Photo: Kyle Wong/Unsplash

Playing your first gig is as daunting as it is exciting. All your hard work and the endless hours you dedicated to rehearsal are finally starting to pay off, but you have no idea how the audience will react to your music. Indeed, you may not even know if anyone will show up! To calm your nerves, work through the following six tips. Once each one has been ticked off, you can feel confident that you’re as prepared as you’re ever going to be!   

1. Consider the audience when it comes to lighting

As much as you want the lighting effects to make you and your bandmates look impressive, it’s important to remember that this feature of a gig is primarily there for the audience. When you ensure every light tower, PAR light, stage light, and spotlight is well placed, you create a welcoming ambiance that accents the music you’re sharing. 

The best way to achieve this is to test out your lighting program during rehearsals. However, the trick is to run it while you’re standing in the audience area. This will give you instant feedback on whether lights that look great from the stage are actually going to be blinding the audience.  

2. Write your setlist and any tuning changes somewhere convenient

This is especially helpful if you’re prone to nervousness. Knowing you have your setlist and tuning changes in easy reach is often enough to make you feel confident that you remember everything. 

Some bands like to write these details on a sheet of paper and tape them to the floor of the stage, where the audience can’t see it. Another sneaky alternative is to apply some masking tape to the top edge of your guitar. This allows you to know what’s coming up next at a glance. 

3. Add chords and lyric cues to your cheat sheet

If you’re prone to forgetting things when you get nervous, you might want to add some chord and lyric cues to your setlist. Having multiple sheets with all your lyrics will just overwhelm and distract you. All you need are some keywords that will trigger your memory and bust you out of your stage fright. 

4. Don’t forget to bring a towel

South Park’s genetically-engineered sentient towel was definitely onto something with this catchphrase. First-gig nerves are enough to make you sweat, but with the addition of stage lights, it’s highly likely that you’ll be dripping before the end of the show. With this in mind, it’s worth having a towel on-hand for you and each of your bandmates. 

5. Negotiate the payment terms beforehand

Even brand-new bands can negotiate a fee, so don’t sell yourself short. Speak to the venue about their usual payment terms, and see what you can negotiate. They might not be willing to pay a flat fee to an unknown band. However, you may be able to secure a percentage of the cover charges or drink sales. If you have a strong social media presence or local following, be sure to leverage this. However, don’t be surprised if you’re expected to perform for exposure rather than cash.  

6. Bring backups

Strings, cords, amps, and other essentials have a frustrating habit of waiting until you’re on stage to break. With this in mind, it’s worth bringing spares with you to ensure a minor issue doesn’t derail the whole show. 

Your first gig can open up so many doors. Follow the tips above to ensure it goes well, and embrace the nervousness and uncertainty – this is, after all, what life as a musician is all about!