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From the Beginning

Hello Troubadourians! Tom Petty said, “the waiting is the hardest part.” I’m not disputing that logic as it is undeniably true. But when it comes to forming a band I would say that the starting is the hardest part. Beginning anything from scratch is difficult but trying to organize the schedules and musical tastes of a few musicians as well as managing everyone’s expectations makes herding cats look easy. If you’ve never tried to start a band, let this article be an informative tool for you. Not necessarily a warning meant to discourage you but hopefully some wise advice to help you accomplish your dreams. Don’t get me wrong, playing with other musicians in a band setting is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a musician. Playing a gig, or even in a rehearsal, where everyone is in the groove and all the parts are coming together is exhilarating! And doing it consistently is the goal of every band. Whether playing your own compositions or cover versions of other people’s songs, getting them right requires work and dedication from everyone. When you’ve been playing together for a while, it can sometimes seem like the process gets easier. That is somewhat of an illusion but when everyone is used to the schedule of learning songs, individual practice, and coming to rehearsal every week prepared to play your best it can seem like you’ve been doing it forever. You have this down.

Now, let’s think about that for a bit… How was your life before you were in the band? Were you actually spending time breaking down and learning your parts for a few songs every week—in addition to your regular practice schedule? (You do have a regular practice schedule, don’t you?). Were you loading your gear and driving to the rehearsal space, playing for two to three hours, packing it all back up, driving home, and unloading it again? Or maybe you were providing the space for everyone to come and rehearse and facilitating a comfortable and welcoming place for everyone? How about a PA? Did you provide or contribute to providing that essential system for the band? Maybe you just helped pay for a rehearsal space where everything was already there? And did you just assume that everyone would show up, ready to play? No? I didn’t think so.

There is a great deal of rearranging, rethinking, and reworking of our lives that is required of us when we decide to play in a band. Time, effort, shifting of priorities, sacrifice of “doing what we want, when we want,” and a monetary commitment are all part of the deal. Nobody does these things—which are required of them when they are in a band—unless they are actually in a band. This is a lot to consider when you join an established band. And remember, you’re already behind from the start. Now imagine that everyone involved starts from that same “less than” position. Everyone will have a different set of expectations, and everyone will have a different ability to rearrange their lives to accommodate the needs of the band. For some, those who have done it before, it’s easier to fall into the habit. For others, it can be very difficult to reprioritize their time, work, family, and finances to fully participate in the new endeavor. If you are the “leader” trying to make things happen, it can be maddeningly complex and frustrating. Practically everyone says yes initially and hopes are high. But as the reality of dealing with the changes becomes clear, many will drop out. And you start over with a different person. Couple this with requiring every person having to have specific skills. There are a limited number of players to begin with and depending on your intentions and how professional they need to be, the available players become even more limited. While guitar players are plentiful—or seem to be—other instruments like bass, drums, and keyboards are usually in short supply. If you are attempting to put together a more specialized ensemble such as an acoustic band with traditional instruments like banjo, fiddle, mandolin, or dobro, you may find that your expectations exceed the availability of players.

So, we’ve briefly looked at forming a band from two sides: joining as a member and forming as the leader. Both require skills beyond just being able to play well. We’ve discussed a few of those skills in this article and there are more if your intention is to become a professional musician. That path is beyond the scope of this column to advise and, in fact, there are multiple books that have been written on how to become a professional musician. For most of us though, we just want to get together with a group of like-minded players and make some music in public for an audience. Maybe even get paid for our effort. That is achievable if you are prepared for the commitments I’ve mentioned above. It’s asking a lot, certainly, and please remember that it’s not all about you. I would add that being able to be patient and be willing to negotiate will give you a better chance of succeeding. And whether you are an amateur or a professional, how you treat people will define your success or lack of it. Yeah, there are some really nasty people who have “made it” somehow but I guarantee that at the local level, if you mistreat people, you won’t go very far. Ready to go out and start a band or just join one? I wish you the best of luck if you chose to do so! Work hard, be honest, maintain your integrity, treat people as you would be treated, and be patient. Those things are the keys to success.

All of these things will serve you well not only with your bandmates but also when you venture out into the world of trying to book gigs. Remember them and don’t sell yourself short. But also, don’t oversell what you can deliver. If you are a new band, you probably don’t have a following. Don’t pretend that you do. Remember what I said about being honest? You may get lied to but don’t indulge in that yourself. Just avoid those people the next time. You will get better and when you do you will develop a following. Keep it real.

Now I have to go get ready for a rehearsal… I hope to see you onstage real soon!

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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