Be cool with your band - show up on time, bring the right size rig for the room, know your tunes (ask for help if you don't), leave your issues in the car, don't be drunk before the gig, and help with load-out before you continue drinking.
Be cool with the club - learn the soundman's (and monitor engineer's) name, and address them with respect, (because they are your new best friends), take care of the waitstaff- you ate and drank for free or discounted, so tip bigger than you normally would (the $5 you leave them means much more to them than you), and don't play rockstar and trash the green room.
Be cool to the listening public - again, address them with respect, even if they are drunk and berate you for not playing their favorite cover songs.
Be cool to yourself - play tastefully, play solidly (it's a word now), have fun, and do the best you can. Not to get cosmic, but play each gig like it's your last. And be happy you have someplace to play that night. Lots of cats don't.
Reality check #1 - You wonder if the audience is hearing you clearly, so you wait until you're doing a solid groove during someone's solo and you look around the audience.
Reality check #2 - You go down for a break and several people in the audience tell you how well you play.
Be prepared. There is no such thing as being overprepared. As John Wooden put it, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."
Expect adversity and be prepared to adapt. Rare is the gig that goes smoothly, either for you or the band or the logistics. Rarer still is a gig that goes perfectly. Songs will get muffed in all kinds of ways, you won't be able to hear one or more of the instruments (maybe your bass!) well or at all, your strap may break - whatever it may be, play through it. And smile through it all (at least with your eyes, I don't mean a goofy grin). Fake it if you have to - but you shouldn't have to very often. No one in the audience cares about the adversity the band is going through, and we all know most don't even notice what we consider huge gaffes.
A list of tips for small gigs:
A list of tips for larger gigs:
Find a direct box or lightweight preamp that you like, and keep it in your gig bag. If the worst happens with your amp, you'll get a better result and have more control using the direct than going straight into the board.
Bring clothespins or some kind of clip to hold down charts under windy conditions.
Have a selection of all kinds of different adapters - RCA - TRS, Mini 1/8" to 1/4" etc, etc. You just never know when you need to cobble together a rig with just the stuff in your collective gig bags.
Arrive on time. Figure out how long it will take to drive to the gig, then add a minimum of 15 minutes for unexpected delays (longer if it's a long drive). Then, add another fifteen minutes just because.
Be nice to the staff. They can be your best friends or your worst enemies.
Always bring your own amp to a gig. You've paid good money for that stuff. Use it and save yourself the stress of not knowing what you'll sound like that day.
Bring spares. At the very least, show up for a gig with spare strings, strap, cables, and batteries. A spare bass, amp, and even cabinet if you can swing it. The paying folks don't care that you broke a string, they want you to play.
Don't diss the sound crew. Vail Johnson, long-time bassist for Kenny G, has a great article in recent issue of Bass Player titled "Sound men are not servants". Read it and heed it.
You need to get at least two of three things out of any gig. Money, connections, fun. How you split the balance between these three is up to you. But realize that while it's nice to get all three, sometimes you only get two of them.
Play the gig. If you're hired to do an old style R'n'B gig, play like Duck Dunn or Willie Weeks, not Billy Shehann or Tim Bogert. If you think your really hip Marcus Miller/Victor Wooten double thumb lick will fit perfectly in the middle of the guitar solo in "Under The Double Eagle" you may be right, but you're probably wrong.
Bad gigs happen. It's not that you have a bad gig, it's both what you do to make it as good as possible, and what you take away from the experience to make it less likely for it to happen again.
Don't drink and drive.
Practice playing in different positions to learn how to play with a broken string (in case you forget to bring back-up strings, bass, etc.) I have only broken a few strings in my life, but I have never needed to stop to replace it. I continued to play because I knew my way around the whole fretboard, not just the part of the fretboard I usually played our tunes in. It sounds ridiculous, but the show must go on. As JTE said,"The paying folks don't care that you broke a string, they want you to play." I bring this up because I had to loan my bass to a young player at a gig recently who would not continue playing when he broke a string (on a 5-string no less). I could have been a jerk and refused, but I let him borrow it anyway (only after I told him to bring back-up in the future).
Use a long cable or a wireless to get away from your amp. Hear what your bandmates and the audience hear and adjust EQ or volume accordingly. You may even discover your singer is standing in a bass node (a really bad thing).
If the venue is not familiar and it's not a dedicated music club, at least bring an extension cord and power strip (I thought you would bring one...No, I thought you would bring one).
Lights are easy to over look at outdoor night gigs without professional PA support.
Know how to play happy birthday, it's trickier than you think.
Other than the essential bass equipment, a leatherman can be very handy. It used to be my toolbox on the road, and it fits in your pocket.
The most essential non-bass equipment is the almighty TOWEL! A lesson from Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe. A towel will most dutifully wipe your sweat off your head, strings, bass and human neck as well as clean up spills on your amp and on the stage so you don't fall while trying to be a rock star.
At private parties people, especially drunk girls, think they own you for the night and therefore can make announcements or just be annoying over your mics. A cheap mic on hand is good for that application. They can drop it and you don't care.
Some people hiring a band for a private event expect you to play background music when not performing. Know this up front and plan accordingly.
Consider this question: How do you handle the guy at the party that stands right by you and when the song ends asks to play guitar, bass, or drums. Or, he has a represenative who says, "yo, you guys are good...hey, my cousin is a wicked drummer, etc...." Knowing how you'll deal with this beforehand can save you a lot of hassle.