This article is a follow-on from the piece I wrote the other week called Finding Metal Musicians My Own Age.
When you’re starting out as a metal musician, you’re normally shut up in your room, playing Black Sabbath riffs over and over until they sound suitably heavy, or drumming on the furniture until your girlfriend threatons to cut your fingers off. But there comes a time in every musician’s life that you realize you’re ready to play with other people. In that case, you might audition for a metal band at your high school, or answer an ad at the local music shop – and you may get a nasty shock.
Not everyone has the same musical concept as you. One guitarist will profess his undying devotion to the band, while missing every second practice and showing up stoned to the ones he does attend. The other guitarist will insist that every solo be a slavish devotion to his favorite shredder. The drummer will not grasp the concept of timing, the bassist will be a chick with breasts that distract the rest of the band, and the vocalist will think he can sing an octave higher than he actually can. Everyone will have an opinion on the song-writing, and so no song-writing will actually get done. You will spend a lot of time talking about how many groupies you’ll have when you’re all rich and famous, but not so much time actually playing the gigs that will attract said groupies. Someone will smell bad, and your practice room will be tiny and infested with spiders.
Eventually, you will tire of this, and the idea of forming your own band will occur to you. If you form your own band, all member are obliged to take orders from YOU. y=You can play the music YOU want to play, and find other musicians who’ll enjoy the same things and have the same attitude, and you’ll finally realize your dream of being signed to Relapse Records, going on a world tour in support of Cynic, and attracting a horde of hot metal groupies, and everything will be fine and dandy.
Unfortunately, it’s not all quite as simple as that, but in order to get you one step closer to the non-smelly / Cynic-opening / groupie-infested dream, I give you a few simple tips on how to form and manage your own metal band.
1. Figure out what you DO want
One of the biggest mistakes musicians make when trying to form a band is not knowing what they want. This is an easy trap to fall into, because many of us think we know what we want, when all we know is what we don’t want. You will be able to rattle off a long list of styles and bands you DON’T want to sound like, but can you define the sound you want? The better you are at articulating this, the higher your chances at finding musicians on the same page.
Often, figuring out what you do want means hours of listening to different songs, tinkering with instruments and talking about what you like and don’t like. Often it means analyzing your favorite songs till you hate them, trying to articulate what you love about them. Often it means jamming till 2am on the same four riffs until you’ve tried every combination and end up going with the one you first came up with.
One of the best pieces of advice I heard about this is from my husband, who says “always go back to the source.” If he finds a band he loves, the first thing he does is look up all the bands who influenced them. More often than not, this is obscure jazz flautists and sixties prog-rock and avant-garde Finnish composers, but listening to the same songs your idols listened to when they wrote their best music will help you write yours.
It’s even better if you’ve got a couple of songs written before you seek other musicians. That way you can show a potential band member what you want them to play, and see how keen they are. Beware, though, of going overboard trying to write complete songs with instruments you don’t play. CDH auditioned for a project once where the dude had created some prog metal ala Symphony X with programmed drums, but because he wasn’t a drummer, the sound he’d created was physically impossible to reproduce on a drumkit.
2. Find Musicians
Now that you have some better ideas about what you want in a metal band, you need to find some folk who share your vision and can hopefully carry a tune, too.
Here are some of the best ways of finding musicians for you metal band:
- local music shops, even if all their ads are for rock bands or string quartets
- rock and metal forums, jazz forums and local general music forums
- notice boards, newsletters and websites for local arts groups
- Musician mates, who will know more musicians
- notice boards at your high school, and other high schools in the area
- you guys often have school papers, right? Can you place ads in those?
- notice boards, newsletters, websites at local music schools, especially if they cater to youth.
Don’t be afraid of putting up an advertisement on metal forums. Look for local metal forums – for example, NZ Metal, where you can put a listing requesting band members. Even if the active posters have a habit of rubbishing any newbies who post, chances are there are hundreds more potential musicians reading who might be keen. Local metal forums are probably the easiest way to zero in on potentially keen local metal musicians.
When posting an ad, make sure you include ALL of these details:
The name of the band (if it has one) and links to any websites / previous releases you may have.
The style of the music you want to play – without writing an essay, the more detailed you make this, the better. Remember, musician’s don’t want to know what you DON’T want – they want to know. .
Links to your music online – so people can hear your chops, OR
A couple of comparison bands – choose these carefully. Don’t rattle off a list of every band who influences you, or you end up looking like an idiot. Saying “I want my band to sound like Slayer, Soundgarden, Morbid Angel and Opeth” tells a potential musician you have no idea WHAT you want. Saying “I want the music to sound like Origin, but with cleaner vocals” allows people to visualise the sound you intend.
When people reply to your ads or contact you through your mates, set up a time to jam with them. If you’re setting up the band, it’s common that they will come to you – you might have to rent a practice room for this purpose. It’s likely in your audition that you won’t spend much time playing music – more time talking about music and influences and seeing if you could work well with this person. After one or two such sessions you’ll probably have a fair idea of whether or not you want them in the band.
3. Establish the Band Politics
If you read the liner notes in most albums, you’ll discover there’s usually one or two band members who are the primary song-writers. This stops the band devolving into a committee-style writing group where everyone gets an opinon on everything and nothing gets done and what does get written is worse than watery coffee that the drummer has spat in.
From the onset, establish the rules and responsibilities that govern your band. Bands should make some decisions as a committee, but in certain instances, having one or two primary creative forces or dictators will make things run smoothly and cohesively. That doesn’t mean to say that if the bassist comes up with a song idea he can’t show it to the band, because only the guitarist and vocalist are the designated “writers”. It just means that if two people work well together and write kick-ass songs, it’s probably better to leave them to it and add your creative flair to your specific part.
Every band is different, as is every musician’s level of tolerance – the important thing is to make sure everyone is on the same page. Certain types of personalities (or two many of one type of personality) will clash when joined in creative collaborations – it’s inevitable that at some point in your band’s future you will have a MAJOR personality clash with one of the members. Try and minimize this by laying down your plans and expectations from the outset.
4. Learn Covers
If you’re starting your first band, it can be daunting to rip straight into original material, especially if you’re not quite sure if you’ve found the right people yet. Learning a cover takes the pressure off. The most diplomatic way to choose covers is to have every band member nominate a cover song, and you learn all of those.
Covers will teach you how well you work together musically without the pressure of introducing your personal music into the mix.
5. Find Better Musicians
After a few practices you’ll have an idea of everyone’s skill level and compatibility, and in all likelihood you’ll have made a strong connection with at least one of your fellow musicians and identified one or two who just aren’t going to work. Now’s the time to (gracefully and kindly) kick these folk to the curb and with the strong team that remains, find some musicians who really gel. Simply head back to step 2 and start again.
Even if one person writes all the music, it’s important for the creativity and enjoyment of all members of the band – as well as making your band work together as a unit – to jam regularly with no pressure to actually come up with something. Musicians play for the sheer enjoyment of hearing noise flow from their bodies through their instruments, so making jamming is a regular part of your band’s life keeps everyone happy and creatively fulfilled. And it’s the best way to come up with killer new material.
Setting aside 20 minutes at the end of each band practice for jamming will keep everyone in the band creatively in-tune. Members can riff out new material, play off each other, and experiment with the songs you already have. Jamming also allows you to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each member, their styles and habits, and their creative processes.
7. Put The Effort In
If one or two people are making all the effort and everyone else is slacking off, the whole project will end of a bombshell of tears and accusations. It’s vital that you define the band commitments from the onset and stick to them – and that doesn’t just mean showing up to practice. It’s no good demanding two practices a week if you don’t bother to learn the material in between.
If you’ve got a huge life event / commitment that is eating into your practice time, let your band know (in advance, if possible) and figure out how to work around it. This might mean the whole bands gets a break for a couple of weeks, or you pull out of an upcoming gig, but do what you have to do to avoid disappointing your fellow musicians.
Likewise, if another band member isn’t pulling their weight, don’t let the resentment fester for weeks. Just sit down and talk to them about it – straight up tell them you’re concerned about their commitment and are they still enthusiastic about the project? They might have something really crazy going on, or might be over-committed to projects and grateful for an easy out, or they might simply have needed a kick in the ass. Every band member needs to be giving equal effort, or it ain’t gonna work.
Readers, if anyone of you started your own band, or are musicians trying to find a band, speak up with your tips and requests in the comments!