In this Preshow Rituals segment, the singer-songwriter, Joe Hicks, reveals what he does before taking the stage. You can check out the rituals, after the break.
A lot of my pre-show rituals have been established after 15 years of gigging, experiencing what seems like everything that could possibly go wrong on a show (short of being struck by lightning), and putting systems in place to minimise those things happening again.
Touring around different venues, you never truly know what you’re going to get. Not only in terms of what could go wrong (or right) but also what equipment, monitoring, and crowd reaction you might receive. With all that in mind, these are my non-negotiables before a show:
There’s practicing how to play all the individual parts of each song, and then there’s practicing for a show. Both are equally important and I like to make sure that I’ve run through an upcoming set as close to gig conditions as possible – i.e. if it’s a full band electric show – make sure I’ve actually practiced running the set like that with the full rig. Otherwise, I could get to the venue and realise that my pedalboard has a fault, or that I’m not used to the sound switching I need to do mid-song.
Sleep / Hydration
I’m not the most naturally gifted singer. I’m certainly not like some artists I know that can smoke a pack of cigarettes, rock up shattered, drink a load of whisky, and then vocally nail a 2-hour set. On show days it’s imperative that I’ve consumed twice as much water as normal, had a good night’s sleep, and stayed away from spicy food before singing, otherwise, some of my higher key songs might start to miraculously disappear from the setlist…
For the love of god, if you’re a new-to-gigging artist reading this who doesn’t have an equipment checklist on your phone, write one immediately. There’s nothing worse than driving for 3 hours to play in a town far from anyone you know and realising you forgot spare strings at 7pm when all the music shops are shut. Trust me, that will be the night you finally break a string in soundcheck. I have lists for all types of gigs and live setups and religiously check everything before I leave for a show. It’s amazing how often I still have to turn back.
These drive my producer Sam Winfield up the wall as they are very twee and he’s heard them a thousand times in the studio. I use an Anne Peckham vocal exercise album that one of my Berklee teachers gave to me. I sing along to the first 6 tracks, so about 15 minutes of ooohs and aaahs and crazy lip trills. Normally I’ll steam my voice in the morning of a show day using a Dr Nelson’s inhaler that looks very much like a bong (or so I’ve been told), and then warm up in the car on the way to soundcheck. I used to do my vocal exercises in the 30 minutes prior to going on stage, but there is usually so much going on at that point and I found that having a gap between warmups and stage helps to let the vocal cords settle a bit.
Everyone seems to have a different opinion on what you should or shouldn’t eat and drink prior to singing, and I think everyone reacts differently so you’ve got to find what works for you. I tend to just avoid eating too much before a show, or ideally have dinner once I’ve come off stage. The one thing I do actively avoid is spicy food, as it’s just a recipe for disaster on all fronts. I remember playing a Sofar Sounds show in the upstairs party room of a curry house on Leicester’s Golden Mile a few years ago. The night was split into two halves, with food served to artists and the crowd in the interval. Luckily I played in the first half, as the singer of a band in the second wolfed down a massive curry and then proceeded to go through a world of hell trying to sing through burps during their set.
Meeting local crew
Unless you’re lucky enough to tour an entire show crew of your own, one of the most important people you’ll meet at a gig is the in-house sound engineer. They have the power to make you sound as good or as bad as they want, and so I always try to speak to them as soon as possible on arrival. It’s amazing how many artists I’ve seen treat them as part of the furniture. On a gig, everyone working it – artists, sound engineers, techs, bar staff, etc. are all in it together. The old adage “Be nice to those you meet on the way up because you will meet them on the way down” comes to mind and is something I try to live by as much as possible.
It’s not very rock and roll – and also the cause of the only heckling I ever really receive – but I like to have a mug of hot water with a spoonful of Manuka honey, and then a separate bottle of room temperature water. Need to earn those post-stage beers with a solid onstage performance.
Ultimately, if I’ve done all the above I know I’ll be in the right frame of mind to have the best chance of a great show.
Upcoming tour dates:
12/10/22 – The Grace, London
06/11/22 – The Hug & Pint, Glasgow
08/11/22 – The Hen & Chicken, Bristol
09/11/22 – The Castle Hotel, Manchester
26/11/22 – Arlington Arts, Newbury