Questions answered (in the same order as outlined below) on this page:
What do I need to know before starting a band?
First of all, it's a good idea to have a similar level of commitment as the guys/girls in your band. There's not much point having one person want to be in the band as a hobby, rehearsing occasionally and not doing shows, when the others really want to make a go of it - it just causes fights.
Find people who have the same level of musicianship as you - or better - or people who don't have the same level of musicianship but who are really willing to step up and improve fast. I'm assuming that since you're reading this you want to make a really great band. In that case, you want people who are truly committed - and that includes a commitment to practicing, rehearsing and improving. This means you're all going to level up continuously. If you have someone in the band who doesn't care about any of that, he/she will just drag you down.
It’s ok if you like different music and have different influences - in fact, that can be an absolute bonus – just once you have a common commitment to your band and own music.
Of course, you’ve got to be able to be in the same room together for long periods of time and not drive each other completely crazy (at least not all the time!) We all have our up days and down days and are all easier to be around on some days more than others. Throw in a pressured situation like a tour bus or a van or a 26-hour drive, though, and that’s when all this gets pushed to the limit – and when things can implode. It makes it so much easier to weather those ups and downs when you like the people you are in a band with!
Level of commitment vs level of involvement
As I said, your commitment level to your band is important – so that each of you can rely on each other to turn up for rehearsals, shows etc. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your involvement has to be exactly the same. Some band members will just want to turn up for rehearsals and shows and outside that go off and live their lives. Other band members may want to be really involved – with everything from designing flyers to contacting radio stations and making connections with venues for tours.
Sometimes one person will take on more responsibility. Usually, that just comes down to different personalities. Some people are more driven to organize and be really involved in the running of your band, some are just not.
Bottom line is that your band will need to find the balance that works for you – so one or another person isn’t overwhelmed and ultimately pissed off. The more you can have open conversations and agreements about who is willing to do what and for everyone give to 100% to whatever involvement they do have, the better.
In my own band, Moth Complex, I wrote the songs with my co-writer and producer, G. Owens, and we brought musicians in to join the band for live shows. Over time, I came to realise that what was really important to me was that the people in my band were showing up 100% for what they were needed for – for their playing and their performing – and their attitude towards that was cool. Once I realised that I didn’t mind so much if they didn’t do anything else.
Sometimes, like this, one or two people will write the songs and others will just come in to play them. It’s all different in each band. I think the most important thing is communication - everything can be adapted and adjusted as you go along anyway.
Couple of pics of me rehearsing with my band, Moth Complex.
These were taken in our rehearsal room at the time in St. James Gate, Dublin (opposite the Guinness Brewery).
How do I seek out band members?
The super-simple and obvious first step when you want to start a band and find band members is this: start talking about it. Talk to absolutely everyone you know. Ask everyone if they know people who might be interested in joining a band with you. Everything we want in life comes through people, so talk to everyone you can – obviously and especially those who are supportive of you or who love music. If you don’t already have musical friends, maybe there are music groups in your school or college or where you live.
When I was starting out doing music, I didn’t think I had friends around me who would want to be in a band. I had lots of friends who were in bands, but not many who were looking for something.
I started talking about what I wanted to do musically to anyone and everyone who would listen. I began answering ads for singers that were put up in local music stores and rehearsal studios and coffee shops. I did some auditions and when I still didn’t find a band I liked, I put up my own ads asking for musicians to join a band with me.
It took time, but ultimately, all of these things worked. My first singing gig came through a friend of my brother, who I had talked to about wanting to sing. I did some singing with another guy through an ad I answered and, later on, I secured musicians for Moth Complex through ads I put up.
So for you...maybe you will need to start posting ads for band members around where you live or online. You could post on your social media pages. The important part is to put your intention “out there”. Be persistent and be patient. Try different places. In the meantime, work on your own skills musically.
A couple of years ago, I was living in LA and putting a band of musicians together for Moth Complex. I had some shows in The Roxy and The Viper Room on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood lined up and I needed a band.
I did everything I have just suggested you do – I was telling everyone I met that I needed musicians, I put up ads in music shops and online, I answered ads and I went to see bands too, to see if I could ask any musicians to play a couple of shows. A few months later, I had a drummer and a guitarist, but no bass player.
My friend, Holly, gave me the number of a bass player she knew, called Adam. Adam was interested, but already in another band, so he said no and he passed my number to his friend, Roger. Roger was all set to play the shows, but just as he was about to, he had a bad accident and cut up his finger (it was gruesome), so he couldn’t play at all.
I was pretty disheartened because it was taking so much longer to put the band together than I expected.
A couple of months later I got a call from a third guy, Jeff Subauste. Jeff is an amazing musician and now a great friend. He ended up playing in Moth Complex for those shows. Much later, I found out that Jeff heard Moth Complex through the first guy, Adam, and that’s why he contacted me. So all the time, when I thought nothing was working, life was figuring it out.
Sometimes you just don’t know what you are setting in place and how connections get made…
Semi-acoustic Moth Complex rehearsal in my bedroom in LA.
Me, post rehearsal, in Swing House in LA.
What should I say in an ad?
If you haven’t done this before, start by getting clear about what’s most important to you.
If it’s important to you to play in a band with a specific genre – alternative rock or metal or whatever – then you could put in your ad what music you want to make and maybe give examples of what you want your band to sound like, a list of the bands you love.
If you want to be in a band with people around the same age as you, include that in your ad. You can say that you are looking for band members over 21 if you're in the States and want to be free to play in bars for example, where under 21s aren't allowed entry.
If you only have certain days/times you are available to rehearse or want to stick to a certain area, put that in your ad.
Your ad is basically a pre-screening process. You want the people who are contacting you to be close to what you want, not just anybody and everybody who wants to be in a band. Being specific helps to exclude those you don’t want and draw in those you do.
Don’t know what music you want to play? Or just want to get started and see how it goes? Put that in your ad. Here’s the thing - you can’t get it wrong. Even if your ad doesn’t bring in the right people for your project, you can just take that as “information”, re-advertise and tweak it until you do get it right…
I know some of this may seem really obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many people leave the main stuff out. Just have a look at some ads and you’ll see!
Where should I advertise?
Put ads up in your school or college if you have a notice board, in a music shop if there is anything like that near where you live, in live venues if they have a billboard or wall space, in rehearsal rooms, online in a musician's classifieds section… anywhere you think there is a possibility of like-minded musicians seeing your ad and linking in.
If you have a job, you may have a noticeboard to post ads. A local coffee shop might have one too. If you have a church you go to, you can post ads there. If you have ads done up like a flyer, you can keep them with you hand them to anyone you talk to about wanting to start a band if they have friends to pass them on to.
You don’t know where your potential new band members are going to come from so best to be clear about what you want and cast your net as wide as you need to.
The last part of this process is patience. Personally, I'm not very good at this bit! It will take as long as it takes for people, let alone the right people, to come to you. You could have a full band within a few hours or it could take a few months.
If it is taking a really long time, just go back and repeat the process – see if there is any way you can make your ad stronger, think about where else you might be able to post your ad - and stay enthusiastic, keep practicing your instrument or your singing, work on improving your own songwriting and your skills and trust that in time the right people will come along for your band.
If you’re impatient or don’t want to wait, you always have the option of learning and programming music software and getting the music process going by yourself. But, hang on in there! Your band members will ultimately come.
What about when somebody calls me about the band? What then?
Great! You are moving forward. Next thing is obviously a conversation to see if you are on the same page with this person about what you are both looking for in a band and to make sure it’s worth your time meeting up for a chat or to start working.
It goes without saying, but be safe. Make sure they are legitimate/real enquiries. Tell people where you're going. Bring a friend with you or someone you trust. I’ve done that before. I brought my brother along with me to an audition when I wanted to make sure I was safe.
You might want to find out how skilled your potential bandmate is as a musician - sometimes peoples think they are better than they are and vice versa - what equipment they are using if that is important to you, where you can rehearse and how often. Make a list of everything you want to check out and if all is good, it’s audition time.
This doesn’t have to be as formal as it sounds. You can agree to a couple of songs – covers, even – take a few days to rehearse then on your own if you need to and then meet up in a space (rehearsal room, garage in your home, room in your school or something similar) and see how it sounds, see how it feels.
Bear in mind that it’s unlikely that a first rehearsal will be mind-blowingly good (it can be, but more often it’s not) so rather than looking for perfection, see if you have a good feeling about going ahead. For example, you might be thinking “that bit of the song sounded really off but that other bit sounded awesome”. If you feel good and are enthusiastic about the part that rocked, that’s a good sign. If the bad part was so bad the part that rocked felt pointless, that’s a different kind of sign. You’ll know yourself!
Obviously, it helps if you like the person who's auditioning!! When you are in a band with someone, you will be spending a lot of time with them. A LOT of time. Is this someone you’d be happy to be around a lot?
Once you’ve done all of this once or a few times, it’ll become really obvious and second-nature and since you are someone who loves music, you’ll know when something feels good musically or when find yourself thinking, ‘No Way’. Trust yourself and make your own decision.
How do we find out what kind of music we want to make? / What if we disagree about sound etc.?
If the music part doesn't happen organically, the best answer is to tease it out a bit. If this is your first time in a band you could play each other your favorite songs. You can show the parts of the songs you like best and say why and talk about what you love about them. Are you are really excited by the same type of stuff? Does the music you love light you up in a similar way? Do you want to have the same experiences or feelings from being in a band?
The music you like doesn’t have to be exactly the same – in fact often it’s better if you have slightly different favorites. This is all just a starting point because you’ll want to create your own sound.
If you can’t agree on the music you want to create, that's not a great sign. Will you all be happy going forward playing music that is too much of a compromise? That you don't love? (Only you can answer these questions.)
With one of the bands I was in at the beginning, I’ll say honestly that, unfortunately, I was the pain in the ass. I was so narrow-minded about the kind of music I wanted to create, which was different from the music we were making in that band, that nothing we wrote felt right to me. It didn't make for easy rehearsals at the time, and most of that was my fault, Listening back, what we were doing sounds pretty good, but ultimately it all led to me creating Moth Complex, which was exactly the music I wanted to create, so it all worked out.
What I learned is that as much as is possible, and for yourself as much as anyone else, just do what you love.
If you are meeting musicians and you completely disagree about the music you want to make and the kind of band you want to be in, probably best to part ways. Life has a funny way of working out. Often the musicians I did work with came through musicians I didn’t want to work with or who didn’t want to work with me… strange that!
How can I tell if I have the right people involved?
You’ll know - because you’ll be feeling pretty happy with your band. You’ll be feeling good about it and thinking “This is great. This is sounding great. These guys are great.” That’s how you’ll know you’ve got the right people involved.
Like I was saying earlier, life happens. None of us is on best form all the time, so there will be amazing days and kinda crappy days in your band, just like in your family or in your life in general. My gauge is that when things are “mostly cool” that’s cool enough. But you can decide what is right for you.
What is a normal amount of time to rehearse?
Every day, three days a week, once a month…. Anything goes.
This really comes back to commitment and being on the same wavelength in terms of what being in a band means to you. If you want to get playing shows soon (within a couple of months, for example) it’s reasonable to expect that you’ll need to put in about three rehearsals a week with probably daily practices individually in between. But there are no hard and fast rules.
Once you agree on what you are all willing to commit to, great. If not, then it could be time to take a step back and find members who are on the same page.
How do we find a rehearsal space?
This is brainstorm time! Are there rehearsal studios near where you live? Are they safe and affordable? If not, do any of your parents or relations have space at home where they would be willing to let you rehearse? Even if you have to agree certain times with them when you can rehearse? My parents didn’t mind us making any amount of noise up until 8 pm. That was the curfew time the neighbors insisted on, so that was when we were made stop.
Is there a room in your school or college? Is there a room in your local community center? Can you think of anywhere else you could rehearse?
One of the oddest places I rehearsed was in a thrift shop in Des Moines, Iowa in the lead-up to the first Moth Complex US shows, squeezed in between a load of ornaments and wicker furniture – and it was perfect (Thanks to Ron, the owner!) You just need a space someone doesn’t mind you making noise, an electricity source and you are ready to go…
Rehearsing at night at "The Thrift" store in Des Moines, Iowa.
Selfie Fail at "The Thrift" store in Des Moines, Iowa.
How do we pay for all this?
Where there's a will, there's a way!
Some people will be willing to let you have the use of a space for free. Sometimes it is cheaper to rent a room in a rehearsal studio on an ongoing basis rather than pay for a session at a time. Often rehearsal studios will allow you share a room with one or more bands and you can create a rehearsal rota between you. Rehearsal space doesn’t have to be expensive. The usual rule is just to split the cost evenly among all band members and make it simple.
How do we choose a name for our band?
Sometimes really easily and sometimes with great difficulty!
The way most bands I know chose their name is that each band member made note of anything that caught their attention – phrases from movies, names of characters in comics, cool sounding words - anything that struck them in any way, then brought the list to rehearsal to go through, and kept doing this until they found something they agreed on. I’ve always hated the band naming part and it has always taken me much longer than it should have. But when you’ve hit on a name then it’s done and then you move on…
Few things to consider:
Is there a .com domain available for the name you choose?
Is the name memorable? (I definitely wouldn't have chosen Moth Complex if I had considered this beforehand).
Is the name easy for people to spell?
You want to make it as easy as possible for people to remember your band / band name and find it online.
Does it matter what we wear?
Since you're here and reading this, I'm sure we agree that the most important part of being in a band is the music. BUT don’t all our favorite bands have a unique and strong style – whether it’s been chosen deliberately or by accident?
Often, it’s not by accident that they look that cool!
It’s your choice: Do you care about image at all or do you just want to make music? What style/image do you feel best represents the music you make?
Do you want to do something more dramatic visually and stylistically with your band than just wearing your normal clothes? Or no?
If you do feel drawn to doing something visually styled, you could think about the mood of your music or you could think about what you are drawn to in movies, with other bands, with comics or graphic novels or books you read or video games you play.
What colors, what locations catch your eye and your attention? How could you adapt this to fit in with your band and what you are doing?
Check out your favorite bands and some of their most impactful or iconic photos (album covers etc…) Do you think they decided on a style for these or no?
You can ignore all of this or you can give it attention. You can just play around with it and find the inspiration for your own image – and then work from there to develop and design your own style…
What if I made a mistake and get the wrong people involved and have to fire my friend?
Ugh. I’ve had this one more than once and it's not pleasant at all. It does happen and there’s really no easy way to deal with it other than to come clean.
Ideally, of course, you'd talk to the person in advance of it getting to the firing stage. Maybe there's a way things could work out? See if you explain what you're unhappy about, see what the person says and maybe there's a way to improve the situation so that everyone is happy...
If you've done that and it's a no, then you don’t have to be mean. You can just explain to the band member in question that you don’t feel it’s working out, share why and explain that you are going to go on without him/her. It sucks. It really does.
I fired one of my closest friends one time because he just wasn't able to play what he was needed to play. Nobody in the band was happy because the songs weren't sounding as good as we knew they could. When I told him how we were feeling, he actually agreed! We're still friends to this day.
Sometimes firing has to be done, but as I said, you can be honest without being mean.
PDF: What's Unique About You?
This is a multi-page and fillable PDF. Click on the button or image below to download it and save it to your computer before you fill it out and definitely save as you go.