The Unicorn Princess’ Start Guide for Live Gigging

- Posted January 18th, 2016 by

Happy January, folks!

This month, instead of the usual review, I decided to put together a helpful guide for those looking for more insight on playing live shows. Playing shows can be super fun, but being less than prepared can cause a ton of stress.

Here’s the scenario: Your show’s date is set. You have a month or more to prepare. Tons of time, right? Wrong. Chances are, you’ll procrastinate. You have other gigs to focus on. You’re working on an EP (or four). You’ve got somewhere between one and three jobs. You might be studying. Maybe you have a family.  Everyone has a million things on their plate, and that’s OK. It’s normal. With that in mind, you need to keep your eyes on the prize, because rule number one of this whole thing is:

  1. If you commit to something, do everything in your power to produce good results.

Maybe you just like playing shows for fun. Maybe music is how you pay your bills. Maybe you create as a way to express yourself, maybe you’re more of a programmer and are developing music tech tools as a way to test them. Whatever. Regardless of why you’re part of the industry, it all comes down to this:  If you are not reliable, people won’t want to work with you. People serious about their craft do not mingle with people who aren’t dependable, professional, and on time. It doesn’t matter what field that you’re in.  As Jim Rohn said in one of my favorite quotes: jim_rohn_find_a_way_motivational_vinyl_wall_decoration__51411.1422495171.1280.1280

      2.  Know the gear that you’re using.

There’s a lot of gear out there. I’m a gear head, and part of it is keeping up to date with companies’ new (and old) products. However, the last place to use something you aren’t familiar with at all is a live performance. Once, I worked sound for a show where someone brought a Korg MS-20 on stage, brand spankin’ new from Guitar Center. Great! The only problem was that they expected the sound person to teach them modular synthesis during a four minute sound check. It just doesn’t work like that. Learn how your equipment works before the show. Only bring what you’re familiar with. Don’t expect someone to cram in a tutorial for you right before a set.



Give yourself time to figure out what gear works for you. Visit a Guitar Center. Sit in on a practice session with a friend. Watch tutorials. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Research is key, and everyday is an excuse to educate yourself. Allot yourself practice time before the show approaches. Shown: Makenoise Shared System, Audio Technica ATH-M50x, Roland VT3, modified DMG, vintage Arp Odyssey.


3.   Test cables prior to use. Bring extra.

Cable care is important, and sometimes, they die. Test them prior, and bring extra. Shit happens.

4.   Do not EVER assume people will have cables you need on hand.

I played a show with Kiran Gandhi of M.I.A. where I was told the venue had multiple 1/4” TS – RCA cables available. I went with my gut and brought my own anyway, along with straight 1/4” TS cables and even more options. When arriving to the venue early, the sound guy said they didn’t have any. Good thing I did. Always be over prepared. A different scenario: Never assume one of your homies will have a cable for your Gameboy. Bring your own!

5.    Test your devices prior.

Test everything. Your cartridges. Your outputs. Your cables. EVERYTHING.

6.     Most venues have a mixer/PA system. Most house parties do not. Confirm what is available before the show.

7.     Know what inputs your gear is going into.

Once you talk whoever is running sound (if it’s not you), confirm what inputs you’re plugging your gear into. Bring the appropriate cables. Remember Rule 3, and bring extra.

8.     If you want people to take you seriously, take the gig seriously. 

Playing music is fun, making music is fun, but it’s a gig as well, so remember that you’re a professional.

9.      Be nice to the sound person. 

One of the worst possible things you can do is be less than courteous to someone doing their job. Leave your ego at home. If you’re on time, they’ll run on time, and if you know your gear, you can get the show running quicker.

10.    Run through your set three times the night before your performance.

Have it run smoothly. Feel free to take videos of it.

11.     Have a back up plan for when things go wrong.

Because they will. Count on at least one hiccup occurring. Chances are, that  you’ll be the only one who notices it unless you make it visually obvious. Learn to laugh at mistakes.

12.     Communicate.

Communicate with the venue holders. Communicate with your audience. Communicate with your peers. Promote yourself and your peers. Help each other. Also: Don’t be discouraged by only a couple of Facebook likes on a status about it. Don’t let it get to you. Facebook has weird algorithms and links don’t always show up to all your friends. That being said: Use your phone and hit up your peers. Use email. Put up flyers. Send smoke signals. Get peoples’ attention in YOUR way.

13.    Last minute changes happen. Be flexible and on top of your game.

14.    Play your favorite tracks, and use new tracks to gauge how the audience receives them.


Taken during at The Middle East in Cambridge, August 22nd, 2015. This show was a great opportunity to play tracks on my upcoming album, Living Proof. Photocredit: Br1ght Pr1mate.



Gigs can be super stressful. Don’t let it get to you. Don’t be the person who flips out when things don’t go their way. Take a breather. Go for a walk. Get a good night’s rest. Do not EVER downplay your music on the Internet, on stage, or anywhere by saying ‘it sucks’. Why would anyone want to waste their time with music that sucks? On the flipside, don’t be on your high horse, either. There is something beautiful about people who are humble yet confident in what they do and don’t know.

I hope this was helpful. I love going to shows and being educated by great performers and musicians. I hope this gives those of you just getting into live performances some perspective, and I hope to see more of you perform in the future.
Till next time,
The Unicorn Princess

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