21 Things Gigging Drummers Should Never Be Without

Call it Murphy’s Law, or whatever, but it’s out there and it’s waiting to ruin your gig.

When I first started playing out, I couldn’t afford drum cases. On the way to a good-paying wedding job, and what could have been the first of many with that band, one of my stands punctured my bottom snare head. As the evening progressed, my snare gradually turned into another tom tom, and there was nothing I could do. He was nice about it, but the band leader never called me again.

With a little bit of planning and a few tools, I might have been able to recover. And that’s the point here. Most of these gig-savers are small and inexpensive, but when you need them, you’ll be glad you’ve planned ahead. Whether you play out occasionally, or every night of the week, there are some essential items you should carry with you to make sure you’re prepared for whenever Murphy strikes.

1. Sticks and spares. No sticks, no gig. I have a stick bag that has a variety of different types of sticks for the different kinds of gigs I play. These vary from rock to jazz sticks, dowel rod sticks (Hot Rods), mallets, and wire and plastic brushes. My cymbal bag also has a pocket for sticks and I keep extras in there too. There’s also a pair of sticks in my trunk. I may have OCD issues.

Reverb Drum Key Leather Keychain

Never be stuck with out of tune drums at a gig with Reverb's keychain drum key.

2. Drum key. Drum keys are necessary to tune your drums, but also to adjust your bass drum and hi-hat pedals, tighten memory locks and secure the tape on your snare drum’s strainer and butt plate. I always have one on my keychain and I keep another on a carabiner clip that I can attach to just about anything.

3. Duct tape. I’ll bet you thought this would be #1 on our list and I don’t blame you. Duct tape is a lifesaver. You can muffle your drums and cymbals with it, fix broken stands, tape your snares to your bottom head, use it to protect against blisters or even temporarily repair torn heads. My stick bag has a shoulder strap that I use to hold two different thicknesses of duct tape. Be a dork and write your name on it too. That may be enough to keep it from disappearing at gigs.

Reverb Drum Key Leather Keychain

4. Spare heads. I rarely break heads at gigs. I use snare heads reinforced with a dot and use a bass drum kevlar patch under my beater. I also check my heads while tearing down in case one needs to be replaced before my next gig. Even so, I always carry spare batter heads. You can carry them inside your drum cases or keep them together in your cymbal bag.

5. Tools. Bring some basic tools so you can make repairs at gigs. There are multi-tools designed specifically for drummers, though a Swiss Army knife, pliers, a couple of screwdrivers and a few Allen wrenches for pedal or drum rack adjustments can work just as well. I store mine in my pedal bag pocket.

6. Spare snare string or tape. That inexpensive little piece of string or tape that holds your snares snugly against your bottom head may be the only thing between you and a three-hour timbale solo.

Hearos Ear Plugs

7. Earplugs. Playing drums will eventually damage your hearing. Bring earplugs and wear them! Sound engineers can accidentally press the wrong button or assume you’re as deaf as they are and crank your monitor to gut shaking levels. When you have to play on stages next to brick and glass, ear plugs can cut out some of that unwanted backwash and reflections and actually help you hear more clearly.

8. Water. Keep pathogens at bay by bringing your own water. Even if the water is fine, the bar’s glassware may not be clean. In my glamorous career, I’ve played several clubs that were later shut down for health violations.

9. Medical supplies. Carry bandages, a pain reliever of choice, lip balm, and contact lens solution and case — the lighting guy loves that ‘80s fog machine — and any meds you need. Remember, the bandages can be used to prevent blisters, too.

10. Bass-drum spring or double pedal. Bring a spare bass-drum spring in case yours breaks. Even if you’re a single-pedal player, having a double pedal can supply any part you’ll need if your primary pedal fails.

Hi-Hat Clutch

11. Spare hi-hat clutch. They’re small, indispensable and an emergency duct tape “clutch” will completely gum up your pull rod.

12. Flashlight. Stages usually have dark walls and carpeting so I carry a few disposable led keychain flashlights with me. They’re surprisingly bright and are so inexpensive I don’t feel bad when one disappears. I carry one on my keychain and the others are on carabiner clips that I can attach anywhere.

13. Smartphone/tablet and charger. Smartphone apps are so useful you may feel helpless without them. There are apps that can replace your map and GPS, metronome, setlist and sheet music. If your band uses a digital mixer and in-ear monitors, there are apps that allow you to control your own monitor mix.

In-Ear Monitors

14. Earbuds/in-ear monitors. Lots of bands today play along with backing tracks. If your band is one of them, it pays to have a backup set of I.E.M.s, since they often find a way to get stepped on. They don’t need to be of high quality, just good enough for you to hear the click.

15. Drum Rug. If you have a heavy foot, a drum rug can be a gig saver by keeping your bass drum from sliding around as you pound it. I always bring a rug in case there isn’t a stage and the designated band area isn’t carpeted. Rugs with a rubber backing grab smooth flooring the best. For those of you without a hardware bag, you can roll your stands up in your rug and cinch it together with luggage straps or bungee cords to transport it.

Drum Bags

16. Drum cases and bags. Cases protect your equipment and insure you don’t leave anything at home. Also, lots of drum bags have extra pockets so you can store the other stuff mentioned in this article.

17. Gear cart. A cart saves your back, makes it easier to move all your gear at once and keeps it together so an evil doer can’t walk off with something while your back is turned.

18. Cash or credit. Having a few bucks can really help if you need gas, food, drinks or other necessities at the last minute.

19. Spare snare. If you’re a heavy hitter, bringing a second snare to your gigs can be lifesaver. Keep it onstage so it’s handy and doesn’t walk out the door.

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20. Bass drum pedal. This is required if you’re gigging out of town.

21. Miscellaneous items. Spare cymbal felts, plastic cymbal sleeves, snacks and a Sharpie and scratch paper. These last two are indispensable for last minute set changes, or if you’re really fortunate, for signing autographs!

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