How To Start and Run a Band

mount-everestSo you’ve played around in a few bands over the years, and you’ve seen things that worked and things that didn’t. And perhaps you’ve wondered if you could put together something that was better.

Congratulations! By having a vision of something greater than what you’re in now, you have achieved half your goal of having your own band. But that was the easy part. The other half takes sustained, hard work, and there are no shortcuts. But if you’re serious about starting a band, you’ll find the work enjoyable.

First Steps

As with any new venture, time spent planning what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to go about it is never wasted. (That’s especially true if you’re launching this new project with another musician.) As badly as someone may want to climb Mount Everest, he doesn’t wake up one morning, decide to climb that day, and immediately set out. It’s the same with a band, a business startup, or a marriage. You’ll be far more satisfied with your band if you don’t skip these first steps.

  • Begin with the end in mind. Be very clear with yourself about why you want to form a band in the first place. Know what kind of music you want to play. Covers? Originals? Rock? Progressive? Jazz? You’ll want to have a clear direction in mind before you begin inviting other musicians to the party.
  • Write a good mission statement. If your mission is to just play out and have a good time, don’t expect to attract great players or book huge gigs. Your statement should address where you want to go, what you’re going to do to get there, when you expect to arrive, who will help you, and how you intend to get it done. A mission statement solidifies direction in the minds of all involved and helps discourage time-wasters from auditioning.
  • Set measurable goals. Identify specific dates for key events, such as hiring personnel, learning songs, and recording a demo. Establish how often you need to play out and where. Come up with actual dollar figures you think the band can make its first year, second year, and so on. Write these down, and make sure your new band members buy into them.
  • Write down your rules. Be sure to make clear what you will and will not tolerate when the band is together. Never assume anything. Communicate your policies on drugs, alcohol, punctuality, preparedness, and so on to all who audition.
  • 03-Social-Media-Management8777Start networking now. You probably have a Facebook page, but don’t ignore other social media platforms that can help you as well. LinkedIn is a great site for musicians, as a profile there says you’re serious about the art and business of music. And with 340 million users, Google Plus shouldn’t be ignored. Use a combination of these networks to identify clubs and their owners. Contact them now, before you build your band, and start building relationships with them. This will help you later on, when your band is ready to play out.

Don’t be discouraged if these first steps take a couple of months or more. Better to plan thoroughly now than to wing it later on. Besides, if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

Getting the Band Together

Now that your planning is done (or almost done), it’s time to put the band together.

  • Don’t rely on classified ads to find musicians. Craigslist is fine, but you should also contact other musicians to find out who they know. Turn to your networks on LinkedIn and Facebook to help you identify good prospects. Visit some music stores and pick the brains of the salespeople. They’re better than any website when it comes to knowing people that are looking for bands. There are also sites that help bands and musicians find each other, such as Bandmix and the new Giggem.
  • Hire the right musicians. They need to be a little better than you are, or at least at the same level. If they’re better, you’ll be challenged more. And be willing to wait. The good ones are probably working, and you may need to make your case to them more than once. Besides, a bad hire wastes your time and sets you back.
  • Establish a regular rehearsal schedule. It’s better to have short, effective rehearsals than marathon sessions. Two or three hours is plenty of time if everyone is on time and comes prepared. (Those are two of your rules, right?) You may feel the urge to push a session past that, but you’ll just wear everyone else down and lose any efficiency you thought you’d gain.
  • Create a website, establish a social media presence, and start a mailing list. Stick with just a couple of platforms at first. Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus need regular attention, and the person who handles your social media doesn’t need to be overwhelmed.
  • Assign responsibilities. Decide who will book gigs, who will run sound, and who will handle the website and social media.

Keeping It Moving

  • Book your first gig within 2 months of your first rehearsal. This keeps the momentum going, for a booked gig helps drive rehearsals: it’s a measurable goal. Also, a band needs a shakedown gig early on to identify problems that need to be worked out. Open mics are perfect, low-key events for a first gig, and it’s okay if you don’t make any money on this one. But send out email reminders about your gig, hand out business cards to everyone there, and get email addresses.
  • Gig regularly. Not doing this is one quick way to kill a band. You don’t have to play 120 dates per year, but you need to play out as often as it takes to achieve your goals.
  • Band_Practice_by_BiffnoLearn new material and rehearse it regularly. Not doing this is the other quick way to kill a band. Keep up with the set lists for each venue, and make sure you swap out material before you return to one of them. And make sure everyone involved in your new project understands the difference between practice and rehearsal.
  • Oil the machine. Don’t neglect marketing. You have to keep the fans coming back. Keep the website up. Post regularly on Twitter and Facebook. Your fans want emails from you; don’t disappoint them, but don’t spam them, either. Work the crowd during the break and collect email addresses. Repeat.
  • Have outside interests. Don’t make music your whole life, even if it is your life. Make time for church, family, friends, and hobbies. You’ll be a better musician because of it.

Is it possible to have a good band and not do some of these steps? Which ones are you going to skip?  The fact is that all bands do all of these things at some point, or they break up. There are no other options, no shortcuts. You have to gig regularly, or there’s no point in starting a band. You have to learn new material, or fans will stop coming to your shows. And if you’re going to play out, who wants to play with sub par musicians who break the rules?

Starting a band is hard work, and keeping it going is harder still. But if it’s in your blood, if doing anything else makes no sense to you, then embrace your calling and begin charting your path to success. The rewards are worth the trouble.

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Image credits: 1 – www.snowbrains.com 2 – www.beyondattitude.com 3 – www.musicianswantedtoronto.ca 4 – deviantart.com

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The Digest: Jay-Z, Mozart’s Violin, and Why Your Local Music Scene Sucks

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Jay-Z/Samsung – The Lefsetz Letter

Bob Lefsetz, the no-holds-bared music industry commentator, is at it again, and this time he slams Jay-Z for selling his music out to the corporations. Samsung is giving away his latest album for free to those who use their smartphones; the album will instantly go platinum as a result. Lefsetz argues that marketing ploys such as this one mean the focus has shifted away from the music and toward the novelty of the stunt. And the problem with stunts is that they’re only good once.

The Lost Half Decade Of Music Recorded After Napster – Hypebot

Between about 1999 and 2004, there was a lot of exceptional music made by a lot of talented artists, who, thanks to new and affordable recording equipment, were able to make the music they wanted to make. ADATs reigned supreme in the 90’s, but they would give way to the more powerful (and less expensive) DAWs of the 21st century. Facebook and Twitter (circa 2003 – 2006) helped artists spread the word. But the core power tools for promotion and dissemination online simply did not yet exist. Andrew Dubber argues it’s time to give that lost music the chance it never really got.

Steven Tyler, Joe Perry Inducted Into Songwriters Hall of Fame – Rolling Stone

Other honorees included Elton John and Bernie Taupin (recipients of the Johnny Mercer Award for lifetime achievement), Foreigner, Billy Joel, and Berry Gordy (honored by Smokey Robinson with the 2013 Pioneer award).

tumblr_m7gw3vMYAT1r3nzmmo1_500Why Your Local Music Scene Sucks – Music Marketing [dot] Com

You can’t get fans to support you just because they’re in the same area code, says David Hooper. They don’t owe it to you to buy your music; you have to give them a reason. It has to be good. And if it is, you’re halfway there. Do unto others and set the example, Hooper adds: go out and see other acts. Get the ball rolling, and you’ll soon have the following you want.

The Average iTunes Customer is Spending Less – Billboard

Apple recently announced it had 575 million iTunes accounts, compared with 100 million in September of 2009. While that sounds impressive, a closer look at the numbers shows that more people are actually spending less, bringing the dollar value of each account down from $74 in 2009 to $40 today. Glenn Peoples discusses what this means to Apple and the music industry.

The Evolution of Music Tech – SoundCtrl

“In just the past decade, the advent of innovative, volatile and disruptive music technology continues and is accelerating – pushing the industry to accommodate a consumer base that is empowered, hyper-connected, and always-on.” This fascinating timeline shows how this technology snowballed as the public demanded more.

amandine_beyer_violin-3d0c1dfceeed93893dd24bc46b78951a099b5b27-s6-c30Playing Mozart – On Mozart’s ViolinNPR

It’s not an ornate instrument, as one might expect, but rather a plain, “workhorse fiddle” made in Bavaria. It and the master’s viola are kept at the Salzburg Mozarteum under heavy security. They were finally brought to the United States for the first time, on separate flights, and with a nondescript security detail. Still, all of the arrangements for the Boston and New York concerts were worth it to Miloš Valent, who said holding Mozart’s viola  “is something extremely personal.”

Independent Radio In the Digital Age – Engadget

Independent radio stations WFMU and KCRW belong to no corporations and answer to no one but the listeners themselves. They have survived media consolidation and an internet revolution. Their bi-annual pledge drives show they were into crowdfunding well before Kickstarter, and it’s allowed for some fiercely independent programming. Their format? “We specialize in playing hippy noise music that people hate,” replies WFMU’s general manager.

Twitter’s #Music Flops, But Twitter Is Still Key to Your MarketingMusic Think Tank

Even though Twitter #Music didn’t live up to the hype, Twitter is still critical to your marketing game plan. Among other things, the micro-blogging platform allows you to plug into your musical niche quickly and easily, thus allowing you to build relationships with industry leaders. Twitter also enables musicians to find and engage with potential fans.

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The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

Photo credits: Top – http://www.insidetheframe.net; Middle – http://www.tumblr.com; Bottom – http://www.npr.com

The Music Business According to Woody Guthrie

477px-Woody_Guthrie_NYWTSWow! That’s the first thing I said – out loud – when I read these words spoken by Woody Guthrie. Then I read them again. Wow! He was so right. Music is meant to inspire us, to lift us up, to energize us, to make us feel good. Music shouldn’t demean a group of people because of race, gender, creed, or any other attribute, nor should it need to rely on profanity and vulgarity to get our attention or make a point. Or, as Woody put it:

“I hate a song that makes you think you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim. Too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I’m out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.

Then he turned on the music industry itself and proceeded to dress it down:

“I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own songs and to sing the kind that knock you down farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you’ve not got any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I’d starve to death before I’d sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.”

Woody had values, and he wasn’t afraid to let his music reflect those values. Nor was it necessary for him to tell anyone what they were – you could hear it in his music. We would all do well to take and abide by Woody’s advice. ________ Image credit: Wikimedia.org