythm that does not impose on the riff. Maybe a song has a guitar and a keyboard, one player can arrange the keyboard part for the guitar.
If you have a second guitarist or keyboard player, schedule 1:1 practice sessions to work out cool ideas that may not be possible a full band rehearsal. Always remember, service the song, not your ego.
Practice ‘til (reasonably) perfect
It is important to know the songs – especially the intros and endings. If you are weak on knowing a song, it shows on the entire band.
Don’t be the guy who starts gigging without knowing your songs inside and out. If it’s your first gig, you’ll need to overprepare to account for nerves.
Rehearsal and pre-show preparation is the place to iron out the songs, not at your show. Making notes for yourself can sometimes be helpful, especially for more complex songs. Create your own shorthand for easy reference. Being ready to gig happens here.
Learning Band Roles
Establishing all of the different roles of the band is essential for gigging musicians.
And by learning band roles, we’re not talking about who is playing what instrument. Everyone in the band should have a dedicated role inside and outside of the actual performance.
Who is going to book shows? Which member is responsible for logistics like a rehearsal space and a band fund? Who is the “face” of the band?
Learning the ins and outs of band management gives you an edge and make you an asset. There are a lot of good guitar players out there, but the ones who can book shows, and build a website are on a much shorter list. The more roles you learn the more insight you will have on the business and logistics side of being in a band.
Here are some roles you should consider learning:
- Having a Rehearsal Space/Transportation
- Merchandising (T-shirts, stickers, etc)
- Website/Social Networking
Most of these roles you can learn from more experienced musicians, friends and even websites that offer courses. YouTube can be a good outlet but there is a lot of misinformation on there so be careful. Ask for recommended channels that are credible.
How to Find Potential Gig Opportunities
Now that you have a repertoire, it is time to find gigs. Talent is one part, getting to play live is another. I can’t impress enough that the previously discussed section plays a big part in being successful at getting gigs. These tips will help you find a gig into a band, as well as help your band get shows.
Create a Demo and Spread it Around
Be your own salesman! It used to be you had to go to a recording studio to make a demo. This was a costly and most of the time a frustrating experience.
Nowadays, you can record a demo at home for free. There are plenty of free programs that not only allow you to record your guitar, but many of them even have backing tracks (loops, midi tracks, etc) to play against.
The learning curve for a lot of these isn’t too big and once you put some time into it. There are many sites you can post your tracks for free, such as SoundCloud and YouTube. Once posted you can direct people there to check it out.
You may be asked to play in front of, or with, a band so they can see what you got. Play what you know. If they asked you to learn some of their songs, learn it ahead of time and preferably better than the guitarist on the recording. Be cool, don’t try to big-time them and be yourself. If you don’t get the gig it doesn’t mean you’re not good, just not what they are looking for.
Referrals From Your Audience
A lot of music styles have a built-in audience and even a subculture. The core members of a given scene can be your gateway to finding a band, as well as your band getting shows.
These people are well-known and connected fans that others look to for recommendations – both fans and promoters. Put yourself into that scene and become active in it by going to shows and social events like parties and get-togethers. This is a “who you know” path.
Social Media and Advertising
Social Media outlets like Facebook have club and venues who post contact details for bookings. Websites like Craigslist, and hardcopy local entertainment magazines (rags/zines) have clubs who post ads looking for bands to play shows, as well a ‘musicians wanted’ section. It is worth your time to explore all avenues. Don’t leave any stone unturned.
Seek out local bands in the same/similar genre and make contact with them. You can ask about bands looking for a guitar player, maybe even be a guitar tech for them in the interim. It is a way to network yourself. If you are already in a band, see about being an opening act and/or get leads on venues that you would be suited for. It is common for bands (the cool ones anyway) to lend a helping hand to “up and comers”.
As a guitarist, you are generally going to be defined by being ‘that band’s guitarist’, unless you also happen to be the lead singer. It is important to meet club owners, promoters and other musicians and make sure they know your name and what you do. Become a familiar face. Be cool. Be easy to work with. While talent is a big part of being successful, networking and being likable aren’t too far behind.
How To Prepare For Your First Gig
You have your first gig, what to do and expect. You can expect to be nervous and make mistakes. It is ok. Recovery is key. Nobody knows you made a mistake unless you show it. Smile your way through it, and if you make a mistake play it twice to they think you meant it.
While playing music is fun and a passion, you need to approach gigging with the mindset that you were hired by someone to provide a service – entertainment.
Yes, you can rock out and wail on your guitar, but some examples of things you should not be doing – Arguing with bandmates on stage, ‘noodling’ on your guitar in between songs, not knowing the material, excessive alcohol use (unless that is part of the gig/schtick), slander staff/patrons and damage club property.
This will earn you a spot on the musician’s blacklist and make it very hard for you to get gigs if that behavior is consistent.
Be prepared, be professional. During soundcheck, set up your gear, and learn to do so with a purpose. Once you get your levels with the soundman, get off of the stage until showtime. There is no room for the player who sets there and jams out on stage while overhead music is playing and the soundman is working with the other band members.
Before you start your first song, check the tuning of all of your guitars, make sure all of your cables are plugged in and secure. Know where your gig bag is and that your extra strings, string winder, and cutters are easy to get to.
Setlists should be in view and can be easily read. Black sharpie on white paper works great. If you have a hard time seeing that, trace over the song titles with a yellow or pink highlighter marker. W
hile playing, be sure to engage with the crowd. You don’t have to be a frontman.
Just point at someone and say “Yeah!”
Make eye contact, smile, spit beer if it’s appropriate.
What Equipment Do You Need To Start Gigging?
Part of guitarist’s pride and joy is their gear, make your you have quality equipment that can handle gigging, and that you keep up with the maintenance of it. Quality doesn’t mean expensive, it means being functional and getting the job done.
Things you should have at every gig:
- 2 setlist copies- make sure the font is large enough & can be seen on darkly lit stages
- Backup guitar(s) – at least one and is already in tune
- Extras strings, picks, and cables
- Guitar stand
- Extra amp accessories – tubes, fuses, power cord
- Batteries if you run pedals. Even if you run AC adapters, have extra batteries
Make sure you always have these accessories BEFORE your gig, especially strings and picks. Music stores aren’t typically open at 10 pm.
Equipment Specifics:: This question always comes up from students and on internet forums so we might as well discuss it here – Is my gear good enough?
if your guitar stays in tune and is not too hard to play then you’re covered. Don’t get hung up on wanting a $1500 guitar before your first gig. Remember, Kurt Cobain used a Fender Mustang, which is an inexpensive student guitar.
I would say you get a lot more mileage from a better amp than better guitar. A good amp can make an inexpensive guitar sound better than the other way around.
There are many routes you can take but if you are new to gigging, and/or don’t have a lot of disposable income, I would recommend getting a clean amp with pedals or a multi-effect pedalboard.
A pedal platform rig allows you to get a good sound at any volume, as well as a bigger variety of tones. Depending on your needs, 30-50 watts should cover you, more if your style of music warrants it. You can choose individual pedals or an all-in-one pedal board, this depends on the sounds you are going for and preference.
If you aren’t technically savvy and/or you prefer to have immediate access to change your sound, pedals are a great way to go. Individual pedals allow you to customize your sound on the fly and are very user-friendly.
If you are using more than a few pedals, consider mounting them on a board with a dedicated power supply. This means no individual AC adapter power plugs. Pedal mounted on a board versus individual pedals save you half the time, if not more.
A multi-effects pedalboard can be good if you have experience with pedals or the need is warranted.
Why am I giving a section to a guitar strap? It is the least discussed topic yet a very important part. I’ll try to keep this short – buy a strap that makes the guitar feel like an extension of your body. If you have a 6-10 pound piece of wood around your body for between 45 minutes to 4 hours a night, you’re going to feel it after a while. Spend the extra money and thank yourself later.
There are tons of guitar accessories that can make your life as a gigging music a lot easier. Check out this post covering 20 essential guitar accessories that every play must-have.
Performing live is a rewarding experience that not many musicians experience or do enough of. Mostly due to not knowing how to get there or feel they are not ready because they see people at the finish line instead of the race they just ran. Use, and refer back to, these tips to help you achieve that.