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give me gigging advice

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Illustrious Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 8184
Topic starter  

i've played in bands before where i just showed up and plugged in and played the guitar and and usually shared vocals, and someone else in the band took care of all the details, but i've never done any solo gigs myself. i'd like to do some with just my voice and guitar, play some coffee shops and bars. how do i score the gigs? what all do i need? do most places provide a pa? i assume i'd need a guitar ampand a vocal mic. do i need a vocal pa or would plugging vocals into a guitar amp be ok? i probably wouldn't need a full pa for a small venue, i assume.
also, the actual performance itself. any advice would be helpful. i've played open mics, and people generally like my music, but i'm pretty much a zero when it comes to stage presence. i'm only inadvertently funny, and always feel restless when there's a crowd. every comment they make becomes huge and echoes cavernously in my head. i never feel very comfortable being myself. some of my songs take a while to fall into place, and you hear people's comments at the start, or you hear a group of women giving my song some retarded analysis(complimentary or insulting, i want people to listen for themselves and decide), and sometimes i just want to stop and tell them to shut up. it completely throws off my focus. should i say something up front?
also, i find it very difficult to play with a vocal pa. hearing my own vocals, i get sort of caught up in trying to figure out how i sound, or singing too loud. everything gets out of balance. i'm a decent singer if i stay relaxed and in the pocket, but i don't have the ability to carry a song outside of it. i mostly rely on my guitar playing and the strength of the lyrics and melody.
anyway, any advice you can give me will help. any sort of tips or tricks or mental things you do.

Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2241

that's a lot of ask.....and I'm afraid most of the techie stuff (like need for a pa, etc) will differ from venue to venue. In my experience some bars/coffee shops have pa's, some don't, some need them (usually the places that don't have them, lol) and some don't (usually the ones that have them).

as for stage presence....I totally lack this. Actually, the whole girl-playing-guitar thing usually precludes the need for stage-presence, in my experience (that's my excuse, anyway). I tend to do a miles davis and just try to forget the audience are there and just play for myself. its a bit like the audience just happen to be around when Im playing, kinda vibe.that said, I've mostly played either open mics, where I've been introduced before hand, or gigs with a band where I've often heard a few derogatory comments re being a gurl wth an electric guitar, so in both circumstances I find putting my head downa nd playing to work best.

and I've never sung in public, either. hope someone else can help a bit more there. sorry!

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.

Estimable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 189

Yes, lots of questions here! The first commandment of solo gigging, IMHO, is know thy room! If you show up to play before you've ever cased out the space, you're asking for trouble, both because of the equipment question, and especially because of the discomfort you feel when performing. Familiarity with the space will answer any questions about gear, and it will help ease your mind.

Gear: Depending upon the space, an acoustic amp can double nicely for a PA. I have a Roland AC60, and I can plug my acoustic in one channel and my mic in the other--it has reverb and chorus effect for the guitar and reverb and phantom power for the mic. The sound is really quite good. An electric guitar amp will not do for vocals (unless you're looking for some special effect) as electric amps normally seek to shape sound rather than amplify it cleanly.

Comfort: Again, knowing your space is crucial--the best practice is visualization. Before the gig, close your eyes and imagine yourself on stage there. Imagine everything: people making comments about your songs, people talking to one another loudly instead of listening to you--anything, really that might distract or unsettle you on stage. Most importantly, try to experience the feeling you're likely to have at that moment. The best preparation for these unpleasant surprises is to make them no longer surprises--and not in the sense that you know such stuff might happen (we all know that), but in the deeper sense that you've already experienced and worked through your feelings about them through these visualizations.

These visualizations helped me enormously in my performances, as well as in my teaching career.

Jersey Jack

Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 6348

be prepared. that means, checking out the venue. if they have a PA then DI your acoustic to that. acoustics can sound fantastic that way. if not, then you need to haul everything. the espresso machine foaming milk makes alot of noise, as does talking crowds and cell phones. those are distractions you need to dismiss.
play to the audience, but you need to be comfortable with your set list.
most venues book a month out. sunday's are sometimes open mike days. that would be a good time to check out the place, crowd etc...and a chance to be invited or ask the owner for a spot.
do not play sing along or audience participation things. ew.

Honorable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 404

A multi-purpose battery-powered amp would probably be a good idea. A Traynor TVM 10 resides in my living room for my drumset currently-15-watt, solid state, rechargeable battery powered. Sounds decent, and two channels for mic and instrument. Around $150 Canadian.

Ewan McGregor: I said, "Eve, I want you to look after my wedding ring while I'm away," and she started to cry and I said, "Eve. Eve, I can't wear my ring or I won't get laid on the trip!"

Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 375

If you're playing coffee shops and bars, be loud enough so they can hear you but not so loud that they can't talk or hear each other. The people who want to hear you play - will.

Get a feedback speaker. How long will you be playing? My buddy does 3 hours and it really puts a strain on his vocals.

Play songs that they will know... if you make a mistake just keep playing like it never happened, no one will notice.


Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5582

If you plan on being a solo artist, then a small portable PA like the Yamaha Passports are great.

Fender Passport PD-250

This has everything you need really. I know of several solo performers that use these. They are very portable and set up very quickly. That is important for a one-man show. They have plenty of power, I have seen them used in fairly large clubs with a big crowd. You would probably want to buy some speakers stands to mount the speakers up high.

As far as getting gigs, first make a nice demo CD. You don't want to overdo it. Just record 3 or 4 of your best numbers. Club owners usually decide if they like you by listening to a few seconds of a very few songs. They do not listen to entire CDs. So, make sure they are songs you perform and sing well. Make sure to include some upbeat "danceable" music, and then maybe a slow pretty song.

Make a little brochure or go to a print shop. Have an attractice photo of yourself. If you've ever had a photo taken playing in front of a big crowd, then use that. That will get a club owner's attention everytime. :D

Include a set list and make sure to put good contact information that is easy to see and read. Make the brochure look professional.

If you know of Open Mics, go in and talk to the owner. Play a few of your best songs. Afterwards, ask the owner for a gig. If he or she liked what they heard, you can usually get a show on the spot.

I used to actually carry a CD player with me, because club owners will often throw your demo in a drawer with 50 other demo CDs. :roll: I would try to pick a time when the club is not real busy, after happy hour, but before the later crowd comes in. But I would play the demo for the owner and give them the brochure to read.

It's a little uncomfortable for most, but you have to be a bit of a salesman to get gigs. You have to be pleasantly assertive. I would often just ask when I could play. You have to have a bit of the Fonz in you and just act like you know the guy thinks you are the best thing since sliced bread. The biggest objection you will hear is "we are already booked". When I heard this I would ask when the next open date is. Almost invariably the owner will get their calender out. Then they would tell you the next available gig is 2 months from now. Whatever date they said, I would say "I'll take it!" And you know what? I don't think I have ever been turned down, because people have a hard time saying no. So you have to have some Kahoonahs and be just a little assertive. But be friendly and smile.

And once you get a gig, the best time to get your next show is at the end of the first. When you collect your pay, just ask when you can play again. If you do a good job you will often get 2 or more future gigs right there.

When you get a gig, make some attractive flyers and put out. Keep it simple. Show your act's name, the venue, and the date, and make sure you can read it from a distance. Then you pick a few telephone poles at major intersections where cars get stuck for a few minutes all day. Literally hundreds or even thousands will see your posters. But keep it short and simple, don't do fancy designs. Just your name, the venue, and the date!! And don't put a flyer on every pole in town unless you want some problems. Just pick 5 or 6 good locations near the club.

A bit of trickery that I learned once is to make little coupons that say "No Cover Charge" for your gig. You hand these out to people and tell them about your gig. You tell them if they present the coupon they will not have to pay the $5 (or whatever) cover charge. You will be surprised how well this works. I learned this from a fellow who really knew how to pack clubs. And of course, the club owner must be in on this and not charge these folks a cover. But folks like saving money, they will show.

Here is a little story. Years ago I was an insurance salesman. There was a retired salesman who used to visit who everybody seemed in awe of. Supposedly he was the top insurance salesman for Florida for many years. So, I just had to find out his secret to success. I went up to him one day and said, "Mr. Hamby, I've heard you were the best salesman ever, how did you do it?" I thought he was going to tell me where to advertise or some marketing secret. But his answer was simple. He said, "I just asked everybody I met to purchase insurance from me". I was surprised and asked "That's it??" He said, "That's it." Then he said, " You know, the worst thing that can happen is they say no, and that doesn't hurt too bad, does it?"

That may sound stupid, but that is the secret. You just have to ask. If you ask enough clubs for gigs, you will start getting them. The worst thing they can do is say no. :D

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis

Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2241

that sounds like the makings of a GN article right there, Wes.

+1 on posters being easy to read........fancy looking flyers will only make creative types go "ooh...." as they walk past, they wont get people to turn up at your shows. the rules are big, legible and in an easily spotted location.

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.