Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thrown In The Deep End? -- 11 Tips For Becoming A Better Sub

I just did a gig where a substitute, Mr B, was called in fill in for our regular bass player who had to attend to some pressing matters. Mr B performed admirably, given the fact that he did not rehearse with the band at all.

Here are 11 tips for anyone who is willing to be thrown into the musical deep-end:

  • Have the correct mindset. Confidence and the willingness to be thrown into a musical situation, familiar or otherwise, are two important qualities a sub must have
  • Ask for the setlist as well as the keys that the songs are to be performed in
  • Do some research in preparation for the gig, especially if the gig requires you to play music you might not be familiar with. YouTube is a great resource for pre-gig research
  • Make charts or commit the tunes to memory. If you're subbing, never assume that charts will be provided
  • Come appropriately attired -- it's better to always ask about the dress code
  • Come properly equipped for the gig -- instrument, tuner, cables and spare strings are the minimum. Do you have to bring an amp and/or your own mic? Again, ask questions and assume nothing. I always carry a power strip from which I plug in my pedalboard -- just in case the keyboard player has his rig plugged into the last remaining wall socket in the entire club. I speak from personal experience!
  • Arrive at least a half-hour early for the gig, setup, tune and leave the stage. Keep your warm-ups silent and to a minimum. Or warm-up backstage. And remember that no one wants to hear Victor Wooten slap riffs played over the house music, even if you are in the same key
  • If subbing without a rehearsal, discuss the setlist with the band before the gig and ask questions as to arrangements, transitions, key changes, tempos etc. Make little notes on the setlist so that you can refer to it during the set
  • Listen intently and stay alert on the bandstand. Be able to react quickly and spontaneously to anything that may happen. This includes being able to deal with drunken customers who insist on coming up to the stage and shouting their song request in you ear.
  • Contribute with your signature sound, be it in your playing or your vocals. Most band members love seeing what somebody who is subbing can bring to the table
  • After the gig maintain a professional demeanour -- so don't go about asking the drummer if he wants to join your other band. Save that conversation for another day. Also, don't get wildly drunk and hit on the waitresses. If you do need to hit on the waitresses, or get wildly drunk, be discreet

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