You’ve locked yourself in your bedroom for 6 months. You learned a handful of Zeppelin tunes, some Foo Fighters, a little Green Day, and threw in some Neon Trees for good measure. You even wrote a few tunes of your own. All you need now is a few other people who share your passion and can’t wait to get a band off the ground. You’ve read the article on finding musicians, placed all your ads strategically, but the only responses you’ve gotten thus far are from a 53 year old punk rocker who’s looking to get back into the game, and two 14 year olds who want to start a Miley Cyrus tribute band. While the latter might be tempting, it’s not what you want, and you feel stuck. You have choices. You can write an angry post about how all musicians suck, and post it on Craigslist hoping to get some empathy. You can try and mold the punk rocker into what you’d like him to be. And you could also continue to move forward patiently, while continuing to build your band, alone. The lack of other people to work with is no reason not to continue moving forward. There is lots of work to be done, and a lot of that you can start today. The following is a list of some of the things you should consider. They will be explored in greater depth in articles to come.
1. Decide what kind of band you plan to create: Do you want your band to play music you’ve written (an original band), or other people’s music (a cover band)? Maybe you want to start a hybrid band, and play both covers and originals? Each type of band has its advantages, and unless you’re already certain you want to play only covers, I’d suggest keeping an open mind and planning on a band that does both. Even if your passion is to play your own music, it’s often a good idea to throw a cover or 2 into your set, as it gives the audience something familiar to connect with. Cover tunes also work as perfect ice breakers when auditioning new musicians, and make it much easier to create a steady cash flow. Much more to come on this in future posts.
2. Continue your search, trying new strategies: If your Bandmix ad isn’t yielding the responses you hoped for, rewrite it. Put out several different ads. Make craigslist (with your search criteria) the homepage on your internet browser. Keep moving forward with the knowledge that the perfect band members will present themselves, when the time is right.
3. Learn songs: You’ve already started doing this. Continue doing it. Hone your craft. Learn songs in different genres, even if you have no intention of ever playing them with your band. You can start building a bank of cover tunes you’d be able to pull out in an open jam, or should you decide to start auditioning for an already established band. There are pop songs that have become staples in the cover industry. To find what’s popular in your area you can also check the set lists of local bands. Many list their repertoire on their websites.
4. Write songs: And keep writing them. If you have 3 songs that you really want to do, and the rest of the members of your future band don’t like or want to play them, you’re stuck. If instead you have 10 songs it becomes much easier to have a few that will work, and win them over. There are many different routes you can go when writing songs that you intend others to perform with you. And there are tradeoffs with each. Some people like to keep their writing skeletal, have a chord structure, melody line, and lyrics. This gives potential members creative freedom, and once they join in, adds dimension to the song that you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. Some like to flesh their songs out and record full band demos. The positive with this is that it may be easier to find musicians who don’t necessarily want to be creative. They’d rather play what’s already been written for them. Since I play a few different instruments, I prefer to record complete demos (bass, drums, keys, vocals), yet keep an open mind about revamping the songs. I found that being too connected to any one part can often make the music stiff when a real live player jumps in. Most musicians are also much happier when they get to put their own personality and style into a song.
5. Record demos: If your goal is to start an original band, then I consider it essential that you begin learning at least the basics of recording. There are enough aps and free software available to leave no excuse to not be able to produce a quality demo. If you have an iOS device, Garage band (which last time I checked, was free), has all the tools necessary. If you’re working on a desktop or laptop, all you need do is purchase an audio interface. Just about every interface comes bundled with basic recording software, that you should start to get familiar with. As with all software there is a bit of a learning curve, but any questions you have can be easily researched.
6. Join another group: Reverse your search. Instead of, “guitarist looking for drums and bass,” start searching ads for, “drums and guitar need bass.” Auditioning for bands in the beginning might seem intimidating, yet if you simply accept that it IS intimidating (hey, you’ve never done it before), it actually gets easier. Keep in mind that the people auditioning you are, surprise, on your side. They want you to be good! Know also that while they’re auditioning you, you are also auditioning them. Trust that if a situation is right for you, you will become a part of it. If it’s not right, you won’t and there’s nothing lost. Yet you’ve gained some experience auditioning, and the next time will be easier, and better. Auditioning for bands is also an awesome way to meet other musicians. Carrying a card or other contact info on you might feel cheesy, but it works. I’ve auditioned lots of people who’ve handed their cards to the entire band before leaving the audition. One of those guys is now playing guitar for Blondie.
7. Come up with band names: Jot down anything and everything that comes to mind. I’d advise you not to get too settled on anything though, as it’s not uncommon for others to hate the name you’re certain is the greatest band name ever. Just happened to me the other day in fact. I presented the ultimate band name ever (not tellin cuz I still plan to use it one day), and the other guys all looked at each other, then back at me, and shook their head no. They immediately shot back with their suggestion to end all suggestions, and that name is too embarrassing to print. That’s how it goes. It’s great to have lots of ideas though and keep the creative juices flowing. Names will inspire more names. What you don’t use now you can always use in a future project.
8. Practice performing: Many people put years into learning the technical aspect of their instrument, without giving much thought to performance. To be a great musician there is no requirement to be a great “performer”, but I always contend that people come to a show to see you, as much as they do to hear you. You can stand on a stage and bore the crap out of 50 people, or you could entertain them. Do the latter and they’ll bring their friends the next time. Bore them, and they might just as well be doing something else while listening to your songs on their cellphones.
9. Learn to sing lead: Take lessons if you have to. It’s an invaluable skill that will more than double your worth as a musician once you start playing with others. Contrary to popular belief, most musicians can sing. The majority of those who don’t (or think they can’t) were more than likely told by someone at a young age that they couldn’t, then believed it, and never worked on the skill. As with any other instrument, all it usually takes practice.
10. Learn harmonies. Practice singing along with recordings. Even if you have trouble learning the precise harmonies of the song you’re working on, it’s good to get comfortable singing and playing at the same time. What might seem virtually impossible at first, will become second nature if you put the practice in. Take difficult parts slowly, at less than half the original tempo of the song if necessary. Don’t worry about speeding them up. If you keep practicing at a slower tempo, I promise the speed will happen while you sleep.
11. Research local studios and get rates: Might as well start preparing now. It will help things move along all the more smoothly, once you actually have to book one.
12. Research clubs and venues: Research other bands that are playing the kind of music you’re playing, check their gig calendars, and create a list of clubs and contact info.
13. Save money: You will need it. For rehearsals, gear, transportation, web space, advertising, possibly even paying musicians. Starting a band is like starting any other business. It will take time, effort, and money. Many of the bands I was in when younger had an envelope that we titled “band fund”. We each threw an agreed upon amount ($5-$20) each rehearsal, or at least once a week. There’s no reason you can’t do this alone. It adds up quickly.
14. Get the right gear: Do your homework, and make sure you have what’s needed to play that first gig when you land it. You don’t have to have a lot of money to have reliable equipment that will be loud enough for any gigs. Any musician can have a completely gig worthy setup for under $300. All you need to do is a little research. Musician’s forums are the best place you can go to ask specific questions regarding that. For the budget conscious, have a look here.
15. Join musician’s forums: I’ve been an active member of several forums for over a decade. If you’re not familiar at all with forums, they’re online communities of people just like you and me, who share a common interest. You post (anonymously if you like) a question, idea, thought or topic – and then people respond. They are an invaluable resource where you can glean decades of useful experience from thousands of people who have been there, done that. Some forums have a slight navigational learning curve, but it’ll take only a day or 2 to get comfortable. It’s worth the small investment. To find one that’s right for you, simply search for your instrument along with the word “forum”. Talkbass.com and ultimateguitar.com are the 2 top forums for bass and guitar. Drummers can check out drumforum.org, but there are many others also.
The ideas listed above are my general suggestions for keeping your band building ball rolling. Hopefully, each will inspire more for you own personal “to do” list. The main objective is to keep your spirits up, and continue working, regardless of whether you’ve found your perfect band mates or not. They will present themselves, so long as you believe they will. I shall leave you with these words of wisdom, author unknown…
“Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”