Performing in a band can be one of life's most memorable and fulfilling experiences-despite the amount of work that goes into it. Creativity and fun, friendship and sharing, and the satisfaction of working with others to accomplish shared goals are just a few of the benefits you can experience. If you're reading this because you are already thinking about starting a band, what follows are some tips and a brief overview of what you can expect and some of the pitfalls you can avoid on the path to getting your own band started.
Let's assume for the sake of this article that the type of band you have in mind is a jazz combo, but even if your taste leans toward a rock band or a string quartet, this discussion contains information that can be helpful to you.
As with any other project that you take seriously, allow plenty of time for planning before starting your band. Get as many details nailed down at the beginning as you can, and you'll have fewer problems to deal with later. Well understood plans and goals that are clearly laid out, understood, and agreed to will insure that you and your band mates can always get back to the same page and keep the music going.
Think first about the kinds of music you like to perform and where you'd like to perform it. If your band is intended as a social outlet for you and a few of your friends who love to jam—or like the be-bop artists, your music is so complex only a sophisticated few can appreciate it—myour choices will be different than those of musicians who are interested in supplementing their income, or hoping to launch a career.
Be clear from the start about whether your band is intended primarily to generate income or to make music. This distinction will influence every decision that follows it. Either choice is yours to make, but the level of responsibility and commitment for a band that's also a business is profoundly different from a jam band, and something you need to be aware of right from the start, if you wish to be financially successful. Bear in mind that you will be taking on responsibilities not only for yourself, but for your band mates as well, if you choose the commercial route.
Is your preference a quartet (usually guitar, bass, drums and keyboard)? A good workable number of musicians needed to create a band experience can be 4 or 5, but you can get started with only 2. Most bands need a rhythm section, meaning you'll want a keyboard player, a drummer, or a bass player, or some combination of them. You may also want to consider adding the depth and color of a horn section or the emotional range that having a vocalist can bring. A practical detail you'll also want to keep in mind is whether the venues in which you'll be playing require sound reinforcement. Will you need a good PA system that you can take to your performances?
This planning stage will probably afford you the opportunity to confront your level of seriousness about actually starting a band, especially if you've gone beyond just noodling in your own head and have begun involving potential band members in the planning process with you.
If you have reached this stage, then you've already begun the process of selecting the people you want in your band, and probably also the repertoire of songs you are going to play. By working with musicians that you already know, you may eliminate some unknowns about their work habits and their level of compatibility with your goals.
Consider making a chart of the musical roles you'll be filling. What are the musical blanks that you need to fill in? Knowing your own skills and capabilities, what performers can fill in the spaces of what you can't do. Do you need an experienced bandleader, someone who can write charts and work out arrangements, or a multi-instrumentalist who can give your band added versatility and broaden your repertoire?
At every stage of building your band, it's helpful to ask if your choices will ultimately increase the chances of your band staying together. Hard as it may be, avoid making choices that you suspect could force your band apart. There are already too many forces at work doing that, so you don't need to add to them. Hard choices made in the beginning can save you from having to make harder choices later.
Practice will be an important part of your band's life for many reasons. It's the time when you either build rapport and the cohesiveness to stick together, or discover who isn't going to make it. Sufficient practice means your performances will be tight and satisfying and that you won't embarrass yourselves in performance either.
Essential to effective practice is a good practice venue. Be sure that your planning phase includes creating a list of a few places to practice-circumstances inevitably come up that may make your number one practice venue unavailable, so always have backups.
Other questions to consider include: Can everyone in your band show up with their instruments is good working order? Do you have sheet music or charts for all the songs you want to play? The Woodwind & Brasswind's sheet music selection is unmatched. Your band will probably find the Hal Leonard Real Books invaluable. To be sure that your rhythm section and keyboardist are covered, you'll want the Real Book Volume 1 - C, and for your horn section, the books in B-flat or E-flat.
Before going too far in building your band, a band agreement that works like a contract can help to avoid a lot of misunderstanding and contention. Cover such matters as ownership of equipment, and if you start writing them, songs. Who gets to keep things if someone leaves the band, or if there is a breakup. Up front solutions can help to prevent future disputes.
Once your band is formed and you've had plenty of rehearsal time, get a venue, get the word out, perform and have fun!
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