As a musician, playing live ranks pretty high in your job description - but how do you know it's time to get out there on stage for the FIRST time? Every musician has to have their first gig at some point, and there's really never going to be a perfect moment, where the sun shines in and a voice whispers in your ear, "now...do it NOW." Although it's natural to wait for that big sign, it ain't gonna happen. Instead, for you - like all the musicians before and all the ones who will come after you - a first concert is a roll of the dice.
That doesn't mean you have to leave the whole thing up to chance, however. There are a few things you simply have to have in place before you book your show - if you want the night to be a success, that is. So, instead of looking for that moment of complete clarity and assurance, ask yourself if you have these things in place:
Enough Material: There's nothing in the world wrong with playing cover song sets. It's a great way to get comfortable in front of a crowd and to earn some cash to support your musical ambitions. However, unless your ambition is to become strictly a cover artist/band, your REAL first gig is when you play YOUR songs for a group of people. To do that, you have to have enough songs to fill a set. The definition of enough is flexible - it depends on how long a set the booker/promoter is requesting - but never accept a gig for which you don't have the songs to play. No, don't take the show and then frantically try to write the songs to fill it - you won't end up putting your best foot forward that way. And no, don't take the gig and expect to fill in the extra space with a bunch of covers. If you can't fill at least a 30 minute set, you might want to stack a few more tracks before you start seeking out some live performance slots.
Personnel: OK, so you're a talented instrumentalist who can play every part of their own songs when recording. Excellent. Now, how are you going to do that live? Let's get real - if your music involves at a minimum, say, guitar, bass, drums, you simply can't get all that done without some players behind you. That doesn't mean you have to officially start a band if you see yourself as a solo artist or simply don't know the right musicians to play with all the time - but it does mean you need to rally some fellow local music players who are willing to learn your songs and jump on up stage with you. Again, at this stage, they don't have to the Paul to your John, the Keith to your Mick, the Johnny to your Morrissey (ha!) - they just have to be on board to help you get the job done. If things start moving along, and gigging becomes your norm, then you'll need to find musicians you can work with on a regular basis, whether you officially become a band or you work with them like session musicians.
Think you can get around this by playing an acoustic set? Think again. If you're being booked to deliver a full band performance, deliver a full band performance.
Comfort With The Stage (Sort Of): This one is a tricky one. The idea of playing a live show for the first time is bound to be intimidating, at least on some level, and if the notion of climbing up on stage fills you with apprehension, that DOES NOT mean that you're not ready to tackle live music. You're always going to be nervous, at least a little, before a show. End of story. However, don't underestimate how different playing to a room of people is from practicing in your room, recording in a studio or anything else you've done. Before you book your first gig, you would benefit from playing maybe a few parties for friends, gigging in front of the family, rocking out for your co-workers - anything you can do to get accustomed to playing your own music in front of people while maintaining your calm. It's also a good idea to practice talking between your songs. You don't need rehearsed stage banter, but you do need to be comfortable enough that you can say a few words to the crowd here and there without feeling faint. This kind of practice will help give you a realistic gauge as to what playing your show will be like, which will increase your confidence so you're more free to focus on delivering a good set.
Reasonably Rehearsed Songs: If you mess up a note or two on stage, it's not the end of the world. No one may even realize the vast majority of mistakes you make when you play live. However, you should have a firm grip on all of the songs that make it into your set list, so you're free to relax and just let them come out on stage. That only comes from practice.
And there you have it! If you can tick all of these boxes, now may be the time to go forth and book! Not sure how to make that happen? Find out how to much a show and much more in Playing Live 101.