I play a lot of gigs with different types of ensembles, and for most I need a unique setup. For some I’m just playing upright bass in the corner of a restaurant very quietly, and some I’m making huge bass sounds and shaking down buildings with synth bass. These require very different instruments and amps, pedal boards and keyboards, but there are 5 key items I take to every gig.
1. A very nice extension cord. Power is the most important thing at every gig I play, and it’s not always easy to acquire and not always very clean. It’s worth it to invest in a heavy gauge, black, 3 plug cord. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the wire is inside the cord and therefore the more electricity that can flow through it, thus allowing your amp to do what it does, which is make sound. I bring two 14 gauge, 25′ cords with me everywhere, and more often than not I will end up needing both of them. I paid about $25 each for them at Lowes Hardware, but they are worth far more than that for the trouble they will save you.
2. Extra instrument cable. I always bring one more instrument cable than I need. Always. It often comes in handy, mostly to loan out to a fellow musician in need or to run a line I didn’t anticipate. But the few times I haven’t brought an extra are when my cables break and I actually need one. That’s the way it works, right? Bring an extra cable.
3. Clip on tuner. I have lots of tuners, some strapped to pedal boards, some stashed in the pockets of cases, a couple on my phone, and a software tuner on my computer rig. Being in tune is very important! I rarely have to tune much, but it’s vital that the bass player is in tune or it will make everything else sound bad. No matter what rig I’m bringing or what kind of gig, I always have a clip on tuner in my bag. They cost about $10, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a few of them so you can always have one when you need it.
4. iPad. Number 4 used to be a pencil, but honestly I haven’t used a pencil in a couple of years- all of my sheet music is on my iPad now. I even have a backup iPad! There is an app called ForScore that is absolutely the best music reading app on the market. Anytime I get music for a gig, whether it is physical sheet music or an email with PDF or docx files, I will immediately put it into this app. The app works very well as a scanner for paper music, and I use Dropbox to import digital files into the app very quickly, and also as a backup for the files if I need to pull out the backup iPad. If I have to make my own chart for a tune, I’ll use a writing app so that I can export the chart right to ForScore after I make it, and if I’m playing standards I use the iReal book app- also essential. Using a completely digital setup like this takes a small amount t of work on the front end, but pays off big when the bandleader calls a tune from the last tour, on a windy day when your bandmate’s sheet music is blowing everywhere, in the dark when you can see your chart better the the paper guys, when the edits you made to the chart the last time you played the tune pop right back up when you open it, etc. I could go on and on about the benefits of this. You can buy an older iPad at a pawnshop or on eBay for $50, and it will pay for itself in convenience on the first gig. Also, it saves paper! Do this.
5. Fishing Rod. You might think this has nothing to do with music or gigging, but you would be wrong. Often I get to stop on the way to the gig, or sometimes even at set break and cast a few lines in the water, and with my busy schedule these are usually the only times I get to fish. The thing I like about fishing is the meditative aspect of it; taking 10 or 20 mins to calm my frantic brain and breathe is absolutely crucial to my music. I used to bring a skateboard in my car for this same reason, sometimes I’ll bring a bike with me as well. Maybe sitting down in a corner and sketching a picture, writing a bit, or actually meditating backstage is more your thing, but whatever it is, you should have some way to achieve this mental calmness before a show. Yesterday I had about 20 extra minutes on the way to a gig, so I stopped at a resivoir somewhere in VA and fished. I didn’t catch anything, but that didn’t matter a bit. As I stood on a dock watching the sun set over the water, two bald eagles took off from a tree not far from me and flew across the lake. They took my frantic, busy thoughts with them and defined the gig I played two hours later- calm, spacious and free.