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It's only rock'n'roll: a guide to forming a band
It’s every parent’s nightmare. Well maybe not the worst, but it fills them with dread all the same. The children come back from a summer festival and, not content with having lived for several days on burgers, beer and very little sleep, they proudly announce that… yes, they are going to form a band.
You can understand why. Seeing hundreds, nay thousands, of fans going wild over a bunch of people with guitars tends is bound to make them think “I wish that were me”. It can also be that a one of the acts at a festival is so terrible that they find themselves thinking “surely I can do better than that”.
Whatever their motivation, once their heart is set on forming a band, you won’t be able to talk them out of it. For a start, they will still be half deaf from the festival. But, beyond the noise levels involved, it’s important to face a few hard facts about being in a rock band. Decision making is of the utmost importance, even before a single note is played.
What do you want to achieve?
Not everyone approaches this rock band malarkey with the same expectations. For some, it’s world domination, no less: world tours, a Grammy Award, the headline slot at Glastonbury. Others, meanwhile, will be content to play a handful of grunge covers at the next village fete. ‘Musical differences’ is often cited as the cause of a band’s break-up. Make sure you discuss your aspirations with your bandmates – and, crucially, listen to theirs.
Who does what - musically?
It’s a fact of life that the lead singer and the lead guitarist will get most - if not all - of the attention. Being the bass player / drummer / keyboard player may feel like having drawn the shortest straw; the good thing, however, is that the pressure won’t be on you. Think of it as a football team: everybody wants to be a goal-scoring sensation, or a playmaker who dictates the pace of the game. Yet nothing would be possible without a no-nonsense defence and a solid goalkeeper. The bottom line is: know your role, and stick to it.
Who does what - logistically?
Wouldn’t it would be great if all band rehearsals were like the ones in Freaky Friday, the adorably naff Lindsay Lohan vehicle in which a really-really-really important gig by Lindsay’s band clashes with her mum’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) wedding rehearsal? A clean sound, no heavy lifting, everyone has a car – magic. Except that such a scenario is about as plausible as the film’s main plot (mother and daughter become trapped in each other’s body – watch it with a mild hangover: it’s great). In real life, heavy amps have to be carried up steep staircases, drumkits have to be dismantled then reassembled then dismantled again, rehearsals have to be arranged and, hopefully, gigs have to be booked. If you don’t distribute the tasks, your band will become a hotbed of unhappiness and resentment quicker than it takes to say one-two-three-four. Only one person has a car? Spare them the burden of doing tedious admin stuff as well.
I want a guitar like [insert name of flamboyant virtuoso]
‘All the gear and no idea’ – possibly one of the all-time great putdowns. There are few sights more tragic than that of a rubbish musician playing on expensive equipment. “Yes but my expensive guitar will last!” I hear you protest – maybe but, in the meantime, in a business where, sadly, image counts for a hell of a lot and first impressions are indelible, you will come across like the kid with the diamond-studded tennis racquet who can’t hit the ball. Not good. So, before you buy that Gretsch White Falcon, unless you are dazzlingly good, please consider buying secondhand, or something reliable but not flashy. Entry-level brands used to be a lottery; they have now raised their game, possibly having grown tired of seeing queues of dissatisfied customers.
Hey, I wrote that
Covers or originals? Again, it’s all about what you want to achieve. If your ambition is to play weddings and christenings (scoff all you like: it pays loads), then by all means stick to playing covers. If, however, you want to write your own tunes, you may want to consider joining an author’s rights society. In Belgium it’s called Sabam. Now Sabam has had its fair share of bad press in the past but, what it does is 1- protect your masterpieces from plagiarism and downright theft and 2- pay you money when your songs – again, the ones you’ve written yourself - are performed live, played on the radio or featured on an official record. It’s not free; membership costs about €25 per year per person. It is therefore essential to agree within the band how you wish to split the songwriting credits for your own material. You can either register the songs according to who wrote exactly what (an option to consider if the band revolves one main songwriter and/or the band’s line-up changes a lot), or split everything evenly, even though at least one person in the band never contributes anything. Remember that success can put the strongest friendships to the test.
Print name, date and sign here… and here
Never, ever, EVER sign any contract from a record label or management company without submitting it first to someone who speaks legalese. When you find yourself contractually bound to record a Christmas album or open a shopping mall, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Remember to have fun
The above words of advice or warning are not meant to deter anyone from playing in a rock group. When it all clicks, when it all comes together, being in a band is truly amazing. But bear in mind that for every success story, there will be a thousand unused guitar cases gathering dust in attics the world over. If you want to conquer the charts and steal hearts, get cracking. Don’t be ashamed to practice or take lessons: self-taught musical geniuses are a myth.
Being in a band isn’t cheap – it demands time and money and, if you are foolhardy enough to hold band rehearsals in your (or your parents') house, plenty of insulation. Even if you see it as a hobby, it’s an expensive one. So make the most of it. Talk to your bandmates; they are your friends, not your colleagues. All set? OK, a-one, a-two-, a-one-two-three-four…