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First Gig Tips: The Ultimate Survival Guide for Your Debut Performance

Uncategorized Feb 04, 2024

First Gig Tips

When I started playing guitar, I was a quiet bedroom guitarist with no intention of performing to anyone but my Lara Croft poster. Fast forward 24 years and I'm playing to hundreds of people on a weekly basis and my performing career has taken me across Europe.

If you, like me, want to build a career around what you love or whether you just want a fun side hustle for swill money on the weekend, there's some things you need to do before setting off for your first gig.

Is this for you?

There is a difference between busking through a song at a house party and playing a paid gig. Before you find yourself negotiating prices, it's better to get some stage experience. My first performance was with my guitar teacher. i played Still got the blues by Gary more and I was so nervous and outside of my comfort zone that I couldn't stand up. I was the only performer to sit down on stage because my legs were shaking so much. As I got more stage experience, my comfort zone expanded to include the stage. One thing I tell all of my students who want to venture into the world of live performance...

Play lots of open mic nights. Play charity events and say yes to anything just to get some stage experience.

Gear Check

There are different types of musicians and different ways to make money as a performing guitarist. Let's start with understanding the basic equipment needed for the following roles:

  • Solo Guitarist/singer

  • Guitarist/singer in a band

Either way, you're going to need an instrument.

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that if you're still reading this then you are a guitarist, so I'll assume you have a guitar.



Contrary to what people may tell you, you don't need anything expensive for your first gig.

You just need something that works - has no electrical issue or crackling sounds.

Make sure you have spare strings, picks and cables.


My first electric gigging guitar was a Vintage SG and my first electro-acoustic I used for solo gigs was a second hand Yamaha APX. It lasted years as my regular 'work horse' guitar and is still going today as my back up. (Having a back up is important when you play songs with alternate tuning or if you feel you primary instrument may have some degrading qualities and may be on it's way out).


Amps and Cables 

Without amplification, no one in the venue with hear your guitar so you'll need an amp and cables. With amps, you tend to pay for brand names and on board effects. I've always opted for a good clean sound with not many on board effects. I invested some money into a decent amp early on - Fender Hotrod Deluxe and if you ask me, the investment is more important than investing the same amount into a guitar. A good amp (and good player) using a cheap guitar will always sound better than an expensive guitar being played through a toilet amp. (picture of a toilet amp).

Take the lead - Leads and cables are also not something to buy cheaply but I also don't suggest you buy the most expensive. Fender make great reliable leads which are covered under warranty if they break. Just try to avoid the moulded cables where you can't access the inner-workings.


Pedals and power supplies 

Where you're going analogue (like me) or digital multi effects, keep it simple. I only ever use reverb, compression, distortion and delay (sometimes) - link to youtube playlist - One thing that' worth doing research on is power supplies. I didn't.

My first time joining a band, I was introduced to 'daisy chain' power supplies bought as cheap as possible on ebay which failed to provide SAFE power to my effects and started smoking on stage. DO NOT DO THIS. Do some research and invest in a good power supply.


Your Set List

On average, you will be playing 2 X 45 minute sets with a break. This is standard for the UK. Usually I plan for 13-14 songs per 45 minute set and to save me getting in too deep on how to construct a set list, you can watch this video - How to write a set list


Practice your set as you are going to play it. Exactly as you're going to play it. Whether you're in a band or performing solo, it's important to get the thing completely instilled in your brain. you'll find that the more comfortable you are with the songs, the more comfortable you'll be on stage.


Sound Check

Your venue may have a Sound Technician. In which case all you have to do is set up and play. Following the technicians instructions.

Extra tip: Try not to constantly play while your band mates are setting up. You may be ready to smash your beat factory into everyone's earholes but Johnny two beers is staring at his feet waiting to tune his ukulele.

If there is no technician then you have to gauge and balance your sound yourself.


Stage Essentials

We've mentioned some things like picks, spare strings, back up guitar etc but you also need a reliable tuner. I like an analogue pedal tuner which I can also use to cut the sound if I need to. One thing that isn't always mentioned is a clock.


Typically, I look around the room for a wall clock so that I know how long we have left of a set and I know when to start wrapping it up. One interesting way to do it without looking at your phone is to have an actual clock on your pedal board. I think they should come with a stop watch built in.
You also need to see your set. I've worked with people who tape the set list to the back of a guitar/bass but the problem with this is, I can't see it mid song. I usually have my set list either at my feet or somewhere close by that I can wander over and take a peep every now and again and make mental notes of what I think will work or swap anything out on the fly.
One thing the 'old timers' will say you need is Gaffer tape. Honestly, I haven't had a great deal of use until I've needed it desperately to repair a broken mic stand. Taping cables to the floor is something that becomes more of a hindrance when you're gigging 5 times a week. Although this is something I do when I know there are 'non band' people walking through the stage area and I don't want them bumbling around falling over things like drunk sheep.


Health and mindset

As a Guitarist and singer, there are certain lifestyle habits which are worth getting used to.

Looking after your voice - when gigging regularly, you may find your voice will fatigue. There are some things that people swear by I.e. manuka honey. I've found that the best way to repair your voice is hydration and rest. But prevention should be your main focus, don't go out drinking and scream at taxi drivers until 3:00 because you will regret it when you're about to go for that high 'A' note in Creep's outro.
It's natural to be nervous for your first paid gig but hopefully you've got enough experience to know how you want to present yourself on stage. If you find nerves difficult to deal with, just know that it takes time and practice. This is your first gig. Everyone should be nervous. Watch this video for tips to deal with nerves.


Engagement and Etiquette

The whole point of doing unpaid open mic nights is so that you can get to know your 'stage self' are you a talker? Do you like to make observations about the audience? Or are you more like me and don't talk much between songs. There's no right or wrong way to engage with the audience but what I will say is, if someone engages with you, try to give something back. Currently, I play alot of solo weddings and alot of the time it's background stuff for people to mingle and eat tiny mouthfuls of food. Getting an applause is rare in this setting but it does happen so I like to acknowledge it. Look them in the eye and show your gratitude. I personally like to name them, 'table 2' and depending on the song, either 'you're to young to know that one' or 'you must be musicians to like that one'. A little engagement can go a long way. You should also be prepared for things to go wrong. Equipment failure, power outage, broken string, losing your voice... All this has happened to me live on stage. There are a few things you can only learn when things aren't going to plan.

  1. You can't anticipate every possible thing that could go wrong. But you do get better at dealing with them.
  2. Acknowledge it. Make a joke out of it and laugh at it with the audience. 



Everything gets easier with practice. That includes dealing with an audience, setting up a PA system, remembering lyrics, organising a band, dealing with stage fright, everything that goes into making playing guitar on stage a viable career in the music industry. 

If you have your first gig booked soon, let me know when and where on social media @scott.guitar.teacher and I'd love to know how it goes.

Share your first gig experiences with #scottguitarteacher #firstgig 

Watch my youtube video for more first gig tips


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