The world has opened up again after a long break, and so did the music scene. The gigging season pulsates alive and well again, that goes also with the acoustic gig.
More and more cafés are emerging which also means more opportunities and places to perform in. But contrary to the chill feeling inside cafés, performing up front can still be nerve-wracking. As a starting musician myself, I still recite plenty of reminders in my head even as I face no more than 15 people in the audience at a time.
A one to three hour set may seem like a short stint but it sure takes long preparation too.
Hello, fellow musician! I am Caysel, a tiny songsmith whose among her lifelines are writing songs and singing in cafés. I have been doing gigs for at least 7 years now. And here are a few things I love to do on my gigs.
Days before the Gig
Make your go-to checklist
At the door of my very closet, I plaster a simple note containing my personal gigging needs. I come back to this list to check all essentials in my music arsenal and update its content depending on the context of the event I am attending to. Before I walk out the door, I take a glance on this paper once more.
My personal list is split in two categories; the hygiene kit and the musician arsenal.
I assign my large duffel bag as the musician arsenal storage. In it I tuck the legs of my lyric and mic stands. My cables then has a space in the pockets. I also carry with me my personal microphone. These things would already weigh a ton though!
In separate pouches, I curate a hygiene kit which carries things to keep myself fresh the entire day. I also bring a tumbler to place beside my station to keep me hydrated.
Going to the venue would feel like a workout, especially being a one-man act. In my case, I’ve got my duffel bag (the hygiene kit also sits inside), and my enormous Dreadnought guitar all in all. There could also be a need to bring an amplifier. And carrying all this weight shifts all your focus towards ensuring nothing falls apart as you commute. So it is a must that you secured all your belongings beforehand so you can focus on keeping your eye on the road.
You can also bring along this checklist as it will come in handy as you make inventory packing up after the gig.
Preparing Your Outfit
I love to take my gigs as a chance to wear cute outfits too. But of course, the comfort and ease should not be compromised. To ensure I’d feel good in my clothes for hours, I like to try the outfit I visualized a day before. It would be best to check the area in the venue where you will be playing, to see whether it is outdoors or airconditioned indoors to accord your articles of clothing. You might also want to consider the weather during the very day.
Curating Your Lyric Selection References
You don’t have to memorize every song in your repertoire, especially in a three-hour session. Allow yourself to have a lyric stand where you can sneak a peek every time the next lyric escaped your clutches or it just doesn’t come to mind.
I personally still prefer to use paper as my lyric reference (as I prefer to jot notes down by hand), but you can always use a tablet or other devices for a more handy and lightweight baggage.
In preparing the song line up, I take in consideration what the audience will like and what I personally love to sing. I believe singing your favorites is a treat to oneself and will hype you up. Eventually, your audience will catch the energy, as opposed to forcing yourself to play a piece you are not comfortable with.
In a set, I like to do three consecutive songs before I pause a few seconds till the next batch. With descending level of difficulty in order not to exhaust myself. With the latter song being my breather. For example; the closing song will contain minimal broken or barre chords, or minimal high notes and a slower flow. This strategy allows me to take quick rest before transitioning to another trio of songs.
I also decide the set with songs of diverse music styles and popularity for variation. I also like to throw a few of my original songs into the mix. Introducing your composition by conversing with your audience I find as the best way of playing it. This way you call their attention and tell your listeners a potential new recommendation.
Practice does wonders
While you have your lyrics as your sandbox, as a safe place to land, it does not mean you can lay reluctant weeks before the gig. In a busy schedule, you can squeeze in one to three hours of rehearsal a day to familiarize yourself with the lyrics and your dynamics.
With plenty of practice sessions done, you’ll emerge at the stage more at ease and confident. Practice does not betray, dear friend.
Planning Your Route
With the intention to save up money, I previously commute to reach my venues. As I reminisce, doing so strained my entire body, especially my arms, from lifting my heavy equipment and instrument, affecting my entire condition during a few gigs before. My belongings might have also disturbed and delayed my fellow passengers.
After those experiences, I figured getting a private ride or taxi works best for me. This option is a bit costly, but days before the gig we can always save up to prepare our travel money. Because you deserve a comfy ride towards your work.
Rest, fellow musician
In my years of gigging, I learned that being well-conditioned will place you in an awesome mood that will eventually lead to a delightful and exemplary performance. I will never again underestimate the power of adequate sleep right before the day of the gig. A day before you can practice briefly, but come night time, do yourself a favor by cutting your phone screen time and sleep early regardless if your gig starts in the evening the next day.
Hours Before Your Gig
Assuming you’ve got adequate sleep and you’ve woken up early, you’ve got plenty of time to condition yourself for the day accordingly. What I like to do first in the morning is to grab a wholesome breakfast and lunch, and then take a bath early to dry my hair naturally during the wee hours. This is because I love to do my hair up in braids or shape them into soft waves for volume.
Once I’m dolled up for the evening, I check my arsenal one more time to ensure that I got all that I’d be needing. And finally before leaving the door, I like to stretch my entire body to prevent unwanted injuries from heavy-lifting my luggage and from sitting/standing for hours during the performance.
During the Soundcheck
It is ideal to arrive at least an hour to the venue, especially if your gig will also be the first you’ll ever see the place. I like to arrive early to properly greet the management, to get a good feel of the café, and to prevent from rushing the soundcheck.
During the soundcheck, given if I still have plenty of time, I familiarize their sound system and organize the wires. In case technical errors occur I would know how to troubleshoot. During this time I also like to do warm ups, both with my vocals and limbs up to my fingers. To wake my senses up, as I like to call it.
During the Performance
In your time slot, you are the star!
Inevitably, I always overthink that the audience would not enjoy what I prepared, even before I introduce my set. I learned that these stranger faces may all seem stoic at first but eventually you’ll find them tapping their foot, swaying their head to your rhythm and tune, long as you are willing to take on that challenge.
It could be daunting, but allow yourself to own the stage. But also take your time to feel its humbling ang thrilling altitude as well. While there might be a lingering weight of responsibility on your shoulders to entertain, It is important that you enjoy first before anyone else. Soon enough, you’d feel you have gained new music friends listening earnestly in the audience.
Allow the first few songs on your set to thaw the frozen and stiff feelings; remnants that the warm up prior failed to melt. It might take a while but it sure is part of easing up to the set, especially when the venue still feels like a stranger place. But not for so long. You’ll get the hang of it gradually!
It’s live, everything can happen
Good and bad, both can happen. A wrong lyric slipped out of your tongue, your voice cracked, you tripped over a chord? It’s alright! Forgive yourself right away, laugh it off, pause a while, or crack a simple joke to the audience during the break. This way you make an even closer connection with them, as they are listening to an actual human. These mistakes will also remind us to lay our feet firm on the ground despite the high chair the stage grants.
Everything can happen, including your fun! So have heaps of it throughout your set. You gotta own it!
After the Music Session
A personal pat-on-the-back
Regardless of how it went, congratulate yourself first for a job well done. Finishing a single song up front count as a big feat, let alone a whole hour or two of singing. For a little celebration, I like to treat myself to a warm matcha and pasta after. I also love to take lovely commemorative photos. Hang around in the café for a while to either rest, converse with folks, or listen to my fellow musicians I share the line up with.
Check your checklist once again
Things can get disorderly after a busy night, to make sure you won’t leave any belongings behind, refer to the checklist once more as you pack.
Thank you for stopping by, fellow musician! Is there any personal regimen you do on your gigs too? I’d love to read them on the comments. If you also like what you have read and heard earlier, you can connect with me through my YouTube channel, Instagram and TikTok accounts.
Featured photo taken by Val and Marow Bismar
Caysel has a fascination with words at an early age. Her love for writing has bloomed since then. After being taught to play musical instruments, she learned the magic of words when intertwined with melodies. She would later discover a new love for songwriting. Venturing into the music scene and the lively world of pop culture are among her favorite activities. She aspires to tell their stories. When life gets a little tough, Caysel disappears into the world of K-dramas, figure skate ice dance programs and video essays, then comes right back whenever she's ready.