1. It all starts with writing a song. Writing a decent song takes a lot of work. Sometimes a song idea comes to me out of nowhere, while I’m in the shower, while I’m driving, and even while I’m sleeping. But getting a verse to work with a chorus and figuring out a bridge that works with both parts is difficult. Writing lyrics sucks even harder. Being able to play said parts together while singing at the same time can sometimes feel like that game you played as a kid when you tapped the top of your head and rubbed your belly in a circular motion at the same time. After coming up with something that you think will work and you can physically pull off, the next step is to bring it to practice.
2. A weekly practice to go over songs you already know, maybe practice a cover song for fun, and then work on new material is important. Finding a practice pad can be tricky though and then finding a way to pay for it can be even more difficult as every musician I know is a starving artist. But, camaraderie is key to a good band. Even if practice just consists of playing a few songs and shooting the shit the rest of the time, it’s best to get along and have fun if you’re going to be playing music together.
3. Gigs take a lot more work than you would think. Loading all of the gear in the back of your car while envisioning you are playing real life Tetris as you figure out just how many amps and guitars a VW Golf can hold (mine can hold a Marshall JCM800 head, a 2×10 cabinet, a Bassman tweed amp, 4 guitars, and two giant pedalboards if you fold down the seats), then driving it across town to the venue, unloading it into the back of the venue, setting it up on the stage, and then sound checking all happen hours before the show itself starts. After sound check you’ll have just enough time run home, walk the dogs, grab a bite to eat, pull together an outfit that works, throw on some makeup, make your hair behave, and make sure whatever shoes you wear will be capable of loading gear out in after your set is over.
4. Standing backstage waiting for the sound guy to give you the nod is when most people get nervous. I always write out a set list for each member of the band as our brains are going over parts and asking questions like “How many times do we play the chorus in that song the second time?” or “Does that song start in E or G?” A quick mental check is always good and having a set list in front of you can definitely help. I’ll sometimes make a few notes on my set list if there is something I tend to forget. It’s like cramming for a test as you’re walking into class. Then, you’ll open that backstage door and walk out onto the stage while a crowd waits and starts to clap and cheer for you.
5. I always do one last check of everything before starting. Is my guitar plugged in and volume turned up? Is everything on my pedal board plugged in and all pedals that are supposed to be on already turned on? Do I have an extra pick handy in case I drop mine? Is standby turned off on my amp? I’ll walk up to the microphone and thank the crowd, introduce the band, and then kick into the first song. Most of the lights in the space will be aimed at your face so most people in the crowd will just be silhouettes. I always find a place in the room about half way back where I can find a few focal points. It’s easy to get lost in a song, forget a lyric, or hit a wrong note if you aren’t in the moment. I definitely find my mind wandering at some point in a set. Hey, is that David?, or That guy doesn’t really look interested, does he?, or even Make sure to not make ugly faces when you hit that high note!, are all thoughts that might creep into my brain as the music is blaring so loud that I can barely hear my vocals through the two wedge monitors right in my face. You know the set well. You run it in order over and over at practice. Your fingers are on co-pilot but you’re giving it your all because now you have an audience. Making eye contact with the other members of the band, seeing them really getting into it, and laughing on stage when you realize how much fun you are having are some of my favorite parts.
6. After it’s over you’ll wipe the sweat from your brow from the mix of the adrenaline rush and the lights that were burning down on you. You’ll roll your cords up neatly and quickly so the next band can take the stage. People will walk up to the edge of the stage to shake your hand and tell you how much they enjoyed the show and you’ll thank them and be completely humbled that anyone even came out to see you. I make it a point to be able to carry my own gear. I always get raised eyebrows from dudes as I waddle around carrying my giant amp. My band mates know not to help unless I ask for it. It’s important that I literally carry my own weight. But, those tall strappy wedge-heeled shoes you thought were so cute and could totally carry heavy stuff in are now quickly becoming a regret as you make multiple trips to your car carrying your heavy ass amp, your two guitars, and your giant pedal board. You carefully step so you don’t twist your ankle on the busted asphalt. But, it’s over and you feel accomplished. It’s now time to have a few beers, shoot the shit with your band mates back stage while you cool down and then face the public as you walk out to watch the next band and man the merch table.
7. At the end of the night the venue with give you a little money (hopefully). You’ll split it 4 ways with the other guys in the band then take all of the gear back to the practice pad and unload it one last time. By now it’s 1:30 a.m. and on your way home you’ll stop at Taco Bell for some Dorito tacos and a Dr. Pepper, go home, walk the dogs one last time, and fall asleep not washing your face or giving a shit. You’ll wake up the next morning sore from all of the heavy lifting and ass kicking you did the night before. You’ll startle yourself as you look in the mirror at your raccoon eyes from smudged mascara and then smile as you finally wash your face, cut off the wristband from last night, and realize it’s noon and you’re starving again.