Going For Broke
forming your first band and don't know what to do? Read on...
Want to form a band but don't know how to? Need some advice on avoiding the pitfalls, but don't know where to look? Teresa Bassett explains the do's and don'ts for starting out in the music industry.
I ONCE MET Kim Wilde in a record store in Berlin. Capitalising on this strange turn of events I asked how she'd got involved in music in the first place.
"Well", she said, "My brother Ricky wrote the song (Kids in America), I decided to have a stab at singing it, it was a hit, and it kind of went from there..."
If only it were that simple! But the unfortunate fact for the majority of us is that making a go of things in the music business is an uphill struggle, involving a lot of hard work and commitment. So the first thing to bear in mind when contemplating joining or forming a band is that it should be fun. If you don't enjoy it, you'll fall at the first hurdle.
People join bands for all kinds of reasons, and the first thing to ask yourself is: what do you aim to get out of it? Do you want to be famous? Do you just want to have something to do on Sundays? Do you want to play gigs or get your own songs heard? Or do you wish to sound like the Beatles, Sex Pistols, or even Bros. Whatever you decide will have a major bearing on how you go about things, because your first difficulty lies in hunting down some likeminded, compatible people.
You have numerous options: you can join forces with people you know, or you can advertise and find strangers; either way it's important to remember that bands are all about team work. Whether it's essentially your own band, or it's a case of you joining an existing band, it still must be a democracy, and each member must have his or her opinions respected.
Initially, there's a lot to be said for joining together with friends. Your first line-up is unlikely to be your last, and to start off with it's all about finding your feet and gaining experience. With friends, you usually know where you stand, and you're likely to have beneficial similarities in the level of commitment you want, the style of music you prefer, and so on. But it's worth bearing in mind that when things go wrong, an erstwhile mate may swiftly transform himself into an enemy. And while your zaniest laugh-a-minute friend might be great fun to have around socially, your patience might wear thin if he's your drummer and spends most of the practises lying on the floor blowing smoke-rings or trying out his finest stick-twirling moves. Similarly, your hyper-egotistical guitarist friend might be entertaining (up to a point) in the pub, but can you stomach the idea of him soloing frantically through all the vocal arrangements?
But for your first band, it's likely to be you and a mate or two, who then have to think about recruiting further members. There are several ways of doing this. You can ask around at school, at work, in the pub or in a social club. Alternatively, you could advertise in your local paper, the music press (PHAZE 1 Free Ads, for example), or put a card in your local music shop, record library or music studio. Say what kind of music you're interested in (list names), what instrumentalists you need and what standard you're already at. Try to be as honest as you can. In your initial enthusiasm to get things off the ground you might be tempted to keep things as vague as possible to try and hook as many fish as you can. That sort of approach is only going to waste everybody's time and make you feel very silly when a guitarist who plays better than Jimi Hendrix, just back from a European tour, turns up in your bedroom and realises that you haven't played a gig yet (or vice-versa). People distinctly better than you won't hang about for too long, even if they do decide to join, and people who are decidedly worse than you will only hold you back. So try to find people who are at a similar level. Don't worry about this: everyone has to start somewhere.
It's also a good idea to pick people who live locally. Be wary of the drummer who lives 150 miles away but is "willing to travel". Living close together makes rehearsing a lot easier, and also facilitates meeting up socially, for band meetings or to simply strengthen the bond and reinforce solidarity.
If at all possible, try to have someone with transport in the band: this person is a V.I.P. Treat him with respect and don't let him pay for all the petrol.
Remember that ability is less crucial than personality in the first instance. You can take lessons and practise to gain competence on your chosen instrument, but an obnoxiousness is less easy to remedy. Wayne Moseley, head of Terrayne Management in Birmingham, advises: "Avoid over-the-top people. Some of them might be the world's greatest musicians, but if they don't fit in from a personality point of view, then it's not going to work." Rog Patterson, a musician and lyricist, agrees:
"Most band-splitting arguments arise from personnel mismatch. This is daft, the idea is to have fun.
"Join with people you enjoy being with. Avoid anyone who won't give you their phone number, or someone who insists on bringing their boyfriend/girlfriend to every rehearsal. We once auditioned a 'singer' who brought a girlfriend and four of her friends with him, and insisted on singing along with the latest Thin Lizzy album instead of the demo we'd sent him. He then had a temper tantrum when we said we'll think about it". In the end, the girlfriend got the job!"
Once you've found a few compatible people, you can go onto the next stage. This involves finding somewhere to rehearse. Bedrooms and garages are fine in the early stages, and can be useful for getting together to write songs, sussing out cover versions, chatting and so on. But when you start thinking about gigging you'll need to practise at stage volume (most people want to do this from the start anyway). Then church or village halls make good practise rooms; you can hire them for a small fee or maybe do a deal with the people in charge, offering to do a charity gig there sometime in return for using the hall. Maybe one of your members is a student and has access to music society practise rooms and equipment. Or perhaps someone has access to a room through their job or other social activities. A local pub might have a spare room you could use. A music pub might let you use it's gig room on non-gig nights, in return the odd free gig. This can be good for you too.
Another alternative is to hire a rehearsal room or studio which can cost upwards of £1.50 per hour, which usually includes a small vocal PA. These have good acoustics and you can store your gear there for a small fee. Cheapness is the main attraction when looking for a practise room, but don't be surprised to see your breath freeze in front of your face. A guitarist friend of mine once had to practise in a basement so cold and damp he had to wear gloves and stand on a beer crate.
So, onto stage three. You've got the people and the place to practise. Now all you need is a name and you'll be a real band. Names are difficult. Rog again: "A good name should be catchy, either witty, weird, or in some other way memorable, without being too long or too silly. It should in some way reflect the nature of the music - Megadeth, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Showaddywaddy all speak for themselves, which in turn can help to get gigs."
Wayne Moseley agrees: "A name's got to sum up your band in some way. You've got the clichéd heavy metal bands with the clichéd names, but that suits them. You don't have a heavy rock name for a punk band or a ballady band. I prefer names that get to the point. It's nice to have an original sounding name, like King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys, but it's hard to think of the right one..."
And indeed it is. You can have an entertaining night in the pub thinking up and dismissing name after name. Or you could be very adult and sensible about it and each compile a list of names, tick a top ten, and see what you're left with. Unfortunately, there will probably only be about one name at the most that appears on everybody's list, so you end up with the lowest common denominator, a compromise. Still, once you've decided on a name you all like, stick to it. A good way to build faith is to get some badges made - around £11 for 100. Companies such as Stage Three Promotions in Banbury should be able to help you with this. You can sell them to your mates and start getting your name heard even if you haven't played yet. It's also a good idea to get a logo designed. It often transpires that one of the band is artistically inclined, or knows someone else one who is. Logos are useful for designing posters, leaflets, fact-sheets, and the like. Some photos should come in handy too, however crude, especially for mailing to local newspapers and fanzines.
One idea is to make a collage, incorporating both band and individual shots. By this time, you've probably got some fairly strong notions about the type of music you want to play. One or two of you may write your own material and will want this incorporated into the set. In addition there may be particular cover versions which you are keen to attempt.
"It's advisable for a band just starting out to play 50% cover versions", Rog suggests. "It gains attention, and people may listen to your own songs too. The best covers are entirely different from the originals. If you play covers, you'll get pub gigs."
Even with good friends, it's advisable to get the finances straight from the start, and it can save a lot of headaches if the band later splits up. Nominate a band treasurer and trust him or her to keep accounts. It's a good idea in a stable line-up for everyone in the band to put, say, '5 a month in the kitty, to pay for rehearsals, publicity, and the like', but do keep this on as small a scale as possible. Eventually you might consider a band bank account: either in the name of the band (you would then have to pay business account charges), or alternatively as a normal current account but asking the bank to accept two signatures (not one) on any withdrawals. Having said that, Wayne advises strongly about getting the bank involved:
"A joint bank account is a commitment. If the band splits you've got all the hassle of dividing the money. If one member leaves, then you must give them their share, and if somebody new joins, you have to decide how much they're going to put in. Especially with equipment, I would advise people stick to buying things individually. If someone buys a PA, they look after it, and they keep it if the band splits. It's clear then, it keeps things simple." Personally I would tend to agree with this. In the initial flush of enthusiasm with my first band, we financed our own single. Since we were friends we never bothered to keep proper accounts, and it led to no end of problems when we finally went our separate ways.
But finally, having sorted these things out, your embryonic musical giant is all set to take the world by storm. From now on, the most important thing to remember is to keep the communication channels open. You're bound to disagree with things continually: don't be afraid to discuss them! As Rog remembers: "A friend had been dissatisfied with his band for ages, but didn't want to cause trouble by saying he wanted to leave. He finally answered an ad which had been in the local newspaper for weeks, from a band which wanted to replace their drummer - it turned out that the phone number was the work number of the singer of his own band." Don't let that happen to you!
Feature by Teresa Bassett
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