On Choosing a Band

Perhaps the first thing to do when starting your next musical endeavor is to try and put a band together.  For many this is just a question of who’s available.  For me at this point though, I think I want to be choosy. Time is tight and I really want to find a situation (or situations perhaps) where I have some decent synergy with others in the group.  This synergy should probably apply in a few areas.

  • personality
  • genre and music style
  • time commitment
  • motivation
  • song selection philosophy – Part 3 of this series is focused on this one, so i won’t say much about this here.
This post is Part 2 of a series:

personality

A committed band has some relational aspects comparable to both a marriage and a project team.  If your band is set up in order to play original music, you will notice everyone puts in energy to learn the songs and tweak them to make them better.  So after a while it’s clear everyone has a stake in the band.  If the personalities don’t work well together, this is going to be a potentially painful situation.  No one is willing to walk away (at first) and of course if you don’t get the issue sorted out, you will have a powder keg with a lit fuse.  How long the fuse is will depend on how poorly the band addresses issues.  This makes it like a marriage.

So I need to be with people who I feel I can be honest with and who I am prepared to take honest feedback from.  Furthermore it would be good if I was working with people I like.

Bands also need to be productive (at least I want mine to be), so everyone needs to be focused on getting somewhere.  That somewhere will be based on the band’s motivation for being a band in the first place.  More about motivation later.  My point here is that there is a dynamic that comes out of any particular mix of people.  Sometimes the dynamic tends to drive you all forward and sometimes the dynamic tends to want to procrastinate.  There can be many outcomes of a people mixture.

I need a band whose dynamic is productive.  This will likely come from a unique mix of personalities that compliment one another in just the right places.  This is also probably not all that predictable, so I’ll just have to kind of go with it and see what happens.

 


genre and musical style

What about genre?  I’m a guitar player first and a singer next.  Also, I’m a rocker at heart.  If I can’t rock out here and there, I’m going to shrivel up.  I can’t sustain myself without doing something I like at some level.  It’s just not going to work.  But here’s the thing about genre.  There are genres I don’t really like to listen to that are pretty fun to play.  Could I live there long though?  I doubt it.  On the other hand I suppose there are also genres I like to hear but never really want to play.  Then there’s the genres I like but no one else seems to.  I probably won’t go to one of those.  So for genre, I need to strike a pretty tight balance.  I need to be able to keep my head in the game, so it needs to be interesting enough that I’ll want to continue to pursue it.  It needs to present some kind of challenge.  Lets not forget I should probably lean towards a genre where my guitar playing and singing style work well. It’s all nice to say you love Jazz, but if you can’t really do it, then don’t start a Jazz band.

Another factor is that I’m a big believer in trying to use music to do all the things it can do.  It can be a great container for lyrics which can be a great container for a message, but music is much more.  Music on it’s own though can evoke emotion.  Lets not forget! Music can alter your mind chemistry and make a sad person happier.  Music can make an angry person calmer.  Music can even make a sick person well.  So I want the next thing to be at least as much (or maybe more) about creating music that moves people and feels right as it is about message and lyric.

Vocalists.  I need vocalists.  I love creating vocal arrangements.  I want to work with people who can contribute to the vocal mosaic.  This doesn’t mean everyone in the band needs to be a vocalist, but there needs to be at least a few of us.  I’d also like to be in a band where my own vocal skill has a chance to grow and develop.

 


time commitment

Time commitment is also a factor when it comes to synergy.  I can’t see how starting a band with someone who isn’t willing to put in about the same amount of time as me is going to be any fun.  If they put in way more time, I’ll feel like an anchor, and if they don’t put in anything I’ll feel like my precious little time is being wasted.  When it comes to personal practice, song writing, and band practices, there needs to be a good fit in the amount of time put in.

 


motivation

Band purpose and motivation is a big part of this too.  For me, I’m not looking to get discovered and signed and all that.  I just want to make music and have people like it.  So I need to find people with a shared sense of what the band will do.  This is the area where we need to start to ask about the audience I expect to play for.  These posts present all of this as a kind of idealistic exercise.  I do realize that eventually reality happens.  At some point I expect that my approach will be subverted by all kinds of things.  I think being questions about who we will play for.  Who do we think will be interested? What kind of venues?  If it’s a paid show, what do the paying customer(s) want from the band?  The need to be marketable is eventually going to be a factor.  But maybe it shouldn’t.

Sometimes I think it would be great to create music and not ever have shows.  What would it look like to write songs for others to perform?  So the band in question might write lots and record lots, but not really gig lots. I’m not sure that’s what I want to do, but I find myself thinking of that as an interesting challenge.  It’s one thing to write something you can perform yourself.  It’s a whole other thing to be able to write something targeted at a different artist being the performer.  Something to think about.

The downside to a non-gigging band is that you miss out on some of the fun.  It’s fun to gig.  It’s fun to see the immediate appreciation of an audience that is in to what you’re doing.  Playing live is also a good test of your skills.  There isn’t much to hide behind when you play live which can be a good thing.  It forces you to refine your skills so you don’t screw up as much.

One other thing is for sure.  I need to have some creative skin in the game.  I’m not looking for another pure cover band to play in.  I just don’t want to always be playing other people’s songs.  Been there, done that.  Yes, that’s where the easy money is, but that’s not what’s driving me this time.  And trust me, it’s not a lot of money.  At any rate, you’ll notice in Part 1, if you read it, that I said that I’m better with music.  I didn’t say I’m better with money.  So will I quit my job for music?  Not likely.  Not unless it’s maybe 6 or 7 figures worth of music!  However, I do want to put myself in the way of potential.  This could mean that eventually I might be faced with a choice about a career shift, but at this point I’m cool if it doesn’t get there.

Optional reading… I stumbled upon this interesting post that essentially discusses this topic of motivation. It’s related on some level to what I’m saying, and I agree with some of the sentiment in the post.  Check it out!
http://www.quadraphonicsoundproject.com/the-definitive-guide-on-why-you-should-quit-your-band/ (This post is rated PG-13 🙂 )

So given all that, what makes a good band?  Well for me at this point a good band will be a group of people who together can produce a range of musical expressions while not hating each other.  It would be great to have a band that collaborates well when it comes to creating arrangements and writing music.  It would also be nice if that collaboration is energizing and not always painful.  Working with others on music is always a challenge in that music is subjective, so you’re not always going to agree on what is musically aesthetic.

So what have I decided?  Nothing.  I’m just talking here.  No announcements about the next band that I’ve formed or whatever.  Disappointed?  🙂

This post is Part 2 of a series:

5 thoughts on “On Choosing a Band”

  1. Sounds as if one needs to find the “sweet” mix between purposeful, empirical, planning and serendipity. Marriage probably starts with the latter but lasts and gets better by being able to apply more of the former. I wonder if it’s the same with a band.

    • I’d say sometimes that’s the case. I’m sure most successful bands would describe a coming together story that was in some way serendipitous. This post is analogous to a single man having a list of traits in the perfect woman. I too have a list of what makes up the perfect band. Though when people get together to play and it just WORKS, that will be the serendipity and some elements of my list will just kind of fall away.

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