Once upon a time there was a boy named John. John loved to play guitar. One sunny day shortly after his 15th birthday, John discovered that his new next door neighbor Jim played drums. Jim told John that he had a great friend named Jane who loved to sing and play the bass. John, Jim, and Jane also just happened to love the same music. They got together one day, played, it sounded great and they quickly decided to become a band and call themselves The Js. They produced lots and lots of wonderful music together, got lots and lots of fans, toured the world, and lived happily ever after.
If only it worked that way.
To be fair, sometimes it actually does. And sometimes cats can actually be trained to use a toilet bowl.
Starting a band however is usually a bit more of a daunting experience. There are hundreds of details to be considered before the closing number of that first, never to be forgotten show. My goal here is to eliminate some of the guesswork inherent in that journey. With over 3 decades of experience creating, being a part of, and establishing a variety of different types of musical groups, I’ve gleaned some knowledge that I’m certain you will find beneficial. For simplicity sake, I’m going to gear my first few blogs and articles to musicians who are new to this game, but I aim to include lots of helpful info for those who’ve been at it for a while also.
If you want to start your own band, one of the first things you will have to do is find other musicians. Events are not likely to unfold as in the Js story above, and one of the questions I find frequently asked on musician’s forums and in classes I’ve taught is this – How do I go about finding the right people? Where is the best place to look? Presented below are the most commonly used options, and my thoughts on each.
While this might seem like a no brainer, I felt it had to be said. It is often much easier to get a band off the ground with people you like and can easily work with, than with someone who might be talented yet difficult to deal with. Your friends who play instruments will be your first choice, but if you have buddies you really love being around that don’t play an instrument, you might want to see if they’re willing to learn. I know lots of people who were “band ready” within 3 months of picking up an instrument for the first time. Some can do it in even less time, if the desire is there.
There are people who are afraid of craigslist. We’ve all heard the nightmare stories. Those stories are one in a million, and if you use a little common sense you can avoid any potentially negative situations. The common sense guidelines are as follows:
- Get people’s full name and contact info.
- Speak on the phone with whoever you’re meeting before hooking up.
- Ask questions to make sure they’re at the same level musically as you, and have similar goals.
- Arrange for your initial meeting in a public place, or music studio.
- Bring a friend along.
- Post all your ads anonymously (there are exceptions to this rule, but none apply to the person just starting out).
- Google people’s names and email addresses before meeting up. A little background info is helpful in a lot of ways.
When placing your ad on craigslist it’s best to keep it short, honest, and to the point. I always feel the less said in the first ad the better. You will get more responses that way, and can later weed undesirables out in subsequent emails and phone conversations. Details on writing effective musicians wanted ads (for both beginners and pros), and following up on them will be discussed in an upcoming article.
Going old school still works. All you need is a magic marker and a piece of paper – although you’ll probably draw more attention with a well thought out and printed ad. Keeping it simple is again key here. “Looking for bass and drums for an original pop-punk influenced band just starting out. Ages 15-20. For more info contact info below,” is enough to get the ball rolling. You can have those little tailpieces people can tear off the bottom of the flyer with your email address and/or phone number. Flyers can be posted on community bulletin boards, in supermarkets, inside your school, in local music schools, and most importantly inside the neighborhood recording/rehearsal studios, and music stores. Just about every Sam Ash I ever walked into has their entrance walls lined with postings.
Bandmix is an awesome resource that not enough people yet know about. You can search for musicians using your zip code, or you can post your own ad and profile. It’s very user friendly, and free. I only recently found out about this, and was astounded by the amount of active members I found within my 50 mile search radius.
Facebook and other social media:
Just get the word out, but do it with tact. Posting every hour and spamming your friends is not attractive. If you want to be a little more creative, design a flyer and start circulating that. Ask friends if they’d be willing to pass the word along.
Going to open mics and community jams is a great way to meet other musicians. It can be a bit intimidating however for someone just starting out. If you don’t know of any in your area, research them just as you would anything else – Google “NYC (your area) open mic”. If you’re under 21 in many places this won’t be an option as they’re generally held in clubs and bars, but it might be worth a quick internet search anyhow. Note that you don’t have to play, you can just show up and see what goes on. Then you can prepare and bring your instrument next time.
Checking out other bands:
I’m not a fan of this method, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. Some people get friendly with other bands, and then ask members if they’d be interested in an additional project. Most musicians I know successfully play in more than one band. I’ve played in as many as 5 active bands and 1 time, so I know it can be done. There are those however might be sensitive about this and think you’re trying to “steal” their prized guitarist or drummer. A lot of tact and sensitivity is needed if you plan on going this route. There are many instances where someone is really itching to get involved in something else. Please tread carefully.
All the above are the basics. There are other websites like Bandmix you can easily search out. You could hang out in music stores if you’re the outgoing type. You could even find people on street corners, parks, and train stations. If you belong to a religious congregation many of them have bands that are eager to get new musicians onboard. Another great place to meet other local talent.
That pretty much wraps up the where of finding people. There are of course many other things you’ll want to consider regarding your search, but I’ll be covering them separately. It’s important to know what kind of band you’re looking to start, who will be a good fit (and that might go against what you currently think), and how to create an effective ad. Most importantly, you should know that your search for musicians should never slow you down in the creation of the band you’re dreaming of. You can always move forward in the formative process, which will be explored in detail in the article, starting a band backwards.
With this and all content on resourcefulmusican.com, I welcome all your questions and comments.