Performance Tips – Setting It Up

In my career I have played hundreds of shows in cities and towns in 5 countries, and it always surprises me how long it takes people to setup to play–both in concert and in rehearsal. I see bands with members that have over 10 years experience putting their stuff together like it was the very first time. It just doesn’t make sense. What’s taking so long? And it is worse when it is someone in my band that is moving so slow! Setup your gear as fast as humanly possible. There is no reason setting up the drums, amps and tuning the guitars should take more than 5 minutes. If the club has a back line things should move along a lot quicker. But for some reason they just don’t.

I experienced this, yet again, last week when I played Arlene’s Grocery with Atomic Brother in NYC. Our substitute drummer, who is not used to playing rock gigs, was very casual about setting up, and the band before us and the band after us took forever even though they were only 3-piece bands. Don’t get me wrong, our drummer played great, and the 2 slow-poke bands were good, but they just threw off the whole schedule. In this series I am going to impart to you some of the tips and tricks that I have learned that are key to performing in clubs no matter what city and country you live in. This is all basic stuff that any band should know-and you may be surprised that many don’t even after years of clubbing.

Setting up should be the easiest part of the night–you put your stuff on stage, assemble the drums, plug in the guitars, maybe keyboards, and do a line check and you’re off–but it’s not. If you can’t get this right you will throw off the typical 1 band/hour scheduling, and you’ll be angry that you went on late or got cut short. Some places WILL throw you off stage before your 45 minute set is done. And you shouldn’t cry about it. Why? Because your setup time ate into your performing time AND the next band’s setup and performing time!

Here are just a few reasons why you should setup as quickly as possible.

1) You earn the respect of the club’s management, sound person, promoter and booker. Seriously, because you got your stuff together quickly you weren’t the reason their night was messed keeping them there until 4am, somebody else was.
2) You show the other bands that you respect them. The longer it takes you to setup the more you cut into THEIR set.
3) It shows that you are professional. Maybe you aren’t, but everyone will think you are and that’s all that counts.
4) You can take a few minutes to step offstage, make any last minute changes to your set and make an entrance without worrying about the sound person rushing you to start.
5) You might actually get to play longer–or at least you won’t have your set cut short.

I think that these are 5 pretty good reasons. So, are you or your band mates slow? How can you fix this?

Easy. Practice and preparation. A band practices and rehearses to make sure they can play their songs, and if their are any problems fix those problems before they go onstage. If setting up your gear is a problem, then it should be fixed at band practice. Why not consider starting band practice early and practice loading in and setting up?

It’s usually the hardest for the drummer because the drummer has the most stuff (especially if you are playing with a drummer that still worships Neal Peart), but I have seen guitar players and bass players take just as long or longer to setup. I played in a band whose drummer was extremely slow to get his drums setup. We would occasionally get our set cut short because of this, and we were really tired of it. So, we made him practice setting up his drums every day at rehearsal and band practice until he could get everything out of the cases and put together in 5 minutes. We made him do this until he could unpack and put the kit together in 5 minutes. I think it may have taken 2 weeks, but it was worth it.

Guitar players, bass players and keyboard players you are not off the hook. Everyone in the band should be doing this. I have more gear than most bass players with my 2 speaker cabinets, 8-space rack with effects, tuner, power amp, wireless, my midi pedal and 2 basses and cables. When I first started using this kind of setup I was doing like other guys I had seen; they wired everything up every time they got on stage, and I thought that was just how you did things. But this got annoying and took forever, so I had to figure out a way for me to optimize my rig and setup quickly. So a few hours with some tape and cable ties and now my rack is completely wired and integrated so that I just have to stack everything up, open the case and plug in 2 speaker cables, 2 midi cables, 2 power cables and 1 guitar cable. It’s even easier if I am using the house equipment; no cabinets to stack! I just bring the basses and the rack. All guitar, bass and keyboard players should be this modular or integrated.

Guitar players, you have 4-5 stomp boxes? Get a pedal board already! Make sure you are all wired up and have a power adapter (there is no reason to be changing batteries on stage!). Besides your head and cabinet all you need is 2 cables and your ax and you are ready to go. If you have a Les Paul, a Cry Baby and your amp then it’s even easier. Keyboard players make me laugh at how long it takes them to setup. They unfold their stand and pull the keyboard out of the case and hand the person doing sound one or 2 instrument cables. Then the fun begins, lots and lots of button pushing as if all the sounds switched banks on the ride to the show. I swear they do this because they want to make it seem that they have the same amount of hassle as the rest of us.

It should only get easier if you have the back line provided, especially if you practiced with all the gear. Less stuff to deal with. If you are playing a place with a back line the drummer will probably only have to bring stands, cymbals and a snare drum; the guitar and bass players sometimes a head, sometimes not. Keyboard players, you still probably have to bring your keyboard and stand. But this should be cake to setup.

Anyway, you get the point… there isn’t really that much stuff and if you practice setting up and plan to get your configuration just right, the less time you will have to setup and the more time you will have to play and the better you will look to everyone.