So you have some equipment, and you have honed your skills. It’s time to think about starting a band! But there are tons of things that you could learn the hard way, and today we are going to look at all the small details that will help you on your journey to the stage.
Starting A Band: It’s More Complicated Than You Think…
Starting a band and getting on stage is the end goal for a ton of guitarists. Sure, for a lot of guitar players, starting a band is the last thing on their minds. Some people just want to jam at home, and there is nothing wrong with that! Some people like myself, had other goals in mind. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I wanted to be in a band.
Starting a band seems like an easy idea, at first. You just need to get some other musicians to play with you, right?
Well, yes… and No. It depends at which level you plan to play. Do you want to be a PRO?
It may seem deceptively easy at first, but being in a band is complex and should be looked at like it’s a machine. There are constantly moving parts that all have to be synchronized at all times. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and know how to work together. But all of that seems like a given.
The reality, is starting a band is harder than it looks. But it’s also highly rewarding! I have played 100’s of shows in my time, and I do not regret a single moment. In fact, I doubt that I am done playing live. I may never be done, because I love it so much.
Today we are going to break down all of the important parts of being in a band, and starting a band from scratch. You will notice that this guide is not so much music focused. That’s because being in a band is only really partially about the music you create. It’s actually more like business school!
This guide is from a PRO point of view, and can get you started on your path. It can also be helpful for the casual gig player. However, the focus is on making this your job, and your livelihood. Let’s get started!
Starting A Band: Finding Members
Finding band members is probably the hardest part of starting a band. It may seem simple at first, because you probably know a ton of people that make music. But being in a band, and I will use this comparison a a lot, is like being married.
These days there are tons of ways to find other musicians online. Places like Bandmix have great options for finding new musicians that are ready to play. Facebook is pretty handy as well for meeting people. Using the internet to find band members is a great way to start, right?
That’s not a bad idea, but I have always thought that going and seeing other bands play is a good way to find musicians as well. If you are starting a band, maybe go and check out Open Mic Night at a venue, or go see a local show. You should already have an idea of what you’re looking for, though.
So first and foremost, you are going to want to be friends and have some sort of personal chemistry. Just like a partner you would marry, right? When starting a band, you also want to make sure everyone has the same goals and expectations. If you want to eventually tour the country, but your band wants to just stay local, this is a problem. Make sure everyone is on the same page!
It’s always a good idea to have similar schedules to be able to practice. Personally, I think that two practices a week is a great start. Make sure everyone is on the same page about the practice schedule!
It’s also important that everyone has the gear needed to play. You do not need pro-level equipment to play shows when you’re first starting a band. But you DO need adequate equipment. You certainly don’t want to show up with a practice amp and expect to play a show.
At the end of the day, you also want to find some people that do not have any addiction issues. This is an ugly topic, but it will ruin a band quickly. You can’t live the “rockstar life” and expect to get somewhere in the industry. Being sober, and level headed is the only way to go about being in a band these days.
One bad band member can ruin the band for everyone else. Always keep that in mind.
Starting A Band: Learn Your Music Community
When people are starting a band, this often gets overlooked. You should definitely know your local music community. If you want to be in a Metal band, you should befriend the other local Metal bands. These are the guys you’re going to be playing shows with!
Being friendly with other bands and artists not only opens up doors to possibilities, it also gets you acquainted with the venues. It’s important to learn which venues host the type of shows and events you are looking for. I like to go to local shows and see what kind of crowd frequents the different venues. This is a great way to gauge your audience, and meet more people in the community. You’re not just meeting people, you’re meeting potential future fans.
Being a part of your local music community can be a huge deal. It can hook you up with future shows, help you meet new musicians, and the best part… you will be regarded as part of the community! Most local scenes are a big family that helps one another out. This is definitely something you need to be a part of, and remember to be helpful from the get-go. Building a reputation and report’ with other musicians is everything in this business.
So, go to shows. Talk to new people. Familiarize yourself with the “scene”.
Starting A Band: Originality
This one might hurt a little bit. But, it’s the truth.
Are you original? Do you have a sound that is interesting? It may be hard to look at your own band, objectively. But this is something you definitely need to do before your first show. No one wants to pay to see a carbon copy of another band. There’s nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve. But there is a difference between influenced and copying.
Promoters will often ask you to list what you sound like in the form of comparing yourself to other bands. Be truthful about this. But also know that you have to put your own unique spin on your material. There are 1000’s of bands out there… what makes you different?
It’s also important to look the part. This may sound obvious, but I have seen tons of bands take the stage in casual clothes that definitely do not fit the music. Remember that you are putting on a show, and not just showcasing your music! Having a “look” is part of the total package when it comes to starting a band, and it’s something that should be discussed among the members.
I know all of this sounds kind of silly. You’re probably picturing how you will ask your drummer “Hey, what are you wearing tomorrow night at the gig?”. It sounds silly, but it matters to the audience!
Be original. Look the part!
Starting A Band: Roles Within The Band
This is a big one that often gets overlooked as well. At it’s core, no matter what level, your band is a business and should be ran like one. Everyone in the band should be assigned a role, based on their strengths and weaknesses. This way, you have all your bases covered, and things stay organized.
I have been in plenty of bands that did not have clearly defined roles, and it was a huge mess. You never knew if you had a show coming up, or if your social media accounts were up to date… it was a disaster. Looking back, it’s easy for me to see why those bands did not pan out.
When starting the band, decide first who is going to do the booking. Maybe someone in the band has more connections than everyone else. Maybe no one has connections? No matter what the case may be, someone needs to be in charge of setting up the shows and making the final calls when it comes to booking.
The same goes for social media, and promotion. Someone needs to be in charge of the social media accounts and make sure they are up to date. This person would also be in charge of posting updates for shows, and any promotional material. Answering emails… etc.
This is just a personal thing, but I think one or two people should be the primary songwriters. Of course the band will have input on songs, but when it comes to shaping your unique sound… the less people involved, the better. You may disagree, and that’s why I said that I prefer this personally. I have been on both sides of this role: as the songwriter, and as “just the guitar/bass player”.
Assign roles and duties and split up the work between band members.
Starting A Band: PRACTICE
I know you’re probably eager to get out there and play a show if you are starting a band. But first, you have to make sure you have a show to actually perform! This one also seems like a no-brainer, but I don’t think too many bands think this through before hitting the stage the first time.
Obviously, you should know your material. Duh, right? But you should practice your set list until you are sick of it. Until you can play it in your sleep. Until you can play it backwards and forwards. If there is a passage in a song that needs attention, the time to address the issue is at practice, not on the stage.
Everyone should also practice individually at home. I would often spend an hour every day running through my band’s songs, even if I were confident that I knew the material. The key take-away here is consistency. You want to be consistent with your performance at every show. This comes from muscle memory, practice, and constant performance. Even big bands on tour practice!
As a rule of thumb, you should have 45 minutes of material ready to be played live. Most venues may not give you that amount of time, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Most venues will give you thirty minutes. However…
ANYTHING CAN AND WILL HAPPEN. If you learn nothing else from this article, then this is the main thing to remember. You never know what is going to happen, and being prepared is the only way around potential disaster. So while most venues will offer you only thirty minutes.. what if the next band is late? What if another band didn’t show up? Now you have extra time to fill, and you should always be ready should this be the case.
I also suggest learning a couple of cover songs as well. Pick some popular songs that you and your bandmates know well. Not only can this be a time filler, covers can also be a secret weapon if something seems to be going wrong at a show. You could get halfway through the set, and realize that the crowd might be losing interest. It’s time to whip out the cover song!
Being prepared for any situation is key.
Starting A Band: Booking Your First Show
It can be intimidating to finally book your first show. At this point you’re practiced, and you have a good setlist. Most venues will have an email contact on their website to deal with booking inquiries. Some venues prefer that method. But, I like to approach things differently.
I think it is much more beneficial to show up to the venue in person, and speak to the person that books shows. This is not only more personable, but it saves time on details. If you show up in person and they say that you should email them, then by all means, do it their way.
Sometimes a venue, or an event may seem “out of your league”. Don’t let this intimidate you! I like to think about “The 50/50 Rule” when approaching a show that seems too big for my band. It never hurts to ask. The absolute worst thing that someone could say to you, is NO. But, they could also say YES! Self-confidence goes a long way when dealing with promoters, and you could land a big gig.
Once the show is confirmed, you need a checklist of information that will be crucial to your performance. I always ask about these things:
- Sound System/Backline/PA System
- How many bands are playing?
- What time do we play?
- What time is Load In?
- Is there already a flyer/promotion? If so, who is handling it?
- Is this a paid show? If so, what is our cut?
- Is there any age restriction?
- Are there any sponsors?
- Anything special we should bring with us?
These questions should clear up any doubts you may have, and make the night run smoothly. Most venues are more than happy to answer any questions you have. It never hurts to tell them it’s your first show also, as they may offer even more beneficial information.
I also like to check local events to see if there is something else going on the night of the show. If the State Fair is happening that weekend, it may effect your draw. Likewise, if there is another band playing that night, at another venue, your draw may be affected. Take into consideration these factors when planning a gig. and most importantly…
DO NOT CANCEL UNLESS SOMEONE DIED. Seriously, do not cancel a show unless it’s an emergency. Last minute cancellations wreak havoc on the venues, promoters, and other bands. It also guarantees that you will probably never play that venue again. It’s tough love, but it’s also honest!
I told you, starting a band is like being in business school, right?
Starting A Band: Etiquette
This is another “ugly” topic, because I have seen so many bands get to the point of playing shows, and completely blow it. At the beginning of the article, I mentioned picking the right band members. This is the #1 reason why!
During Load In and Soundcheck: First of all, be on time for load in. In fact, be early. Once you get your gear inside the venue, follow any directions that are given to you by the stagehands and sound people. This is their venue, you are just a guest. Do whatever is asked of you, and if you have any questions, now is the time to address them with the venue personnel.
Before The Show: You should be on your very best behavior, whether this is your first show, or the 200th show. This means not getting wasted at the bar, or causing a scene. It also means interacting with fans, and potential future fans. Being polite and keeping your attitude in check will get you a long way in the music business. I cannot stress all of this enough, as I have seen great bands with bad personalities. Those bands? They went nowhere.
If there is a backstage area, leave it the way it was when you came in. Introduce yourselves to the other bands that are playing that night, if you don’t already know each other. If you have merchandise, ask the venue where you can set up shop. Most venues have a specific area for you to sell merch.
After The Show: At the end of the show, make sure you thank the venue contact, and all of the staff of the venue for letting you play. Be humble, and let them know that you appreciate the opportunity to play. Make sure any tabs are paid, and let them know if you would like to play at that venue again, as they may ask you to play again next week. Common curtesy speaks volumes!
Make sure you have all of your gear before you leave. I like to make a list of everything that was taken to the venue. Which brings us to…
Starting A Band: Back Up Your Backup!
ANYTHING CAN AND WILL HAPPEN!
This is especially true when it comes to gear, accessories, and anything you need for the show. I like to bring a “safety bag” with me to every show. Inside this safety bag, I have everything I need should a disaster happen. This means extra cables, a personal microphone, extra power strips, extension cords, batteries… you get the idea.
If you are the guitar player, and you plan on playing gigs regularly, it would behoove you to have a backup guitar. This backup guitar does not have to be anything amazing or special. It just has to be reliable enough to get you through your set should your main guitar break a string. Actually… there are a million things that could go wrong with your main guitar, so always have a backup ready to go. Have the backup tuned, and ready to grab should something go wrong.
This same principle goes for everyone in the band. Everyone should have their own “field kit” for their instruments and gear. Because if something is going to go wrong, it will probably happen while you’re on stage.
I also like for everyone to have a setlist on stage. It doesn’t matter if you have played the same songs in order for the last six months. Make a setlist and print it out for everyone. If your brain would ever pick a time to poop out on you, it would be in the middle of a show!
Always have a backup plan, and then have a backup for your backup!
Starting A Band: It’s Not All Fun And Games
Hopefully, after everything we have discussed here, you have set up and played your first show. Congrats!
If this all sounds like a lot of work…it’s because it is! Starting a band is not an easy task, even for experienced players. But the good news is, it gets easier the longer you do it. Once you fall into a groove, and get used to the process, things go smoothly. And to be honest, it is really only as hard as you make it!
Now, this guide is certainly not for everyone.
Some people are fine with having a cover band, or just playing out infrequently. This guide is for people who want to do this at a professional level. And things at a professional level, are definitely more intense than just being the local bar band. In the next articles, we will look at:
- Constructing a Setlist
- Booking your first tour
- Gear Choices
- Should I get a Booking agent/manager?
- Submitting to labels
- Making an EP
- Spotify and other streaming
Until next time, keep rocking!
Is starting a band hard?
Yes, and No. having a successful band relies on a lot of things, but finding the right people is the key.
Can I make a living by starting a band?
You certainly can! But it’s a lot of work, sometimes more than your average day job. However, it is more rewarding!
Am I too young to start a band?
You’re never too young! Many cities have all-ages venues and events made for people of all ages.