Two days ago I received a phone call asking me to do a gig the following night, the problem was that I had no idea of what the songs were. Not only that but there was 3 hours worth of songs to learn! Three fifty minute sets to be exact. Under that situation as a professional musician, if you say no, you are not only turning away money, you are also turning away possible future gigs that may stem from it. Of course I said yes, but the next day was a stressful day of trying to learn around 40 songs. I want to give some hints as to how to approach this kind of situation and also how to deal with it psychologically speaking.Accept That it is Not Going to be Perfect
The first step is accepting the fact that it will not be perfect and you can only do your best to get through it. That is not to say that you cannot achieve perfection or shouldn’t strive for it, but letting yourself relax a little about the situation is going to relieve some of the stress and make the experience much more relaxing. Piling on stress to be perfect is only going to add to your anxiety and ultimately make you play worse.Prepare Rough Notes
One of the main things that I do is to prepare rough notes just giving a brief overview of the key and the chord progression. I do my best to memorize the structure of the songs, but any key parts will be noted on my sheet. Remember that you are aiming to get the bare bones of the track memorized and just need to be able to carry the track along so it is easy for someone to sing over. Here is an example of some of my notes from my last gig (this is just one page of 2!)
Use Your Ears
The biggest thing to develop as a musician is a good ear. It will not only help you to figure out songs easier, but it will even help you to hear where a song is going and “busk” along on the fly. This is especially useful at jam nights as you can play along with anyone. I find it also increases your confidence, as you know that no situation can prevent you from knowing what to play.Dethatch Yourself From the Stress
I always make sure I have a little rest before I actually play the gig. I would not recommend you practice right up until the last minute as this will simply put you in a place of stress just before you get on stage. That is difficult to shake off and can lead to a seriously lousy performance. I personally recommend you have an hour of quiet time before the gig, you can sit at the bar and have a bite to eat or maybe a drink. Keep positive and remind yourself that “I can only do my best.” You will probably find that the gig goes a lot better than you would expect. Though the situation is not ideal, you will come out alive, and a little richer and more experienced.It Gets Easier with Experience
This is the key point for me. It really does get a LOT easier the more you do it and your confidence levels will go up the more of these types of gigs you do. Also, if people get wind that you can step in to a gig last minute, you will get much more work and probably find yourself landing a really cool gig in no time flat!
The main thing is to have as much fun as possible on stage and really try to enjoy your gig. It’s no good getting all stressed and looking uptight on stage. You will live!
The worst thing that could happen is that you do a bad job and don’t get asked to do the gig again. But, so what? You will find other gigs and you will get better at it in the future. I have been in some terrible gigging situations in the past, but I lived to see another day.