At some point performing your songs is going to move from your writing room and living rooms of various friends’ homes to the stage, and you’re going to have your title changed from songwriter to singer/songwriter.

If this is the first time you embark on such endeavor it might seem a little overwhelming, but it’s really no more so than, say, your first sexual experience. Sure, it’s foreign territory… but if you were paying attention you should know what to expect, maybe memorized some sort of a roadmap so you know what is where, and, perhaps, even planned out what you were going to do ahead of time.

There are plenty of “writer’s night” gigs out there, but if you haven’t performed before it may be best to cut your teeth at an “open mic” night at a local bar. Usually you only get to perform 2 songs at an open mic, or maybe 3 if you’re good. But with those few songs you’ll get a wealth of experience.

Part 1: What You’ll Need — The stuff they’ll expect you to have.

Guitar or Piano:

If you’re a guitarist, you’ll need your guitar. If you’re a piano player, you’ll need to make sure there’s a piano there or bring your piano with you (more on that later). And, if you’re a solely a lyricist you’ll need to bring an accompanist with you, obviously.

If you really can’t sing, you can bring a singer with you. It’s been done. But remember that doesn’t really get you out from having to interact with the audience. If these people came to hear singer/songwriters they want more than to just hear the song: they want to hear about how it was created, what the inspiration for it was, or some other curious antidote. And they are going to want to hear it from you.

While it is possible to mic your guitar, they are going to expect you to have a guitar that plugs in. If you guitar already has a pickup in it, you’re cool and the gang. Just make sure you have a fresh battery in it. If you guitar doesn’t have a pickup, perhaps it’s time to consider getting one installed. Fishman and L.R. Baggs both make systems that meet or beat anything installed at the factory, if those weren’t already installed in the first place.

If you play the piano, you’ll want to check to see if the house has and provides one. If it’s of the acoustic variety, you’ll need to find out if it’s in tune (about a 50/50 proposition) and whether all the keys functions. Perhaps they’ll have a digital piano (doubtful) which would be cool since it eliminates the tuning and miking issues.

So, you may have to bring yours with you. If you haven’t yet invested in a digital piano, congratulations this is your chance (and it might be tax deductable…ask your accountant). Of course, you’d want one with 88 keys. That is, until you have to move it: most likely when you’re walking out of the music store with it. Then you’ll start to appreciate the 76 key keyboards and other back-saving options. Don’t forget the stand, and maybe something to sit on.

Obviously this is for the guitarists. The piano is either in-tune or out, there’s nothing you can do about that. And, you digital piano doesn’t require tuning. Dig that.

So, Guitarists, yes, even if you can tune by ear you’ll need your tuner. Sure, Bob Dylan spent 20 minutes on stage tuning one time: but, hey, he’s Bob Dylan.

Most tuners that allow you to plug in also have outputs, so you can keep your tuner plugged in through your set. Some have a button or footswitch that allows you to mute your guitar while tuning. That’s cool, so the audience doesn’t have to be subjected to the harsh, cruel and usual punishment of hearing notes being honed into pitch.
Cord or Cable to plug in with:

If you’re going to use your tuner “in-line” you’ll need two. Usually, one longer to run from you guitar to your tuner, and one shorter to run into the D.I.. But, it’s not unusual to need two longer ones.

It would be nice that if you were playing a joint the catered to singer/songwriters that you could count on them to provide all that is needed to plug-and-play. But, you can’t. The up side is you know your cables work. Right?

Piano Players may require two if you want (and the house can accommodate) your digital piano in stereo.
Guitar Stand:

Okay, this one is optional. But still, leaning a guitar against a stool or chair, or laying it on the floor while waiting for your set to start is asking for trouble. So, unless you’re in a plug n’ play situation you should consider bring one.

Keyboard Stand and Stool:

As mentioned before.

Set List and Lyric Sheets:

You’re probably pretty sure of which songs you want to play, but don’t be caught with the dear-in-the-headlights look and the I-have-the-song-on-the –tip-of-my-tongue dialog: have those puppies written down.

As for your lyric sheets — perhaps you don’t need them laying at your feet, and you definitely don’t want to leave them lying around back stage even if you have them copyrighted (you do, right?), but there’s nothing more reassuring than the source when you start questioning yourself before taking stage.

Picks, Capo, Strap, Extra Strings:

For obvious reasons.
Usually microphones, mic cables, and direct boxes are provided by the house. But these are things that have a tendency to walk away, and after that happens to club a couple of times it’s not unknown for them to ask the acts to bring their own.  While you may not walk in with these items, it may not hurt to have them in the car for swift retrieval.

Jake Kelly is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and



Originally posted 2010-09-21 16:40:40.