Bands come in many sizes, the smallest of which is called a ‘Trio’ as it is made up from 3 people. This can be anything from 3 singers to 3 instrumentalists but most people identify the word ‘band’ with a four or five piece line up which usually consists of keyboard, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums and a singer. This type of line up may be the most common but there is no need for you to limit yourself in the type of instruments or amount of people you include. The main problem with larger acts is the types of venues in which they can play. The other consideration for working bands is the financial split – the more individuals in the band, the less money each person gets, at least until they are established and can command a reasonable fee.
Wether you want to form a band for the enjoyment of playing or aim to work professionally, it is important that the band members get on well as you may be together for a long time!
Finding Band Members
Working with friends who share similar tastes in music is a great way to improve your musical and songwriting skills but if you don’t have anyone who fits the bill then the next step is to find musicians to create your band.
Young performers can ask their teachers, music department or local college to put you in touch with other students who may want to join your band or who are currently looking for a singer. Other avenues for finding band members include placing adverts in free music classifieds on the internet, music press, shops, rehearsal rooms, recording studio’s, colleges, universities and by visiting local jam or open mic nights.
Auditions come in many formats, from the casual chat to a full blown song run through with existing band members, but the first contact you have with potential band members will also give you an opportunity to gauge the individuals suitability. Have a list of questions you can ask, including what experience (if any) they may have, types of music preferred, locality, transportation, availability, all or some of which may be important to the final decision.
Unless you are forming a band with a group of friends, you may need to listen to dozens of demos and audition several musicians before finding the right individual. Where you audition depends on the type of music you will be playing, available finances and amount of band members. An individual seeking a musical collaborator will usually be able to arrange an acoustic tryout at their home or in a community hall, whilst larger (and louder) bands will need to commandeer their parents garage, hire a hall or use a dedicated rehearsal studio.
If you have several applicants it is wise to format the audition time and take notes about each person you see/hear, if possible record each applicant for later review. The amount of time you can allocate to each individual depends on the amount of studio rehearsal time that you and the other band members have paid for. If there are a lot of applicants, several hours should be booked in advance, sometimes over a period of several weeks! Be prepared for latecomers and no shows as this inevitably happens.
Ideally you should have a selection of well known songs for the applicants to play, these should range in difficulty and rhythm so that you have an opportunity to gauge the competence and style of the auditioner. If you are intending to perform original material it is preferable to select a few songs in different tempos for the auditioner to improvise to. Unless you have previously discussed the songs that will be used in the audition with the applicants, try and prepare chord sheets or send a demo of the tracks prior to the audition to allow the applicant time to familiarise themselves with the material. Remember, some people are good at playing off the cuff on the spot, others are not and you will need to match the playing ability as well as the temperament of the person with the overall sound and personality of the existing members.
Note: When attending an audition, take a friend or fellow musician with you to supply feedback and if possible record your performance for later review. Children should always be accompanied by an adult. Also read Audition Advice.
Choosing Between Applicants
Ok, so you’ve heard them all and if your lucky there are a couple of applicants who appear suitable. Each has their own merits – so how do you choose between them?
If you have recorded the session, a review of how each applicants playing fits into the overall sound of the band, provides an important insight into which musicians style fits in. How that relates to your band will depend on the sound you are aiming to create and your flexibility towards new options.
Inevitably it is a personal choice, but the important factor is how all the band members relate to each other, if you are introducing a new member to an established band, they not only have to fit in musically but also get on well with the other members of the group. A band starting from scratch has the same issues, but it may be some time before you get to know each other well enough socially, to find out if you can work together under demanding circumstances, sometimes the best decisions are made on a ‘hunch’ or instinct! Once all the members have been selected, a group meeting should be held to discuss ground rules and set common goals, this can be formalised by using a Band Agreement.
Once you have formed or joined a band, regular rehearsals should begin. These can be held anywhere that you can fit yourselves, your instruments, amplification, drum kit and any other accessories. The venue should be large enough for you to fit into without hampering each others playing and either far enough away, or sound-proofed so that the neighbours aren’t disturbed by your practice sessions! Many young bands use a basement or garage, but there are plenty of other options available. Local churches, community centres and schools will hire out their halls for a small fee or an exchange of services (offering to supply some free entertainment at their functions is often popular). The problem with these options is the lack of equipment, which will need to be hired or purchased if the band intend to use amplification. Dedicated rehearsal studios supply all the equipment you need and may even hire out drum kits and backline if required.
Newcomers should practice as much as possible to hone their skills in playing and songwriting. Professional musicians, especially those who sight read may have little, if any time to practice before an engagement, but even if it is without the full complement of band members, or to a recording, try to rehearse on a regular basis, even when you are also getting live gigs. Structure the rehearsals to allow yourselves time to work on weaker songs before progressing to new stuff and use any break period to discuss set changes, inclusions, adaptions and improvements. If you are paying for studio time, don’t waste it by mucking about! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ‘jam’ – many a good song has been created that way.
Arranging and formatting your practise periods is down to personal choice. The organisational side often gets left to the founder of the band and communication between the members is essential. It is also important to find a balance between getting it right and sounding stale. A song that has been over-rehearsed to the point where the musicians are sick of hearing it will affect the performance. If you start to reach that point with a track, leave it for a while and work on fresher material.
As soon as you have a few songs that you are all reasonably competent with, invite a musician friend or teacher to listen to the band and provide feedback and advice. Read more about Perfecting Your Act.
The type of songs you work on will depend on the personal tastes of the band members or founder of the band, their aims and the type of audience they wish to attract. Original bands who are aiming for a record deal need to write as many songs as possible, as few covers bands are considered suitable for signing. The exception to this is the vocal girl or boy ‘group’ like ‘S Club 7’ who rarely write their own material but perform a variety of old or popular songs previously made famous by other artists or new material written for them by songwriters.
As a general guide, a pub or club band will need enough songs to fill two or three x 45 min sets, a house band will need a larger more varied repertoire, whereas an original band will only need enough material to fill 15 – 60 min. Make a demo from 3 of your best songs to send to potential bookers or record companies.
Take every opportunity for performing live that you can. Start with a few short shows for your friends or relatives. Offer to play at parties, functions, weddings and other family events and approach your school, college, student union or community centre for performance opportunities. Once you feel confident that you are ready to face the world, approach local venues and agents for bookings.
Up to this point you should have gained a certain amount of experience and may feel that this is the life for you! There are downsides to live performance, that many young singers and musicians will not have considered. For instance, a lot of travelling is involved, gigs can be scattered across the country, it’s not unusual to drive for 4 hours, do a 15 minute slot and then drive back!
Unlike playing for friends and family, performing in front of an audience who have no concept of who you are and what you do can be a daunting prospect. There are no guarantees that your brilliant playing and solid songmanship will impress – especially if the crowd have come to see a local band who perform a different style of music and even if you and or your manager are good at publicising your act, there will be occasions when there are only a dozen or less people who have turned up to hear you play.
Added to this is the lack of payment. Most original bands receive nothing until they have built up a fanbase or signed a deal, even new covers bands are expected to charge less until they become more established, this could mean an average payment of between £10 & £50 per person depending on the agreement made with the venue or agent. Read more Gigging Advice.
Interviews & Photoshoots
The average band or act will have at some point arranged a photo shoot for their Publicity/Press Kits and may have some idea of the amount of time that they can take! A professional photo shoot can last for 12 hours or more, as can a recording session! Video shoots, press and television interviews may sound glamorous but much of the time is spent waiting around, sorting out camera angles, make up and learning the directions from the producer or floor manager. Video shoots and recorded interviews often require the artist to repeat dance moves, voice overs or questions several times before the producer is satisfied and the end result may only last for a few minutes!
Having a good team of people around you who share the same goals and put effort into reaching them can be a lot of fun as well as rewarding. No-one can guarantee you that you will get recognition or sign a deal, however a good Manager and Agent should be able to increase your chances and organise your bookings.
It can be tough to make any money when you are starting out. You will have to pay for your own expenses until you are signed or established and may end up doing a lot of hard work for nothing, but if you enjoy singing or performing it’s worth giving it a shot – a good band can make career from music if they are prepared to work hard.