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14 Items All Working Musicians Need to Keep in Their Gig Bag or Survival Kit
Every musician is familiar with Murphy's Law: "If it can go wrong, it will." The caveat is that things will happen that you've never even imagined - usually at the worst possible time. Whether you're playing a local show, traveling on the road, or just rehearsing in the garage, it's in your best interest to have a survival kit.
Quite simply, a good survival kit for a musician will not only include items that you use all of the time, but also should contain anything you might need in a pinch - be it for yourself or to help someone in the band. We all play music so that we can spend more time jamming and less time trying to fix problems. So if you want to take your craft seriously, it's best to always be prepared.
Below is a general list for all musicians, regardless of what instrument you play, of what are considered to be vital items to keep with you at all times. You can get all of these things combined for just a few hundred dollars, which is pretty cheap considering the gigs you'll save and gain by being ready for anything.
1. Backpack or Duffle Bag
The first and possibly most crucial item to own is something sturdy to conveniently carry everything around. I like using a backpack with multiple pockets as it makes it easier to keep my stuff organized - and like the name says, I can carry it on my back. I've also worked with musicians that use a small suitcase to consolidate multiple necessities. The choice is yours based on your personal preference - but keeping everything in one place makes for easier packing and transporting, will keep you more organized, and will help to make your gigs run much more smoothly.
2. Gaffer Tape (or Duct Tape)
This is possibly the most important item to have with you in your gig bag due to the vast amount of uses it can and will have for you as a working musician. Those include:
- taping up set lists
- taping down cables
- repairing mics, straps and cables
- labeling the mixing board (although for this you're better off with masking tape)
- taping drum heads
- securing your personal mini-fan
- hanging banners
- hanging posters
- hanging lights
- hanging up merch
- plugging a leak
You get the idea. If you work as a musician, you need to carry duct tape (silver) or preferably gaffer tape (comes in many colors/less sticky).
Maybe you consistently use them, maybe you never do. Either way, you should always keep some earplugs with you. Working as a musician, you will definitely experience times when the music is too loud, you want to be able to hear your own vocals better, or you just need to give your ears a break. The low cost makes this a no-brainer.
4. Multi-purpose tool
If you bring all of your tools as separate items, it's going to cost more money, take up a lot more space and you will probably end up losing something. This multi-tool (pictured) is a fantastic, affordable weapon to have in your arsenal. The spring-action features include needle-nose and regular pliers, scissors, as well as standard wire cutters. Along with a 420 Combo Knife, flat head and Phillips screw bits, and a wood/metal file, this must-have item includes a wire stripper, which will come in handy more times than you realize. Round it out with a requisite can and bottle opener, and you've got yourself the perfect all-in-one tool..
Sometimes it's dark outside. Sometimes it's dark inside. And sometimes you need to see things in those places. In all of those cases, it's in your best interest to be equipped with a reliable flashlight. A good bet is to go with a solid Mini MagLite like the one pictured. It's small enough to fit in your bag or pocket - and even if you have a flashlight on your smartphone (among the 8 Essential Apps that you should already have), phones lose their charge - and you'll always want to have a back up.
If you don't have anything that requires batteries, then you can skip this (provided you keep fresh batteries in your flashlight!) Most musicians do, in fact, have gear that needs batteries. All wireless systems, pedals, guitars with active pickups, tuners and more require batteries - and you never know when they'll die on you (quite often it's in the middle of a song). So always have extras on-hand.
7. Surge Protector/Extension Cord
I can't tell you how many times I've gotten to a gig only to set up in a location that was nowhere near any power source, and had to borrow something from another band member or the sound man. If you have multiple items in your setup that require electricity, be sure to carry a heavy duty power strip with a surge protector. If you plug anything in, you'll want to have a heavy duty extension cord with you. Make sure it is the three-pronged type that includes the ground. If you're not grounded, the shock when your mouth touches the mic is something you'll never forget.
Pro Tip: Don't skimp on this and buy a cheap power strip. They'll fail on you eventually and can also be quite dangerous.
You might need to write out a set list. You might need to chart a song on the fly. You might need to jot down lyrics. Whatever the case, it's always good to have a notebook or at the very least, a binder with some blank sheets of paper.
9. Sharpies™ and Pens
These go hand-in-hand. There will absolutely be occasions where you need to take notes, jot down phone numbers, sign autographs, or just write something down quickly. Keep two black Sharpies in your gig bag along with two or three black ink pens.
10. MP3 Player (w/ earbuds)
Even if you already own an ipod, it's good to have a back-up player with you that you use exclusively for songs that your band plays. You never know when you'll have to review a tune, go over harmonies, or play the song(s) for someone who is subbing for the night. Check the ad below for an affordable ipod which will hold thousands of songs, or search Amazon for something better that's within your budget. Load it with the all of the tunes you know and play - and stick it in your gig bag.
11. Song Lists
For every band I've ever played with, I've made sure to get a list of the songs from their repertoire. I like to keep them all in a binder (with protective sleeves) so that I can refer to them as needed. You'll be a hero when you have a collection of lists at times when the band is short on tunes and you need some ideas. It's also a good plan to dedicate a folder on your computer to keep all of your lists categorized and organized for backup.
12. Small Towel
You'll sweat. You'll spill things. Guaranteed. Keep a clean towel in your survival kit (and don't forget to wash it once in a while)!
13. First Aid Kit
Keep this simple. You can get one in any supermarket or drug store pre-loaded with the basics, or you can always customize one to fit your own personal needs. It's definitely good to have pain reliever, antacids, eye drops, band-aids and antibiotic cream to start with. Don't rely on the venue or anyone else to be prepared for medical issues. Pack this essential item in your survival kit or at the very least, in your vehicle.
14. Business Cards
There will be many occasions where you'll meet someone that will want to get in touch with you. Have some business cards printed up with your basic info and a head shot or logo and keep them with you at all times. Even if you're just a weekend warrior and you have a different primary vocation, get some cards printed that represent you as a musician. You can order some very cheap online - or even design and print them up yourself.
If you play guitar or bass, check out this list, too!
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