So, you play an instrument and you want to play in a band. If you just want to get together a bunch of people and start playing, disregard this article entirely, but if you want to keep improving as a band, and want to play gigs and maybe become (semi-)professional, this guide is for you.
Starting a bandThe very beginning
The most important thing is finding members, of course. This is harder than it looks, because everybody has to get along, not only on a personal level, but on a musical level as well. This is where we (the band I'm in) got very lucky, because everybody just got along from the start on both levels. However, this wasn't so with the first band I was in, and I know from experience what tensions caused by musical incompatibility can do to a band. How to find the right people is not something I can explain, just look everywhere until you find the right people.
An equally important thing is which people you need to find. This sounds easy, but is harder than it looks. First of all, you need to have a general style. Note that this style can change a lot through time, for example, my band started with goth-rock, then went on to punk, then hardrock, then powermetal, back to hardrock, into a mix between powermetal and hardrock, and now it's basically back at powermetal with a bit of hardrock flavouring to it, all over the course of two years. But start with a style you'd like to play for a long time. Thenk think of what instruments are necessary. Don't just randomly add people. Maybe you need a third guitarist, but mostly you don't. Do you need those keys, or are they just a nice extra that's mostly useless? And what about that banjo? Maybe you can get rid of your triangle player? The general rule here is less is more. Keep it simple, because too much is just too much.
Now that you have your band together, things are relatively easy at first. You need to play, play, play more, and just for the hell of it, play even more. Of course, don't forget to have fun, as soon as you or anyone else doesn't have fun anymore, the band won't work as a whole.
Maintaining a band
This is where it gets hard. Now that you've practiced hard, got a good setlist going, and played a nice gig, you've probably noticed that a lot of improvement is needed to get to where you want to be. Don't be discouraged, it happens to almost every band. And it's part of the fun of being in a band. There's just a couple of points you need to remember:
Know your place
This is extremely important. Know your place in a band. Are you a lead guitarist full of great solos? That's beautiful, just don't start spamming solos where they don't belong. Are you a rhythm guitarist? Good, then keep rhythm and don't start doing whacky stuff. The same goes for everybody: know what you're supposed to do, when you're supposed to do it, and then do what you have to at the right time. A lot of people forget this.
Don't be afraid to get rid of people
Nobody likes getting rid of a band member. But sometimes you just have to. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. This is the musical incompatibility I was talking about earlier. Your band members are great people and good friends, if you've done things right so far, but sometimes they just don't fit with your band. We had to get rid of our vocalist because she just didn't quite cut it. It was a tough decision to make, but it had to be done. The band couldn't progress as a whole, and the fun was going out of it as well. Not because she couldn't sing, mind you, she just didn't progress quite the way the band did, and she didn't have the voice for the music we wanted to play. So we had to get rid of her, for the band's sake. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't fun, but it had to be done. And in the end, we're all the better for it.
Criticize each other
Don't be afraid to point out mistakes, no matter how small. Chances are that whoever makes a mistake doesn't even realize they do, until it gets pointed out. And be as blunt about it as you can. If someone can't take the criticism, get rid of him/her. It sounds harsh, but if you don't, it will come back to bite you in the ass.
It's very important to practice performing, and not just by playing live as much as possible. During rehearsals, you need to focus on playing your songs as well as possible, if at all doable without any mistakes whatsoever. That's very important if you ever want to do a recording. But playing live is a whole different matter; people don't just come there to hear you play. They want to see a show. So make a show of it. Act crazy. And don't be too afraid of mistakes, even professional artists make mistakes on stage, no matter how good they are. But if you put on a good show, nobody will notice.
Learn to compensate for mistakes
Another important point when playing live is learning what to do when somebody makes a mistake. This is something you have to feel as a band, simply because you can't go over every possible mistake during rehearsal. But something you shouldn't do is try to catch up when you miss a beat, e.g. play the notes you should have played, only at the wrong time, to arrive back at where you are supposed to be at some point. Play something else, or play nothing at all and let your band handle it. A general rule is that if it sounds good, it's not a big deal. The exception is a solo; these are usually really hard to pick up once you've made a mistake, and you can't play nothing because that sounds stupid. Usually, the only options you have are to accept that you messed up and just keep playing, or to signal the band to skip the solo in some way. Nobody will think you suck because of it, and if they do, screw them.
Listen to your audience
This can't be stressed enough. Listen to all the feedback you get, negative or positive, and if they have a valid point, do something with it. Your audience listens to your music in an entirely different way than you do, so listen to what they have to say. You may feel you messed up, but chances are nobody even noticed. Or maybe you feel like you made no mistakes, but somebody noticed something after all.
Practice makes perfect
Whatever happens, just keep going on and improving. You might not get things right the first, the second, or even the five hundred and fifty sixth time. But you'll get it right eventually.
Make a good setlist
This is more important than you might think. A setlist can make or break a performance. You need to make sure every song you play belongs in your setlist, and you need to put the songs in the right order. All this depends on the kind of music you play and what you're going for as a band. Do you want to just start with a bang and get the audience going immediately? Start with a high-tempo song with a fast solo. Or maybe you want to get the audience going slowly, ease them into your performance? Then start with a nice, slow ballad. It's all a matter of feeling things, trying things, and listening to what your audience said in past performance. But generally, you don't want to just spam away for an hour, and you don't want to break your setlist into two parts. Do what feels right, and think of what you would like to hear if you were in the audience.
I realize these aren't all of the points you need to think of as a band, but it's a start. These are some of the points we keep to as a band, and they've helped us tremendously, and I hope they're useful to you as well. Of course, these are all guidelines I've made from my personal experience, so feel free to disregard this. But I think there are some points in here that might be useful to anybody. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!