A Band That Lives Or Dies

So you want to start a rock band?

Ultimate Guitar

So you want to start a rock band? Why? What attracts you to it? Money? Popularity? Creativity? To have a good time? Because you love music? Well my friend, rule one upon entering the world of creative sound is to know what you want and why. In truth it could be said that this rule applies to everything we do. Give me a vision of what I want and I will move heaven and hell to get it! To know what one wants provides drive, focus, and persistence in that thing. But I digress, you are here asking about starting a band. Let's make this our first lesson on the point. Know what you want!

Now to the nitty gritty we flow to obtain knowledge we are wont to know. I have played in rock bands, country bands, and bands that couldn't claim a genre and have a fair amount of experience on what works and what does not. Let us reason together about the principles of a band. A rock band is a group of people, some kindly even call us musicians, that play rock n roll music. Do you find that straightforward enough? I have seen in my life that when rock bands move too far beyond the straightforward they cease to be rock, and many of them take years to come back around. There is nothing wrong with changing or expanding your genres and tastes but one should be very aware what they are so they can reapply these principles. These ideas change a little within each genre because each genre is a different environment.

Always play music with people you respect. If you can love and respect them then you have magic. A band is by definition a group project and too much cannot be said of the strength of mutual respect. This is why many people choose friends to play with. If you doubt the benefits of this, think of the most painful experience of your life and imagine yourself sharing it with a people you despise. I can't wrap my mind around you if you would enjoy that. Creating music is an intensely personal and revealing experience that draws life from your most personal experiences and beliefs. For this reason and many practical reasons of working in a group I encourage you to play with those you respect. A word of caution about bringing friends into your band. Be ready to decide what to do if you have to leave the band or worse ask a friend to leave. The stresses of a band can lead to a fork in the relationship road where you have to choose between the band and a person or even leave both behind. Be prepared!

Each person should know their role in the band. Who is the leader? Who is in charge of money? Who writes music? Who sings? Who talks to other people about the band? Do we write music together or separately? Who plays louder? Who designs merchandise? A band can ask a lot of a person and distribution of labor keeps people from being burnt out and empowers them with purpose. Do you think structure is overrated or not necessary in rock music? Metallica had most of these questions figured out from the beginning. Watch their documentary Some Kind of Monster and you will see that they had clear rules about who wrote guitar parts (James, Kirk, and Cliff) and lyrics (James) and what say the others had in it. For 20 years they worked like this and changed it up on the album St. Anger.

The band as a whole must have an identity. What makes you special? Who do you sound like? How are you different and unique? What kind of feel or attitude do you want? What do you want other people to think of you, refer to you, or blame on you? A band is like a brand. It tells people what to expect and even gives you, the brand, direction in your music and career. Do you want to be known as a pure rock band that does an awesome show? Do you want to be known as a diverse and avant-garde blend of music and artwork? Sit down, talk it out, write it down, and figure it out.

If you follow these four basic ideas then you will have a good experience with a band. You can have fun, be popular, make money, and even change the world. In the music industry we talk a lot about bands making it because they got lucky. That's true somewhat but consider this. Who do you think is the best band in the world? Would they have made it eventually? I believe Led Zeppelin, my personal favorite, was going to make it no matter what.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    The majority of this seems to be made up of questions asked by the writer... just a thought...
    Awesome article man. I completely agree. When people try to start bands, they either find random people who play the instrument they need or recruit close friends. Both can be catastrophic. People don't realize that playing music is WORK. It's not all fun and games and the further you make it, the harder it gets. Actually, this could be a prequel to my "How To Start A Band" articles.
    SmudgeMetal wrote: The majority of this seems to be made up of questions asked by the writer... just a thought...
    Well. I agree with that too. It is a lot of questions. You can't expect the writer to answer the mall for another person though. He doesn't know the reader and he doesn't know exactly what they want. Playing music brings up a lot of questions and you have to answer them yourself if you want YOU to come out in the music. If I needed to find a good tone...I wouldn't ask Zakk Wylde how he gets his, or mine would sound just like him. I like his tone, but it's his, not mine.