If you’re reading this article, you’re probably feeling a bit anxious about putting together your first extremely awesome band.
Many people have no problem with this. They navigate the world with significantly more unconscious confidence than people like you and I, and go after what they want, free of any overt fear of messing it up.
We’re different. We want to be certain before we try anything. We want to do it the right way, at the right time, with the right people. Screwing up isn’t really an option, because people might laugh, or we might go down a path we can’t change, and then we’ll have regrets, and then what? Anything could happen. And that’s actually terrifying.
It always feels safer to know what to expect, and to feel confident that we can execute without looking like idiots. So. I have some good news and I have some bad news.
The good news is that anyone can start a band, and it’s really not that hard.
The bad news is that if you keep letting the need to do things RIGHT hold you back, you’re not going to do this.
If you have social anxiety like I do, you’re going to have some awkward exchanges. You’re going to back out on decisions, and have to tell people “no”, and it may take a minute to put your awesome project together. I know it’s hard. But if you keep letting yourself be awkward and messy and real, and keep moving forward anyway, you’ll find that soon enough, you’re more and more the person you want to be, and you’ll be living the musical life you’ve been dreaming of.
With that out of the way, here’s a reliable process for starting a band when you’re mildly terrified of it (and worth noting that you can go about this IN ANY WAY YOU WANT. This is just what worked for me).
1. GET CLEAR ON YOUR DREAM.
Don’t downplay it. You have permission to dream big (even though every instinct you have may be telling you to play it cool). What kind of band do you want to create? How many people are involved? What genre, style, attitude, or energy do you want to create? How do you want people to feel when they see you perform or hear your music? Do you want to record, play out, and tour? How often do you want to play and what types of venues?
Now is the time to really hone in on your lifelong dream of dressing up as wizards and singing about tacos.
2. PUT A DEMO TOGETHER.
Try to get some material together to show people what you do. If you can record 1 – 3 demo tracks (or video) that you can email or link to potential bandmates, you’ll bypass a lot of potential miscommunication. The recordings don’t have to be good. In fact, they can be charmingly terrible. You don’t need a full band sound, but if you want one, try to recruit some friends just for the demo.
Having a Spotify or YouTube playlist of music that excites you can also be a really great conversation-starter and way to set some general expectations up front.
3. FIND YOUR PEEPS.
If you have people in mind, pitch them. Great bands are often started with good friends.
If no one’s on your wish list, it’s time to hit the streets. And the interwebs. Post a link to your demo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Craigslist. If you’re a part of any musician groups on Facebook, hit them up (or search “MYCITYNAME musicians”). There’s a bunch of musicians seeking musicians sites as well, but they all look pretty crap.
When you post, mention what you do and what roles or skills you’re looking for, what you hope to accomplish, and what level of commitment you’re willing to put in. If you have a practice space, a van, or shared gear like a PA, that’s also worth mentioning. Be kind, confident, and succinct.
What if no one’s biting?
If you’re not getting any interest solely from shouting into the abyss of the web, make sure you’re also being involved and active in your music scene (if you’re fortunate enough to have one). Go out and support people, get to know them, show them some love, and you’ll find that the more people you know, the more likely you’re going to find someone who wants to work with you.
Another tactic is to create a name for yourself before you make the ask, or while making the ask. Create a Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or YouTube page where you can share what you’re working on – whether it be originals or covers, it’ll give credibility to you as a musical entity and it’ll help people get to know you quickly. The videos don’t have to be good. They just have to show your skill.
4. SET UP YOUR FIRST DATE (THE CHAT).
Once you do get some interest, just know that no matter how crap you think you are, you will get some DUDS. You’ll get creepers and toxic people, and folks just starting out. Be willing to face your anxiety and meet up with people, but DO NOT think just because this is your first rodeo that you need to work with someone that doesn’t feel right.
Especially for the younger people in the crowd, I HIGHLY recommend meeting for the first time in a safe, public place. If you’re a teen, I’d definitely bring a friend and meet at perhaps a coffee shop.
Hot tip: A LOT of people will avoid talking about goals and expectations up front because they’re afraid to come off as too serious, but I’ll tell you: If you don’t talk about this shit now, it’s going to bite you in the ass eventually.
Here’s a list of things to cover early on:
What styles do you want to play?
What’s your typical writing process?
How often can you practice? Can you get to practice on your own, reliably?
Do you want to play gigs? If so, how often? What types of gigs? What types of venues?
Do you want to record? If so, how soon?
Do you want to / do you have the ability to go on tour? How long and how often? (And if they say, “yeah dude I totally want to tour – my spouse, 2 young children and full-time job totally won’t impact this”, note that this is probably one of the things that will bite you in the ass later.)
Do you have a practice space, band van, PA, or a recording setup? This is a bonus, obviously, not a requirement.
What skills do you bring to the table beyond your instrument? This could be sound engineering, graphic design, booking, social media promotion, bookkeeping, etc.
What are your goals for the band? What do you want people to be able to say about the band or your role in it?
Are you capable of being up-front about what’s working and not working for you?
What do you want the extent of your role to be? Are there responsibilities you need in order to be happy? What are you able to help with even if its not your main goal? (ie: Do you need to be the lead songwriter or the only vocalist? Are you down to help with poster design or booking?)
Are you racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted in any way? If the answer is anything except, “Absolutely not,” red flags everywhere.
5. SET UP YOUR SECOND DATE (THE JAM).
If you seem to be largely on the same page (with some wiggle room of course – that’s where the magic is!), set up a time to connect and either improv jam OR work on a cover or original that you’ve decided on. Remember, the first time you meet is about making sure they aren’t a creep and getting on the same page. The first time you PLAY together is about getting to know their personality and working style.
Do they take the lead or only take instruction, whether they’re opinionated or reasonable, whether they have lots of ideas or whether they really need to work hard to bring a couple ideas into practice. Pay attention to subtle tells that you might otherwise ignore: Did your jam partner get stumbling drunk? Did they listen to your ideas before speaking?
Here’s another tip – go out to a show with them. This will give you a picture of whether there are other things to watch out for – do they piss people off? Do they drink WAY too much? You can learn a lot by inviting their significant other out with them as well.
Et voila. You get enough people, suddenly you have an awesome band!
Of course, there’s a lot more to making a band truly awesome, and you may gain and lose members a bunch before you reach stability, and THAT’S OKAY. That’s normal. Just keep moving forward, and keep your eye on the Reason You Started.