11 Dumb Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Small Ads for Band Members

Can't find the right people for your band? Maybe it's because your ad is terrible. Here's 11 ways you could be letting yourself down.

Ultimate Guitar

I deal with a lot of band leaders, and one problem they consistently have is that they can't recruit the right people into their band. It's certainly hard to do, but some bands are doing themselves no favours in the way they advertise and some are actively putting out ads that will attract terrible people who will cause chaos in their band.

The wrong ad, whether you are advertising a position in your band or seeking a band yourself, will either get no response, or a response from people you don't ever want to deal with.

This is a list of 11 dumb things that crop up again and again in these ads. Don't do them.

1. Not Saying Anything About What Music You Play

What is the first thing a musician thinks about when joining a band? Whether the music is music they want to play. The kind of music you play should be in your headline. If all you say is "guitarist wanted" then that's pretty much useless and suitable musicians won't even click on it because there's not enough info there. And if you're one of those tosspots who says "my music has no genre, man, it's revolutionary" then just put "boring self-absorbed hipster rubbish" in the title instead.

2. Citing Influences Instead of Saying What You Want to Sound Like

Name-checking a couple of bands in your ad is a good idea. Listing dozens of bands that have very little in common other than you like then isn't. Most decent musicians are looking for projects with a strong sense of musical direction, not a list of bands that some guy has on his Spotify. The ad should be clear on what the music will sound like. Things like "Fast, aggressive death metal," "Laid-back jazzy pop" or "Country Rock with a Skynrd vibe" are good enough to point people in the right direction. If you don't know enough about your planned sound to give it a one-sentence description like that, then you need to make those decisions before you think of advertising.

3. Putting Completely the Wrong Things in the Headline

Here's a couple of ads I came across this week:

"Band with logo and possible management seek vocalist" "Band with production deal seeking musicians"

Not only do those ads give no clue as to what the music sounds like, they also scream of desperation and terrible priorities, particularly the first one. If all you can say about your band is that it has a logo, you don't have a band, you have a doodle on a piece of paper. And "Possible Management"? That's meaningless, all bands have "possible" world tours, major-label deals, armies of groupies and everything else. It make you look disorganised and desperate.

The second headline also look desperate. This band has a vague "production deal" (the text of the ad didn't elaborate) and was looking for any and all musicians. Again, this is not a band, it is a piece of paper, and what's more it looks like that it was a piece of paper that was signed before the ad placer had any musicians who could fulfil it, and now he's in real trouble. Who on earth would join a band in such a mess?

There should be 3 things and 3 things only in your ad headline:

  • Who you want
  • What kind of music it is
  • Where the band is at

    You'll also need the location if the site or forum you're posting on isn't sorted by geography. So, good headlines are things like:

    "London rock band with released EP seek bassist" "Pro LA country covers band seek drummer for paid work" "Start-up Birmingham folk band seek female acoustic guitarist/singer"

    That's all the info people need to decide whether to click on it or not.

    4. Droning on And on About You/The Band Without Mentioning the Reader

    Ugh. If I'm looking for a band to join, I want to know what's in it for me. I don't want to read your resume. So many ads show a complete lack of understanding of the perspective of the person that they are looking for, and come across as puff pieces for the person placing the ad. Not only does it not convey the necessary information, it also makes you look like an egotistical douche.

    Particularly annoying are the sorts of people who boast about who they used to work with. If you write "I used to work with Sony," then my immediate reaction is "Why aren't you working with them any more?" The assumption is that you messed up/got fired and that you are trying to rebuild you career. If you used to work with big names but don't any more, then you either need to explain why you're slumming it or just shut up.

    Just tell people 2 things: What are you looking for and what can you offer them. That's all.

    5. Using the Word "Urgent" When It's Not Needed

    Don't misuse the word "urgent," it often has very negative connotations. You can use it if you are facing an actual deadline, i.e. "Dep blues drummer urgently needed for paid Chicago gig on [date]." If there's no deadline, then you are giving out those desperate vibes again. I've seen "urgent" ads from bands that are starting up, or people seeking songwriting partners or producers. Why are these "urgent"? What will happen if you don't find someone straight away?

    All that using the word "urgent" in this way will convey is that you are impatient and desperate to get on stage, rather than wanting the right arrangements and the right people together. Experienced musicians know that this is a recipe for disaster and will prefer bands who are prioritising getting things done right rather than getting things done fast.

    6. Attacking the Person Whose Replacement You Are Advertising

    So what if the previous guitarist was a dick? By calling them out in the ad for their replacement, you are saying a number of very bad things about yourself:

    - I hired a d-ck to be my last guitarist - My band is full of politics and drama - I like to insult people who can't answer back - Chances are the problem was my fault anyway

    Nobody wants to join a band like that. Don't say things like "differences of opinion" or "musical issues," people will see right through that and it looks like you're hiding something. Most people answering the ad won't care why the last guy left anyway, and if they do, they'll ask you. Keep it away from the ad.

    7. Ads That Are Too Short

    One from the small ads this week: "Bassist wanted. Email me for details." Er, why should I? If this person is too lazy to tell me even the most basic information about his band, why should I bother to make any effort to respond? Also, if he's this lazy and slapdash about something as important as recruiting to his band, then he's probably a nightmare to work with anyway. I wouldn't reply even if I was Jaco Pastorius. Again, 3 things: what are you looking for, what kind of music is it, and what is the band currently doing? If that info isn't in the ad (it should really all be in the headline) then it's too short.

    It's not just over-short ads that make you look sloppy. I saw an ad this week from a "professional" vocalist that had a blurry picture of her drunk at a party and said "sorry about the pic it's all I have on my phone lol." If she couldn't be bothered to take the tiny bit of extra effort to wait till she got home and could get a better picture, what does that say about her attitude and willingness to work hard? Bad things, that's what.

    8. Ads That Are Too Long

    Many ads are too short, but some are also too long. People don't have time to read your life story when they're browsing dozens of ads. They just need enough info to know if you are worth responding to. Then you can fill them in on the fine details, through an info pack, website, audition, meeting or other things. After the essential what, who, why and where, anything else is likely to put people off, even if it's good.

    9. Ads Full of Basic Mistakes

    I don't want to join a band run by morons. If your ad has text speak, basic spelling errors or generally looks like it was written by someone who was high on cough mixture then you'll only get replies from other idiots. Good musicians will judge you through your ad, and if your ad is lazy and sloppy they will assume that you are lazy and sloppy as a person and not someone they want to be in a band with. Take the time to check your ad before it goes. If you're not posting in your native language, get a fluent speaker to check it first.

    10. Abuse of the Word "Professional"

    Let's be clear: "Professional" means "Paid." If you advertise for a "pro," then your replies will be from people who will expect to be paid. Likewise, if you advertise yourself as "Professional," then you will not get replies from bands that can't pay you (yet). Make sure that's what you want before you say it.

    And if you are writing an ad that says something like "This is unpaid, but will be great exposure for your music blah blah blah" then do us all a favour and punch yourself in the face until you're no longer everything that's wrong with the music business. Thanks.

    11. Creepy Ads for Female Singers

    From this week's listings:

    "Producer and guitarist seeks sensual female singer who sings with love and passion." It had a picture of the guy holding a rose.

    The dating section is that way you absolute creep. Eurgh.

    About the Author: James Scott is a music producer in London, UK. He works with unsigned and small-label bands to help them make an impact in the music industry. For more advice for bands on recording and songwriting, check out his mailing list, with free resources exclusively for subscribers.

  • 34 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Great read. Anything that covers the non-musical side of bandleading is important, especially on UG. But do people really do 11 and think it'll get them laid?
      James Scott
      lol, i see the same thing regularly on Gumtree here in Australia! great read btw ty
      Wow, this guy pretty much nailed it! I think he hits about 7 of the 11 toics in the article. Well done!
      Nice article. I disagree with the whole "posting about band drama" stuff though -- I'd rather know that the band is full of drama and shit so I can go right ahead and skip the ad.
      link no1
      You might want to, sure but, it looks like crap on an advertisement and will get 0 responses. To be quite honest, I don't know why you would even think about mentioning anything about the 'old guitarist' other than "Guitarist needed". That's it, that's all you need to mention about the position and why you are looking for one.
      Loved this article.'Sings with love and passion, with a picture of a guy and a rose' cracked me up.
      love #1, the last sentence applies everywhere
      The trouble is picking the right label. Say you're a band with a doomy, midtempo metal sound like Opeth or Insomnium. Just "metal" will make most people think of Black Veil Brides or Avenged Sevenfold. "Extreme metal" might mean deathcore to most people. "Prog metal" is an easy way to attract show-offs. Then, you might want to list bands you sound like, but cases like this are exceptions, and you'll still want a label or two.
      What you've just described was our number one problem, we couldn't call ourselves "Post-Hardcore" because otherwise people would think we're Sleeping With Sirens or some shit (when we actually mean At The Drive-In), "Emo" has the same issue, "Math Pop" is too obscure for most people to pick up, when people mention "Indie" they're usually referring to either The Smiths or some really shit landfill band like Kaiser Chiefs or The Fratellis. Ah well, it was a fun band while it lasted, more of a "by musicians for musicians" thing.
      Agreed, 9 times out of 10 it's really something everyone's heard before, though my old band were genuinely in a situation where we couldn't describe our music at all without being either too vague or too specific(possibly with a hint of being overly pretentious).
      Number 11! So good! I Can't tell you how many times I have seen these ads, mainly on craigslist hahah.
      von gelb
      Oh man, that brings back memories of reading musicians ads when looking for replacements. Some ads are just too much drama, halfway reading you'd think somebody is just trolling...
      Number 11 reminds me of an ad where the guy specified that he wanted a blond female singer. What does the color of hair tell about the voice ??
      link no1
      Nice article. I'm happy to say I've avoided doing everything wrong in all ads I've posted in the past according to this list One thing I would add though that I didn't see covered, don't post ads on crappy bits of paper. The amount of ads I've seen posted that are written on a torn off piece of crappy paper is amazing and I tend to ignore them. They just look tacky and lazy like it was a last minute idea to post an ad in the music shop whilst you where there anyway. Not saying you should print out a nice looking ad (though, the nicer they look the better IMO) but hell, even using a pair of scissors to properly cut the paper is a step up from a small sheet of torn tat.
      Yet again, James, another great article that has been saved on my computer. I've run into most of the mistakes you mention. It's all summed up perfectly.
      Very truthful article. I cant say how many band ads that say "We want to sound like blah blah blah list of 20 other bands of different genres/sub genres." If you want to form a band that "sounds like" someone else, then you may as well form a cover band.
      When I was looking for members for my current band I was advertising along the lines of: "Looking to mix influences from Paramore, The Prodigy, and The Gallows to create a new sound." Which is essentially what we have done. I'm yet to find a band that sounds similar. We also advertised for a female singer with no problems at all.
      Soldier Poet
      "If you don't know enough about your planned sound to give it a one-sentence description like that, then you need to make those decisions before you think of advertising. " I disagree. I once made a list of a lot a bands I'm into, ranging from postrock to jazz to classic to electronic because I just wanted to find likeminded people, and I did. When we started playing, we figured out what we wanted exactly (turned out be eclectic jazzy post-rock).
      My band just started looking for a new singer a couple of days ago, so I have to say that this came at a perfect time for me! thanks man!
      Very well done, and very helpful. Also you're really funny. I almost thought i was reading a cracked article Thanks!