Steve's been an online music writer for seven years and has personal experience organizing his equipment for gigs.
What Should You Keep in a Musician Gig Bag?
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).
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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, flathead, 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 backup 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.
GreenMind Guides from USA on January 13, 2017:
Totally agree. Airlines and roadies DO NOT CARE for our instruments the way we do.
steve on August 20, 2016:
Good list..........Don't forget extra strings , picks and cables as well.
Frank on September 04, 2015:
If I go by that list, I only carry song lists, some picks, my tuner, a capo, a few business cards, 3/4 inch jack, and some extra strings. I can also put in an FX pedal, but that adds more weight to the guitar case.
bilrux on July 08, 2015:
An extra t-shirt in case your drummer barfs on you.
Michael Smith on July 07, 2015:
I carry a just in case bag for every instrument I work sound for, my ocd makes me stay ahead of murphy, and it has saved several gigs !
Konr Ness on July 07, 2015:
Another must-have is a nail file or nail clipper.
High Desert Renegades on November 14, 2014:
Best advice from one vetran musician to another .
Hezekiah from Japan on August 29, 2014:
Great hub there. I do music a lot, but for me it's just my laptop and my audio interface. I normally hook everything up to a keyboard, or bring my own light MIDI controller.
KirknOnKeys on August 28, 2014:
Great job Steve. Appreciate your work.
Reddirtrockgod77 on August 19, 2014:
Gaffers tape is unmatched. It is easy to work with, easy to remove, durable enough but can be torn to length or width as needed. Painters tape is good for one thing - masking off an area you'd prefer not to get paint on...
Surge protector is huge, worth the initial outlay of cash (if you've ever needed one and not had one, you know!).
I'd add to the writing utensils. Along with black you also need silver sharpies - They can write on black (cables, cabs, DI boxes, Pedals, Gaffers Tape, etc...)
MLS on August 04, 2014:
Gaffers tape is expensive. Painter's tape works fine for most applications stated here.
Rhythmstick on July 16, 2014:
I always carry a pack or guitar strings, extra XLR cable and extra instrument cable, extension cord and and a music stand light in my gig bag.....I'm a drummer, but you would be surprised how many times this has saved the show.
Steve Witschel (author) from New Orleans, LA on June 14, 2014:
Yes, absolutely. The Guitar Player Survival Kit and Drummers Survival Kit articles are forthcoming. That's why I didn't include those items in this list. This list was just intended as a general checklist for musicians, whether you play guitar or saxophone.
Mybassplace on June 14, 2014:
My point was that you should carry extras of any item you NEED to make noise, regardless of your instrument. Drummers don't need strings but they should be carrying extra drum heads, at least a snare head. And extra sticks would be a given.
Steve Witschel (author) from New Orleans, LA on June 14, 2014:
Well yes, Mybassplace, but this is just a general list for all musicians. Drummers don't need strings, etc.
Mybassplace on June 14, 2014:
A few key items missing here. After 40+ years of gigging, number one on my list is extra guitar and speaker cables. Also extra strings. And I've had occasion to need a spare strap too. Use a double gig bag and it's even easy enough to bring two basses to a gig.
The stuff the article lists is fine, but all secondary to the items I've mentioned, IMHO.
James on May 07, 2014:
Shame you cant legally carry a knife/multitool or a bladed articles in the UK. UK musicians you must remember this because if you get pulled and they find something like that on you they wont take any excuses
Frankie on February 17, 2014:
Great list. I'm sad to say I do have a rather cheap surge protector and I'm not sure I'd be able to afford a more expensive one for a while.
Ikhsan Sussanti from Panumbangan on February 17, 2014:
useful information, but i'm haven't a surge protector!
haha, maybe later i'll buy it :D
Maria Aragao from Miami, Florida on February 17, 2014:
Brad Adams on February 17, 2014:
I use a tackle box to keep all my picks, strings, etc. organized.
locust108 on February 17, 2014:
I've carried these for years, can't go wrong ... its an additional extra load to lugg around.. but when the need for it comes around you'd be happy you have it
David M. on January 31, 2014:
Don't use duct tape on your cables or equipment, it leaves behind a sticky residue which never comes off. Spend a little extra money and get real Gaffer's tape. No more mess
stan johnson jr on January 28, 2014:
I have carried most of this for years. never really thought about the mp3. good one thanx