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Starting a Band, Part I


When you first started out as a guitarist, chances are you holed up in your room practicing notes and chords, riffs and licks, over and over and over again. Chances are likewise good you've since become quite a skilled player behind that closed door. But there comes a time in most every musician's life when you realize you're ready to come out of hiding and take that next big step: playing with other musicians.

Starting a band may sound pretty straightforward, but it can actually be quite frustrating. If you don't set up your band right from the start, you can get caught in an endless cycle of replacing this player or that with new people who have to be brought up to speed with the rest of the band. The following then are some tips to help spare you a lot of the hassle and drama that comes with building a band.

Find Bandmates

A band typically consists of between two and five members who cover one or more roles, including vocalist, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, bass guitarist, drummer, and occasionally a keyboardist or other instrumentalist. If you're serious about starting a band, it is imperative that you find people who are equally serious about doing so. There's nothing more frustrating than having a band member who routinely shows up to practice unprepared or worse, blows off practice entirely. Be sure the musicians you take on share your passion for the band or it is doomed to suffer a slow, painful death.

While it might sound like fun to build your band with friends, make sure these friends of yours can contribute something of worth to the group. In other words, make sure they can actually play before you sign them on. If your bass player can't keep up with the rest of the band, he should keep practicing and maybe think about joining a band later on when he gets better on his instrument. He will slow you down otherwise. If you have to teach a bandmate how to play his or her instrument before the band can start cranking out tunes, they are not the right person for the job.

It can be incredibly difficult and time consuming to find the right people for your band, but do devote the same amount of time and energy in selecting your bandmates as you would selecting your lifemate, considering you'll be spending just as much time together. If you don't already have musicians in mind to fill the slots, use other resources to find people who will round out your group. Advertise for band members in your local city paper. Read the want ads for musicians looking to be part of band. The internet offers several places to find musicians such as Bandmix and Whosdoing. Facebook is another way to get the word out there. You can also put up ads for musicians in cafes, music shops, and even in your car window. Check out open mic nights, pubs and clubs and anywhere likeminded people hang out. And don't use just one resource. Use as many as you can to maximize your chances of finding the right people.

And remember, it's not always important to choose the "best" players. In many cases, musicians who get along and who are willing to learn to play together will sound better than bands comprised of über-talented musicians with oversized egos who are stepping all over one another.

Music Theory

There are some important aspects of theory that you've got to know if you're playing with other people. You need to know what notes you are playing and where they are played on the guitar. You should know what sharps and flats are and how to count beats in order to stay in sync with the others in the band. It's also beneficial to know a bit about scales, specifically the major scale, and have a basic understanding of the science of chord construction, all of which help you hear musical relationships. It's time consuming for a band member to have to teach a fellow bandmate what timing is and how to play in it. Knowing basic music theory helps to keep the band moving forward without having to backtrack to teach someone what they already ought to know, seeing as they're in a band and all.

Define Your Role

It's pretty obvious that the drummer is supposed to play drums. The singer sings and the bass player plays bass. If you happen to be in a group with more than one guitar player, however, decide who will be playing lead guitar for the most part. You want to avoid having rival guitarists vying for solo time. They can take turns on different songs if they want to, but don't have one guitarist competing against a second guitarist. If you can write riffs and hold down the rhythm and the other player can't, chances are you're the rhythm guitarist. If you are a good lead player but your second guitarist is better, let him be lead. Put your ego aside for the sake of the band.

Choose a Genre

If your thing is metal, it may not be in your best interest to get involved with another player whose thing is pop or classical. You could make it work, but it won't be easy. Find people with similar musical influences. If you can't all agree on one genre, play a bit of two or three or combine different genres together and create your own. Have everyone bring a mix CD of their favorite music to the first practice session. Listen to each disc to get an idea of where everyone's coming from and how all your musical bents might fit together as a whole.

Come Up with a Name

Typically the entire band will decide on what to call the group. You could pick a name that has some personal meaning or one that just sounds cool. The best names are usually short and just quirky enough to be memorable. Don't use a name that is already trademarked, unless you plan on being a tribute band. If you really get stuck on a name, have everyone come up with five adjectives and five nouns, then try to agree on a band name using one of each. Or have everyone write down random words on scraps of paper, throw them in a hat, and select a scrap or two. See what you come up with.

Band Image

The sound of your music, the instruments you play and the way you play them, the sound of your singer's voice, the way your band members dress, your stage presence and unique personalities all play into your band's image. The Rolling Stones and the Beatles both had very distinctive band images when they began in England back in the early 1960s. The Stones had a bad boy image that was evident in their music, their clothing and stage presence. The Stones dressed themselves in super tight jeans and sported shaggy hair. On the other hand, the Beatles portrayed themselves as clean-cut in their suits and bowl haircuts, singing snappy pop songs.

Decide on what you're aiming for as a band. The most important thing to remember though is not to get caught up in an image but to entertain your audience. When performing, immerse yourselves in the music and do what feels natural to you. Instead of focusing on being a certain type of band, focus on your music and the band's image will reveal itself. Play your music to the best of your abilities and worry about performing a backflip off your amp later.

Consider Drawing Up a Band Agreement

It's often hard to get four or five musicians with individual lives to commit to each other and their musical project. One band member who is never available to rehearse or do shows can kill a band. Sometimes getting intentions down in writing helps to hold people accountable for what they say they'll do. A contract between all members of the band can also offer some protection for what a member can do with the band name, payment, ownership of songs, equipment, and such should he or she decide to leave the band. Dealing with these matters upfront can help avoid disputes in the future.

Find a Practice Space

Decide on where you will practice. Will it be in someone's basement or garage? Will you keep all of your equipment there? Is the place soundproof enough for the band to really let loose without disturbing the neighbors?

Also decide and commit to when and how often you will practice. Becoming a good band takes time and effort. Practice not only makes perfect, but it helps develop rapport between you and your bandmates. A good work ethic is important to success. If someone is unwilling to practice, they may be dead weight. The band needs to be a priority if it is to be taken seriously. The better practiced you are, the quicker you can get onto the stage and into the studio.

Buy Equipment

Every band member needs to own a professional-quality instrument before you play live gigs. Choose your gear carefully, buying instruments that complement the style of music you play. A guitar with a great sound for the blues may not give you the brittle, crunching sound you need if you play metal or hardcore.

Don't count on the venue to provide a PA system for your band. You should invest in a PA system, which is as vital during practice as it is live performance. After all, you need to know how every instrument sounds in the finished mix and make necessary adjustments before performing live. Your PA system has to allow your singer's vocals and every musician's instrument to be clearly heard.

While you're at it, you might invest in some good recording equipment if you don't have it already. You can start recording demos and promotional singles by connecting your PA's mixing board to your computer. Recording software is relatively inexpensive and most developers offer demo versions. The less you put yourself at the mercy of some studio, the better.

Every successful band needs to tour occasionally in order to gain new fans and to create a buzz, so you may also need a band vehicle at some point when you decide to take your act on the road. Some features to consider when choosing a vehicle are sufficient space for all band members and equipment as well as fuel, maintenance, and insurance costs.

In the next installment, we'll take a look at how to get your band off the ground and into the clubs.

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