This is the first in a three part series looking at how to form a band. If you've decided you don't want to be a solo act and are instead interested in putting together a professional or semi-professional band with the aim of gigging regularly and making money, this is the guide for you. It's step by step and easy to follow, you just need to put into practice what you learn.
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Note: This guide was contributed by Ruth Graham, band leader of the contemporary Birmingham Irish wedding band Celtic Clan.
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Potential Risks When Forming A Band
Now I’m guessing some of you will have seen The Commitments – the 1970s film of a fledgling Irish soul band with talent in spades. After a tortuous process, they formed and started gigging. Eventually though, they were torn apart by inside arguments, relationship issues, and ultimately, different aims for the band.
Does this ring true for you? Have you ever played in a band where the keyboard player hated the drummer? Where the bandleader was sleeping with the girl singer and causing ill-feelings all round? Or where someone was creaming off a bit more than the others when it came to pay time?
Perhaps you’re new to bands, and this has all yet to come (or hopefully not). Whatever the case, you can avoid many potential pitfalls and problems by taking the process of creating a band seriously. You really need to plan things from the bottom up, and this is what we're going to help you with today.
The potential for problems within a band is enormous. By definition, everyone will have a creative or artistic streak, with many others having an ego to boot. It’s not a great recipe for longevity, so as a bandleader, I’d like to share with you some of my experiences. Here's what I've learned on how to put together, market and promote a professional band for the long run. This guide should help you avoid all of the mistakes I’ve made and / or seen along the way.
Creating The Vision And Sound Of The Band
Ok, so let's make a band! Before anything else, the first step of this process is to work out the look and sound of your group.
Seriously; if you don’t know what you want your band ‘to be’, how can you create it? How are you going to describe yourself when people ask what you do? It’s vital you can tell them, and that the idea of what you are sticks in their minds for future reference.
So, ask yourself a few key questions:
- What genre or genres of music will you be playing?
- Who is likely to want to hear your music?
Will it be a hype audience who will want to stand and rock out to your sounds?
Or will it be a more mellow crowd who'd enjoy sitting and chilling out to your band?
- Will you be a pub band that tours a load of pubs?
- Will you be a more general wedding type band with a cross-section of music to appeal to all?
Once you’ve decided on these things, you also need to ask yourself:
- How many people will it take to make this vision come to life?
- What will the band line-up look like – a mixed male / female group, or one sex only?
- How do you want people in the band to look?
The last point is a very important one, you really do need to ‘look’ the part… All of you. It’s important to find a visual match that complements the look of the band. One person that stands out for the wrong reasons will pull focus away from the music, so make sure this isn't the case.
A good way to handle this problem is to ensure that everyone will be willing to dress in the same style. You don't have to wear uniformed clothing or anything (Although that is an option), but you should however all match in style.
Do Research On Other Bands
If you're going to make a band and get your style right, you first need to do some research. Look online at similar bands, and see what they are doing both in terms of looks and music. What do you like? Could you adapt it for your own band? What doesn’t work and why?
During this process, you'll want to work out a few things. If you're not already sure, you'll need to establish what genre of music you're going to make. If there's no genre 100% suiting what you want from the band, you could even create a new one. If you do this however, you need to make sure you're able to explain the sound to other band members so everyone's clear on what you're all about.
You should also start to write up some ideas for flyers or posters. You'll want to imagine how you will be ‘billed’ outside of a venue; what’s going to be your unique selling point (USP)? What’s going to draw people in and want to see you? Always keep this vision in mind, as this is what you'll have to convey through your music.
Once you’ve found some ideas and have a clear vision of where your band is going, the next step is to think about names. This will help make things clearer still. Try a band name generator online, or come up with some random word pairings. Or something that means something to you.
Once you have the right sounding name, the vision of the look, and the idea of the sound, the next step is to start your search for the ‘right’ people to form your band. This is where you bring it all to life.
How To Find Band Members Online And In Your Area
Okay – so you’ve decided on your sound, and the kind of look you’d like for the band. The next step when forming a band, is to find the actual band members!
As well as getting the right look, don’t forget that personality is vital. You have to share the same vision, future aims and work ethics as any members you bring in. More importantly, you need to establish all of these things right from the beginning. The last thing you want after establishing your band line up, is to find out half of them want to rehearse once a month, but the other half want to practice once a week. It simply won't work.
So now you know this, where should you actually start looking for band members?
There are countless websites for musicians – try typing into a search engine either something like –
- Adverts for musicians,
- Wanted – guitarist / vocalist,
- Musician websites,
- Or similar.
Also try notice boards in music shops, music colleges or conservatoires and general shop windows. Even putting an advert in your car window is worth a try. Put announcements on Facebook and Twitter too. Ask around your personal contacts. Go to open mike nights and start networking. Gumtree is also another great place to look and / or place an ad. And if you’re in the Musician’s Union – they have a very useful online noticeboard there too. Then you’ve got the paid advertising route – local papers, musician magazines and more.
Advertising For Band Members
When you place your ad, be clear about what you want. You don’t want to be wasting your time or anyone else’s. You need to be specific in terms of:
- The look , age and sex of the band members.
- How often you want to rehearse.
- The rehearsal area of your band.
- How often you want to actually play once you’re up and running.
- If you'll be playing for money, or for fun.
- If you'd travel for work, or if you're going to keep it local.
- If you'll provide gear, or if you'd expect everyone to have their own amps, leads, mikes and the like.
Plus of course, those details mentioned in the section above: The sound and feel of the band.
Place your ad in as many places as possible and wait for the responses. Don’t be tempted to grab at the first people that come along. It took my band 8 months of constant advertising, countless interviews, countless rehearsals and 10 try outs with different stand ins to finally find the right guy, but it’s paid off in spades now that we have. Stay focused and know the right person IS out there somewhere, so don't settle for anything less!
How To Start A Band Effectively: Avoiding Time Wasters
When looking to form a band, one thing you need to beware of are time wasters. I had hundreds of them when looking for the perfect band mate, but here's just a small sample of them to show you there is light at the end of the tunnel. In our 8 month trawl we saw:
- A guy who couldn’t sing or play but just fancied fronting a band.
- Someone who liked heavy metal, but couldn’t sing. And who hadn’t even looked at the website to see we are actually an Irish / Celtic inspired band.
- Someone who turned up without their keyboard, to see if we ‘gelled’ first.
- Someone who lived in Hertford and didn’t drive (We’re based in Birmingham).
- A singing dwarf who’d forgotten to mention it.
- Someone who wasn’t prepared to sing more than once a week in case it damaged their voice
- A frustrated songwriter who thought he’d like to be in a band. But he couldn’t work weekends as he went home to his wife after working away all week.
- A bloke with a real chip on his shoulder who said we’re no better than a karaoke band because we used the odd backing track occasionally.
- Someone around the age of 12.
- An Irish hairdresser who said he had a drink problem but would “quite like to give it a go”. He also mentioned we’d have to fit the band around salon hours and his drinking.
- Someone who came for 10 rehearsals, and then announced he was forming his own band with half of our material.
- Someone who came for 8 hours of rehearsal, and then stopped answering his phone.
And on, and on, and on…
A good way to weed out all this rubbish is with a good, preliminary phone call. Don’t be afraid to lay down exactly what you want. You should also be very aware of anyone with too many commitments already – it just won’t work. It’s fine to have 6 kids and a jealous partner, but not if you want to be in a band!!!
If they pass this phone call and still show a real interest, ask them to prepare a couple of numbers so they can come for an audition. Do not set an audition date! If they are keen, they should be back to you within days. They will have learned the stuff, and be interested in fixing a date with you. This really does help select the people who are keen, and makes things a lot easier when you go to form a band.
When looking for new band members, you should always keep in touch with all the members you already have on board. It's important that they stay updated, as this is something that involves you all. You still want to practice with your current members to ensure you've had enough time to bond. This will allow you to find out how best to work with each other. You'll then have a good base to start from when other musicians get involved.
Once you have the right people all in place, then it’s on to the next step: Planning the content, and organizing the rehearsals.
Planning The Content And Effective Rehearsals When You Start A Band
So, you can’t rehearse without having something to rehearse. Therefore it makes sense to make the first step about creating your musical content.
Before your first ‘proper’ band meeting, prepare a preliminary set list. This should include your basic ideas on what should be in the mix. Email it to everyone, and ask them all to contribute at least 3 additional ideas to the list. This will help everyone feel valued, and like they're a real part of this group.
When creating this list, it's important everyone remains realistic. If you’re going to play something, it has to be within the capabilities of the band. Ask your members to bear in mind what you’re trying to achieve musically, so all the ideas stay in line with your end goal.
Once you have your preliminary set list in place, you need to arrange the date for your first rehearsal together. As well as setting a date, you need to tell members what's going to be happening at this rehearsal. This will help ensure everyone has the same expectations, and hopefully mean everyone will go home happy at the end of it. I’d suggest meeting to play one or two songs from your first list (Be specific what they are so everyone will have rehearsed the same stuff in the same key), and chat through the new ideas everyone has.
At the end of this meeting, you should have one or two songs lightly rehearsed, a growing set list, and a list of things to go off and practice.
Be Clear On What's Next
At this point, it’s good to clarify what future rehearsals are for. They’re not just for throwing around new ideas and jamming. They are for putting together the pieces of the jigsaw, and bringing together what you’ve all been rehearsing individually. Everyone should practice their own parts at their own homes. The time you have together should be for putting it all together and creating a polished product. You may need to iron out a few little things, but overall you should be able to attend rehearsals and piece the different arrangements together.
What To Do With Under Achieving Band Members
Now be warned: your next rehearsal or two may be where the first flaws start to show. You will see at this stage who has put the time and effort in. I was once in a band where the bass player never listened to anything until the morning of the rehearsal. And then he’d appear in the evening with a vague idea of a tune, and just jam along. This approach wasn’t hugely helpful to anyone. After three rehearsals like this, he was asked to leave. It was evident he’d hold everyone back in the long run, so it was better to cut our losses. He went on to join other bands, but I heard he got fired from them for similar reasons.
So if you’re facing this problem, at this early stage, don’t be afraid to re-jig the line up and recruit again. A professional band isn’t about carrying someone – you’ve all got to be doing your fair share.
Taking Rehearsals To The Next Level
Assuming you’re ultimately happy with your line up and are working well together, it might be a good idea after a few rehearsals to have a one off practice in a proper studio. This will allow you all to use some professional gear, and hear yourselves amplified. If you can, you should also get someone to film this studio session.
If you can get it filmed, watch it back together. Everyone will be able to see what they do well and what they need to improve on, and should be able to self-diagnose what needs changing. Band members can also give constructive criticism to each other.
If you can’t get it filmed, no worries. You'll just have a really good listen to the sound you’re producing, and have a meeting afterwards to thrash out any issues.
Always work to the strengths of the individual members. If you have a brilliant lead guitarist for example, give them a few good solos. This will make them happy, and make the overall band look and sound great. If someone does fantastic harmonies, again, give them opportunities to shine where possible. Always bear in mind a band isn’t about one individual; you’re all cogs in a bigger unit, and ultimately you all need each other.
Keep rehearsing, keep valuing everyone’s contributions, and have clear aims of what you want to achieve in what amount of time. And once you have a set list that looks as if it might work, it’s time to do some proper marketing for the band in order to find some work.
How To Start A Band – Ready For The Next Part? Then Read On
This is a guest post by Ruth from Celtic Clan, the Birmingham Contemporary Irish band that doesn’t just do Irish! Take a look at their website for more useful information, or to book the Midlands’ best Celtic and Irish function band.