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Setting up a Band

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Led Zepplin

As the recent British television phenomena of Popstars and Pop Idol have proven, fame achieved through music is still the dream of many millions of youngsters the whole world over. While many people are blessed with a great voice, or endowed with the ability to score great music, others might have a knack for song-writing or possess an extraordinary talent at playing an instrument. For everyone involved though, one of the best ways to get noticed is to set up a band. Or maybe you don't want to get noticed at all - you just love the music and you want to play with like-minded people.

This entry provides some stellar information, culled from the h2g2 Community, that will help you achieve your musical ambitions - no matter how modest or grand.

Think about Why you're in a Band

Many people decide they're going to start a band and become famous. This is the wrong approach. Start a band because you like playing music. Get together with your friends and practice because you like playing together. Before too long, you'll know whether you're a 'band' or just a bunch of guys who need an excuse to drink beer together in a garage. And if you are just a bunch of guys, who cares? The key is to enjoy what you're doing. Once you've got that down, then you can start thinking about sharing your music with others.

Enjoy the Music

The majority of bands never become rich or famous; they just play around the town they were formed in, develop a small fan base of friends and fans of the type of music they play, and that's it. It should be emphasised that there is no shame in this whatsoever. Many, many people have normal day jobs and then gig as musicians at night and on the weekends. This is as valid a musical career as that of any famous rock star, and indeed, if you play any style of music other than rock/pop, it's the kind of career you can look forward to.

Perhaps the single most important element of a successful band is that each of the musicians are having tons of fun when playing in it. When the musicians are enjoying themselves, the music grows to be more than the sum of its parts, and you get a much better response from the audience. If the musicians are not enjoying themselves, then the music invariably suffers.

That said, the egos in the group, the problems of leaving someone behind due to musical development etc, happen even in the most casual bands. So how do you maximise the fun in your band?

For me, the main criterium for having fun in bands is simply to play with musicians who listen to what the other musicians are doing, who have good instincts. Good musical instincts, I think, can compensate almost entirely for lack of skill: my own musical taste is of course intruding here, but I'd rather hear four well-placed notes than a run of 20, and placing those four notes, to me, is much more about instinct than it is about skill.

How does a band full of members with good musical instincts have more fun?

I have found that when each of the members has such instincts, even in the tightest arrangements, they leave room for all the other musicians to play around a bit. Even if it's just a quarter rest here, a fill there, a transition every once in a while, the sense of space, of communication - whether it be in a string quartet or a totally improvisational jazz band - is what makes the music fun and exciting, both for the players and for the listeners. When there is no sense of communication, the music, to me, becomes uninteresting, no matter how technically accomplished the musicians are.

So it seems then, that the trick to finding musicians you can play well with is finding people with good musical instincts; people who have the same attitude towards music, the same approach to music that you do. And they shouldn't worry too much about the technical abilities of the other musicians. If they have good instincts and enjoy playing, those abilities can always improve. We'll leave the rest to our informed Researcher:

I am in a band now composed of five such people. We have been together as a band nearly two years now, and I believe that not only has our sound developed rather nicely, but everyone has gotten much better at their instruments. Practice with this band isn't even practice - it's five guys getting together to have fun. Gigs are the same way. We'll never be rich and famous (we're a jam-band based on old-time Appalachian fiddle music, for God's sake), but we have ourselves a little following and we have ourselves a great time.
The lack of ambition on our parts to do anything other than have fun, I think, has even avoided ego problems. And we've become friends by playing together. Financially, of course, we are a failure, but I think we play good music (and the people who see us seem to agree), and I know that we have somehow avoided many of the ego and skill level pitfalls that plague many other bands. We have an incredible amount of fun playing as a group and I think that being like-minded people together with good musical instincts has had everything to do with that.


Taking it as granted that all band members have at least a basic standard of musical skill, the most important thing is the attitude/commitment that you have. One great hint is to watch the film The Commitments before you even think about putting up a band. The following is advice for any band who is trying to get noticed:

  • Try to be professional - That does not mean that you are going to earn your living from the very first day. It just means that there will be other people who are going to pay you (with money, free drinks or just applause and hopefully physical affection). Would you like to pay for someone who behaves like an a**hole? You'll have to earn what people are ready to give to you.

  • Forget your individual ego - Concentrate on the collective ego instead. This means that it doesn't make sense to be better than the other band members. It makes a lot more sense to be better than other bands. It's not a matter of 'Me vs Them' but 'We vs Them'.

  • Competition will be merciless - Be prepared for that. No one will like your music as much as you do (at least in the beginning). If others like your music more than you do, you have made it. The best thing that can happen to you is that you still like what you play, but others like it even more.

  • Smile - Be friendly. Don't never ever put off someone who might be your most loyal fan. Even little kids may come to you asking for autographs. Do not disappoint them.

  • Have an emergency plan - Be prepared for the moment when you realise that the thing does not work. Or, as someone in The Commitments said 'Most bands don't have more than one gig'.

  • Keep your gear in proper working order - Nothing can annoy you more that having to interrupt your breakthrough gig because of a rotten cable.

  • It will never be the music that will bring you the next gig - Promoters will rather ask 'Can I work with that band or are they just a bunch of hoodlum bums who will never keep their contracts?' than 'Is that music good?'.

  • The stage is a very bad place for democracy - One member of the band has to be the master of ceremonies. Don't ever discuss about what song to play next on stage. If the gig was bad, discuss it out in private.

Further Considerations

There's far more to setting up a band than music, you should consider the following:

Money for Nothing (and your Chicks for Free)

Playing music is not the way to make money, and if that's your objective, then you're in the wrong business. Become an accountant. If you're determined, make sure that you have at least a part-time job with flexible hours that doesn't demand you be there on the weekend (very hard to find, so keep that job when/if you get it). Booking the gigs should be the job of the most responsible member of the band. He/she will have to keep track of how much money the band is to make, where the venue is, how big the stage is, whether there's a sound man provided, and what time to be on. And don't be shy to ask for money. After all, you're providing the entertainment. You can reinforce this by promoting drinking in the establishment - bar owners love this. In their minds, bands are beer salesmen. If you're good, and if your band stays together, after two or three years you'll probably want to start looking for an agent. Most bands make bread and butter money playing pubs during the week, and have a more profitable gig on the weekend at a larger venue. An agent will be able to book the higher-paying gigs, which means the band will have to work less.

Rock and Roll Fantasy

Well, most successful bands began with a large pool of musicians. Almost all musicians like picking parties, which is essentially a large gathering of musically-inclined individuals with instruments and beer. Find a large flat spot, preferably indoors, pull up some chairs, and start trading songs. First, this gives inexperienced players the chance to play with other people. There's very little pressure (because of the freely-flowing alcohol) so it's a very relaxing atmosphere. Second, there's a free flow of ideas as well as alcohol at these parties. People with new songs (or old ones) can play them for the group, and if the chord progression isn't too difficult, others in the group can add rhythm patterns to it, solo passages, and harmonise with the lead vocal. This way you get a good idea of who's a solid rhythm player, who's clever at soloing, who has a nice clear lead voice, etc. So if you decide you want to form a band, you'll already have some names in mind.

Gimme Shelter

Where do you practice? There's a reason they call them garage bands -it's the most cost-effective place to have a practice session. Very few musicians will have a large room that they're not using for something else, and the other members of their family might object to having loud music in the house. The garage will require a little preparation, though. Because sound bounces off flat smooth surfaces, cover the concrete floor with the grungiest carpet available. It will have beer spilled on it, equipment dragged across it, and other unmentionable things done to it, so don't waste your time finding nice carpet. Find more ugly carpet and tack it to the walls. This will help muffle the sound around the garage area - usually the walls are very thin. And speaking of thin walls, make sure that the temperature stays pretty comfortable year-round. A garage in mid-summer in Texas weather is intolerable, and in winter a little chilly. Finally, see that you have at least two or three outlets and the proper fuses installed in the garage. Sound equipment, including amps, speakers, microphones, and the guitars themselves, need a lot of electricity to operate, and can blow out a low-grade fuse. You should have at least a 20-amp breaker.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Practice. As much as possible. Any band can become better with practice. Reaching your full potential as a group can only be realised if you get out there and play together, so do it! Two times a week is best, about three-four hours at a time.

I Write The Songs

There should be at least one songwriter in the group. Two is better (more is always better) but songwriters are usually better at writing than performing. The best way to avoid enmity is to give credit where credit is due.

Won't Get Fooled Again

It's very important that the members of the band be able to get along. There's no reason to put up with a pompous ass just because he/she's an excellent guitar player. Conversely, some sacrifices have to be made to keep the sound that's been achieved. The bands that stay together the longest don't work on the 'front man' system, but by committee. Committees make decisions together, and compromise on some issues. A front man makes the decisions for the group, but often has his own best interests in mind, not the band's.

All You Need Is Love

It's hard to predict how your band will interact together. Some will be type-A personalities - very particular about how things are done. Some will be diplomats, and specialise in calming others rather than speaking up for themselves. Every band needs at least one glad-hander - an excellent promoter who's good at cold-calling a venue and getting a booking. There will be the inevitable prima donna, and this crown will be passed around. And there will be at least one 'fixer' - somebody who's good with a soldering iron at ten minutes before showtime. Everybody adds their own unique talents to the mix. Sometimes they will clash. When they do, keep in mind - why are we doing this? To have fun!


It is not always a good idea to set up a band with your close friends. It makes it increasingly difficult to make criticisms without people taking it personally.

I am a drummer in a band that I set with some friends. We were short of a guitarist so I enlisted the services of a guy I used to share a flat with and with whom I have been friends for years. I knew he wasn't brilliant but I thought he would be good enough. He was at first, but we, as a band, have moved on and he seems to have been left behind. So much so that it is time to replace him with a more accomplished musician. But to do this would destroy our friendship. He is very sensitive and it would be nigh on impossible to convince him it is not personal.
I was in a band with mates and it got really difficult especially when it came to choosing what to play. The other thing was everyone had very different experiences and abilities but no one had ever played in a proper band before. You really find out how much compromise is needed and how self-confidence can suffer when you listen to your friends in that sort of environment. Plus we were all 14 which is not the most mature of ages....

And yes, everyone takes it personally because music can be such a personal thing!


Some people argue that it doesn't matter what you look like, or how good you are; if you've got good songs and a passion for it then you'll always get places.

I've been playing guitar and singing for about 14 years now. I studied at music college and worked in a top recording studio, and the one thing that I see as being the most important part of being in a band is the songs.


It is, of course also important that the band members have varied musical tastes (which is generally, but not always, inevitable anyway). However, if everybody in the band likes exactly the same music, the band may have a few popular pieces, but will then fall flat on its face due to lack of variation.

Doing covers is a great way to get a band going. Covers enable you to mesh as individuals into a band so that when you start to perform your own songs they will also be tight.

And Finally

You really need a van or very small instruments and a willingness to walk to gigs. It's usually beneficial if more than one member of the band has transport, or you'll end up having to pick up all the stuff, and taxiing everyone around.

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