By popular demand, and due to the success of my previous article, I'll be writing today about how you can go about joining or forming a band, and how to choose the right people for the job. Most of this will seem like common sense, but if you are wanting to have a band, you should make sure you know all of the information in this article. Let's get right to it.
Disclaimer: This article assumes that you wish to be in a band that plays shows for other humans, not just a band that plays in their basement to amuse nobody but themselves. A lot of the advice given here applies to either kind of band, but don't be offended by the somewhat commercial tilt of this article. If you just want to play in your basement, then why do you care what anyone else thinks anyways, right?
1. Are You Good Enough?
Take this question seriously guys. I'm aware that one of the best ways to learn is by jamming in a band, but there is a certain plateau of talent that you should have reached before you start putting a band together. It's not a hard one to reach, but make sure you're there. All you need to be able to do is the following:
Play one song, by any artist, all the way through, without stopping, screwing up or skipping a part. Doesn't matter if it's "All The Small Things," or "Voodoo Chile." Just be able to perform a song for other people at the drop of a hat. If you can't play it in front of other people, and can only do it once in a while if you do a big warm up, and listen to the song first, and you have to be sitting down, and be using your lucky pick, and so on, you need to work on it some more.
Or if you've written your own song, make sure there's something to it. At least two different riffs or progressions, and one or more of the following: An intro, a bridge, a solo, a breakdown, or an outro. That's all you need. Two riffs and an interlude of some kind. You might want lyrics too, but the absolute minimum should be the music for at least one song.
Why? Why not just go and jam out all those intro riffs you know? Why not just play the first minute and a half of every punk and metal song you like? Because then there's no point in having a band. People join bands to play songs. Not parts of songs. People go and SEE bands play entire songs. It's doubtful that you will spontaneously learn the remaining two minutes of your songs in the middle of band practice, so you might as well stay home and practice till you've got something.
As a slight exception, it's always good to play around with another guitarist, or just one other person to accompany your tunes, even if you don't know every part of the songs. You can try and figure them out, or learn little tricks and techniques. But if you intend to be in a full band (guitar, bass, drums and vocals), you should be able to play at least one entire song.
2. Is Everyone Else Good Enough? Or Are They Too Good?
If you have been playing for six months, don't try and form a band with someone who's been playing seriously for 6 years. You'll BOTH be frustrated. This point mostly applies to those playing the string instruments, or keyboards if you've got 'em. If a drummer can keep the beat, then you can probably make decent music. Some people want a professional drummer who's more than just a percusionist, but keeping time is the real requirement for a startup amatuer band.
If you're a bass player who's been playing for years, and you're laying down funky grooves like Flea and Les Claypool do, then you will be frustrated as hell with a guitarist who only knows how to play power chords and pentatonic scales. And if you're that guitarist, you'll be frustrated as hell because your bass player will be playing stuff that you physically can't keep up with, and you'll have no idea how to make your instrument sound good.
You don't all have to be equal skill levels, but nobody should suffer extreme frustration because they are not skilled enough, or feel stunted because they aren't playing as well as they can. Once again, don't get me wrong. Never pass up an opportunity to play with someone more skilled than you. There is more to learn than you can ever know. But if you're a guitar newbie, don't be in the mindset that "if I can get that guy in my band, we'll totally kick ass!" Because you won't. Keep it within your general scope of ability.
3. Who Joins The Band?
Anyone who's interested in the right things. There are a number of qualities to make sure a person posesses before you should consider letting them join your band:
a. Do They Play The Proper Instrument?
Unless you are an utter genious at music arrangement, you should have the following in your band: One drummer. One bass player (sometimes optional, depending on what kind of sound you want). One lead singer, with as many backup singers as you want. One OR two guitarists.
If you have one guitarist, you will have to bear in mind that you need to cover both rhytm and lead parts of your songs. You can't be soloing through the whole song, and your actual solos will need strong drum and bass work behind them. If you think you can cut it, or just don't want to have to work with another guitarist, then go with one. But if you can't play lead and need someone else to help out, or if you want to play tons of lead, and need someone to play chords, then go with two. Just be prepared to do a LOT of work arranging the dual guitar parts. Also, make DAMN sure that whoever is the rhytm guitarist is okay with just being the rhythm guitarist. Simultaneous soloing is not an easy thing to do, and it's even harder to make it sound good.
To get an idea of what I mean, here's some examples: (Just examples. Don't turn the comments section into a list of your favorite bands!)
Great Bands With One Guitarist:
Led Zeppelin Jimi Hendrix Experience Van Halen Audioslave / Rage Against The Machine Red Hot Chili Peppers Nirvana
Great Bands With two Guitarists:
AC/DC Aerosmith KISS Foo Fighters Rolling Stones The Ramones
Two drummers is just ridiculous in most cases. Slipknot uses two drummers. So does the Allman Brothers Band. But they are exceptions to the norm, and they know what they are doing. If you want a raw sound, and your vocals are really 'full-sounding,' you might want to forgo the use of a bass player. Bands that spring to mind are The White Stripes, and Jet.
Don't start a band with no drummer. And don't start a band with four guitarists. It's okay to start with no singer, but make sure you have the capacity to make music and not disclude anyone. Also, make sure they own, or have access to the proper equipment. The guy who plays guitar for the school band might not have one at home.
b. Do They Have The Same Goals As You?
Make sure the people who join your band want to be in your band. You should all want to play roughly the same kind of music. This isn't too hard to manage if you just want to play rock. But if you want to play nothing but hardcore emo/rap fusion, or secualr death metal, you might have a hard time finding musicians to play with. Such is life. Just be sure that you share SOME common influences, and that you would like to make the same kind of music. Make sure that someone is willing and able to write original songs if that's your goal. For more info on the topic of running your band, click here.
Also consider this: Where do you want to take this band? Are you just looking for a way to express yourself, and have a good time playing music? Do you want to make a career out of this? Do you want to play only original material? Or only cover songs? A mix of both? Do you care about your band's image?
Make sure everyone is on the same page about this stuff. Because if you want to be a professional musician, and your bass player wants to jam in the basment for fun on weekends, what's going to happen when you start looking for gigs? They guy you've been playing with all these months, and developing all this musical telekenesis with, is going to bail on you, and you'll have to find and train a replacement. And what happens when you've been playing covers for a few months, and finally introduce your own material, and everyone rejects it because they'd rather spend the day working on playing "Walk This Way?" If you want to be taken seriously as a rock band, don't get some uptight geek to play bass just because he's good at it. That sounds crass, but keep it in mind.
c. Do You Get Along With These People?
Make sure you can tolerate the people who are in your band. If your guitarist is a total asshole perfectionist who cuts people down all the time, don't just let him join because he knows how to play. Consider everything. If you are a straight-edger, don't join up with a band of potheads. These are the general things to be aware of.
You should also consider some broader personality traits. Does the person actually care about the band? Or do they just want to be cool by being in a band? Are they willing to make a few sacrifices to be in the band? Or are they going to cancel every other practice because they made other plans through the week? NOTHING is more annoying than an absentee band member. Is the person willing and able to upgrade or maintain their equipment? Or will they quit the band when they need to buy new bass strings? Will they rearrange their schedule to play a gig? Or do you have to call the bar and tell them that your drummer is stuck at work? Is the person going to go out and get horse-faced drunk the night before a practice or gig, and phone in sick? Or are they willing to skip a night out in order to play in the band?
I should also point out that you should ask YOURSELF these questions too, before you accidentally put together a band that you don't want to be in, or join a band that expects to much of you.
4. How Do I Find These People?
Look everywhere. Ask around. Find friends of friends of friends. Put up posters. Unless your three best friends play drums, bass, and can sing, you will need to branch out, be social, and meet new people. Go to open jams at local bars. Go to local shows. If you go where there's music, you will find musicians. I know a bass player who's in four bands, all with varying degrees of success.
Don't limit yourself to your immediate circle of friends. Just because you like to hang out with certain people doesn't mean you'll be able to work with them in a band setting. Don't disclude someone because all your friends think he's weird. One of the greatest things about music is it's ability to bring strangers together, and to help them bond quickly. Think about how many cool people you've met at concerts, in mosh pits, or even just striking up a conversation about music.
Here's an example, using my own band to demonstrate:
Guitarist: Me. Bassist: My brother. (Yeah, no challenge. Just coincidence.) Drummer: Friend of a friend. My drummer and I have a mutual friend, and we had both mentioned to him that we wanted to join bands. He got us together. Singer: Friend of my girlfriend's friend. We met at a party, but I didn't know he was a signer until we were both at a show put on by our friend's band. We got to talking about music, and there you have it. Temporary Interim Singer (it's a long story): Friend of my drummer (friend of a friend of a friend).
5. What Do I Need To Have?
When it comes to equipment, there are some definite must-haves. Your drummer will need his own complete drum set, or regular accesss to one. Since you can't turn the volume down on drums, your guitar and bass amps will have to be loud enough to match the drums. Make sure your bass and guitar amps can compete with each other as well. If you are playing a 15-watt solid-state combo, and your bass player is playing through a full bass rig, you won't be heard at all. You will need to own (obviously) a guitar. Always have spare strings on hand, and cables, picks, and any other little tools you might need. If you are playing acoustic guitar, make sure you have proper amplification, or that your rhythm section is okay with keeping quiet. For some info on how to get a wider range of sounds from your guitar without investing in a ton of pedals and stompboxes, click here.
If you have a singer, you need a PA (Public Announcement) system. This consists of a microphone, a voice amplifier, and a speaker. You can get a junker PA system at any pawn shop for pretty cheap. Lots of bands also rent them if they need one. But you won't be able to really jam at proper levels without PA.
You will need some means of moving all this junk around too. Either keep it all in one place, or be prepared to drive around with it every week. And, last but not least, you will need a place to play. Anywhere that there's room will do. The main problem is noise complaints. You can't have a band practice in a tenth-floor apartment building. Nor can you have one in a condo, or a duplex. If one of your members has an insulated garage, or a basement with enough room, you can always play there. Cranky neighbors and parents are a fact of life, so if it comes up, you might have to relocate. But if you're playing good music, they might not mind at all. In fact, my neighbor accross the alley knocked on my garage door the other week. I figured he was going to shut us down, but he actually wanted to come in and hear us play. Fancy that!
So let's summarize. If you want to form or join a band you must:
- Be skilled enough to be in a band. - Find people of roughly the same skill level as yourself to play with. - Find people who play the proper instruments. - Find people who have the same musical goals as you. - Find people who you can get along with. - Just plain old FIND people, by any means nessecary. - Make sure you own the proper equipment.
I hope this has helped you guys out. I got a lot of requests to write this article, so I'd appreciate any feedback you can give. Also, if you have any requests for future articles, please register, if you haven't already, and send me a private message detailing your request. Please don't ask me to write reviews of your favorite band, because I am not likely to do it.