If you're a performing musician, one thing's for sure; you're not going to be performing just once!
And here's the thing about anything you do on a recurring basis; it can be boiled down into a checklist. The question, of course, is why would you want to go to the trouble of creating a checklist?
I realize that the task in and of itself isn't terribly exciting (however rewarding it might be). That's why we have to consider the benefits instead of the upfront work it's likely going to require of you.
The short version is this: checklists boost your efficiency, reduce the need for you to remember every detail relating to the task at hand, and help you to do your work in a predictable, repeatable fashion.
So let's take a look at how to develop your own gig checklists.
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What To Include In Your Gig Checklist
Here are some of the most common – and most recommended – items to reduce down into checklists:
- What you want to do and say from stage (i.e. mention your website address, merch promotions, contests, giveaways, upcoming shows, etc.). You could end up leaving a lot of opportunity on the table if you don't make announcements during your show.
- What your road cases include (this makes it easier for you to keep track of your gear and not have to replace missing items on an ongoing basis; that can add up!).
- Your marketing activities (any repeatable marketing tactics you use to promote your shows; social media, forums, press releases, etc.).
- Procedures for before and after shows (negotiation, contracts, backline requirements, payment, etc.).
If we were to give each of these a name, we would basically have: a performance checklist, a marketing checklist, a gear checklist, and a relationship checklist.
Your Performance Checklist
You'd be surprised by how much the pros practice their stage banter before ever getting up to perform. You can fly by the seat of your pants if you want to, but I think it's a good idea to have a checklist nearby (i.e. taped to your guitar, snare drum, keyboard, etc.) so you remember what you want to say to the audience.
That's all good and well, but you might also want to have a checklist for complicated stage setups. For example, if your drummer uses an electronic kit in conjunction with an acoustic kit, you may have to remember to supply power to the drummer and plug in their power cable. You might also want a checklist for album release parties.
Your Marketing Checklist
Systematizing your marketing is immensely beneficial. In essence, once your checklist is documented, you don't have to think about what to do; you just go and do the things you've already outlined for yourself.
Social media is a pretty obvious one. You should make notes on which sites you create events on, and which ones to post to. You might include other tasks like posting to forums, sending an email to a local entertainment publication (if they have show listings), writing and submitting a press release, updating the concert listing on your website, and so on.
Your Gear Checklist
This checklist comes in handy both before and after gigs. If you're excited about playing a show and you're in the process of loading up your van, the last thing you want to do is forget a cable, your drum sticks, a guitar strap, and the like. If you have a checklist taped to your cases, you won't have to remember what to put in so much as double-check to make sure everything's already there.
When you're wrapping up after a gig, you want to make sure that all of your gear goes with you, and all of the venue's gear stays with them. Again, a checklist will make this process more streamlined; especially if you tag everything that's yours.
Your Relationship Checklist
This has to do exclusively with event planners, venues, booking agents, and so forth. In essence, you want to establish protocol for how you book shows, how often you follow up, how you negotiate, what contract to use in what situation, rider requirements, and so on.
Things may not go exactly as planned if your gear requirements aren't met. You may not get paid what you hoped you would if you don't have a contract in place. When you're just getting started, some of these things aren't going to be a big deal, but as you scale up, you'll definitely want to make sure all of your i's are dotted and t's are crossed.
Allow For Tweaking, Adapting & Experimentation
You may have noticed how I haven't gotten into a lot of specifics, and that's because – in my experience – a checklist is an ever-evolving thing.
You might be able to get by using the same checklists for years, but as soon as you hit a growth curve, you might end up needing to make changes to it. This is particularly true of your relationship checklist.
This is why you need to remain flexible. Your checklists may not be perfect the first time you put them together. However, if you make it a point to observe whatever got missed, you can go back and add to it.
Don't be afraid to experiment and try different things, and tweak your checklists as necessary.
In closing, let's take another look at the benefits I mentioned earlier. If you have checklists, you will:
- Boost your efficiency. When you go by the numbers, things will get done quicker, period. Plus, it will require less energy of you.
- Reduce the need to remember every detail. When you have checklists, you don't have to think about the details. You save your important decision-making willpower for later. Steve Jobs was said to have worn the same black shirt and jeans every single day so that he didn't waste energy on thinking about what to wear.
- Do your work in a predictable, repeatable fashion. This is particularly useful when you're getting great results from your gigs every single time. Then you can just rinse and repeat. If not, there's always the opportunity to tweak and adapt.
Additionally, as a natural byproduct of systematizing, you might even sell more merch!