If you’re thinking about joining your first band, congratulations! However, there are a few things you’ll need to know first. Having played in dozens of bands over the years (and having made every possible mistake in the book), here are my top ten things to know before joining a band:
1. Don’t Wait For Opportunities To Come To You
The number one reason that talented bands don’t succeed is because they expect opportunities to magically fall into their laps. As a result, they spend several years doing nothing but playing small hometown shows, wondering why they haven’t suddenly blown up.
If you want to make a success of being in a band, it’s on you to create your own opportunities. Want to tour? Book your own venues, find your own support acts and crash on someone’s floor each night. Want to grow a big social media following? Start creating engaging and personable content on a daily basis.
If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many talented bands who never seem to break through, it’s because they’re lazy. Similarly, if you’ve ever seen a famous band that you don’t believe is particularly talented, they probably got to where they are through hard work and determination.
2. It’ll Take Longer Than You Expect To See Success
One of the biggest myths about success in the music industry is that it happens quickly. Whilst you might see a band’s lucky break where they experience a rapid period of growth, what you don’t see is the years of work it took to get to that point.
You’re going to play gigs in front of two people. You’re going to release music that completely flops. You’re going to get told ‘no‘ more times than you can count. However, that’s a good thing! Instead of viewing failure as a step backwards, start seeing it as a step forwards. By failing, you’ve learned something that’ll bring you that little bit closer to eventually succeeding.
In addition, understand that you might find yourself in a series of different bands over the course of several years before something takes off. However, if you stick with it and continuously strive to improve, you’re going to see progress.
3. You’ll Love Your Bandmates When Things Are Going Well, Yet Despise Them When Things Are Going Badly
Playing in a band and creating music requires emotional investment. This means that you’re almost-guaranteed to exhibit a strong emotional response towards your bandmates whenever something happens.
If a big opportunity comes your way, you’ll be really proud and appreciative of your fellow bandmates. However, when something bad happens, it’s all-too-easy to put the blame on other bandmates and let yourself get unnecessarily frustrated with the project.
I’m not saying that you should disregard legitimate problems that occur between bandmates. However, I am saying that you should keep things in perspective and consider your emotions before adopting a particular view of your bandmates.
4. Play The Song, Not The Instrument
Part of musicianship is prioritising the interests of the band as a whole over your own personal interests. If you’re used to rehearsing alone, it’s you’re probably directing all of your focus to the instrument itself. Therefore, you might be filling your parts with all kinds of extra licks and fills.
Whilst this might work fine when practicing your instrument, an overly-busy part will take away from the rest of the arrangement when playing with a band. Make sure you keep the song as the main priority and tailor your playing to the needs of the arrangement, rather than your need to show off. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express yourself through your part, but it does mean you might have to compromise in the interests of the band.
5. You’ll Find Yourself Playing To An Empty Room At Least Once
You will play a show (or several shows) where the only people watching you are the bar staff. Whilst it’s certainly a disheartening experience, accepting that it’s going to happen at some point will help to soften the eventual blow.
Having played in countless empty rooms myself, I can tell you that it isn’t a big deal. The best way of looking at it is to see it as a dress rehearsal; it’s a great opportunity to try out new sounds, new material or a new stage setup in a realistic environment to see how it sounds.
6. The Music Isn’t The Only Thing That Matters
Admittedly, the entire point of being in a band is to play music. However, the music itself is simply one piece of a much larger puzzle. Without focussing on everything else outside of the actual music, you’re really going to struggle to make consistent progress.
The concept of music ‘not being the only thing that matters’ is twofold:
A band is essentially a business, and should be treated as such. Outside of actually playing your instrument, there are various non-musical tasks you’ll find yourself participating in. These may include:
- Booking shows/rehearsals
- Video/photo editing
- Social media marketing
- Loading/unloading gear
Whilst you might not want to do these tasks, they need to be done in order for things to run smoothly. I’d strongly-recommend delegating roles amongst members. If you delegate distinct tasks to different members, things are much-more-likely to get done. Similarly, it allows everyone to play to their strengths; for example, if your bass player is an accountant, they can keep track of the band’s finances.
If you’re looking to build a fanbase for your band, you’ll need a strong sense of identity. Indie Panda breaks identity down into two categories:
- Sonic Identity: The identity portrayed through the music itself
- Visual Identity: The identity portrayed through the cultural and personable aspects of a project
What many bands don’t realize is that fans relate to visual identity just as much as sonic identity. This means that your age, image, personality and opinions are all part of your wider brand. If you neglect these things, you’re seriously restricting your chances of building a dedicated fanbase.
Think about your own motivation for wearing a band t-shirt. You aren’t just publicly displaying your interest in that band’s music, you’re communicating a set of cultural values, personable traits and lifestyle choices that the band effectively represent. Whilst the music itself acts as the cornerstone of the project, it’s still just one piece of a much larger puzzle.
7. You’ll Have To Be Willing To Compromise
Being in a band is all about compromise. Whilst we’ve already spoken about compromising by ‘playing the song, not the instrument’, you’ll also have to compromise on:
- Your priorities: If you want to make serious progress as a band, you’re going to have to make it a priority. This might mean sacrificing that Saturday night out to rehearse, or that Sunday morning lie-in to practice new material.
- Your lifestyle: You might have to play a show at an inconvenient time for yourself if it’s more convenient for your audience. You might also consider sacrificing your Friday nights at the bar in order to rehearse or save money for new gear(for all our gear recommendations, check out our ultimate list of things a band needs).
8. Consistency Is Key
It’s vital to be consistent with all aspects of your band. A consistent approach achieves two things:
- Ensures constant growth & development
- Keeps your audience engaged
Here are a couple of pointers on being consistent with your band:
- Treat it like a part time job: Make time each day to work on new material, learn about the industry, rehearse your set and update your social media channels.
- Create a social media/gig schedule and stick to it: In today’s throwaway content culture, people expect to be constantly engaged and entertained. Create a schedule for your social media content and your live shows, then stick to it.
9. Being Personable Goes A Long Way
Being in a band is an immensely social pursuit. Not only will you be performing at social events (gigs), but you’ll also have to network with other industry operators (bands, promoters etc). Additionally, fans connect to charismatic, personable individuals.
Having a warm, friendly and ‘can-do’ attitude goes a long way in the music industry. By being personable and friendly, you significantly increase your chances of building both a secure fanbase and a solid industry network.
10. Have Fun!
Whilst I endorse a professional and goal-focused approach to being in a band, it’s supposed to be fun! If you ever find it feeling like a chore, it means something needs to be changed.