Gig Business

The Challenges of Outdoor Gigs

By Tessie Barnett

Outdoor gigs are lively, engaging, and some of the best opportunities to attract more fans. But as every gig environment comes with a unique set of challenges, an open air performance is an animal of its own. It’s crucial to be properly prepared and maintain good communication with your client. Here are a few things you’ll need to discuss prior to the event.

 

Mother nature

Mother Nature is a fickle lady you’ll want to keep your eye on. Because this element is completely out of your control, you’ll need to check the forecast well in advance and all the way up to the day of the event. Include a plan for inclement weather in your booking agreement that clearly outlines what is to be expected in these cases. Whether it’s an alternative venue or rescheduling the event altogether, make sure you and your client agree to the specifics.

If there is a performance stage at the event, make sure it’s covered. A covered stage not only protects against rain, but it keeps the equipment and performers cool and out of direct sunlight. Stay hydrated, take advantage of the break times you’ve discussed with your client, and keep extra gear with you for unexpected hiccups.

 

Power supply

Always make sure your power needs are communicated with your client in advance. Getting power may be as simple as running a few extension cords, but be sure to ask the important questions to make the event organizer aware of any details that might have been overlooked.

  • Will a safety-certified power supply be provided close to the performance area?
  • If power is supplied by a generator, will it be located at a distance far enough away as to not affect the performance?
  • What limitations exist regarding the running of cables within the site?
  • Will a PA system be available or provided by the talent?

Extra equipment

​At every gig, you’ll want to bring extra gear, but outdoor gigs make it necessary to bring things that are not ordinarily needed. We spoke to Corey Johnson—lead singer of Brookline Station, one of the most talented and dynamic bands in the Midwest—and, as a seasoned performer, he offered a few tips:

  • Tarps. We’ve been caught in the rain and tarps have been gear/life savers.
  • Extension cords. It’s typical that we have to stretch our reach when playing outside.
  • Power generator. This can also be a big help if you’re playing where you’re not in proximity to a building or power source.
  • Drum rug. This helps prevent our kit from “crawling” on a slippery surface.
  • Water for hydration. (This is not always something the booking party remembers.)
  • Oh, and sunscreen. We’ve found out the hard way through awkwardly shaped sunburns (underside of left forearm and top side of right forearm), from playing guitar in 3 hours of afternoon sun.

 

City or area restrictions

When performing or planning outdoor gigs, be aware of any local sound ordinances. Many communities have a specific time of the day when the sound should stop, and a certain decibel level that the noise should not exceed. Make sure the client has contacted the appropriate community offices for rules and information according to their local guidelines. You don’t want to run into an issue that prevents you from being paid for a full set.

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21 Comments
  1. Midwest musician March 13, 2017

    Having a covered performing area is especially crucial for strings (violin, viola, cello) and the performers cannot be expected to bring a 12 foot tent (and smash their fingers while setting it up on soggy turf)…yet nearly every gig customer seems to check “Outdoors (without cover)” in their Gigsalad gig request form. Is there any way performers can just not receive these requests, or, make our offers Contingent upon the client providing cover? Perhaps the clients have no idea how damaging it is to have the Sun melt the varnish, maybe they would gladly set up a tent if they only understood the needs of performers.

    Reply
    • Tessie Barnett March 14, 2017

      Absolutely! We can tag your PromoKit so that we’re only sending you leads that work for your setup. (Give us a call at 417-889-9909 so we can take care of that!) However, clients have the ability to contact you directly through your PromoKit, and in that case, there’s no way for us to filter out those requests. We recommend adding that important information to your PromoKit so that you’re helping to educate clients who are unaware of a performer’s needs. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. We’re happy to help!

      Reply
  2. Jerry Popiel July 17, 2017

    Great article! More than 75% of my gigs are outdoors and I’ve seen a variety of challenges with these. Most recently it was a waterside gig where there was a large hatch of mayflies… they are harmless, but they were covering everything including me, my strings, my mic, etc.! I’d add a couple of things: be cautious about booking early and late season gigs in the northern states… I’ve performed in snow more than once during outdoor gigs in April, not very easy on the guitar fingers. Be sure the tent, if there is one, is anchored down well when it’s windy… had an EZ-Up tent (provided by the venue) blow right over the top of me during a song out into the audience earlier this summer. Make sure you’re performance location isn’t a low spot if rain is expected and watch your electric power cables… it’s disconcerting to stand in a puddle forming with electric cords running through them. But outdoor gigs are often very rewarding… have close to 40 this year and I love doing them!

    Reply
    • Tessie Barnett July 19, 2017

      Thanks so much for the great tips, Jerry!

      Reply
  3. Illusions by Vick July 17, 2017

    If you are a professional Magician
    Just say no to “outdoor gigs”
    No one wants to see anything in 90+ degree heat and humidity is not a magician’s friend
    Help your clients by educating them

    Reply
    • Tessie Barnett July 19, 2017

      It’s great that you’re educating your clients about what you do!

      Reply
  4. Tom Taylor July 17, 2017

    Hello Tessie,
    I always bring a 3 speed fan to all my indoor and especially outdoor gigs. Just another item I believe should be on your list of items to bring.

    Blue skies, Tom

    Reply
    • Tessie Barnett July 19, 2017

      Yep, that’s a great addition to the list! Thanks, Tom!

      Reply
  5. Faith-Rest Drill July 17, 2017

    I try to have the band members make me a list of things they think they might need for the program we producing. Special needs are only special until you need them.

    Reply
    • Tessie Barnett July 19, 2017

      Good point!

      Reply
  6. Ford Giesbrecht July 17, 2017

    I requested an umbrella at an outdoor gig a couple weeks ago where I was the only one covered. the wedding guests flocked under my umbrella, to the point I couldn’t see out. To top it off, when a toddler started screaming during the ceremony – the parent headed for my umbrella, so I had to try to perform the ‘special music’ with a crying child literally in my ear. My review received a 4.5/5 for quality -all other 5’s. The final punchline was a helping hand took it upon herself to remove my amp from a chair and dump it down on the ground. All this with a forced smile – letting on nothing to the happy couple. Some things are difficult to anticipate, let alone ask for. People are people, and few of them understand what we do. Someone asked me why I got an umbrella? : / This was not the only head scratcher of the gig.

    Reply
    • Tessie Barnett July 19, 2017

      Wow, what a gig! But you handled these challenges like a pro. Well done!

      Reply
  7. Crystal Yuan July 17, 2017

    In Las Vegas we get high winds so stand clips are a must! Even a slight breeze can flip heavy duty sheet protectors. It also helps to get the non-glare sheet protectors and the heavier the better.
    Also, I apologize if someone mentioned this already, if the event is after sunset, stand lights for your sheet music or check that the area you are playing in is properly lit. Thank you for the article!

    Reply
    • Tessie Barnett July 19, 2017

      Great idea, Crystal! Thanks for adding that!

      Reply
  8. Jon Bartz/San Juan Guitar Works July 19, 2017

    Power is often a problem, as you stated. I am a solo singer/guitarist, currently doing a series of Farmer’s Markets on Sundays in the middle of shopping center parking lots where there is no power and using a generator is not feasible. Here’s my solution: I use a 12 Volt Deep Cycle Marine battery rated at 735 Amp hours with a power inverter rated at 1500 watts. My 60 watt amp head and 18 watt equalizer draw 7+ Amps, so I can safely play up to 6 hours (without damaging the battery by over draining) using both my mike and my electric guitar, and two 3-way 14 inch speakers. The system gives me plenty of volume and run time; more than my sore fingers will ever allow me to use.

    Reply
    • Tessie Barnett July 19, 2017

      Wow, thank you for the detailed feedback, Jon! This is very much appreciated.

      Reply
    • Steven Charles July 23, 2017

      Jon, that’s very informative, as it’s a much better/quieter option than a generator, altho I did a gig recently with a very small gas-powered generator, that was pretty quiet. I’m just curious as to the math you used to arrive at that six-hour time. First, how do you figure the amps your equipment would draw, and then, how knowing that, did you arrive at the six hours? Oh, and just a ballpark estimate, how long would power last if a 220 Watt amp, and a few rack mounted electrical units (efx, mixer, synth mod, etc), were used? Thanks…

      Reply
      • Jon Bartz/San Juan Guitar Works July 26, 2017

        Steven:
        There are several tutorials on line that will give you the exact formula for calculating the amp draw based on watts (I didn’t memorize it). By the way, there is a missing decimal point in my last post; the exact draw of my system is .718 amps (not including the inverter, which has a diode “power on” light and 2 mini cooling fans). The key to prolonged, successful operation of the battery is to make sure that it is a “deep cycle” marine type, and don’t ever drain it past about 55% capacity to avoid damaging it (car batteries aren’t designed for prolonged drain, and can be damaged if drained below 95% capacity). I just remembered my Hartke 60 watt guitar amp is rated at about a 1/2 an amp, so your amp would be a little less than 2 amps. Check the watts on your other equipment, add it to your 220 watts and divide by 120 (I seem to recall the formula is watts divided by volts = amps or ampere hours, but I’m going by memory, so don’t quote me) and remember an inverter will have some draw of its own and should reasonably exceed the total wattage requirements of your equipment. I could easily use a much smaller inverter than my 1500 watt unit but hey; it’s paid for!

        Reply
      • Jon Bartz/San Juan Guitar Works July 26, 2017

        Steven:
        In reference to my reply to you regarding the use of a Deep Cycle marine battery and an inverter: I had forgotten that the actual amperage draw has to be converted through the 115/120 volt inverter into 12 volts, assuming you’d be using a 12 volt battery (you can also hook up two 12 volt batteries to deliver 24 volts if needed, but I don’t remember any specifics on that arrangement), and the amp draw at 120 volts (in my system, .718 amps) has to be multiplied by 10. In my original post, I stated my draw as 7+ amps, which is the actual draw on the battery (+ some additional for the inverter itself). If your system were to draw 4 amps at 120 volts, the draw would be about 40 ampere hours on a 12 Volt battery, and because of possible sine (not sure that’s the correct spelling) wave variations, that much draw may cause some heat at the amplifier. I use 18″ #2 gauge battery cables to insure I won’t overheat my 1500 watt inverter even if I ever get near it’s capacity limit. I also use a 4 plug surge protector (with a 3 foot cord) just in case the inverter ever does something weird, and I only use the power cords specified for my amplifier and equalizer. There is another thing I want to mention that you are probably aware of, so please excuse me if that is the case. That is in reference to your speakers. I’ve been using two 8 ohm 100 watt (RMS) speakers hooked in parallel, which reduced the ohms for each speaker to 4, which is the minimum rated ohms for my amplifier (which is a mono guitar amp). I did have a sound coverage problem (dead zones) at my last gig, and decided I’ll need to ,use 2 more speakers to even out the sound dispersion. If I wire those 2 in parallel with the first 2, I’ll reduce the ohms per speaker to 2, which is less than the rated minimum for my amplifier, and could burn it up. The solution is to use a combination of series and parallel wiring (there are plenty of websites that show diagrams), which will restore all 4 speakers to 8 ohms each, which is what they are rated at, and is well within the safe zone for my amplifier. My amplifier is rated at 60 watts, so I’ll have 15 watts to drive each speaker. Most speakers of my type achieve a little over 100 db with just 10 watts (about 40 watts, or 2/3 maximum output on mt amplifier), which is plenty loud for a venue like mine without noticeable distortion. Now, again, I’m going my memory, and I could be off a bit, so do your own research to make sure. Good luck and I hope I got you pointed in the right direction on this stuff. Cheers, Jon

        Reply
      • Jon Bartz/San Juan Guitar Works July 26, 2017

        Hey, Steven: One more thing I forgot to mention (my tired old brain is gettin’ slower, it seems): You have to remember the amps X 10 rule in regards to total available amps when the 12 volt battery power gets converted to 120 volts. If memory serves, my 630 ampere hour battery is reduced to 63 amp hrs, and only half of that is available (with a deep cycle battery) without damaging the battery. In my case, I can use that size battery (at 7 amps draw) for about 4.5 hrs before over draining it. In your case (about 30 amps draw), you’d only get about 1 hour of safe use. If you played a 3 hour gig, you’d need 3 batteries like mine (about $125 ea. for a Duracell at Batteries plus), or a 1800 – 2000 ampere hour battery which gets VERY heavy and pretty pricey. Further, if you’re playing in a band, you’re not going to be able to plug in anything extra, unless you go larger yet. My best guess is that you’d be better off investing in a 120 volt 1500 watt quiet gas generator, like a Honda; especially if you’re in a band (a 1500 watt inverter will cost you about $100 = $125, a mega battery can be up to $500). Anyway, please check all this out on line, and don’t take my word as the last word’ Good luck. Jon

        Reply
  9. Steven Charles July 23, 2017

    Tessie,

    Good to see that you mentioned having a Plan B, should it rain, or snow, etc. It’s very important that a band has this worked out ahead of time.
    I’ve seen too many bands lose out on gigs, especially on prime Friday or Saturday nights, when they are rained out, and no alternative venue or compensation has been pre-arranged. Leaders, when you book outdoors, you shouldn’t jeopardize all your pay for that day, by having no option if it rains! Either a place to move inside and play, or still being paid (or maybe half-pay, if it’s rescheduled, or if it’s for a friend or non-profit organization, etc.), will prevent everyone from making a big zero for the day.

    Reply

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