Florida Georgia Line performed their hit single “Cruise” on the season finale of the NBC show, The Voice. FGL guitarist, Brian Bonds shares the experience from backstage of the taping and the importance of capitalizing on the press to gain and reinforce corporate endorsement relationships.
By Brian Bonds:
A few months ago, I got a call saying that the group that I play guitar for, Florida Georgia Line, was going to be performing on the season finale of the hit NBC show, “The Voice“. I was excited for several reasons:
1) Being on TV not only makes you look really cool to all of your old high school friends, it also pays exceptionally well.
2) With around 20 million viewers it means a lot of exposure…especially for gear companies.
3) My mom was going to be thrilled that I would actually be in the same building as her current man crush, Adam Levine. Seriously, her obsession with him is getting borderline scary.
When a call like that comes in, the first thing I do is get on the phone with my gear reps. This is one of those “strike while the iron is hot” moments. When playing for a large artist you get a lot of discounted and free gear because of the exposure you will give their company night after night. But none of that compares to the free advertising their product will get when it’s broadcast into millions of homes for three minutes and twenty-six seconds. A friendly phone call, mentioning what I have coming up, usually results in them hooking me up with just about anything I need. For that particular show I really wanted to play a white PRS Starla, not only because it was going to match my outfit perfectly (sorry I’m a fashion snob and image is huge to me) but it’s also a great guitar. And it just so happens to be a guitar that I’ve wanted for a while. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge. The call went something like this: “Hey guys we’re going to be on The Voice in June, and man I’d really love to have a white Starla for that show.” They replied with: “Sure thing. It will be waiting for you backstage when you arrive.”
Now here’s the thing. Many companies have gear that is designated specifically for TV performances only. The guitar that I was lusting after happened to be one of them. They mentioned to me that the one I was playing on the show would have to be returned after the performance, but since I was such a big fan of that guitar and I was going to be playing it in front of so many people, they would go ahead and build me the exact same one and let me keep it, free of charge. The same thing basically happened with the amps I always use, Peavey 6505’s. When they first hooked me up, I told them whenever we have any kind of TV performances, I would make sure the amps were on stage. I called the Peavey rep and mentioned to him that we would be flying to L.A. and we wouldn’t have our gear because our busses were staying in Chicago, where we had a show the day before. “Not a problem”, he said, “Just have your production manager get in touch with me, and we’ll get you what ever you need.” You see how it works? It’s not just a “get everything you can on the face of the earth for free” thing. It’s more of a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” deal. All of the companies whose gear I use, even the gear that can’t really be seen on television (like picks, strings, and pedals), got a friendly email informing them of what Florida Georgia Line had going on. Anytime you can reinforce the fact that you are deserving of all the gear that these companies are giving you, do it!
Now that all of my reps had been made aware of the upcoming performance, it was time to notify every one of my former high school classmates. Ahhh, the beauty of social networking. I just send out a little Tweet, saying something like – “Cant wait to play on the season finale of The Voice!”, and magically the word has spread to everyone that I’ve ever come into contact with. Seriously, how did people rub their success in the face of everyone that told them they’d never make it before social media existed? Must have been a lot of work back in the day! Now that the gloating was done, it was time to inform my mom that I would be less than 10 feet away from her new dream boy-toy. If you happen to remember hearing a paralyzing scream that shattered windows all across North America a few months back, that was my mom reacting to the news. I’m pretty sure there was permanent hearing damage done to the ear that my phone was held up to.
Fast forward one month later when Florida Georgia Line is now walking through LAX, headed to our hotel one day before the show. I might also mention that I was walking through the airport carrying no gear because it would all be provided for me on set. It may not seem like much, but when you are doing 200+ shows a year, not having to lug a guitar around with you is an amazing feeling. We checked into the hotel, had a little dinner and decided to call it a night because we had an early 8 AM lobby call. The next morning we hopped in our runner van and eagerly sped off to the Universal Lot where the show is filmed. All of our excitement was soon smashed and turned into a mixture of nerves and car sickness, thanks to Los Angeles’ beautiful morning traffic (no kidding, 10 miles took almost 2 hours). Upon final arrival, I’m not sure if we were more excited to be on The Voice or out of the van! Our escort took us to our trailers and told us we had 15 minutes until we would be ready for our first rehearsal on set. After raiding our gift baskets (first thing I always do) for the little things that make me excited, (travel size body wash, shampoo, shaving cream) I was ready for the first run-through. When I walked on set I couldn’t have been happier. There were my amps that I always use and not just one PRS guitar, but 4 of them! One case had a note attached to it that said “just in case you want to play a different color or model on television we brought a few for you to choose from.” Talk about a company that really understands artist relations! I went through all the guitars like a kid at Christmas but still decided to stick with the white Starla because, well, it matched my outfit the best. Are you done laughing at me? Like I said before, I’m a fashion snob, and everything has to go together perfectly. I grabbed the Starla, strummed a few chords and then walked over to our stage manager to get my wireless pack.
I popped my in-ears in, adjusted the level, and I was ready to go. The band was in place and we were just waiting for Nelly to tweak his in-ear mix and we’d be off on our first run through. Alright, Cruise rehearsal take one,” someone said through a megaphone. 1,2,3,4 “Baby you a song, you make me want to roll my windows down and….” BOOM!!! Before you knew it, we were all just about on the ground because of the massive pyro that had just gone off behind us! With the amount of hair product I use, I am always a little nervous, make that really nervous being around fire. We all know how well that combo worked for Michael Jackson. After the initial shock wore off, we collected ourselves, changed our underwear, and geared up to run it again, this time knowing that there were going to be explosions and fire behind us. Once we were ready for that, we ran the song and it sounded and looked great. It better have. After all, we have played that song thousands of times! We ran it about three more times so the camera crew and producers could get familiar with who was standing where and when, and how the big explosions were going to be choreographed with certain hits in the song. After that we were free till 2 PM. That was when the entire show rehearsal was going to take place. On the break, I wandered around the lot, ate a little catering, and then casually camped outside of Adam’s trailer hoping to get something to steal for my mom for a lovely Christmas gift. A few hours passed and no luck. Oh, well. Time to head back for the show rehearsal.
Once back, I noticed everyone running around like chickens with their heads cut off. During a full show rehearsal everything has to be choreographed just perfectly so it will fit in the allotted time that the show has when it is airing. Everyone tends to be really on edge then. Everyone except the performers that is. We were just hanging out, cracking jokes and making the occasional inappropriate comment. Once it was time for us to head on stage during “the commercial break” we were shuffled out quickly and shown to our places. This is the part that I thought was hilarious. It is so rehearsed that they even had body doubles sitting in all of the stars chairs to create the feel that they were there. Have you ever seen the movie Spaceballs? Remember the scene where they have all of the doubles there? Yeah, it was pretty much like that, and I couldn’t stop laughing. “Were back from break in 5, 4, 3,” “Our next group has the hottest song of the summer right now,” announced a 50 pound heavier and slightly taller version of Carson Daly. Please welcome Florida Georgia Line featuring Hip Hop superstar, Nelly.” And we were off, playing our hearts out to a few producers, camera crew and a Hispanic version of Usher. I really was trying to perform like I would on live TV, but I couldn’t stop staring at the body doubles and laughing hysterically! Once that was done, we were shuttled back to our trailers so hair and makeup could work their magic on us. I never know if I’m a stylist’s nightmare or dream come true. Guess it’s different every time.
After that was done we all hung out in the main area, which was an air-conditioned covered tent with lovely AstroTurf and hanging chandeliers. It was at this point where reality set in, we were about to go on national TV for one of the biggest performances of our lives. Gathered in the tent were rock stars of all genres, movie stars, and famous athletes. To my left was Miranda Lambert, to my right was Sugar Ray Leonard, and standing in front of me was that damn Hispanic body double of Usher that I couldn’t stop staring at. It was even more comical because the real Usher was only a few feet away from the double. I enjoyed schmoozing for a little and eating the occasional snooty finger food that you can only find in Los Angeles but it was almost time for the deed to be done. We were rounded up and brought over to where our runner vans were awaiting to take us over to the set. Once inside we were stoked. We did our usual pre-show ritual, which consists of a prayer and a chant. We counted our blessings and thanked God for the opportunity we had been given, and began to get psyched for the show. This was really happening. It was only a year ago that we were touring the country in a van, playing to a little over a hundred fans a night. Now, here we were, about to play our multi-platinum single in front of millions of people. After sitting in silence for only a few seconds, we got the sign that it was time to take our places on stage. Once there, it all hit: Cameras, the crowd, the real Usher, yep this was about to go down. “Okay we’re back in 5,4,3…” This time the real Carson Daily was there to intro. us in. As he was wrapping up the intro., I heard the count off start in my ears and felt the unexplainable surge of adrenaline that you get right before you play something that huge. The song started with a bang, and we were off to melt faces for the next three minutes and twenty-six seconds.
More important than melting faces though, it was during those next three minutes that every hour spent practicing as a kid, every horrible gig played for tips, every smelly tour done in an old van, every chance taken on faith, was all worth it. I hope that each and every one of you reading this will someday get to experience what I’m talking about. With hard work, networking, your image, practice, practice, practice, you too can accomplish whatever your musical dreams are. Oh yeah, and not to mention the most priceless of all- watching your mom grin from ear to ear when she finds out that Adam Levine gave you a thumbs up after your solo.
Brian Bonds, guitarist for Florida Georgia Line and That’s My Gig contributor was born and raised in Miami, Florida. He has played for several rock, Christian, and country artists. He currently resides in Nashville, TN with his wife and their fat, four-legged child, “Hambone the Pug.”