As a musician, one of the most life altering moments you'll have is when you play live music for the first time in a venue. It's exciting and terrifying all at the same time - and in fact, it's kind of what separates the (wo)men from the girls/boys, since some people with musical ambitions throw in the towel rather than facing an audience.
There's not much you can do about nerves before your first show. Heck, you're likely to discover that there's not much you can do about nerves before your 777th show (and that's a good thing). But even if you can't keep the butterflies at bay, there are some things you can do to increase the odds that you'll walk off stage feeling the love after your set is a wrap. Before you play your first note, put these five things on your to-do list.
1. Make Sure You're Ready For This
Before you book your first show, make sure you're actually prepared to do the job you're being hired to do (and it kind of is like you're being hired for a job). A rookie new musician mistake is to be so eager to play a show that they book a gig and then realize, hey, I don't have enough songs to fill a set, or hey, I don't have all the band members in place to pull this stuff off live. Don't assume that you can make up for gaps by playing covers or by playing acoustic when you're being booked as a full band. Unless you're being booked with the understanding that you're doing covers or that you're to do an acoustic set, don't take it as a given that it's cool.
Want a show but not 100% sure your proverbial ducks are in order? Talk to the booker at the venue or the promoter who is putting you on the bill. Ask them how long they expect you to play and if they are expecting a full band appearance. If they want an hour long set and you've got two songs, you may need to hold off for a bit. If they want an hour long set and you've got five songs, maybe there is some wiggle room with a few well chosen covers - and so on and so forth. Don't bluff and try frantically to pull it all together before the show. Communicate honestly about what you can deliver. You won't burn bridges. They'll appreciate that you respect their needs and will therefore be more than willing to come back to you when you've got all your pieces in order.
Live music isn't about going out and hitting every single note absolutely right, and if you flub on stage, don't expect tomatoes to fly and your music career to be dead in the water. Fact: if you mess up, most audience members won't even know. However, that doesn't mean you should just waltz up on stage without doing your homework. Practice a lot before your show to get your set as a tight as possible and to get comfortable with all of your songs.
3. Solicit Feedback
OK, so you've rehearsed your little heart out in private. Now, it's time to gather your most honest friends together for a live music show. Performing for your friends and family before you perform in front of the crowd at a venue has a few purposes. First, of course, you can get some feedback about your song choices, your set length, and so on so you can clean up any missteps you might be making. Second - and definitely most important - playing for this friendly bunch gives you the opportunity to get comfortable playing in front of an audience - which is completely different from playing in front of a mirror, your band mates, and the crowd that cheers you on in your head when you get into the zone during practice. Use this opportunity to work on your stage presence, your banter, and of course, your music.
Now, now - you shouldn't sit down and memorize a bunch of stuff to say between songs and then recite that at the show. You should, however, feel at ease chatting with a crowd so that you can come off the cuff and charm the audience with your dazzling personality while you're also getting them on board with your winning sounds. Right?
Last but not least, playing in front of people will give you a little bit more confidence and help you slay your stage fright demons.
4. Get Your Social Media Game On
Live music keeps fans engaged, and for an up and coming artist, live music is a way to make music fans interested enough in what they're doing to want to know more. Today, that means that after your show, if you're lucky, new fans are going to go home and Google you. Be ready for them. BEFORE your show, make sure you've got your Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, ReverbNation and whatever other social media sites you like to use look fresh and updated. If you're selling your wares online, make sure they can clearly find where to buy them. Your pages should convey that "something" is happening with your music - and they will, as long as you're active on them.
By the way, after the show, hit your social media network and rave about how much fun you had. The fans will appreciate that you enjoyed your set as much as they did.
5. Know Who Else Is Playing
For your first show, chances are that you're first on a two, three - heck, four - band bill. Don't walk in there without knowing anything about your fellow musicians. Spend a little time online learning about their music and what they do. You don't have to become their biggest fan, but it just shows a little bit of professional courtesy to not walk into a show like you're the only one that matters. Now, I can't tell you 100% that the other bands will return the favor - some will, some won't. Be one that does - it's these little things that make you easy to work with in the eyes of others in the industry, and that counts for a lot.
It doesn't hurt to brush up on your opening band etiquette, either. Again, it's the little things that add up to big breaks.