Start a Band

Tips, trials and thoughts about starting and building a band in Australia

Finding Band Members

There are many different ways of finding band members. You might find them through friends, social networks, using online musician classifieds or printing an ad in the classifieds section of a magazine.

I recommend using a combination of the above because the more people you can choose from, the better chance you have of finding the right band member. If you can’t afford to place ads you can often advertise online for free.

If you aren’t ready to start a band that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be meeting musicians. If you don’t have any muso friends, consider placing a musician classifieds ad seeking people to jam with. The reason for this is that you should be networking. Musicians usually have more musician friends and the more musos you know, the better chance you have of finding people when you start a band.

Side note: You might not find a full band to jam with straight away and that’s fine. If you only have a guitarist and bassist available, do an acoustic jam or use a drum machine.  If you’ve only got a drummer and a vocalist in your jam sessions, consider learning another instrument just for jamming or experiment with electronic drum melodies (obviously this could get tricky but might be fun). Don’t be afraid to swap instruments for your jam, you’re just supposed to be having fun.

In my first band, we only had 2 guitarists and a bassist initially. We found a drummer in the local musician classifieds and eventually lost our first bassist. Both of our singers and our second bassist in that band came through the drummer. The vocalists were friends of his and he met the bassist in music classes.

In fact, my current band only came about because we were jamming with the old singer and drummer from my first band. The guitarist and I thought we’d take another stab at it and went about writing songs all the while keeping an eye out for band members.

Side note 2: While we were on the lookout for band members we realised that many of the musician classifieds sites online weren’t up to scratch and often they didn’t encourage their users to advertise important information about themselves. Things as simple as the user’s experience and whether or not a band played originals or covers were hard to determine in many ads. As such we worked on the musician classifieds site linked to above so that in the event we didn’t have a full band by the time we’d finished, we’d use it to find a band. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait that long to find a band but the site played a big part in us getting our first round of gigs.

We actually found our current singer during a party when a bunch of musically-minded people were passing around a guitar and playing various covers and originals. It might’ve been an impromptu jam but it was a jam. The great thing about musicians is that they’re usually drawn to music and musical discussion.

Long story short: don’t just look for band members in one place. Advertise online, chat with musos, jam with musos and whatever you do, don’t stop doing it lest there come a day you need a new band member.

Starting a band – past experience

Previous band – Titiksha
We decided we would be an originals band and we had a pair of guitarists. We put an appropriately bad ad in the local classifieds: “Drummer wanted for sh*tty punk band” and only got a single reply. The guy was a great drummer but was really into playing songs he already knew. Mostly covers.

With persistence, we eventually got around this roadblock and found a decent bassist. The next 2 problems ultimately spelled the end for our band. The first was that we weren’t clear on how much everyone needed to spend. The second was that we weren’t flexible enough stylistically.

One of our band members almost never had cash. This meant that if we needed to practice in a rehearsal studio, we’d have to lend him money. If we wanted to get a professional recording done, we had to wait until a friend was doing a project and needed a band. There are ways to do most things in a band on the cheap but sometimes it can slow the progress of the band down.

Musically, we all liked similar enough bands but our songs had to be the perfect mix of styles or we wouldn’t do them. In hindsight we should have been more open to playing bar chords (we had a big thing for riffs) and more willing to give different genres a go. We lost a number of songs and 2 great vocalists due to our stubbornness over musical genre. Of course, this could all be summed up as “musical differences” however beggars can’t be choosers.

The nail in the coffin was around our song writing process which I’ll discuss at a later date.

Current band – Throw Catch
The members of Throw Catch are all quite flexible stylistically and are very willing to play each others songs. Our practice time table is a reasonable mix of flexibility and consistency and everyone is happy with it.

When it comes to spending money, nobody is overly short on cash and we’re willing to spend if absolutely necessary. Put simply, we have money but we’re all a bit tight.

We’re all very busy people but we are all willing to sacrifice other things for the band. Still, it’s difficult to work out when practice will be. Fortunately we’re all tech savvy enough to use an online spreadsheet to show our availability and respond to emails in a timely fashion.

We’ve been together for just under 2 years and have only started gigging recently. At the 1 year mark we played a couple of parties to get some experience with a short set. We now have a 40 minute set that we’re happy with and all very excited about.

Spending 2 years writing songs is a long time and something others could’ve done a lot quicker. Given our busy schedules (including trips overseas that set us back 4 months) 2 years was something we had to work towards. The “party gigs” we played 1 year in really lifted our spirit and proved to us that we were doing something worthwhile.

We learned that it’s important to set milestones. Eg: Let’s do a few 25 minute gigs after 1 year and start doing regular 40 minute gigs after 2.

One thing we aren’t all in agreement on is what happens to songs someone has written if they leave. If we want to keep using the songs, our opinions fall into two camps. Either “permission should be sought” or “it’s fine as long as credit and appropriate royalties are given (if money is earned directly from the song)”. We will be discussing the pros and cons of this as a band and I will go over the points of view in a future post.

So you want to start a band?

The first thing you want to decide is covers or originals. I’m guessing you don’t need too much help with this because for me, this was a no-brainer. Personally, I love writing music. I love writing lyrics and I want to play my own tunes.

The next thing you need to think about is if you want to start a band from scratch or if you want to join an established band. If you’re an individual, you can almost guarantee there’s a band out there looking for someone with your interests and at your skill level. If you’re like me, the idea of starting a band probably started with the words “dude, we should totally start a band” and you have half your band already. Both options have their pros and cons and either way, finding the musicians that best suit you won’t always be easy.

Before you decide you’re “doing this band thing” with someone, it’s important to be clear about what you want out of the band. Treat the band a little like a business and try to decide early on about how things will work.

Here are a few things to consider

  • How flexible is everyone stylistically? (If you’re a punk rock band, is Electronic Punk okay? What about Hardcore? What about Pop?)
  • Where and how often will practice be?
  • Is it okay to cancel or shuffle practice?
  • How much is everyone willing to spend money on rehearsal, gigging equipment, recording etc?
  • How busy is everyone and when are they available?
  • If someone leaves the band, can you still use songs they’ve written?
  • How much should band members be practicing between group practices?
  • How long are you willing to wait before gigging?

Don’t forget, you’re there because you love music so don’t let this stuff overwhelm you. Before you get to this stage it might be a good idea to have a few jams first. Jamming is fun, so do it!

This is a lot for one post so I’ll leave it to brew for now. In my next post I’ll go over what my current band and previous bands did when it came to the above with a few specific examples of the right and the wrong.