First Live Show

I am looking for advice: some friends have asked if I would play a show with them. I’m curious about what are some common pitfalls for musicians beginning to play live?

My background is not in music, I came to synthesizers through building electronics. I’ve picked up an appreciation for performance and theory along the way. In the past I’d be too scared or insecure to play a show live but I’ve felt my skills have progressed far enough that I want to prepare myself to do something like this.

My technical performance skills are not great. My plan is to teach myself some rudimentary keyboard over the winter, and continuing to study music theory. I am very interested to learn some pointers, or if you know of common mistakes I should try to avoid?

The practicalities of gigging elude me too. How do you arrange logistics of hauling gear? How do you not look like a fool in front of the sound board person? What are your best techniques to keep a modular set interesting? Advice on simple, reliable mixing gear or DI boxes?

My setup is changing to keep the possibility of playing live in mind. I have a 54hp eurorack case (teletype, and just friends being the main concept), Lorre Mill synths, Fates, Softpop, Volca FM, and Axoloti. The idea being to only bring enough gear to sound interesting but also fit in a duffle bag.

My experience with this is very limited, so even pointing out obvious things would be very helpful. Thanks!!

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I don’t play shows exclusively with modular (or often with no modular at all). But when I do, I alsway combine it with a sequencer that can save various tracks. In my case it’s the Digitone. I find that you can get so much out of a little system and a basic patch (with slight re-patching between tracks), if you can easily change patterns and don’t have to program everything on the fly. It will also give you some security.

Besides that, I always take as little gear as possible. It is much more fun to travel light and setup things fast.

And don’t worry what the sound person thinks. They also don’t care what you are thinking :slight_smile:

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just being familiar (and quick) with your setup/patch/system, and having ample time to set up/prepare yr device(s) makes a big difference in maintaining a positive, or calm attitude. in my experience it’s easy to run into technical setbacks that can hinder things or create stress while getting ready (on the spot). a bit of wiggle room, or the ability to improvise alternate ways of making sounds is helpful in a live scenario where things could go awry/not according to plan. I found it useful to have a series of field recordings, or pre-recorded material that could be used to augment your live gestures–something readily accessible for playback on the fly. I don’t know your music, but it might help to have a sort of safety measure, something to provide movement or action if things aren’t going as planned. as long as you’re confident about how things (your setup, gear, etc.) should sound, you shouldn’t be concerned by what the sound person thinks…unless they have some positive/useful input, of course

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When I started to do live shows I was very much in your situation, but to be honest, I haven’t progressed all that much since then :joy:
Still, I have some advice that might help you, at least it always helped me.

  • First of all keep it simple. Use as little gear as possible to achieve your goal. Don’t haul all your equipment to the gig. There’s multiple reasons for that, but I’d say the most important is that you need to keep focused while playing and too much stuff will make that harder. Also things will go wrong and less stuff you have to troubleshoot, the better!
  • Don’t expect venues to have anything. Bring as much as possible yourself. Also you know your gear, but you don’t know other people’s.
  • Dont’ expect venues to have somebody in charge with the tech. Sometimes you are the one in charge with the tech.
  • Don’t underestimate monitoring. It might be worth Investing in a small portable monitoring solution, in case the venue doesn’t have one.
  • Think about how you want to present yourself on stage. You can dance, jump or sit in a dusty corner and stare at the floor. It’s part of your artistic vision and anything is good as long as it is intentional and has a reasoning behind it.
  • This might be debatable, but I find that if I leave too much to the machines things just become backing tracks and I get bored by myself quickly. Try to figure out what your sweet spot regarding this is. What keeps you energized during a performance, what doesn’t?
  • Some people thrive on not having a safety net, it makes the performance more exciting and can be a big boost. Others get crippled by the fear to just mess it all up and end up with nothing to fall back to. Figure out where you stand in regards to that and adjust accordingly. I’d argue though that pushing your self a bit beyond what you think your limits are is always good for creativity.
  • Develop some sort of system, something that will let you perform more freely and not deal too much with managing things.
  • and of course, rehears, practice, and rehears and practice some more.
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Oh yes, bring all the cables :slight_smile: Sometimes you have to hook your setup to a DJ mixer that just has RCA inputs. So be prepared in that regard.

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This is great advice so far! My first takeaway is not to entirely rely on generating in the moment but to have some recorded material to fall back on as a safety net. That adds an additional layer or prep but I think it’s a valuable one. Excellent tips!

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I haven’t performed in years and starting to really miss it. These are more general live show tips, not just modular-focused:

Practice in front of other people.

Practice with minimal lighting - know the interfaces of your equipment by touch not by sight.

Practice with a bad monitoring setup.

Play through your mistakes - they will happen!

The sound tech is on your side, they’re there to help you sound good in a space that they should know well.

Make sure you have all your cables as you don’t want to be relying on the unloved jack cables found in a venue, sometimes marking them can really help for when packing down.

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The hardest thing for me is to not do too much, change stuff too quickly. Try to be a listener, don’t feel pressured into “performing”. To me it sometimes feels like I need to justify why music is playing by introducing changes. This is not always for the better. Depends on the music of course.

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After having played a few live sets, some thoughts:

  • Keep it simple, bring as little as possible (good for your focus, and your back!)
  • Design your set around a few tricks that you can repeat. You want to create a system allowing you to play all your tracks instead of having one for each track
  • Have your setup separated between a “robust” side that you can count on no matter what and a “play” part that will allow you freedom and risk taking
  • Bring what you have most fun with in the studio
  • Try to include movements that can translate in obvious sound changes to help engage the audience
  • Think about how you want your live to flow, do you want silence between songs or smooth transitions? Do you want to be able to improvise your tracklist according to the audience, or will it be decided before the set?
  • Take inspiration from already established live systems; DJ style transitions where you have two machines, one per track and you transition between those with a dj style mixer? Ableton loop styles where you progress and mix through a list of clips and stems? Electribe style of pattern chaining? Using looping devices to build layers upon layers?
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For me, I like having a safety net for when things go awry, I love my Radio Music. The other useful tip is having a watch or clock visible to offset the “time dilation effect” that seems to happen when playing live. Also, a checklist when packing for the gig, and another for the setup is a must have.

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this is very important. Aligning your music’s timescale and the timescale of the audience’s listening is delicate and difficult.

Also related to what @doomglue said above, i suffer the same shifting of “base-reference detail level”, it happens even in written / fixed media works: you end up knowing your material so much that it is boring to you, but you have to let it live, give it space (well, time) to make its way into the listener’s memory.
In my own practice it is probably the most important point i have to work on (a frequent case of “erase and redo”).

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  1. Insist on a thorough soundcheck

  2. If monitoring wedges aren’t provided, position yourself between the PA and the crowd, facing the crowd

  3. Learn how to cue parts on headphones before bringing them into the main mix and get used to doing that at stage volume

  4. Set a timer

  5. Have as many aspects of the sound creation done prior to the gig. With modular, unless you’re purposefully doing a live patch-from-scratch thing, you want to be focused on blending the pre-patched parts and getting the transitions and levels right.

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I have never played a modular show but I have played shows with a “traditional” 4 piece band. A lot has been said already so I will day this:

Power, don’t assume the power situation will be anything but terrible. You may need extension cords, power strips, and duct tape to keep said cords on the ground so nobody trips and takes out the whole setup.

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Thank you for this, terrific advice here!

I’ll be playing a show in front of strangers for the first time in almost 10 years, have played at a friend’s tiny festival over the last couple of summers, so I’m a bit terrified :slight_smile: (in fact it’s just been announced here)

What I’m thinking is:

  • Choose what I’ll be playing, rehearse rehearse rehearse.
  • Try to figure out what needs changing to play those tracks live (i.é., no recording parts and swapping out tapes, no post, etc).
  • Make a list of the minimum equipment required for this.
  • On top of the sound machines, carry power cables for everything, power strips, and audio cables. Label every cable clearly with the machine it goes in, in bright colours :slight_smile:
  • Have some pre-recorded stuff that I’ll be happy with others listening if things go south for a couple of minutes / as filler.
  • Rewrite all my performance notes more clearly.
  • Buy a backlit kitchen timer.
  • Pack my desk lamp.
  • Have a checklist for packing, setting up, and unpacking.

What’s worrying me the most (other than everything falling apart) is repatching the 0-COAST between tracks, but I guess that’s where the aforementioned filler comes in - it better be good.

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Another tip: Bring merch :slight_smile:

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I would triple- (or quadruple-) emphasize practice and rehearse.

In addition to practicing and preparing in the studio, I’d also recommend doing at least a few dress rehearsals. Book a few hours in a separate rehearsal space and run through a full mock gig night. Repeat the process once or twice per week leading up to the show, with studio practice in between, and maybe two days in a row before the gig, if time and budget permit.

The goal of using a rehearsal space for the dress rehearsal is to also practice the “getting to the gig” part of the experience, and to build your experiential memory of how to handle curve balls, which should help reduce stress on the night of the actual gig. If your area has the means, try doing each dress rehearsal in a different space so you don’t get too comfortable.

Treat it like a role-play of the actual gig: tear down your gear in the studio, pack it up, head to the rehearsal space, set up the gear, do a short sound check in the rehearsal room, take a 5-10 minute break, run through your set exactly once, then pack it all up and head back to the studio. If you have the time and energy, set it back up right away so you can reflect on the set, and resume normal practicing.

From this, you should hope to learn:

  • how long does it take to pack up your gear in the studio?
  • how long does it take to set up your gear in a new place? (load in)
  • how long does it take you to tear down your gear in the new place? (load out)
  • what cables / adapters / moral support tchotchkes did you leave at home?
  • how difficult is it to transport your gear from studio to rehearsal space?

A few other notes, that come to mind from electronic music courses, and various experiences:

If you can contact the venue beforehand to get a list of their gear, do it. It will help alleviate the power/DI/cables/monitoring stress a little bit.

As others have said, bring only what you need. Use the dress rehearsals as an opportunity to refine that.

This includes costume / wardrobe. Dress up for the dress rehearsal (or pack your clothes and change at the rehearsal space, if that’s what you’d do the night of the show)

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Everything @rknLA said about practicing setup/teardown. If only to ensure you’re comfortable doing it, and can resist the pressure to hurry when you’re in awful tight turnarounds.

Also, this thread made me think of this excellent paragraph from the Surgeon Art of Production interview at RA:

A really important point me and Colleen (Lady Starlight) came up with was this concept we called 50 percent stupider. The concept goes like this: when you perform live, you’re 50 percent stupider than usual. Always remember that. When you’re at home and you’re practicing, make it half as complicated. When you’re performing you have all these other pressures and the sound is weird and people are looking at you. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and enter a state of panic and then you can’t think properly and you rush through your set. Then it’s horrible and no fun and you’re probably transmitting that bad energy to your audience too. So 50 percent stupider is a really vital thing we learnt.

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Lots of great advice in here. To reiterate what others have said, assume the venue has nothing. Assume you’re going to play in a field somewhere and bring everything you need: your own extension cord, power strip, etc. (except for bulky PA speakers…but I always bring an amp, just in case!)

The only thing I would add is that it might be really helpful to practice your set ahead of time. It sounds like the show is in the spring, so you have time to:

  1. Jot down your ideas for songs/pieces/moments/ideas
  2. Figure out how to make them happen
  3. Run through them from beginning to end
  4. Run through the whole set, in order, from beginning to end

If you’re nervous, practice your whole set in front of a friend or two - or even do an impromptu unannounced livestream on Facebook or something, just to practice doing your thing in real-time in front of an audience.

(on a side note, learning keyboard and theory is certainly a worthwhile pursuit, but of course you can still play a killer set without them!)

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When you make a mistake just act like nothing happened. Unless it was really bad you are probably the only one who noticed.

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To jump off this point. You can do 10 dress rehearsals that all go flawlessly and somehow when you start setting up for your gig you might find that you’re missing the power chord for your volca FM or something. Whatever. No one’s gonna think “gee, that part was really missing a smoking ELO synth lead. Wonder where that extra voice is.”
Try to remember that this should be fun. Embrace whatever happens and just go with it. If you’re throwing out stressed, anxious vibes a sympathetic audience will pick that up and feel it too. Unless, of course, stressed and anxious vibes fit the tunes, in which case, use them :wink:

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