by Jimmy Leslie

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Whether you are a professional, playing weekends for some extra cash and fun, or a committed artist, you’re at the mercy of your gear once you step on stage. All the time spent on creation, rehearsal, and presentation sails right out the window if your gear fails you when you’re under the white-hot microscope of live performance. Given all the random craziness that can creep up before, during, or after any given gig, make an effort to have a handle on the things that are somewhat under your control.

1. Fix/replace the small things.

Everyone’s list is different, but I’ll bet there’s a suspect cable, something being held together with duct tape, some things that need to be labeled, intermittent problems, and some item in your bag that really belongs in a trash can.

2. Bring backup.

For as much as you can, carry a spare. Obvious things include strings, drum heads, sticks, and picks. Others are tubes, reeds, flashlights, and set lists. One thing that struck me at a show a few years back was that I needed a backup to my main guitar that was comparable in quality and style. As a life-long Strat player, it meant upgrading my reserve, a Tele-copy, to a second Strat instead of an enticing old Firebird.

3. Lighten your load.

Always be on the lookout for a piece of gear that can offer the same quality sound at a lower weight. You’ll thank yourself at every gig. And get a cart or dolly. I know few musicians that use them, but they make gigging life so much easier. This is especially true if you live in an apartment building with an elevator.

4. Sell, sell, sell.

There’s someone out in eBay-land right now surfing for that old pre-amp or effects pedal you haven’t used in a decade. Make their day, clean out your garage, and use the money to buy a cart.

5. Get loopy.

Loops have become a way of life in dance music. Integrating some sort of looping device–be it a sampler, a foot pedal, or a CD turntable–wil help keep booties shakin’.

6. Go mobile.

The array of easy and inexpensive options in portable recording is becoming mind-boggling. Look into them, pick what’s best for you, and begin recording your gigs and rehearsals religiously. As they say, “The tape don’t lie.”

7. Microphone check.

I know it’s amazing that your 20-year-old SM58 with the squashed ball end still works, but it may not sound very good, and it can be replaced for under $100. Whether you’re on stage or in the studio, the right mic for your voice makes a big difference.

8. Get your hands on some nice cans.

A quality set of headphones makes all the difference in the world when you’re trying to dial in a live recording or mix down a homespun session after hours.

9. Get on the case.

Quality cases are essential in protecting quality gear. Carrying a Les Paul in a flimsy, cheapo gig bag is a crime against all giggers. Don’t allow your gear to run around naked or it will bear the scars.

10. Read the manual.

In an age when cell phones offer arcade-quality video games, a tiny digital recorder can be programmed to sound like Carnegie Hall. But you’ll never figure it all out pushing buttons at random. A good sub-resolution here is to send in the warranty card.