My First Gig EVER…

It's amazing what you learn from gigging...

It’s amazing what you learn from gigging…

I’ve been playing drums since 1985. When I look back at some of my past experiences, I honestly just have to laugh. One such instance was my very first “gig.”

I was in 6th grade and my teacher knew I was learning to play the drums… so she had this idea. She asked me if I would like to play my drums for everyone in the class on the last day of school. I jumped at the chance!

The funny thing about me learning drums is that no one in my family was musically inclined… so when I was first learning I had to figure it out on my own. I usually had that “I have no idea what I’m doing” feeling, but I was determined to figure it out.

This first gig was a prime example.

I had never broken down my kit, transported it to the gig and then set it up before. So, looking back I always laugh at myself for how much harder I made it for myself. Today, I can unload my kit and set it up in about 20 to 30 minutes, because I know what I’m doing. That day in 1986 was a MUCH different story!

When I broke down my kit at the house, I literally pulled apart every screw on every piece of hardware possible. I didn’t want to lose any of the screws, washers, felts, etc… so I put each set in a plastic zip lock sandwich bag and labeled it with the corresponding stand. Luckily I left the heads on my drums at least, but I didn’t have any cases so I just put the drums on a blanket in the back of my dad’s truck. It literally took me 2 hours to put everything back together when I got to school. WOW!

By the time I finally had the kit set up, the actually gig turned into another funny drum lesson… there is a reason musicians need monitors!

My teacher told me to play a bunch of Beach Boys songs… because they were her favorite band and they wouldn’t offend anyone. So I practiced for a week or so with all my parents’ Beach Boys records.

I ran into my first problem… records are NOT played in perfect time. There are several variants which make the music vary in tempo when played from a record, but in 1986 I didn’t know this. So I just went right on playing along to the records with my 70s-style headphones on… you know, the ones with the spiral telephone style cord? Yup, THOSE head phones.

At the gig, the fun REALLY began… my teacher said that I was going to play in the amphitheater for my class. Essentially a great, big concrete bowl. She had a sound system for me, a record player and 2 main speakers, set up about 30 feet away from me on the left and right… and roughly 5 feet in front of me.

In a nutshell, this set up made it absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to hear the music I had to play along to… you know, the music on the records which fluctuate tempo. WHAT A MESS!

Oh well… shortly after I started playing, other teachers started letting their classes out to come watch the excitement. Before long I was playing in front of 400 grade school students… fortunately, they couldn’t care less that I kept getting ahead or behind the beat… or stopping to figure out where the heck I was in the song. They were just excited to be out of class on the last day of school.

I now use in-ear monitors on 90% of my gigs and a wedge on the other 10%. This was another lesson, in a long line of drum lessons, learned the hard way!

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If you want to learn more about smart ear protection, check out this article I wrote at http://playdrumsbyear.net/blog/drummer-life/smart-ear-protection/.

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