Lots of gigs is a good problem to have, and frankly, I wish it was a problem I had more often.

Every now and then I have a real busy weekend on the gig calendar, and this past Easter weekend was one of those.  Lots of gigs.  However, last weekend felt even busier than normal even though there were only four gigs.  I realized the weekend felt busy probably because all the gigs were “uploading” gigs.  Here’s what I mean…

When I play a gig with Jeremy Sanoski or Elizabeth Hunnicutt, I’m playing music that I’ve played many times before.  We often don’t have a rehearsal before hand, and there’s no reason for me to have charts or notes or anything.  I have all the songs for those artists totally memorized and internalized.  But then there are the gigs where I’m playing with a band that I’ve never played with before, or playing at a church or special event where the music is unfamiliar and new.  That kind of gig is what I call an “uploading” situation – a performance that I have to basically cram for.  I have to “upload” the songs and parts for the gig into my brain before I can play well, because I don’t have anything memorized or internalized.  All four of my gigs last weekend were uploading gigs.

I spent Friday afternoon prepping for the Good Friday service at my church, with a short rehearsal before hand and then the service that evening.  Then Friday night and Saturday morning I prepped for my Saturday evening gig with Vicky Emerson (I play with her once a year, so her stuff is by no means memorized).  When I got home on Saturday night I spent a few hours preping for Sunday morning’s Easter services at my church, followed by a short rehearsal Sunday morning.  I then went directly to a rehearsal Sunday afternoon for an Easter service gig with Joel Hanson that evening.  So over a period of about 48 hours I uploaded 4 completely different sets of music… and my brain was definitely a little tired on Sunday night.

My point is this: I think I made it through the weekend successfully because of some helpful habits that I’ve developed over the years as I do more and more uploading gigs.  Here are a few aspects of my strategy for the uploading situations…

1. Play through the songs mentally
My gig prep almost always includes me sitting at my kitchen table at home and running the songs from top to bottom in my head and just imagining myself playing them.  Like how my grandpa used to tell me to “visualize yourself making this” when I was about to go for a putt.  I seriously just sit there in silence and run the whole set, which helps me to familiarize myself with not only the songs but also the transitions.  Sometimes I even do this in the car on the way to the gig.

2. Make notes
I always use my computer as a “cheat sheet” when I’m doing an uploading gig.  I try to get as familiar with the tunes as possible ahead of time by listening and what not, but then I write all my thoughts down and condense them.  Song form, bpm, who starts and how it ends, etc… I write it all down in a Word document and have my laptop open next to me at the gig.

3. Use a click
Even if no one else in the band has in-ear monitoring, I use my in-ears and plug them directly into a click track for each tune.  I will often turn the click off once the song gets going, but at least I have the official tempo for each tune when I count off the songs.

4. Prep at the last minute
I don’t want this to be misunderstood: I don’t mean that you shouldn’t give yourself adequate time for adequate preparation.  What I mean is that I don’t do prep for a Saturday night gig on Tuesday.  This is partially so that I don’t forget over the days between prep time and gig, but mostly because I probably have different gigs on Thursday and Friday and I don’t want to cross the wires on the gigs.  So, for example, I intentionally waited to do my Easter morning gig prep until after Saturday evening’s gig, even though I got home late on Saturday night.  As soon as I got in the car after the gig I began listening to the music for the next morning, and spent time “visualizing” the set once I got home.  It’s definitely “last minute,” but it leaves the set freshly uploaded with nothing else getting in the way.

Finally, let me say that uploading gigs are a ton of work but REALLY worth it.  A cool quote I read from a noteworthy author the other day: “The brain is not a shoebox that “gets full,” but is rather a muscle that expands its capacity with increased use. The more you know the more you can know.” While multiple uploads over one weekend might make my brain tired, it will ultimately stretch my mind so that the next time a weekend like this comes along I’ll have a little more of the mental stamina needed to handle it well.