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 should 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 of vital items to keep with you at all times (regardless of what instrument you play). You can get all of these things combined for just a few hundred dollars. This is pretty cheap, considering the gigs you'll save and gain by being ready for anything.
14 Items All Musicians Need on Hand
- Backpack or duffle bag
- Gaffer tape (or Duct Tape)
- Multi-purpose tool
- Surge protector/extension cord
- Sharpies™ and pens
- MP3 player (w/earbuds)
- Song lists
- Small towel
- First aid kit
- Business cards
1. Backpack or Duffle Bag
The first, and possibly most crucial, item to own is a sturdy bag to conveniently carry everything around in. I like using a backpack with multiple pockets as it makes it easier to keep my stuff organized. I've also worked with musicians who use a small suitcase to consolidate multiple necessities. Which bag you choose is completely up to you, but I strongly suggest a bag large enough to keep everything in one place. It makes for easier packing and transporting. It will also keep you more organized while helping to make your gigs run much more smoothly.
2. Gaffer Tape (or Duct Tape)
Due to the vast amount of uses it can, and will, have for you as a working musician, gaffer tape is possibly the most important item to have with you in your gig bag.
Its uses 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 (it comes in many colors and is 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. Multi-tools are fantastic and affordable weapons 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 knife, flat head, Phillips screw bits, and a wood/metal file, many multi tools also have 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 hard to reach places. In all of those cases, it's in your best interest to be equipped with a reliable flashlight. You should buy a flashlight that is small enough to fit in your bag or pocket. Even if you have a flashlight on your smartphone, phones lose their charge and you'll always want to have a backup.
If you don't have anything that requires batteries, then you can skip this (provided you keep fresh batteries in your flashlight!). In fact, most musicians have gear that needs batteries. All wireless systems, pedals, guitars with active pickups, tuners, and many other pieces of equipment require batteries. Because you never know when they'll die on you (quite often it's in the middle of a song), you should 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. Eventually, they'll fail on you. They 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 With 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 all of the tunes you know and play, then 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 it 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 on hand. 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 when 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 business cards very cheap online—or even design and print them up yourself.