Welcome, dear readers, to another installment of TheHellion’s Guide to Starting a Band. Forgive the lateness of this latest edition – I’ve been super busy with band stuff (read: sighing a lot, occasionally writing a chord name on a piece of paper, and watching season 2 of Golden Girls on repeat.)
If you’ve read my first installment, then you’ve hopefully been able to decide which instrument you should play. If not, perhaps you should consider learning trombone and joining a ska band, or taking up (shudder) keyboard.
Your bandmates will be more like family members... family members that you will sometimes need to kick in the shins when they won’t stop futzing with their pedal boards while you’re trying to coordinate tour plans.
Assuming you’ve found your calling, let’s move forward with the next step in the process: how to find bandmates. At this juncture, I should explain a bit about what it will be like to have bandmates. Bandmates are not like friends – do not live under the delusion that by having a band, you will now have new best buddies with whom you can hang out casually and watch season 2 of Golden Girls. Your bandmates will be more like family members... family members that you will sometimes need to kick in the shins when they won’t stop futzing with their pedal boards while you’re trying to coordinate tour plans. Family members that will make out with people you have crushes on using the excuse, “You’re the one who bought me that third Jager shot, dude.” Family members who will spill Yoo-hoo in your tube amp and then attempt to pacify you by suggesting that, “it’s not like you’re all that good at guitar anyway.” And you will live and die for these people. You will get in fights for these people – fights you would never have imagined jumping into before and which make absolutely no sense, no matter how many times your bandmates insist that “it was a question of honor.”
For example, members of a band which, for the sake of this article, we shall call “VAGIANT” once went to see a Joan Jett show with members of a band whom, in order to protect their reputations, we shall call “The Acro-brats.” Members of said bands then followed the show (which kicked ass) with a casual game of darts at a now defunct Boston bar called P.J. Kilroy’s. The event in question centers around VAGIANT’s drummer LoWreck, whose limitless energy has resulted in such simultaneously hilarious and dangerous situations as the “Look at me, I’m a bee, I can fly, watch me climb up this stoplight and jump off” incident and the “Look at me, I’m a chef, watch me baste everyone at this party with BBQ sauce” incident. On said evening, LoWreck was throwing bad darts and getting increasingly frustrated at the results. Eventually, after throwing a dart into the jukebox, LoWreck screamed some obscenities, turned on her heel, pointed at a large frat-boy surrounded by his frat friends at a nearby frat table and shouted, “You! Yeah you, you in the douchey green hat! You suck!” In this case, “suck” had at least fourteen syllables and was punctuated with a sort of taunting, slithery Axl dance and multiple rude gestures. Now I think we can all agree that, despite this being somewhat endearing coming from a 5' tall, tattoo-covered drummer chick who talks like a 1930s newsboy and happened to be rocking gold lamé stretch pants at the time, this is not exactly the kind of statement you imagine laying down your life for.
But there we were, VAGIANT and The Acro-brats, a group among which I outweigh all members by at least 50 lbs., suddenly squaring off with a group of enormous ‘roid-filled frat boys with bad tribal band tattoos guzzling Long Island iced teas. These are the type of situations that you will be forced into by your bandmates. I encourage the musicians among you, dear readers, to share similar experiences on the forums. You will undoubtedly agree that my experience of often having to engage in ridiculous confrontations due to the mood swings of my bandmates is NOT unique. (For those concerned about the outcome, it turns out that if the scrawniest member of your entourage answers “I don’t know, do we?” and puts down his beer in response to the question “Do we have a problem?” then most groups of frat boys will assume that you must be carrying some form of deadly weapon, perhaps a junk-seeking missile or Frisbee-melting ray gun, and will back off. When this happens, CALMLY LEAVE THE BAR IMMEDIATELY and resist the urge, unlike LoWreck, to turn around on the way out and shout, “In your face, douche-hat!” No musician enjoys running to the parking lot in 4-inch heels and legwarmers screeching “Bitch, I had half a PBR left!”)
Now that you understand a little more of what bandmates are, let’s start looking for them. One place to look is (I know, this will blow your minds) the INTERNET. Many internet forums are useful for finding like-minded aspiring musicians. Hopefully Rockband.com will become a useful forum for this, although you are likely to have respondents who think that Jawbreaker is just an impractical kind of candy and the Stooges are three wacky dudes in black and white that grandpa finds hysterical. Just ignore them and post anyway.
Additionally, Craigslist.org has a “musicians” page in the Community section and it can be a great way to find other aspiring musicians in your area. It is also a great way to find loser jerk-offs in your area. Post realistically and have realistic expectations. You can talk about your influences, but only if you actually intend to have a style remotely like the bands you list. I cannot tell you the number of people who will post “Looking for edgy, experimental punk guitarist for new and different band. No influences, because our music is so new and different that nothing has come before it which could even be slightly compared to it.” And then you show up, and surprise! They sound exactly like Social Distortion.
I will not make fun of your lyrics unless it is really warranted.
Also, no one cares about your gear. Do I care what kind of set-up my bass player uses? Hell no. I care that she is really fun and can kick the ass of any audience member who shouts “show us your boobs” (without showing us theirs.) In fact, just for you, dear reader, I shall create the greatest-ever-and-most-guaranteed-to-work-craiglist-musicians-post-ever-written-ever-ever:
“Looking for band. I can play my instrument decently enough and will always have at least $20 every month to contribute towards a practice space. I am not a junkie or an alcoholic, but I will hold your hair back if you need me to. I do not start fights, but I will always have your back no matter how stupid you are. I will not make fun of your lyrics unless it is really warranted. I will not try to give your significant other a sketchy back massage when he/she looks ‘really stressed.’ I do not consider buying a new Iphone, being hungry, or having jury duty to be an adequate excuse for missing practice. I will load my own gear in and out of the club without whining. I have a place to live and will neither stay on your couch incessantly nor surreptitiously sleep in the practice space leaving discarded Hot Pocket wrappers as evidence.
I am genuinely doing this for fun and, though like everyone else I secretly dream of making it big, I will not get all wah-wah crybaby when 4 people show up to our show and they are all our immediate family members. I will wait until we get OFFSTAGE to yell at you about your mistakes. I will pretend that your instrument is just as difficult as mine. I will not steal your gear and exchange it for a western omelette. I am around the same age as you or at least equally immature. I do not think The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, or Led Zeppelin are overrated - that would be dumb. I will not ever, ever, ever tell you what to wear, although I may make fun of you if you opt to wear a vest without a shirt or if you wear sunglasses onstage. Again, I am looking for a band.”
There you go. That should do it.
In addition to the tips listed above, I’d like to provide some helpful advice to each potential member of the band.
GUITARISTS: do not list individual guitarists as your influences in any self-promoting advertisement that you undertake. I cannot stress this enough. This is the craigslist equivalent of posting “I am under the delusion that my skills are comparable to Hendrix’s. Also I have a tendency to roll my eyes while you are talking.” Additionally, when you are auditioning for a band or meeting with potential bandmates, try your VERY hardest to not play random noodley solos while they are asking you questions. I know, it goes against every fiber of your being, but it will make a positive impact if you can avoid it!
BASSISTS: you will most likely have the easiest time joining a band. Bassists quit bands a lot. It’s not entirely clear to me why bassists have such a high rate of attrition – apparently a great number of them have “other priorities” such as “their art” or “their film-making” or “their desire NOT to wake up in Worcester on the couch of some weird guy whose name sounded like Corbup coated in a fine dusting of cat hair and Gardetto’s Snack Mix.” So as long as you are either talented or attractive, you should have no trouble joining a band.
SINGERS: Write songs. Write songs WITH guitar parts if possible – it doesn’t matter if they are crappy, it just matters that you can communicate your song ideas to your bandmates. I auditioned for a second band recently (while suffering from a thankfully short-lived but severe case of Frontman’s Disease, whose main symptom is the indignant sense that one’s true potential is being encroached upon by one’s lackadaisical bandmates) and learned a lot from the experience. First, I am not very talented. Second, my laugh sounds like a dog barfing when I am nervous. And third, bands expect a LOT from singers. Like, they expect you to actually construct the melody of the song instead of understanding that with all your deep, emotional angst, you can’t be “forced” to create music on command like some sort of music-creating monkey! It’s exhausting, but at least in the end, you will get all the decent groupies.
DRUMMERS: if you are a drummer, tell ten people that you are looking to join a band. If you are a female drummer, tell one person. You should get a call within a week. If for some reason that doesn’t work, try hanging out at your local faux dive bar. It is easy to tell whether it is a musician-rich faux dive bar as opposed to a real dive bar – it is the former if the jukebox has Thin Lizzy and Roy Orbison on the juke box, it is the latter if anyone inside the bar reminds you of your 7th grade social studies teacher – the one with the daily pit stains the size of snare drums.
Once you find your bandmates and future fighting squad, you’ll be able to start playing music together. It will probably not be pretty at first. Luckily, next month I will be providing lots and lots of helpful hints on how to survive and thrive in those early practices. So far no members of my band have killed any other members, so I consider myself an expert on the subject. Of course, two of my bandmates have since left and been replaced after one of them once hit me in the head with a beer bottle and I made the other one cry… but I’m pretty sure it was unrelated. Good luck, future rockers – may you find your musical soulmates, and may they always smell like roses no matter how many days in a row you’ve all slept in the van.