Starting a band can be a tough thing to do. It takes time to find the right people who you form chemistry with as well as play their instruments. I’ve been in three bands now so I think I have an idea on what works and doesn’t work.
Full disclaimer: I haven’t played a show in about 15 years. I had a punk rock band in high school and shortly after graduating we were doing shows. I ended up causing the break up of that band as I found the punk genre and culture to be rather limiting. So, I left.
After a long time of just doing my own thing with my buddy Rob, we finally decided to make an effort about 3 years ago. We had a “WTF are we doing?” moment and asked ourselves why we weren’t starting a band again. I can now confidently say we are likely only a few months away from doing our first show.
Rob and I had a band early on in our relationship, but it fell apart due to differences in tastes and goals between half of us in the band. Starting a new band has been a long process for Rob and I. Part of it is life happening, and part of it is just being content with what we were doing at the time. Since deciding to kick our own butts into gear, I have certainly figured out some things that work and don’t work.
Here are some basic things you can do to make sure your band doesn’t fall apart before you even play your first show.
1. Starting a band? Start a group messaging thread.
As with any type of relationship, communication is key. Forming a band is forming and maintaining a relationship. The simplest and easiest way to make sure everyone is one the same page and knows what’s going on is to have a group messaging thread.
We recently switched from iMessage to WhatsApp. We found that iMessage wasn’t a great group messaging platform unless everyone had an iPhone. Now we know everyone sees everyone else’s messages and it’s easy to coordinate rehearsals, discuss songs, and any other important priorities.
This is the simplest thing you can do to ensure everyone knows what’s going on and what the plan is.
2. Don’t worry about your band name yet.
I’ve heard of bands starting out and they spend more time bickering over a band name than actually playing. Unless you have a great idea for a band name right off the bat, trying to pick a name should be one of the last things on your mind. Focus on playing your instrument and playing as a group before spending copious amounts of time on what your band name should be.
Personally, I hate trying to come up with band names. There’s something about most band names that make me cringe, but it is a necessity when you’re looking to start putting yourself out there. I used Band Name Maker for my ideas because I lack originality with band name ideas. Long story short, I pretty much told the guys in my band to pick some names they like, and I’ll just tell them which ones I dislike the least. Sounds like we might be running with “Chased Fate” or “Chasing Fate”. Beats the hell out of “5 guys 1 cup”.
The point of this is that choosing a band name is something you can always have in the back of your mind, but there is no need to make it a priority until you are getting ready to put yourself out there.
3. Rehearse at least once a week.
Make practicing as a group a priority, and a general rule of thumb I like to abide by is at least once a week. No matter how much you play on your own you cannot underestimate the value in playing all together as a group. This is where on-stage communication starts to form and get refined. It is where you can practice your show. It is where you figure out parts that still need work.
Now you actually can say you are starting a band.
If you are not rehearsing at least once a week, making any progress towards shows or recording is going to go at a snail’s pace. I like rehearsing twice a week and lately we’ve been able to make this work. It seems to allow things to progress quicker and less time is spent trying to figure out parts from the last jam.
This also leads into my next point.
4. Don’t rush to do your first show.
This almost ended my old punk rock band from high school, and it was the beginning of the end for the first band Rob and I were in together.
As a band, there is nothing more embarrassing than making a fool of yourself on a stage. I remember in my punk rock band we were offered to play a show because another band bailed. Everyone in our band wanted to play the show, except for me. I remember from the initial discussion all the way up to show time saying, “We’re not ready”. I became a source of anger and frustration for at least half the band. There were regular arguments on the phone and during rehearsals over the week leading up to the show. Finally, we did the show. It was a disaster.
I’ll never forget when my guitarist messaged me on MSN messenger the day after the show and apologized. He realized what I was getting at.
Everyone needs to know their parts, the song structures, and what everyone else is doing before you get up on stage. You need to practice the show itself before doing it on the stage. You need to be able to play complete songs, not parts of songs. Having a 20 minute set list is almost guaranteed not to cut it either. The moral of the story is practice.
5. Practice on your own.
This should generally go without saying but if you are still relatively new to your instrument, you will need to find time to practice on your own. If you’re in a cover band, I would even consider listening to the original recording of the songs you’re covering as a form of practice. It helps you to become familiar with the structure.
Let’s put it this way, there is no way you will be able to play a live show as a band if you can’t even play your instrument. Starting a band starts with being able to play an instrument.
6. Wear ear plugs.
If you saw my video where I did a tour of my drum kit, roughly half way through you would have heard my brief comment about ear plugs. I’ll reiterate it here for you:
“If your ears are ringing after you’re jammin’, you’re an idiot.”
Unless you are playing small solid-state amps, an electric drum kit, or your drummer hits their skins with their purse, you should probably wear some kind of hearing protection. Ringing ears are no good and regular exposure will lead to tinnitus. Thankfully I figured this out in my punk rock days and have been using ear protection ever since. I can’t say the same for some other people I’ve jammed with. If you are starting a band, start wearing ear plugs.
Oh, and before any of you social justice warriors or hardcore feminazis get pissed at my “hits their skins with their purse” comment, learn to hit like this girl. She may not be smashing the crap out of her drums (because you don’t have to), but she’s hitting them with authority and purpose. She’s solid. Nothing wrong with hitting like a girl, everything is wrong when you hit with your purse.
7. Video tape or record your jam sessions.
I wish I started doing this earlier. Ever since I started video taping and/or recording our jam sessions, we’ve been able to pick up things we’re missing. In a jam session it’s easy to miss some important, yet small subtle nuances. You also get to see what you actually look like playing. It gives you an entirely different perspective on your band and it can be very useful.
I wouldn’t say this is a must, but in today’s day and age with smart phones and inexpensive recording technology you shouldn’t have much difficulty. I think this is a very valuable method of critiquing and improving your abilities as a band.
8. Vocalists, invest in amplification for your voice.
This was one of our pet peeves with trying to find a singer. I couldn’t believe how many singers didn’t have some way of amplifying their voice. Mind you, finding a decent singer could be one of the hardest things to do when starting a band. It took us two years and numerous auditions to find Ben.
I’m going to put it how Justin (my other guitarist) put it. We’ve all spent time and money on learning to play our instruments and having reliable gear, how is the singer any different? Why do we have to supply their PA speaker all the time?
Drummers have drums, guitarists have guitars and amps, vocalists should have a microphone and a PA speaker.
You don’t need to break the bank either. A basic microphone and a single self-powered PA speaker is all you need. Go rent one if you have to. Just make sure you can be heard!
9. Sort out transportation issues early on so everyone can get to the rehearsal.
This can kill a band early on. If someone doesn’t have a reliable way to get to and from rehearsals, I guarantee you will be looking to fill their spot. Think about transportation. Think about ways of making it easier too.
I realize everyone has different circumstances, but one thing to make things easy is to leave some equipment at your jam space if you can. This will minimize what you need to transport back and forth. If someone needs to take public transit, I can see carting around a heavy guitar amp being really tough.
If two members live close by, carpool. However, if one member lives pretty far from everyone, relying on someone else for a ride all the time is going to get very difficult.
Be responsible for your own transportation. Don’t be afraid to ask for a ride here or there, but if the terms of you being in a band require you to rely on other people to get to and from your jams, you’re probably not going to last long. Starting a band with someone who has unreliable means of getting to rehearsals will never work.
10. Don’t get wasted during jam sessions.
I put this here for virtually the same reason I put it in my post, 7 Things You Need To Do Before Entering The Recording Studio. If you are getting f*cked up (alcohol or otherwise), you’re probably not going to be playing very well. You’ll be making mistakes in areas you normally don’t, and you will be struggling in the areas that still need work.
There’s nothing wrong with having a few beers while you are jamming. We do it all the time. But no one gets white girl wasted because then it just gets messy and harder to actually play. I certainly notice a difference in my playing if I’ve had a few extra drinks. That’s why I tone it back on how much I drink during a jam session. You’re starting a band, not a party. If you are going to get banged up, do it after you are done jamming.