Putting Together an Effective Band
Putting together an effective, serious band is probably one of the greatest challenges that any musician faces. Some people spent there whole musical career without finding a decent group of people to play with. Why is this so hard to do? We are going to take a look into this problem and some recommendations on how to fix it.
Problem 1 – Finding the Right People
Finding the right people to create a serious band, for some reason, is one of the most difficult things on earth to do. Here are some challenges to creating the perfect band:
1) Finding people with a common musical goal
2) Finding people who you get along with
3) Finding people who are talented
4) Finding people who don’t have drug alcohol problems (unless that is your thing)
5) Finding people who are actually serious about becoming professional musicians
6) Finding people who don’t have huge egos
7) Finding people who are willing to sacrifice when times are difficult
The list goes on. I’m sure that many of you can relate to many of these problems. So, how can a musician like yourself, find a decent band? Let us take a look at some ideas.
The first challenge is to find people who have a common musical goal. Not to dim your light of hope, but the odds of finding enough people that are interested in making the same style of music that you play in the same city (unless it is a major city), are slim. This is especially a problem for people who live in smaller towns that aren’t located anywhere near larger cities. Finding the necessary people to create a band can involve commuting great distances to practice and gig with a band. If this is the situation that you are in, you need to seriously consider relocating. Again, as with anything, it comes down to how serious are you about being a professional, and at what level are you willing to sacrifice to make your dreams a reality. In my opinion, playing with a band is crucial to your own personal development as a guitarist. Relocation problems like this can be extremely detrimental to guitarists that are teenagers and can not drive or can not afford a car. So, if what I am describing is you, then let us take a look at some of our options.
One possibility is to search for other musicians on the internet. The home recording revolution has made it very easy to collaborate online. I’ve spoken to people that write all of there music online and then get together a few times a year to perform it live as a band. All you need these days is a cheap sound card with some kind of 1/4 input, a cheap microphone (or amp modeler like the Line 6 POD), and some cheap software to record yourself. Nothing is better than jamming out in a room with your amp turned up to 10, but if you can only get a band together for practice once in a while, this maybe a serious option in terms of writing music and collaborating.
Another cool idea that uses the internet is to take a messaging program and have real time chat / jamming over the internet. This works exceptionally well with 2 guitarists. You could even use web cams to write music. Again, all of these are just possibilities that should be explored. I’ve had success jamming online with simple programs like AOL Instant messenger. There are many programs out there that are designed for video conferencing and other applications of this nature as well.
The next great barrier to putting together an effective band is finding people who are actually talented and serious. Finding people just to jam with is difficult, but few things are harder to do than find really talented, driven people, who not only share your musical goal, but don’t have drug or alcohol problems. Not to make things more complicated, but it is also essential that you are able to get along with these people and put together an effective band. Often, many bands are put together with one or more members lacking in these areas. Few things can be more frustrating than dealing with a band member than doesn’t practice, never shows up on time, and doesn’t care. This causes many problems in bands.
It is starting to seem like the chances of putting together an awesome band is close to impossible! But, let us be optimistic and say that there are many bands out there that do get lucky and find winning combinations. So, if you are frustrated by many failed attempts, don’t despair! There is always hope. I had to audition 13 drummers just to find one good enough to play the type of material I wanted to play. We never gave up as a band, we just decided that we would either get someone exceptionally talented and motivated, or we wouldn’t waste our time with less. If that is the attitude you have, then you can’t go wrong. It is simply a numbers game. If your not finding musicians who are good enough, then you need to advertise more and go find some. Again, it comes down to how much you want it. If you are completely obsessed with putting together an awesome band, then you will search high and low and not rest until you find something that you deem acceptable. The good thing is that talent is usually attracted to each other. Good musicians only like to play with other good musicians.
Dealing With People
Once you have a band, the hardest part is always dealing with people. No matter how good of friends you are with someone, you are always going to have disagreements. Sometimes, very vicious ones. This is especially apparent when you are touring. You can not truly imagine how difficult it is working with people until you’ve played shows 4 days in a row, haven’t slept for more than 3 hours on any of those days, and all you do everyday is sit on a bus with your band annoying the hell out of each other for 10+ hours a day. Once this goes on for several days, you will start to see a level of complaining, frustration, and out of control tempers unlike anything you may of previously imagined. The trick to being an effective band is to always make a personal effort to be more understanding and tolerant than you usually are. From personal experience I can tell you that you have to literally go out of your way to make sure that you are more level headed with your temper than normal.
Being in a professional band is also like being married. Who would of ever thought that little things like someone leaving a towel on the floor can annoy your spouse so much that you get into a huge argument about it. Ever seen your parents fight about something completely stupid? Everyone has there quarks and and habits. When someone continually violates one of yours with out knowing about it enough times, there are going to be problems. It is amazing some of the things I’ve seen people get angry over. There are going to be times when you will be joking around with the band, things will get out of hand, and someone accidentally gets hurt. If you are the unlucky one here, you will probably want to dismember each and everyone in the band at those points in time, but you need to always keep in your head that it is necessary to calm down and move on for the good of the band. If your the one that accidentally hurt a band mate, it is then your job to diffuse the situation, even if it was the other person’s fault for screwing around.
After playing together with the same people for several years, you are going to know exactly how to piss everyone in the band off, how to get people riled up, how to offend people, and the list goes on. You will literally learn every quark of each person’s personality. This is when things become the most dangerous. When you are arguing and someone gets a little too upset and the venom starts flying, things can get ugly quick. Always remember, that like anything in life, there are ups and downs. You will have moments of glory and success in your band, and you will have moments when you think that the whole band is going to kill each other. Being successful in dealing with people relies heavily on having open communication. If there is a problem, don’t sit on it and get angry, take care of it immediately. If something upsets you, make sure you talk about it. Most problems occur from the lack of communication about them. Never let your temper get in the way of finding a solution to a problem. This is easier said than done. The last thing anyone wants to do when you are extremely pissed off at someone is talk to that person and resolve the tension. Make the effort to communicate everything with your band and to make sure that they are on the same page as you. In the long run, things will run much smoother. By now, I’ve probably bored you with enough psychology crap, let’s get back to talking about music.
Music is a Business
The biggest mistake most people make is to think that playing as a professional musician is just about music. You have to be equally the businessman as you are the musician. If you think I am full of crap, try signing a recording contract without knowing how to read one. It is amazing how many artists get completely screwed out of everything they have because they don’t know anything about contracts and business. Music is a business with a lot of smoke and mirrors in it. There are a lot of scammers and con artists that are just waiting to rip you off. Being well versed in things like accounting, contract law, and etc, will give you a significant advantage. My band saves tons of money each year because I know how to do accounting and what tax advantages I can use to get us the most money possible. Did you know setting up your band as a legal entity protects all of your personal assets in case you get sued? Knowing little things like that give you huge results in the end.
Taking a very business like approach to your band is very important for your success. Here are some things to think about that should be discussed and delegated to your band members:
* Who is going to do you bookings? Who is going to compile the database of contacts you develop and how are you going to maintain it?
* Who is going to maintain the website? Do you even have a website yet? How are you going to generate traffic to your website?
* What kind of goals does the band have? Are they written down on paper with progress reports to benchmark your performance?
* Who is going to do all of your accounting and taxes? Do you fully understand the advantages of purchasing assets with pre-tax income as opposed to post-tax income? Most people don’t. You should!!!!!
* How are you going to fund activities like festival fees, demo/CD recording, press kits, legal fees, etc…
* Is every member in your band contributing something daily to make your band more well known?
* Does your band have a written plan? What, did you actually think that playing the local bar every weekend is going to get you signed on a major label???!!!!
All of these points should be thoroughly discussed among your band and the work should be delegated equally. I find it amazing how many bands that are really good, never go anywhere just because they are too lazy to make it happen for themselves. Be smart, treat your band like a business. There is a reason successful people are successful. It isn’t because they get lucky. It is because they put themselves in the position to get lucky.
Being in a band is fun. But, nothing beats being in a serious band, working hard, and then tasting success. If you truly want to do the music thing, you really need to think some of the things we just discussed. There is so much more to being a musician than just playing guitar. Ever spend 9 1/2 hours putting together press kits and filing out address information on 6×9 mailers only to spend $200+ dollars at the post office the next day? It sucks and there is not one thing fun about it. But, believe me, if you really have the true desire to become a professional musician, you will. Be smart about it. Be realistic with your expectations. Most importantly, have fun doing it! You only live once. The bottom line is that you can accomplish anything you want to in life. The real question is: At what cost and what are you willing to sacrifice to do so?
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