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Starting a Band Part II


Starting a band is the dream of many a musician. In Part I of this article, we took a look at some of the particulars of assembling a band. Now that you have your group together, let's examine how to start making music together and getting your music out into the world.

Begin with Covers

If you've never been in a band before, it might be a good idea to start learning some cover songs as a group. This isn't always the case, but it helps the band lock in with each other initially. Choose a cover song that everybody likes and one that everybody has the skill to play. Have all band members learn the song for the next practice. It's a waste of everybody's time to have a band member just learning his part at practice. Learn your parts on your own time, and then you can run through the cover at your next practice and fine tune everything as a band.

Now Try Your Hand at Writing Original Material

First let me say that there are many cover bands that make really good money, and if being in a cover band is what you want to do, go for it. But many cover bands still write original music. They may not be known for their original songs, but they still slip one in their set every now and then.

If your aim is to be a band that writes your own material, it helps to know how many originals you need to get started. An opening band can have as few as four or five songs, so try to get your five very best originals together and open for more known local bands at first to ease into the scene. To headline a show at a smaller venue, you'll need to have a repertoire of at least a dozen songs to get through your time slot. And if your band makes its way onto the world stage, triple that number, at least.

Without getting too deep into the elements of songwriting here, you should write as many songs as you can, without sacrificing quality for quantity. If you find yourself stumped, the best way to write is when you're alone with just you and your instrument. Just play something. Anything. Keep playing and playing and soon enough you'll discover something that sounds cool.

There are many things you can learn to help you write music, but the most famous riffs are really simple things that players just stumbled upon. Happy accidents. Take "Sunshine of Your Love," for example. This famous riff, which is said to have been written by Jack Bruce one night while jamming, became Cream's biggest hit. Jamming with your band is another great way to come up with material.

You also may want to copyright your work. You can copyright your songs at www.copyright.gov. It's a fairly simple process. All you need to do is fill out a PA (performing arts) form, not an SR (sound recording) form. That will come later, when you sign a record deal.

Assess How the Band's Working for You

At some point you need to stop and take stock of the band you've assembled before you continue to invest more of your time, energy and money into the project. Be sure that you are content with the band you're in. As you practice and get to know your bandmates (if you don't already), you should be able to tell pretty quickly if this band is going in the direction that you want.

Do you get along with your band members? This is important because they will become your second family. You will be spending a lot of time with these guys and, like every family, you will have your differences. Are you a band who can resolve problems and make compromises that appease all members? Are the others dedicated enough? It's not easy to kick out a band member, especially if he or she is your friend, but sometimes it has to be done. Have any of your bandmates blown off a much-needed practice to hang out with friends or a significant other? Is there someone not pulling their weight? Better to deal with these issues now than years from now, after your frustrations with the band have worn you down and bled your dream dry.

Record a Demo or an EP

Consider recording a small snippet of a few songs to send to bar managers and the like. You'll be able to shoot them a short email telling them you'd love to play at their venue, and with the click of mouse and thirty seconds of their time, they can hear your sound. A demo recording or an EP will be your best piece of promotional material. They can be sold at shows and used to get record deals, agents, and managers. They can also be used to promote to fans online.

Getting Your First Gig

Playing live is the goal when forming a band. It will get you some cash, exposure, and it feels pretty damn awesome. But don't expect to play your first show at the O2 Arena. In fact, there's a very slim chance that you will get paid for your first gig at all—or your second, or even your third. Right now you are going to be playing for fun, experience, and to get your band's name out to the public. Your first few gigs may not even be in a legit venue. Take any opportunity you can get to play live and get your band airborne. Play at a friend's birthday party or some other kind of get-together. Even though you may only be playing to ten people, play like you're headlining the O2. This is the beginning of one of the coolest times of your life. You're about to show the world what you've got.

Once you start booking gigs in venues, there's a good chance that you'll be playing with bands that are on par with yours. This is a great opportunity for you to develop a bit of a following as not only will you be playing to your friends and family, but to theirs as well. Make a good impression and the other band's family and friends can become fans of yours too. Positive word-of-mouth is a mighty powerful tool in building a fan base, so get everyone who sees your band talking.

Of course the internet is a very useful tool for up-and-coming bands. Use your band's primary social networking profile to contact venues in your area. Sometimes a venue will want a demo or something in order to find out if your band is the right style or has the right skill level to play there.

You'll probably also want to build a press kit. This is the music industry's standard for a resume. Venues will look at your EPK (electronic press kit) before deciding to book you or not. The current industry standard is Sonic Bids. For your press kit, you'll need some graphics. Does any band member have experience in graphic design? If not, does a member have a connection? You don't need a logo by any means, but you do need images for things like flyers that help draw people to your events. Look into getting a photographer for a quick shoot either at rehearsal or at a gig. Your image is a quick and effective fix for a poster that has little to put on it in terms of graphics.

Getting Ripped Off

Please be aware that, as a band just starting out, there are people out there who will try to make money off you. Be wary of amateur booking agencies. They can help you get gigs but remember, every person who is involved with your band will want a cut of the very little bit of money you make. If you play a show that you got through a booking agent, he works as a middleman. Getting you a gig is his job, therefore he has to make money. The way it usually works is he finds the bands and before the venue pays you, he gets his cut. It divides the revenue up even more, therefore the band gets even less.

Another way that you can get taken advantage of is buying something that costs more than it is worth. Please do yourself a favor and price things before you buy. If you are getting some band shirts made, make sure you are buying them at the going price. Make sure you know how much these things are being sold for at an average before you spend money on it from a company that is overpriced. Maintaining a band can be very expensive and you want to spend the least amount of money possible, right?

Promoting the Band

Don't spend too much money on promotion if you aren't going to be playing out very often and you don't have much material to play. Promotion is something you should spend time doing when you really start to take off.

One of the most effective and inexpensive ways to promote your band is to invest in a website domain. While your band should definitely have a presence on social networking sites, keep in mind that these sites go in and out of style. If you can get a website called www.yourbandname.com, it could be an easier way for people to keep up with your band and everything you are doing. You can still have accounts on the social sites, but post links to your website on those.

You may want to put a video of your band on YouTube. You'll be exposed to lots of people you don't know, some of whom will leave feedback. Make use of the constructive comments, and ignore the naysayers. They're inevitable.

Make flyers and take them to your work or school and hang them in places potential fans may be. You might also post them at local businesses that have common interests with music, like a music store. You want the flyers to be seen by people who are interested in going to a concert.

You might get your band's name out there by competing in a Battle of the Bands. If the competition is sponsored by a local radio station, your name will probably be announced on the radio as they advertise the event. If you win, you will definitely be recognized locally.

Once you start playing out regularly you will gain trust from owners and operators of the venues you play, and when a bigger name comes through your town, you may be offered the chance to open for them. This is a good way for people to see your band play. People will come out to see the headlining band and when they show up, you'll be getting on stage. It's best to open for a band that has a similar music style as yours, that way the viewers will be interested in hearing a band that sounds kind of like the band they are there to see.

As your band continues to grow and play out more, you may want to look into general merchandise like stickers, business cards, t-shirts, decals, and an EP or demo to sell at the show.


Lastly, when it comes to starting a band, do so for the right reasons. You're not starting a band to be discovered and make a ton of money so that you can drape yourself in strands of diamonds, or drive expensive cars, or own a mansion on every continent. It's perfectly all right to keep that dream in the back of your mind, but at the heart of every successful band is the simple desire to make music. Don't be in it solely for the money, which may or may not come. The best bands make music because they have to. The urge to play is that overpowering.

It's a long way to the top. Obstacles will abound and the word "no" will pop up around you like a field of dandelions. But if you are in this band thing for the right reasons and creating music is truly your passion, you'll be able to stay the course when the going gets tough.

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