Level Up Your Band Part One: Find a Band That Works

A band can be a pressure cooker environment. Make sure the personalities in your group don't bring things to the boil.

Ultimate Guitar
Level Up Your Band Part One: Find a Band That Works

Welcome to Level Up Your Band, a new 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 this first edition, we're starting at the very beginning: Finding a band that works. Because, before you can even think about a rehearsal schedule together, before you can think about recording, gigging, and all the fun stuff, you need to make sure that you're in a band that's going to stay the course, that you can work with, and that are united in their goals and attitudes.

As I see it, there are three golden rules to finding a band that works. In my experience, bands who have gone on to find success have abided by all three, while those who didn't adhere to these criteria inevitably fell by the wayside, and had a miserable time being in a band in the process.

Rule One: Find a band you get on with

This one is simple and painfully obvious. But does that mean people always abide by it? No.

When you play in a band, you spend a lot of time with people in that band, and I mean a lot. There's the hours of rehearsal time, load ins and sound checks during gigs - and that's only the beginning.

By the time you get to touring and recording, you'll be spending days, weeks, sometimes even months cooped up with the same four or five people in very tight spaces - tour buses, cramped motel rooms or tiny studio control rooms.

Given that intense proximity, you want to get on with the people your playing with. If you don't, things are going to get shitty very quickly.

To clarify, you and your band don't have to be BFFs (although there's nothing wrong with that if you are). But, you need personalities that don't clash, create lots of tension or irreconcilable differences of opinion. And you certainly don't want people in the band that plain don't like each other.

A band can be a pressure cooker environment. Make sure the personalities in your group don't bring things to the boil.

Rule Two: Make sure you share the same goals

In order for your band to be successful, everybody needs to want the same thing.

Too often, bands don't have a discussion about what they want to achieve when they start out, and this ends up being a huge issue down the line.

What you put into a band is directly related to what you get out of it. If your singer is in it for world domination, but your bassist sees it as a few mates having a laugh, that's going to lead them putting different amounts of effort in. And likely, as things go on, the person who's putting in the most effort will come to resent the person putting the least.

Once you've established that your band don't hate each other and can stand to be in a room with one another for extended periods of time, you need to sit down and ask some big questions about where you want to take it. Those might include:

  • Do you want to be a covers band?
  • Do you want to write originals?
  • Do you want to turn the band into a full time profession, or do you see this as being a hobby?
  • How many times a week do you want to rehearse?
  • How many gigs do you see yourselves doing per week in a year's time?
  • Is touring on the agenda?
  • How much do people feel willing to commit to the project financially?
If everyone's on the same page, then all is good. But if they're not, it might be time to shake up the ranks.

Rule Three: Make sure everyone is at the same musical level

So you all get on and you have the same goals. But are there one or more band members obviously lacking in ability compared to the rest? Is one member clearly better than everyone else?

If this is the case, you're likely to have issues as things go on.

Bands work best when everyone is progressing at an even level. For that to happen, everyone needs to be at the same level to start with. If your keyboard player is three years behind everyone else in playing experience, they're going to struggle to keep up, and the growth of the band will be limited by their abilities. Conversely, if your drummer is a virtuoso while everyone else is a beginner, they'll get frustrated with not being able to flex their musical pecs.

When you're looking for a band, make sure to find players that are at the same stage as you. If you've only been playing for a couple of months, then look for other musicians in the same situation. If you've been practicing like crazy for ten years straight, then find those at the same level.

Whether you're a beginner or a professional, being in a band with musicians at your level will make for better progression and a more rewarding experience for everyone involved.

That's it for this week's edition. Next week, we'll be talking about the importance of a rehearsal schedule... 

Alec Plowman

28 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Cantina band proves that it also helps when all of the members are from the same species.
    "If your singer is in it for world domination, but your bassist sees it as a few mates having a laugh, that’s going to lead them putting different amounts of effort in." Can confirm, been through that. The singer, rythm guitarist and bassist left because our drummer wanted world domination. The vibe in the band got nasty. Mr. world domination guy enslaved a new guitarist and I took over bass duties. Soon enough I wasn't "good enough to play on records and start gigging" so I left as well. As soon as I was out of that band I gave the old singer, rythm guitarist (now drummer) and bassist a heads up and we formed a band again and play the previously written material that belonged to these guys. Mr. World Domination already decided to write new material as soon as they left and none of it was written by him in the first place. We are about to record our fist demo/EP.
    These things are just obvious things ..
    Yeah, but when you're in your first or second band it's easy to get excited, put the blinders on and start making excuses for people.
    I remember being thirteen years old asking myself, "WHAT IS THE SECRET FORMULA FOR BEING IN A ROCKING BAND?!"- if this article would've existed then, I'm sure that I would've memorized it or done something just as heinous as getting it tattooed on myself. Lol Seeing how the world is a bigger place today, and that younger people are on the internet more often (and wanting to make music, surprisingly), I think that this is a great fucking article. Oh, and the two troglodytes who've managed somehow to string words together into a sentence for negative purposes should experience a porcupine rectally.
    #3 - How do you explain Metallica then.
    I love Metallica, but I can't see where ANY of the guys have gotten better musically or technically. Maaaaaybe James, but it seems Lars has been boycotting learning since the 80's. Hammet doesn't even seem to try anymore.
    In all fairness... they were already professionals since the 80s... how much more can a person improve IF playing the same genre of music? Most people improve by exploring outside their genre and not while in it.
    #3 is the reason for a lot of my bands not lasting. Drummers were the toughest in these regards and I understand why. Practicing at home is difficult if the guy/gal only has one kit or lives in a condo or apartment.
    great tips that will save a lot of hassle for younger people starting their first bands, why people are offended by this article i have no idea. cheer up or piss off
    nice article to save some lads from the first bitter experiences. curious for the next part(s)
    Metallica managed to reach success even with a beginner drummer who stagnated for 30 years !
    Random nobody tells complete strangers on the internet how to have a band. How inspiring. Amazing that nobody ever needed this information before today. I don't know how we ever made it through without this precious article.
    my old band Savage Vision got 1 and 3 down, but i guess we missed 2 somewhere along the line?
    Ok, but where is the rest of the article? That's it? There should be like 10 things or smth.