Finding Your Own Pre-Show Routine
Packing and planning your routine so you can give your best performance
Published July 17th, 2018
Preparing yourself for a gig is an often neglected task by us musicians. We’re so caught up with packing, setting up, nerves, last minute practice, and misbehaving gear that before we know it, the show is ready to start and it’s time to go!
You only get one chance at a first impression, so you have to be on your A-game from the first downbeat to the final note. Taking the time to create a routine can help you stay mentally prepared for giving the best performance. Instead of worrying about whether or not your batteries will die or what the next lyrics are, you can be in the moment and connecting with your audience.
To help you find your own routine, we’ve asked a few members of our staff to share theirs with you. It’s showtime!
What do you do at practice to prepare for a gig?
Jasen Kinart: My big thing is knowing what songs you will be playing and in what order. I always look at it like a reverse timeline, where we figure out what we want to accomplish for a particular show or tour and work back from there. I like to have a set list solidified at least four practices before an event. This allows for making some adjustments before you get to the last couple practices, which should be like dress rehearsals.
As a singer/guitar player, I also use the set list to group songs by the guitar I'll be using for a different sound or tuning, so I'm not constantly switching instruments, which slows down the flow of a show, allowing the crowd to get distracted, start talking, tune out, etc.
Bob Rouse: We determine the material for our sets over the winter. Song arrangements and endings are finalized and uploaded to Google Drive for review and individual practice. Just prior to our summer festival season, we schedule a few rehearsals to run the sets and make sure all potential technical issues are worked through, IEM (In Ear Monitor) mixes tweaked, etc. These sessions are digitally recorded and shared for us to woodshed on our own. We will then schedule two final set run-throughs.
Nathan Honoré: I always solidify my setlist at least two rehearsals before a gig. That gives me time to run it multiple times, make tweaks, and practice transitions. I have a notoriously bad memory, so if I’m having trouble with lyrics, I write them out by hand to help internalize them. It really works! Practicing gives me a good overview on the health of my instruments, but then I go back and check all my cables, stands, batteries, or anything else that could get overlooked.
How do you go about packing up the practice space?
JK: Generally speaking, I like to have everything packed up at the end of the practice before the show. This helps you save time and energy before the show and allows you to come in feeling more prepared. It's always a good idea to line up your gear in the order that it will be loaded to make that process as efficient and as non-mentally and physically taxing as possible.
BR: Being the singer, I don’t have a lot of gear. I pack my acoustic guitar, IEM rack and buds, and that’s about it. Mics and cables are carried with the other band gear.
NH: I always pack up the day of the show, as close to departure time as I comfortably can. When I’m driving to the gig, I have a clear memory of what I packed and don’t have to try and remember if I did or not. When packing, I start small and work my way up to the big stuff. Power strips, extension cords, cables, pedals, DI boxes, batteries, clip-on tuners, picks, and capos get packed in first. Next come all stands and merch. I end with the instruments themselves and give them one last lookover. Since I perform as a solo artist, I know I can’t depend on anyone else, so I always overpack, bringing anything and everything I’ve ever needed for a gig.
Do you have any pre-show rituals (food, gear check, etc)?
JK: I don't like to eat a big meal before shows, so if I'm playing at night, I'll have a solid breakfast and lunch to set a foundation, then bring fruits and vegetables to snack on to keep the energy up. Temperature can have a drastic effect on the tuning of a guitar, so if you open up your case and tune it right before you go on stage, chances are it will be out of tune after the first song due to the heat from the lights on the stage.
BR: I usually try to grab a small bite to eat no less than 60-90 minutes before the show. Preferably an all-beef hot dog with mustard & pickles on it. But I'll settle for what's provided by the venue as long as it doesn't involve onions. Lots of room temperature water as well. I make sure the guitar is tuned and working, in-ear monitors are working, and batteries for wireless body pack are fresh. As far as vocal warm-ups... very little. I try to structure the first part of our first set to act as a warm up. I stretch a bit and then yell into a towel a few times to make sure things are working.
NH: I arrive as early as possible, set up as quickly as possible, and then try and relax. I test everything as I’m setting up and because I did my other checks before I packed up, I can be really confident my gear is going to behave. For soundcheck, I pick a strong song with a broad vocal range and dynamic contrast, then play a verse and chorus from it as many times as necessary. I also obsessively tune my guitars. It’s like a nervous tic.
What’s the last thing you think about before you play?
JK: Honestly, I try not to think about anything. All the planning that goes into the show sets the framework, but when you are in it, you have to be ready to adapt to your bandmates, any sound issues, crowd banter, etc. If you get too wound up thinking about how the show is supposed to go, you are more likely to be detached from everything that is actually happening during the show. To put it more simply... relax, have fun, and you will have a good show.
BR: The band does one last toast together, then it’s showtime.
NH: Am I in tune? Maybe I can tune just one more time!
BONUS TIP: The Dummy Check: Once you have packed everything up and are set to head out to the gig, go back and check again. Check everything and make sure there isn’t a power supply or extension cord left behind. It gives you peace of mind and you’ll often catch that last piece of gear that makes all the difference once you hit the stage.