Posted by: worshipguitarguy | June 25, 2007

When Things Go Wrong… (Finally, a New Post!)

I know it’s been a while but I’m back!  And on break, I’ve run across several new ideas for posts, so I’ll get busy with them.

This weekend was a mixed bag of experiences playing with my good friend Jake and his Band.  Our Friday night service was amazing… we played for an addiction recovery ministry, where the people are very real.  Leaving that night, I had that emotional high feeling you sometimes get after an awesome worship experience.

Saturday was a different story. 

What it boiled down to was that everything that could go wrong, did on Saturday night.  We hit hurdle after hurdle; at first we had problems with our IEM’s, then the backtracks/click tracks started skipping, so we had to re-render them.  Finally, Jake broke a string midway through the second song during the service… (one where his guitar was the primary rhythm carrying instrument.)  Then after the message, we went up for the closing song, only to find Jake’s lyric sheet missing.  (We found out later, it had fallen off the music stand during the message and had flopped underneath the stage!)  So here we are on stage… and Jake doesn’t remember all the words…

The service did end up being a wonderful time, regardless of the craziness we faced.  But it reminded me of a few lessons I’ve learned that are worth sharing.

1.  Plan What You’ll Do Ahead of Time if You Have Instrument/Technical Issues on Stage:
Broken strings are a fact of life.  Kick drum pedals become detached mid-song, a snare or hi-hat takes a nosedive, someone forgets to turn up the keyboard, or the worship leader’s mic goes dead.  Talk about awkward times.

Bands that play together alot learn to read each other and improvise during technical difficulties.  Yet bands with inexperienced musicians, or groups that haven’t played much together, may not read each other as well.  The key to working through this is communicating with each other ahead of time, so you’ll be ready if problems come.  (Sounds like a marriage seminar topic.  😉  )

For instance, if your rhythm guitarist breaks a string, have another guitar player or a keyboard player step in and pick up the rhythmic slack.  That’s what we did the other night after Jake’s string broke.  If a drummer has an issue, have the worship leader change the song flow for a bit to give them time to get back on track.  And if the lead singer’s mic dies, keep a backup one nearby (preferrably wireless if you have one), or have another singer step in and lead until the problem is corrected.

2.  Try to Keep Backup Instruments Available:
For some musicians, (i.e. drummers) this just isn’t practical, but for guitar players, bass players, (and some keyboardists), having a backup instrument can be a lifesaver.  Again, strings break, shorts with pots or pickups happen, or batteries in active pickup instruments die.  Having a second instrument close by will get you back into things quickly after something goes wrong. 

A few weeks ago, one of the WL’s I play with broke a string mid-song.  We didn’t have time to change it, and he hadn’t brought a spare guitar with him.  The rest of the set was a bit awkward without him in the mix.  (Since I was the only other melodic instrument.)

Afterwards we talked, and I told him to come over and grab my second guitar off the stand, if this ever happened again.  Down the road, he’ll be right back in the set fairly quickly instead of being sidelined with equipment issues.

3.  Have a Backup Song or Two Ready
If you’ve played with your group for a while, this probably isn’t an issue.  You may have half a dozen or so songs you can pull off without thinking.  

But if your not familiar yet with the rest of your group, take the time and learn if there’s a song or two everyone is familiar with.   That’s what Jake did to end the service the other night… he pulled out Holy is the Lord.  The minute we heard the first two measures, we knew where he was going and we jumped right in. From there, an awkward moment turned into smooth sailing.

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Responses

  1. great post. we had some similar problems yesterday during our sunday morning set (particulary with batteries dying in wireless handhelds and IEM packs). but these moments can serve as reminders on how to prepare in the future.

    since you mentioned click tracks, i would be interested in reading about how your band uses them at church. are they previously recorded or does your keyboardist send a feed to the drummer? no need to answer here…just a suggestion for a possible future topic.

  2. One important thing to remember (as one who has broken many strings on stage) is to keep the sound guy in the loop on the emergency plans.

    You NEED to level the second instrument (play a song or two with it during practice or warmup) so you don’t blow the top off the mix or make him scramble to have anyone hear you if you have to switch mid-song. It’s easiest if you can get two inputs so he has each guitar on a seperate channel and there’s no effort in switching. I usually go D/I (a 12-string acoustic) so this is a simple matter of a second D/I box. If you use an amp or effects pedals, practice switching them, and have some hand signals to tell the sound guy to cut your channel so you don’t blow a bin (or some eardrums) by pulling the cable out of a live guitar.

    Also, it might seem pretty obvious, but tune the second guitar whenever you tune the first. Sitting on stage under the lights can make a guitar go out even if it’s just sitting in the stand.

    Nothing will get you flustered more than picking up your backup after the stressful situation of breaking string only to have it 10 db louder than your primary, and a semitone flat…

  3. Great point… I forgot to mention we were having horrible tuning problems this weekend. I was retuning after every song…

  4. Hi there. Love the blog. Got a question.

    We hit hurdle after hurdle; at first we had problems with our IEM’s

    What is an IEM?

    Thanks

    Mike

  5. Sorry about that Mike, IEM is an abbreviation for In Ear Monitor. We have a wireless in ear system that we can use. Essentially, they’re like a belt pack radio with special earphones attached that both serve as earplugs and headphone speakers.

  6. Tip #86 – if you use IEM’s, don’t take the stage w/ anything less than 3 bars left on the 9 volt. IEM’s are great, until the battery dies, then they’re just really expensive earplugs.

    Good to have you back, Gerry…

  7. BTW – re: popping speakers by unplugging a live instrument… little known fact… if you unplug from the DI, it is far, far less offensive than unplugging the instrument while it’s still live.

  8. Actually, that’s a lesson I learned long ago Tony, and one that’s well mentioned. There’s nothing more annoying than the acoustic guitarist unplugging his quarter inch during a prayer…

  9. Awesome post. I’ve had one too many of these moments…

    I had something like this happen last week actually…and communication really helped.

    We were about to play the UNITED song “Take it All”, and at the end of the previous song I broke my high e string. If you’re familiar with “Take it All” then you’ll know that the intro part is the lead guitar with lots of delay, riffing on the B and e strings. Well I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have a spare guitar this week. But I knew that I had to come up with something quickly…after a brief communication with our drummer, I ended up playing an octave chord version of the same riff with the drums filling in the space. It turned out pretty good because the song leader ended up using the time to talk with the congregation about the power of praising God. The more “low key” intro actually helped set that up…so it was pretty cool.

    I’d saying that knowing alternatives to what you normally play really helps A LOT…as well as good onstage communication.

    Also with 2 electrics, a volume pedal is a very important asset. Because when you have something wrong with your primary guitar, you can just turn down your volume pedal, unplug the old, replug the new, double check your tuning, and play. Works like a charm for me, and allows me to match my previous volume as well.

    Thanks for the post…it was super good.

  10. Great stuff Dave, thanks!

  11. Backup gear isnt so unheard of for drummers…i always have another snare handy just in case i break my head…and my cymbal bag has extra cymbals in it incase i crack or take a chunk out of my cymbals (hasnt happen yet but ya know…)

    it’s also good for me to know the songs and the players im with…cause with some (I.E. WGG) i know i can pull back and he’ll keep something softer going with his crazy guitar stuff

    and as far as EMI goes…i got so sick of them dieing i use wired now with a small mixer that i run a line from the house, aline from the rhythm guitar player and a line from a overhead mic set just over my right shoulder (to give me that live drum sound)

    Thanks for the post G it’s always fun to hear about this stuff cause we’ve all been there

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