How to Be Prepared For Local Shows: Tools of the Trade for the Gigging Musician

A Quick List To Remember When You're Preparing

Written by
Shawn Leonhardt
Published on
July 21, 2023 at 8:49:08 AM PDT July 21, 2023 at 8:49:08 AM PDTst, July 21, 2023 at 8:49:08 AM PDT

By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer

What does a musician need to be prepared for most gigs and situations? Some tools and items will depend on your instrument and overall performance, while others are general necessities for anyone who wants to play music publicly. Usually you want the process to be as easy and streamlined as possible so you can focus on the show! Here are some of the important tools of the trade for the gigging musician.

Pick Your Guitar and Case

While you don’t want to play cheap gear at a show you may also want to save the top tier instruments for studio use. At least if you are busking on the street or playing in a bar you really don’t want to use super pricey gear. If you must bring something nice make sure it is put away right in an appropriate hard case.

Gig bags are easier to carry but they provide less protection. A saxophone bell can bend and a guitar string can break in a soft case so keep the venue and instrument case suitable for the right situation. If you need synthesizers or guitar pedals keep it to the bare minimum.

Audio Equipment

Durable microphones are essential, this isn’t the time to be worrying about a pristine studio mic. Shure SM57’s is commonly used but your situation may call for something else. You want quality for a good performance but not overkill on something that may very well get damaged. 

You may also need an amplifier or basic PA system along with a small mixer to plug the gear into. Your mixer doesn’t have to be elaborate, just enough channels for your show. It is helpful to have your own portable live setup just in case you find a place that doesn’t have the right music gear.

Guitar Cables and Power Sources

Depending on the amplification or effects units that are used you will need a variety of XLR and patch cables along with power units or batteries if your music gear runs on that. You may need 1/4 inch or even smaller 1/8 cables, it is up to you to check the connections and get the right ones. As always this is not an area to be cheap in, quality cables are better sounding.

And make sure to check what adapters are needed. If you happen to be lucky enough to be playing in another country, then you must pay attention to the power and adapters that you need. If you are more of an acoustic musician than this area will only be important for mic and speaker connections.

All Terrain Carts 

It is very helpful to have something to carry all your equipment around with, these days there are dedicated carts for musicians that want something durable to put items in. If you plan on playing in different environments than all terrain carts will be your best bet. Or you can look for smaller options to lug your instruments, cables, and music gear around in.

Guitar Playing Accessories 

You will need stands for mics, amps, tablets, and music, along with any specialty connectors to put these items on the stand. There are also straps, strings, reeds, picks, capos, extra drum sticks, and any playing accessories that you will need for your show. These are wise things to have doubles of in case of breaks or damage. Just don’t go overboard and bring more than you need. We only want the accessories that are essential to the gig.

Guitar Tuner

Whether it is a dedicated tuning machine or an app it is essential to make sure you are in tune. Don’t rely on ear training at a show unless you have no choice, just use a tuner, and make sure your instrument is right in the first place, even a simple guitar tuner can work for a lot of instruments. A tuner that shows all chromatic notes and octaves will work for all musicians.

Instrument Repair Kits

Tape, cleaners, and sprays are essential for sticking items and keeping grime down. While tools like pliers, screwdrivers, batteries, and flashlights are also potentially helpful items. Your instrument and gig will determine exactly what you may need, but every musician needs to keep a simple repair kit for their gear.

Pro-tip: The Rene Martinez String Winder is the perfect addition to your repair kit for quick string replacements.

First Aid Kit

We also need some items to occasionally repair ourselves! Band aids can help protect from blisters or treat them. Chapstick helps for severe weather, and other ointments like antibiotics may be necessary. And of course earplugs are essential for protecting our hearing! A clean cloth is also great for cleaning or sweat, as it gets hot on some stages. Water and snacks are also essential, especially if you are in temperature extremes.

It is also helpful to have a paper and pen just in case your phone dies, as always you should have a backup for most things that can go wrong. Because if they can go wrong in a gig, they will!

The Venue Details and Necessary Contracts

If you are busking, always make sure someone knows where you are and when you will be back. Generally it’s a safe thing, but it’s even safer to share where you are. Also make sure to keep important identification and any money safely where it can’t be stolen when playing on the street. If you are playing a show hopefully you have done your due diligence and gotten proper venue contracts, if so make sure to bring them. 

Music or Merchandise For Sale

Be certain to bring any CD’s, USB sticks, tape cassettes, links, QR codes, and any other merchandise, after all that may be the only way to really make money from the gig! You want to make sure you have all promotional materials available to sell or handout to potential fans. It is very difficult to make money as a musician, you will need side hustles of side hustles so find any way you can to bring money in!

Finally it will be helpful to go to shows or watch street performers to get an idea of what tools and items gigging musicians use. Music is just a friendly form of mimicry, copy what you see, but put your own spin on it! Always be sure to practice, as the most important tool for the artist is proper preparation. Aside from knowing your instrument as best you can, from a teacher or from digital instruction like an online guitar lessons platform. And after you play a show you will make mistakes that you can correct for the next time. Learn from those bad events and make the changes necessary to the musical items you will need!