Playing in a band can be an absolutely thrilling experience. However, one should not underestimate the relevance of individual steps that are necessary to actually start a band. A lot needs to be coordinated and communicated and, often, compromised.
If you’ve decided that you don’t really want to be a solo artist and would like to have a band instead, this article may be exactly what you need. So, let’s start a band, shall we?
The reality of starting a band
The thing with forming a music band is that it often tends to be romanticized in the mainstream media. We watch series and movies or read about successful pop and rock bands, like U2, Coldplay, or HAIM (showing it pays off to be born into a super talented family), and then have a particular vision of what starting and running a band should look like. At least some of us do.
However, the reality is not always what we’ve imagined it to be, and it doesn't even have to be that way for a band to become successful. Not every musician meets their bandmates in kindergarten, high school or college. Also, bear in mind that a band’s formation may not necessarily be depicted truthfully by the media (or the bands themselves). Sometimes, the story is slightly skewed, purposely leaves out crucial information, or is just not that ‘romantic’.
The conclusion is that there is no wrong or less ‘magical’ way to start a band (even if you simply find your bandmates through an audition). For instance, Foo Fighters were not even supposed to be a long-existing band — Dave Grohl put it together as a one-man project to support his solo album after Nirvana dissolved in 1994.
Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails was the only permanent member of the band until 2016. Not being able to find a band that would fit his music material as he desired, he even played all the instruments on the band’s first record Pretty Hate Machine.
Remember that everyone’s journey is special in a different way and can eventually make up for a really good story.
HAIM (source: The Guardian)
The top steps to starting a band
1. Find your sound
One would say the first step to take is to start looking for your potential band members. Without the members, there’s no band, right? While this is undoubtedly true, it’s difficult to find the right members without knowing what kind of band you’d actually like to be in.
What genre will you play, what sound should the band have, and what will make your music stand out? Below, we’ve outlined some more questions you can ask yourself in the process:
What type of audience will likely listen to my music?
What do I want my audience to feel when listening to my music?
Is the music intended for rather intimate shows or do I want to tour the arenas one day? (This may seem too far in the future but you may already have an idea now)
It’s important that you more or less know the answers to these questions before you get yourself on the ‘hunt’. This way you’ll know approximately how many prospective band members you’re looking for and who it is that you actually need. You should also bear in mind that the more people are involved, the more difficult it is to make a shift in your musical direction.
In case you’re unsure about what your future band should be like and you haven’t written any music yet, try to think of the bands that inspire you, the genres you like, or the type of energy you’d like the band to have.
Taking into consideration your skillset and the instrument(s) you play (if you play any) can help, too. Writing it down will allow you to have all of your thoughts in one place, which will make it easier to eventually come up with a certain vision.
If the look also matters…
Some resources say that just like outlining your musical direction, you also need to define the ‘look’ (meaning the visual style) of your future band. We dare to disagree a little. While there are plenty of bands that are characteristic of their style and the costumes they wear, there are many that are not. Look at Travis, the Dave Matthews Band, or even Paramore and you’ll see that as for their clothing (in photoshoots or on stage), there’s nothing particularly defining.
This doesn’t mean that the overall look of your band can be all over the place (although this is pretty eye-catching, too). It rather means that unless a particular look is crucial to you and should be part of your artistic expression, this is something that can be figured out later with the rest of the band.
Travis (source: Travisonline.com)
2. Find your bandmates
You know what band you're looking to form and now it’s the time to find the actual band members. There are a lot of factors that matter when it comes to your potential bandmates. They need to know to play their prospective role whether it’s to sing or play an instrument, you need to have similar vision, ambitions and worth ethics and you also have to get along on a personal level.
It’s tough to be in a band, especially at the very beginning, and so it’s essential that you ultimately end up surrounded by people who see things from a similar perspective, have identical values and whom you can trust. So how do you find someone like that at your local music scene?
Advertise for bandmates on the internet
This is one of the easiest and most comfortable ways to come across potential band members. There are plenty of websites dedicated to connecting artists and helping people find bandmates or bands. You can try Star Now, Join-A-Band, Fiverr., or Craigslist, no matter where you’re located. If you’re US-based, Bandfinder or Hendrix are great platforms to use.
If you’re a musician located in the UK, you can give a try to Join My Band or Band Mate. Finally, for Germany-based musicians, Bandmix can be a great choice. Oh, and our iMusician Community may definitely come in handy, too!
When placing your ad, be sure that it is as clear and precise as possible. Make sure to mention what and who exactly you’re looking for, and what your vision is regarding your aspirations, rehearsals, and anything else important to you. You don’t want to waste your time or the time of others simply because your ad is vague and non-specific.
Post on social media
Social media connects us all and is therefore a great tool to find fellow musicians and artists to work together. You can put up an Instagram Story or make a post about it and ‘pin’ it on your account; post into a dedicated Facebook group or slide into the DMs of an artist you like to see if they’re interested.
Put up flyers and posters
Now, this technique can be considered rather old-fashioned but may be worth trying. Just make sure first that flyers and posters work for your location. There are definitely places, small towns or villages, where this is just a waste of time and paper. It’s also great if you can hang them up in strategic places such as the local culture center, music club(s), bars and pubs, etc.
Speaking of clubs and bars, it’s also not a bad idea to regularly visit places and events where it’s likely you bump into other musicians. It may be someone else’s concert, a fair or a conference in your local area, or an open mics night. The greatest thing about this is that even if you don’t find someone particular to join your band, you may come across people who know someone like that. Don’t forget how powerful word of mouth can be.
A little piece of advice for your audition
When auditioning for other musicians, you need to be aware of so-called time-wasters. These are individuals who may not necessarily have bad intentions but from the way they act or approach certain situations, they come across as irresponsible, unreliable, untrustworthy or dubious. In most cases, it’s better if you don’t give them any further chance.
Such people can be really good musicians but if they don’t seem to take your band seriously or behave in a way that’s contradictory to what they say, they are likely to do more harm than good. And even if they join you and their behavior doesn’t change, they will have to leave the band sooner or later anyway.
It’s also important that you try to give a chance to everyone who comes to your audition or recruits to join the band before you make your final decision. This is especially true if you have come across people you get along with, are talented and share the same ambitions but don’t have ‘it’ – the magical thing that makes them the perfect member for your band.
Just like Trent Reznor didn’t settle for a band that didn’t understand his art, you shouldn’t have to settle either. Finding good bandmates and forming a high-quality band may take a while so be patient. The right people are there waiting for you!
3. Plan your music rehearsals
While regular rehearsals are important at any stage of your band, they are an absolute must when a band has just formed. This means that you need a regular rehearsal space and the sooner you know where this might be the better.
If you know of a place before the band gets together, then great — you can start rehearsing right away! If this is not the case, you have other options. You can either rehearse wherever your drummer keeps their drum kit or, if this is not possible, check in with other members to see if they have a space available.
If neither works, you can also rent a place. This is likely the most expensive option but it may pay off in the long run, especially if it’s a professional rehearsal room.
Such rooms should be soundproof (meaning there will be no noise complaints), have better acoustics, and some of them even offer a variety of music equipment, such as cabs, amps, a PA system, or even a drum kit. It only depends on your needs and how much you’re willing to pay.
Aim for rehearsals that are planned and effective
When it comes to rehearsing itself, it’s not enough to simply show up. Sure, jamming sessions can help your band explore your sound and get more in sync but jamming on its own is not sufficient. Your rehearsals need to be planned, well-organized and as effective as possible. After all, your rehearsing time is limited and it’s good to use it in the best way possible.
What may help is to think about the agenda of your rehearsal in advance. You can draft a prospective setlist and share it with your bandmates before you meet, to ask for their thoughts, feedback and suggestions. This will guarantee that you don’t come to your rehearsals unprepared and empty-handed. Instead, every band member will know exactly what to expect from the session and can prepare themselves accordingly.
With every next session, you can add or remove tracks based on further preferences and suggestions, and hopefully watch as your band slowly makes progress. Gradually you can integrate new techniques to help the band get better. For example, you can record/film yourself to see what sounds good and what improvements need to be made. Additionally, you can plan feedback sessions at the end of every rehearsal to talk about what each band member should try to work on.
4. Be clear about your visions and what’s next for you
At a certain point, it may get difficult to rehearse if you don’t know what the future rehearsals are actually for. It’s important that the band is clear (and united) about their vision for their next steps. This is also often the perfect time to see how dedicated to the vision your bandmates are.
If you notice that there are members who don’t have the same work ethics, don’t approach rehearsals in the same way and thus seem to hold everyone else back, don’t hesitate to talk to them about it. If, even after discussions take place, there is no change in the behavior of a particular band member(s), don’t hesitate to let them go.
Yes, you will have to look for someone to replace them, which will require time and effort, but this step will eventually give your band a chance to move forward again. In the end, it’s crucial that everyone in the band is on the same page and is willing to put in the same amount of effort. Otherwise, the band will stagnate and the likelihood of you coming closer to your goals and ambitions will remain low.
5. Agree on everyone’s responsibilities
It’s true that this step generally comes at a later stage in the band. This is usually after you’ve already had a bunch of rehearsals, everyone is working towards their collective goals and the situation in the band seems overall stable.
The idea behind assigning roles in a band is to have every member do the thing they are really good at. Also, if everyone ends up being responsible for everything, your band may turn disorganized, messy and stressful, with not much being done properly. Of course, some people may like things messy and hectic, but generally, a clear division of responsibilities in a band is key to creating a well-functioning and peaceful environment.
6. Consider creating a band agreement
Something that may help you with setting responsibilities is a band agreement. However, it’s not by far the only reason you may need such a document. A band agreement can be defined as a formal contract between individual members of a band and is considered perhaps the most important contract that you’ll sign in a band.
It doesn't have to be long or written in complicated language but it does need to cover how the band business will run and how the question of ownership will be dealt with. These are some of the issues and topics included in a band agreement:
Who will be responsible for hiring/firing band members
What happens if a band member leaves,
Who owns the band’s compositions,
Who owns the band’s recordings,
Who owns the band’s name,
How does the band make final decisions,
Who owns the music equipment – is it the individual members or the band as a whole,
Who is responsible for signing important documents, etc.
By creating a band agreement, you’re mitigating potential risks and negative outcomes to unpleasant situations that may arise, such as a serious argument between band members or a betrayal by one of the bandmates. These outcomes may include legal battles, defamation of reputation, financial struggles, etc. So if you haven’t really thought about it yet, this is your sign to consider making such an agreement a priority. If you don’t know where to start, don’t hesitate to consult with fellow musicians or contact a professional lawyer.
Do you want to learn more about a band agreement and other music contracts? Check out our article about the most important contracts in the music industry.
Putting a band together is certainly not easy but is extremely rewarding once you experience the magic the band can create together. If forming a band is one of your dreams and you’re currently in the midst of contemplating whether to make it come true, there are perhaps books, artist interviews or movies that can inspire you.
There is this short clip with Dave Grohl on starting a band or the movie The Doors that outlines the story of the famous band of the same name. Below, you can also check out the Ted Talk with Ethan Hawke. It’s not directly related to starting a band but may ignite some desire in you to just go after what you dream of.
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