Without a doubt, putting a band together, writing music and performing live on stage is one of the absolute best experiences a musician can have. For younger musicians especially, the experience of creating and playing music with other like-minded people develops hugely important skills that can help a person on stage and even in their daily lives outside of music, but figuring out how to start a band is no easy task.
Challenges to starting your own band
If you’re reading this, you might’ve tried to start your own band at one point but haven’t been successful yet. Building your own band from scratch can be a massively difficult undertaking, so you shouldn’t be discouraged if it hasn’t worked out for you yet. Starting a band is usually so difficult because it involves working with and organizing people, and people are complicated.
Whether you’re 18 or 80 and starting a band for the first or fifteenth time, you bring a set of unique expectations, strengths and weaknesses to the table when you meet with other people to create, rehearse or perform music. When your good and bad attributes mingle with the attributes of others, anything can happen. Some people get lucky and immediately hit it off with the people they first try to start a band with, but for others it takes months or even years to find like-minded musicians to form a band with.
Another major challenge to starting your own band is supply vs demand problems when it comes to the musicians in your area. Let’s say you play guitar and want to find a bassist and drummer to form a band with. Depending on your age, location and genre of music, there might be a huge demand but not a lot of supply in terms of the musicians you’re looking for. There simply might not be enough musicians to go around in your local community. And if you’re young and figuring out how to start a band for the first time, the available musicians you’re looking for in your area might not give you the time of day because you haven’t proven yourself yet.
Starting your own project from scratch can seem downright impossible, but don’t despair! We’ve got some excellent advice in this article on how to start a band.
Tip #1: Define exactly what you want out of a band long before you try to start one
You’ll save a significant amount of time, energy and frustration by taking the time to figure out exactly what you’re trying to get out of starting a band long before you attempt to meet with other musicians. Why? Let’s liken trying to form a band to founding a new startup company. It’s exciting to tell your friends and family that you’re forming a new company, but your new venture is almost guaranteed to fail if your company doesn’t know what it does or where it wants to go.
Do you want to start an 80’s cover band that plays weddings and private events to earn extra cash? Are you a singer/songwriter looking for session musicians to record and perform with? Or maybe you’re an aspiring songwriter looking to collaborate and perform with other musicians. Different companies require different specially trained employees, and bands are no different. Take some time defining what you want to be and where you want your band to go before getting serious about forming a band.
Tip #2: Learn to effectively make your case to potential bandmates
Practicing, writing music and playing shows is a massive time commitment, and being in a band is a ton of work, so you’ll need to make a convincing case as to why musicians should want to lend their precious time and talents to your project. Once you’ve defined your goals and what you want your band to do and sound like, start selling your new project to experienced musicians in your area. You’ll need to learn how to highlight your experience, musical prowess and long-term goals during this process whether it’s conveyed over a thoughtful Craigslist post or in a face-to-face meeting with a musician.
If you want to form a band to write music and perform with, there’s no better way to showcase your vision and experience than through recorded demos of your songs. A solid demo of your music can show prospective bandmates who you are, what you sound like and where they might fit into the picture. Recorded demo versions of your songs don’t have be meticulously recorded. Demos recorded on free music software programs like Garage Band or even ones made on your phone are fine, but you’ll definitely bring more credibility to the table if you take the time and money to professionally record a few versions of your songs.
If you’re a seasoned musician, you’ll probably have tons of music to share with prospective bandmates, but you’ll need to learn how to tell other musicians why you’re a person worth working with. Have you played in previous bands? What venues have you performed at? Have you been signed to a label or publisher? Similar to the process of drafting a cover letter while applying for a job, effectively laying out your experience, skills and vision for your project to the musicians you’re trying to attract is paramount when trying to find solid musicians to play with.
The process of pitching to potential bandmates will need to be a lot different if you’re planning on forming something like a professional cover band. Money complicates everything, and smaller projects that revolve around songwriting typically have the luxury of not having to be concerned about pay, contracts and other non-musical worries in the beginning of their existence. If you’re looking to form a professional band, you’ll need to lay out expectations about money and payment along with your pitch.
Tip #3: Use every resource you can to connect with local musicians
In 2017, there’s never been more ways to get connected with local musicians in your area. Just 20 years ago your options for figuring out how to start a band with local area musicians were to take an ad out in the newspaper or to post flyers in local music stores. Now there’s thousands of ways to reach out not just to the musicians in your area but also around the world. Message boards and Craigslist as well as social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are great ways to get the word out about the type of project you’re trying to form. In particular, looking to connect with small groups of musicians who specialize in or listen to obscure forms of music is made a much simpler task with the internet.
After you’ve developed your pitch, taking it to as many on and offline platforms as you can will increase your chances of finding the right people to join your project. If you live in a small city, this process might take a long time for you, but don’t get discouraged. It’s free to post ads looking for bandmates, so all you need is a well-crafted pitch and some patience.
Tip #4: Be discerning when it comes to choosing who to work with
If you want to form a serious band, you’ll have to be choosy when it comes to deciding who to work with. Being in a band is a relationship as much as it is a business partnership, and the people you decide to work with will have a huge bearing on whether your project is creatively or financially successful or not. If you’ve crafted your pitch effectively, you might get dozens of musicians who want to join your band. That’s a nice problem to have, but it means you’ll need to make some tough decisions. Here’s some good questions to think about when it comes to finding out who’ll make a good fit for your project:
How experienced are they?
The amount of experience you should look for in a musician completely depends on the style and character of the band you’re trying to form. If you’re fresh out of high school and looking to start an indie pop band, then choosing an older person with a lot of experience with their instrument might not be the best fit stylistically for you. Other types of projects like professional cover bands or jazz ensembles will obviously require musicians with lots of proven training and experience. Don’t be afraid to audition band members if you’re looking for musicians that specialize in a certain type of style or sound.
Are they a good fit stylistically?
If you’re looking for musicians to collaborate with, attributes like taste and personality can trump a musician’s proven experience. While feeling out whether someone could be a good fit for your project, take some time to learn about their musical preferences and style of playing or songwriting before taking them on permanently. Better yet, schedule a low-pressure playing session to simulate what writing or performing with musicians are like before committing to anything long-term.
How reliable are they?
Reliability can be a tough quality to gauge in a person you’ve just met, but it’s an attribute that can literally make or break a band. The stereotype of aloof stoners leading successful bands couldn’t be further from the truth. Most bands who’ve found creative or financial success typically had to conduct themselves in a professional matter to be taken seriously. Missing practices, showing up late to shows or drinking too much during performances are usually hallmarks of an unreliable musician. Drug abuse is another red flag. There’s no one way to find out if a musician is going to be reliable or not, but if your gut tells you something about a person you’re considering making music with, it’s important that you listen up.
You might find yourself in a situation like meeting a musician who seems like a good fit other than the fact that they don’t have a car and will need rides to and from practice. Helping out with something like rides, gas money or lending out your instruments now and then might be something you’re willing to do for the right band member depending on you and your unique set of circumstances.
Does their personality fit with the culture of my project?
Even musicians your age who like and play your style of music might not be a good fit for your band. A musician’s personality is a huge thing to take into account when you consider the hundreds or even thousands of hours you’re might be spending together if you choose to work with them. Knowing yourself and having a solid grasp on what kinds of people you work well with will help you a ton in this area. Since you’re forming your own band, your personality will exclusively determine the culture of your project, but that could change over time and with additional members.
Tip #5: Know what you want but leave room for flexibility
If you wait for perfect set of circumstances to start your band, you’ll be waiting forever. It’s important to be able to define what you want, but it’s probably more important to be flexible not only during the process of figuring out how to start a band, but in all areas of your musicianship. For example, if you’re dying to form a band so you can get out on stage and play some shows, why not try playing solo while you form your band. Like people, there are no two bands that are exactly alike, so being too rigid while building up your project is something that could end up standing between you and your goals.
Figuring out how to start a band is a huge amount of work, but the payoff could be huge for musicians looking to gain valuable experience or a new platform for their creativity. For more helpful articles about the world of music, check out what we’ve got posted on the Musika Lessons blog.