Welcome to Level Up Your Band (part one, part two and part three), the series that teaches you how to build a successful band from the ground up, and to avoid the common pitfalls to which lesser bands succumb.
In last week’s edition, we talked about the importance of optimizing your rehearsal time. But, that’s only half the battle. Getting the most out of your practice isn’t just about what you do in the rehearsal room: it’s about what you do outside of it as well.
Bands sometimes have a tendency of putting loads of effort into the three hours that they’re practicing together, and then taking it easy for a week between sessions. The problem with that approach is you end up losing momentum. Progress feels very stop-start, and you have to take a few steps back at the start of every session to recap on what you were working on previously.
Follow these three golden rules though, and you’ll find that your extra-rehearsal time is as productive as the time you spend in the room.
Rule One: Work from recordings of your sessions
If your band hasn’t yet invested in a good quality digital audio recorder, I’d recommend doing so as soon as possible. The reason? They’re vital to making the most of your extra-rehearsal time.
Here’s the thing. When you come out of the rehearsal room, you’re usually buzzing with the new ideas you’ve come up with. They’re fresh in your mind because you’ve been playing them for the past hours. But, as the week goes on and other distractions intervene, that familiarity fades. Fast-forward to the next week, and you find that everybody has a vague recollection of the material that you were working on, but is fuzzy on the specifics. An hour of recapping ensues, and you find that you’ve used a chunk of your rehearsal time getting back to square one.
If you record those ideas and stick them in a shared Dropbox folder, though, then everyone has a record of them to work from during the week. Assuming each band member takes the time to study that recording in the days leading up to the next session, they’ll remember exactly where they left off, allowing you to dive straight back into work and meaning that you don’t forget any of those moments of spontaneous genius that happened in the previous rehearsal.
Rule Two: Work in satellite groups
Last edition, I said that you should use your session to focus on macro, rather than micro features of your music. So it goes without saying that you should use your extra-session time to work on those micro details. Guitar solos, harmonies, vocals and fills are things that you should lock in between rehearsals, and will add to your sense of progress the next time your band meets up.
How you go about doing that will depend on exactly what sort of thing you’re working on and how the writing dynamics in your band work. Some practices, like lyric writing may be something that a band member does on their own. For other activities though, working in smaller, satellite groups can be a great way of getting things done efficiently. In my band, for example, the guitarists typically meet up between writing sessions to work on harmony parts and to write lead guitar lines. This works great as they get to focus on the intricacies of those parts without the distractions of other band mates, and we get to use our full band sessions to work on things that require the full band.
Rule Three: Practice!
Band rehearsals are the space where new ideas come together. Between rehearsals, you want to be using your time to lock those ideas in.
Chances are that, as a musician serious about your art, you probably have a daily rehearsal schedule in place. Now that you’re in a band, you want to add to that rehearsal schedule to incorporate the new material that your band is working on. Devote some of your daily practice time to getting new riffs locked in, to memorizing song structures. Make sure that any bits you were ropey on in the rehearsal session get some care and attention in your extra-rehearsal time so that they’re locked in when your band next meets.
Assuming that all of your band members are doing this, you’ll see the results pretty sharpish. Between sessions, you’ll find that definite progress has been made, which in turn, will accelerate the progress that you make during your full band rehearsal time.
That’s it for this week’s edition. If you’ve been reading diligently, you’ll have noticed that much of Part Four has focused on your band writing their own material. But, how exactly do you go about doing that if you’ve never done so before? Fear not, as we’re delving in to the art of efficient songwriting in next week’s installment!