The purpose of this article is to give you some helpful little bits of information in regards to starting, and leading, your own band. This is, by no means, scientific. I’m basing these “rules” off my years of running active groups. I’m sure you readers have some other great ideas and tips, and I would love for you to add those in the comments.
First things first… the band:
So you have some really great tunes you’ve been working on, and you’re ready to unveil them to thousands upon thousands of eager and adoring fans. The problem is, no one wants to hear one guy blowing away on a harp. You’ll probably need a drummer, bass player, guitar player, singer, keyboard player, and whatever else your creative little heart desires. So how should you go about finding the members to this soon-to-be-multi-platinum group? First off, you should start with your friends. You’re a musician, and you probably have a decent number of musician friends. You’ve probably jammed with these cats a couple times, and the familiarity will go a long way in building band chemistry. But let’s invent a hypothetical dilemma… John is your best friend, but he’s only decent at the drum kit. Jim on the other hand is an animal (Muppets jokes are the best) back there, but you are barely acquaintances. Who should you call first? You call Jim every time. 365. 24/7. If you want to achieve anything, you need talent. Chemistry can be built, but, most of the time, talent cannot. The only real exception to this rule I make is for the relationship between the drummer and the bass player. These two NEED to be on the same page from day one. So if Jim has a decent bass player he absolutely loves playing with, you should probably try him or her first.
The first (and subsequent) rehearsals:
There are some costs that go into running a group that most people overlook. Most of them deal with rehearsal space. Where will your group practice? I’m lucky enough to have no children and an extra bedroom in my house, so I’ve got it made in the shade, but I assume most of you aren’t so fortunate. From my experience, it really is best to work out rehearsals at a member’s house over renting a space simply because renting a space creates a financial burden. Nothing sucks the creativity out of a room like telling everyone they owe you their monthly 100 bucks for rent. This is especially true in the beginning when the band isn’t making much in the way of money. Another cost that most people overlook is the PA system. This is an absolute necessity. First off, I think we can all agree that actually hearing vocals at rehearsal is pretty awesome. (On a side note, I once played in a group that didn’t have a PA. Our singer just sang out loud to practice with us, and he was always drowned out. When no one in the band even knows the vocal melody, it probably won’t work out well.) It will also save you valuable space in your rehearsal setup since your vocalist, keyboard player, and even your guitar player (in a pinch) can all go into one rig.
Being the leader… rehearsals and beyond:
It should be established early on that there is a band leader, because democracy is for wimps. That band leader should, preferably, be you, since you started the group. That doesn’t mean this group needs to be an “insertyournamehere-tatorship,” but someone needs to take the reins. The band leader needs to coordinate rehearsals (This is probably the worst part of the job. I thank the heavens every day for group text messaging.), run rehearsals, make sure Jim isn’t too drunk, and occasionally pay for Jim to get his belongings back after his weekend stay at the local prison (true story). It’s a lot to handle. In our modern age of technology, you can probably throw in running all of the band’s social media accounts just for good measure.
Do you have a pretty awesome cellular plan? You’ll probably need it. Even if you set a weekly rehearsal day and time, you are still going to need to play some serious phone tag. I often compare running a group to herding cats, and this is the worst part of the job. Your members will find all kinds of creative ways to throw a wrench in the works. “My cousin’s sister’s brother’s roommate is getting married. Can we do five o’clock instead of noon?” This will almost always lead to a conflict with another member’s schedule, resulting in a drastically different time or cancelling the rehearsal altogether. The key is to not get frustrated and to keep plugging along. Your band needs to rehearse, and you need to arrange it. Running rehearsals can be very easy or extremely challenging, depending on your group. If you have a bunch of goofballs, it can be almost impossible to keep them on task. In this situation, I find it best to have a written list of things that need to be accomplished in a certain time frame. That tends to keep them in line. If you are lucky enough to get some disciplined guys, kick back and relax, because all you need to do is go with the flow.
Getting your first gig:
So your group has been rehearsing for the last month or so, and you have an hour or so of music, but no one will respond to your desperately worded emails asking to open for Charlie Musselwhite. Life is hard, and so is booking. The truth is that you’re going about booking all wrong. Does anyone outside of your immediate friends and family know that your group exists? I doubt it. You’re just getting your feet wet. Without name recognition, no venue will ever book you for any decent gig. So how do we remedy this situation? Let’s refer back to the first section. Remember all those musician friends you probably have? They probably play in bands, right? Didn’t one of them borrow a drill from you that one time? Don’t they owe you one? Nepotism isn’t always such a bad thing. Use these connections to hop on other people’s bills. Once you are booking your own gigs, return the favor and do the same for other new groups. When you’re starting out, resist the urge to play with other brand new groups. Always, always, always, 100% of the time try to book with a band that has a few more fans than you. If you follow that rule, you won’t play to very many empty rooms (which we all know is the lowest sanctum of hell for a musician).
Where do you go from here?
You’ve got the band, you’ve got a functioning rehearsal setup, and you’ve got a gig under your belt… what now? The important thing is to keep plugging away. Quite often, groups have a tendency to slack off on the rehearsals once they start getting booked. That is the wrong path. Keep the discipline high, and keep your eye on the prize. You should be constantly perfecting your existing material and working on new material. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is ever good enough.
I hope this helps, and I wish you all good luck.
My name is Nathan Heck, and I am the lead technician at Lone Wolf Blues Company, where I have worked since 2009. I studied bass at Southeastern Louisiana University, where I received a minor in music. I also have been an actively gigging bass player in the New Orleans area for the last seven years.