- Published Jun 21, 2013 in On Stage
- Read time: about 6 minutes
Philadephia-based musician, Howie Gordon, offers helpful tips for keyboardists to better prepare for a gig.
There is much more to being a keyboardist than just learning how to play. Many unforeseen events can spring up just getting to and getting through a gig. I survive most of them with three simple rules:
- Be prepared.
- It's better to have something and not need it than to need something and not have it.
- Keeping 1 and 2 in mind, try to travel as lightly as possible.
That being said, the following list is a survival guide to being a gigging keyboardist:
- Get a GPS receiver, or phone with built in GPS functionality. Getting lost on the way to a gig is an extremely stressful experience. No musician should be without a GPS device of some sort.
- Always look at and understand the directions ahead of time.
- Get a Bluetooth headset.
- Getting into a car accident on the way to a gig is worse than getting lost. Bluetooth headsets are very cheap on eBay and are much safer than holding a phone while driving.
- Always have phone numbers of your client/band leader/band members/venue with you on the way to the performance.
One rule I live by is that my cable box for gigs is completely separate from cables that I use in my studio. Do not get yourself into a situation where you get to a gig only to realize that the cables you need are still hooked up to gear in your studio or rehearsal space. It's just not worth it.
What to have in your cable boxExtra cables: Cables can eventually break through wear and tear. If you wrap them properly and use cable ties, you will greatly prolong the life of your cables. (Some of the cables in my box are more than 20 years old). Having said that, don't let a faulty cable ruin your gig. Make sure to have extras of whatever your rig needs to work properly. This may include:
- 1/4" cables
- IEC power cord
- MIDI cables
- USB cables
- Firewire cables
Long, heavy-duty extension cord: A 3 foot power strip is not an extension cord. Very rarely will the power outlet be exactly where you need it to be.
Surge suppressor/power conditioner: You haven't the faintest clue of the condition of the electrical service in any venue in which you perform. Why take any kind of chance with your valuable gear when you plug into it? Protect your investment.
Other necessary items
Proper keyboard cases: Unless you are going to be putting your gear on airplanes or other situations where they may be tossed around, you do not need to get ultra heavy-duty flight cases. However, this is not an area to skimp on quality. There are plenty of inexpensive, lightweight cases on the market that are built substantially enough to survive the rigors of the road. Again, protect your investment.
A good keyboard stand: Make sure it adjusts exactly to the appropriate height. Remember, adjust your equipment to you, don't adjust yourself to your equipment. Also, make sure there is plenty of leg room underneath. (Some "X" stands on the market do not offer either of these qualities very well. On the other hand, most center column stands are portable but are terrible for pedal placement.)
If you are using a multi-tier stand, it is best if the stand allows for the tiers to be very close together. If the tiers are too far apart, you will end up doing a lot of unnecessary reaching and moving to get from one board to the other. This only serves to fatigue you.
If you stand when you play, make sure that the stand comes up high enough so as to ensure that your wrists don't bend back due to the keys being too low. A lot of strain and injury can result from standing while playing, so be mindful. One solution that I've seen is to get an A-frame stand, position it backwards and tilt the keys up towards you. This makes the surface plane of the keys such that the line of your arms goes straight to the fingertips without bending your wrist. Plus, you get the added benefit of people being able to see your fingers if you feel like showing off.
A good piano bench or drum throne: This is the #1 piece of equipment your body will interface with. Make sure you get something that is comfortable, supportive, easily adjustable, and rock solid. Your body, especially your lower back, will thank you for it. I'm a big fan of Gibraltor's Roc-n-Soc Nitro thrones. They have a pneumatic height adjustor (like an office chair) that makes one-handed height adjustment easy on the fly. Also, they swivel with absolute ease making it a cinch to turn around and adjust the gear behind you. There is also an optional backrest available.
Pedals: Water is wet, the sky is blue, and pedals constantly slip away from your feet while you play them. My favorite solution is to put Velcro on the bottom of your pedals. If you're playing on a carpeted surface, the Velcro will stick to the carpet. If you are playing on wood or tile floors, you can always take a floor mat from your car and put your pedals on that. Most car floor mats have rubber on the bottom which will keep them from sliding on slick floors. The Velcro on your pedals will keep them in place on the floor mat.
When asked about sustain pedals, I always recommend the Roland DP-10. It has a rubber flap on the bottom where you place your heel - this keeps the pedal from slipping away from you.
Business cards: Never go to a gig without them. There are a plethora of websites where you can quickly, easily, and inexpensively order business cards. Many have a selection of free cards.Ear plugs: I highly recommend going to an audiologist and getting custom ear plugs if you are playing in bands. They sound far better and are far more comfortable than anything else out there. Here are some reasons why you should use earplugs:
- You only get one pair of ears. Yet again, protect your investment.
- Most hearing damage is NOT reversible.
- If you think ear plugs are expensive, look up the cost of hearing aids.
If you can't afford the custom plugs, HEAROS Hi Fidelity plugs are a decent, cheaper alternative.
Flashlight: You should either have extra batteries or, better yet, get one of those new crank LED flashlights that generates its own power. (I keep one of those in my car's glove box at all times in case of a road emergency at night.) Very often you will be setting up in a place where you can't see very well. Flashlights are extremely helpful in these cases - especially if you have to peer into the back of a rack.Tools: You never know when you might have to make a quick repair or adjustment to get through a gig. You can get smaller, travel versions of the following tools at any hardware or auto parts store.
Duct tape: For taping cables on the ground to avoid people tripping over them and getting hurt/wrecking your gear. Also, for just about everything else that requires a MacGyver moment.
Miscellaneous items that are helpful to have
Hand cart: If you happen to be doing a lot of gigs in sizable venues, I highly recommend a hand cart of some type. There are several options on the market. I am a big fan of the Rock n Roller Multi-Cart (www.multicart.com). It comes in a wide array of sizes/price ranges and quickly and easily adjusts to many different configurations to match your particular needs.
Band-aids: (sometimes bleeding for your art is not cool.)
Pain reliever: (nothing's worse than trying to get through a gig with a rippin' headache!)
My final tip
Exercise regularly. Gigging (and life) can take its toll on your body. Regular exercise and stretching is invaluable for your health.