What advice do you have for someone forming a band?

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Answered by: Stephen, An Expert in the Bands and Musicians Category
Forming a band is one of the most satisfying things a group of people can do. It is also one of the most difficult. If all that was required were to simply play your favorite music with others of a like mind, then everyone would be doing it (it may seem like everyone is doing it, but that is an illusion). However, there are many things other than music that enter into the equation.

First, are the individuals involved compatible? Musical tastes are important. It won’t do to try and force a Goth lead singer into a country/folk band, for example. But do the individuals forming the band actually get along? That is the question. While many bands implode in a matter of months, after playing maybe only a few gigs (if that), several do manage to remain together.

But a band cannot stay intact if the members hate each other, or if there is a lack of trust or shared artistic vision. The members must like and respect each other. That is oftentimes easier said than done. A band is very much like a family—often dysfunctional, occasionally at odds, but never lacking for team spirit. It is important to remember that we form a band to “play” music, not to “work” music.

What is the instrumentation of the band you are forming? If you have never been in a band, that question can sometimes create issues. Oftentimes, everyone wants to be the lead singer, or the lead guitarist—to “front” the band. If not, then others may try to be the “lead drummer” or “lead bassist” as a means of attracting attention. Usually someone stands out or has a little more experience than the rest. Let them start as the initial guiding force.

No group can survive if everyone wants to be in that “lead” position. Forming a band must be a team effort. A compromise. The goal is to find the best musician for each spot in the unit. Too many guitar players and no bassist? One of the guitar players will have to move over. It’s not that hard to do. Guitar and bass have many similarities. Dedication to the new instrument will work wonders. Paul McCartney started out as a guitarist before he moved over to bass. Things worked out fairly well for Sir Paul.

Do you have a space in which to rehearse? Basements and garages all over the land serve as rehearsal studios for countless bands. A word of warning regarding rehearsal locations in proximity to general public: the band will either want to soundproof the practice space or make very good friends with the resident family and neighbors. Most guitar amplifiers are at their peak volume at around fifty feet away. Drums can be almost as loud. It is often your family or neighbors who hear the band best. Bribes may be in order. If unhappy with the racket, neighbors will call the police—rest assured.

Once the musical style, membership and positioning, and rehearsal space have been resolved within the band, it is time to select material. Are you going to be a “cover” band—are you going to play other bands’ music? Or are you going to write your own original material? Or perhaps a mix of both?

Writing music in a band setting can be very satisfying, when all the members agree and everything is clicking. But writing and arranging a song is often very much like creating an ice sculpture. Too much deliberation and tinkering, and the inspiration will simply melt away. Keep it simple. Typically, a band must play a song at least twenty times in order to master it, anyway. So there is no rush. Allow the song to dictate its own direction. It's an evolution.

After a band has collected together an hour-long “set” of ten or fifteen songs to perform, they are ready to play a “gig.” Getting a gig is a lesson in politics and the art of persuasion. If you are still in school, school events and parties are great places to score engagements. If you’re old enough, you can look for possible gigs in bars and halls. Maybe you know a working band that will let you open the evening for them at one of their shows.

If not, then like almost every band, you will have to start at the bottom and work your way up by playing a Tuesday night to an empty house at the local tavern. Look at this situation as an opportunity to hone your material and your stage show. Never forget that, even among the sparsest of crowds, there are people who will support your band if you allow them to like you and your music.

Once you have formed your band, rehearsed, and scored a couple of gigs, you’re on your way. Just how far you take it from there is up to you, your mutual goals as musicians, and how much effort you are willing to expend. It is a hard road for almost every band. Few start at the top. Fewer still “make it.” But the reward is in the playing. Forming a band isn't easy, but it can be enormously satisfying.

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