A couple of my younger students are trying to put together a band and they are going through all the growing pains that process entails, and of course the pure fun of it too. One of them asked me what I look for in a band when I’m joining or forming one. Here are some of the things I told him. Please keep in mind as always, these are my opinions only and as they say, “your mileage may vary”!
In most cases, assuming you’re not jumping into a band that already exists, evolution is a big part of the process. Of all the bands I’ve played with there was hardly ever a time when we thought what we had was an end product. Keeping the door open to other players makes things interesting – new sounds, new ideas are always a good thing. But let’s assume you’re starting from scratch. In most cases guitarists look for another guitar player to begin with because it will (hopefully!) be easier to communicate musically with that person than someone playing a different instrument. However, right from the start it’s important to understand one thing: someone has to sing! The fact of the matter is, if you’re ever going to perform in front of an audience it will be the vocals that will initially be of interest, not how many hot licks you know. The more singers a band has, the better. This is not to say you have to be a great singer, just someone who is willing to give it a try and can stay reasonably in tune. I could write a few blog entries about this subject and relate stories of my own singing and what I’ve heard from others but for now look at it this way. Singing is an acquired skill like everything in music and the more you do it the better you will be. Some are naturally better at it than others but what really matters is going for it, putting it out there…. Sounding like you mean it! No one has every accused Mick Jagger of having a great voice, but he sure sounds like he means it (!). Especially these days with the popularity of karaoke and reality television music shows, audiences are more forgiving than ever of attempts to carry a tune. And more appreciative of someone who can!
So let’s say both you and the other guitarist can do some singing. The next step is to get together and try some tunes. Don’t go into this with unreal expectations. It’s not a question of failing or succeeding in putting together a band, in the beginning at least. It’s just about having some fun and seeing what happens. Ideally both players have similar tastes and interests in music and are at least somewhat on the same level of playing. Two players of widely different levels of ability don’t usually stay together because it ends up being frustrating for both. Kind of like two tennis players when one can hit a 100mph smash serve with accuracy and the other can hardly clear the net. But some variation in level of ability can be a good thing because both players can end up being better at listening and matching their playing to what the other is doing.
The question of musical interests is trickier. With the wide range of musical styles and tastes we’re exposed to today it is imperative to keep an open mind about what constitutes “good” music, or more accurately, what you’re willing to put in the time to learn. We all have our favorite types of tunes and artists and hopefully you and your new playing partner share some common ground there but be sure to give new styles and songs a chance. This just one instance in the cooperative playing process where learning to control that evil thing called ego is absolutely necessary. Think about this fact before, after and always when you’re playing with someone else because ego issues are the number one killer of bands.
Assuming you’ve gotten together with that other guitarist and things went pretty well the next step is really two fold: building a repertoire and deciding when and how to bring in other players. I’ll talk about that in my next entry.
Peace & good music,