It’s no secret that most musicians share the dream of achieving legendary status as a star. To become an iconic, influential field leader in a given craft is something that most professions propagate, but in the arts, the added perk of fortune and celebrity make success all the more desirable. However, the road to financial and critical ascendancy is often a difficult one to navigate, pocked with a lengthy series of challenges that serve the end of deterring most from reaching the golden gates at the apex. One of those challenges presents itself early on in the career of every serious musician: creating a band and keeping it together.
This article is the first in a series of guides which will provide what I hope will be a strong platform from which musicians can develop serious, dedicated, progress-driven bands. My goal in writing this series is that my own experiences as a founding member in a number of Binghamton, New York groups over the years can help musicians evade a some of the pitfalls that I’ve endured, and provide bands with a better chance at keeping on course and staying together through thick and thin. Having said that, I should point out that I’m not famous (yet!), and that this guide is in no way intended to be the “end-all, be-all” of how to create a professional band. But to date, I’ve experienced a certain degree of local success in music, and if the lessons of my experiences can help even a single band wade through some of the difficulties that groups often face today, then writing this series will have been time well spent. Now that we’ve gotten this introduction out of the way, and without further adieu, let’s start this series off with the first key step in creating a band: developing a general concept for the group.
A band without a clear direction will most likely either dissipate within a few weeks or months, or spend a very long time trying to define itself and settle into a niche. Figuring out what you want from the band, what sound you’re going for, and what image you’re going for with the group will make all of the steps that follow this one all the more productive, and will make the group able to achieve goals in a more timely fashion. Underestimating the importance of this first preliminary conceptual step can (and most likely will) lead to any number of problems down the road that would be otherwise easily avoidable.
To begin, you’ll want some paper and a pen, or an open word processor/ notepad on your computer. Answer each of the following questions, writing down your answers and doing so with as much detail as you can muster. If you can’t write three sentences or more in response to each of these questions, then you should probably think more about each question and the answers you want to provide. When you can answer each question with sufficient detail, you’ll be ready for the next step. The questions are:
Question: What musical genre(s) will the new band adopt? How would the band’s music set itself apart from other acts belonging to that/ those genre(s)? Without saying “it’s my favorite,” why are you choosing that/ those particular genre(s)?
Question: What instruments should the new band utilize? Why is each instrument important? Can one musician play multiple instruments, and if so, which musician(s) should have those responsibilities?
Question: With the last question in mind, what is the bare minimum number of members that the band will require? What is the absolute-largest number of members the band can/ should ever have? How many members would the band ideally have? What made you choose these numbers?
Question: What is the image that the band will attempt to obtain? How would the general public ideally perceive the group, and how would fans perceive the group, and in what ways would these perceptions differ?
Question: What are the short-term goals of the band? What should the band accomplish within one full year of playing together?
Question: What are the long-term goals of the band? What should the band accomplish within ten full years of playing together?
Question: If you could assemble a “super-group” out of your favorite musicians, dead or alive, who would be involved with the project? What would each musician contribute to the band’s sound and image? What specific reasons do you have for choosing the musicians that would make up the group?
Let’s take a few moments to discuss each of the questions. In the interest of answering the first question, it’s important to choose at least one genre, but no more than two, because this will help you define your sound and prevent the music from becoming too eclectic for most audiences. Your genre choices should be based on the style of music you most enjoy playing, and what genre you most enjoy listening to. For most musicians, choosing the band’s genre is the easiest step, and for others, it will prove to be most challenging, so don’t be afraid to take your time in answering this one.
The second and third questions are vital to the band’s structure, as they’ll define the makeup of the band moving forward. Carefully consider each and every instrument that the band might be able to utilize, and attempt to validate the importance and necessity of each of those instruments. Sure, it might sound cool to have two drummers and two bass players, but is that really necessary? Will you be able to find all of the musicians you’re hoping for? How much leeway are you willing to grant the band for taking on new instruments? These questions are especially important to consider with young musicians (teenagers) forming their first band. Such groups have a tendency to spiral out of control because they don’t take the time to clearly define what musicians they need, and what the maximum number of musicians can be. Some of the more experienced musicians reading this might know what I’m referring to here; some bands end up exchanging members constantly and growing to unmanageable sizes because they don’t take a few moments early on to figure out how many members the band should have.
The fourth question relates to the band’s image. It might seem pointless to declare the band’s image before you even have members, but figuring out how you want the band to present itself and what you hope the band’s reputation will shape up like down the road will dramatically help you when you begin recruiting members for the group. Also, this will help give you insight into what you want the band to sound like, further reinforcing your idea of the band’s ideal genre(s).
The fifth and sixth questions will help you figure out what the band’s goals will be, which will in turn set a steady course for your group moving forward. Is music more of a hobby to you, taking a backseat to other commitments and responsibilities? Do you have full-blown aspirations of rock super-stardom? Would you simply settle for making an honest living through your music and entertaining whatever audience you build along the way? Once you know this, you can set realistic goals for the group that make perfect sense when you consider the resources available to you, the amount of time you can put into the group (and how much ideal band-mates would put in), and your overall level of musical skill. If this is your first band and you’ve only been making music for a year or two, your goals should be relatively simple: play one live gig, and record a demo. If you’re more experienced, you might make your goals a bit more complicated: perform a number of gigs, record a demo or a full album, etc. Your ten-year goals should reflect your ambitions and overall goals with more liberty; completing one world tour, selling a gold or platinum album, or simply making enough money to live comfortably would be good goals to set for the band’s ten-year mark, should it last that long.
Last but not least, we come to the most entertaining question to answer, one that many of you may have already done several times: designing your “dream band.” The only rule to oblige to here is that you need to validate each person you put on your list. Are you including them because you’re a fan, or are you including them because they’ll bring something to your band that it wouldn’t otherwise have? What specific talents does each member have, and how would they blend together within the group to forge the sound you’re hoping to obtain? Where would you fit in with this group? This step is important because it will help us better understand what future band-mates we’ll try to recruit, what the band’s sound and image will consist of, and in some instances, it might even help us decide what sort of ambitions we really have in music.
After you’ve answered all seven questions, it’s time to review your answers. Take some time — a few hours if need be — to contemplate the answers you’ve provided and to consider how satisfied you are with the answers provided. If you aren’t too sure about a particular question, try your hand at answering it again. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions… only true ones. Do your best to be honest with yourself in answering these questions, and your future band will most likely reflect that honesty with success and quality. The only wrong answer is an answer that you aren’t fully satisfied with.
When you review your final answers and feel fully confident that each question was answered sincerely, this early step will be completed. In answering those questions, you should have a clear understanding of what you expect from the band, what the band can expect from you, where you hope to go with the group, and how serious of a project it will be. With this out of the way, it will be time for the next major step: finding fellow musicians to join the group.
Coming Up Next: In Part II, we’ll discuss finding other musicians to join the band. We’ll also go over a few helpful tips and hints regarding what qualities and flaws to look out for in the musicians you consider for the group.