Monday, February 16, 2009

So You Want to Start a Band

After more than a year I have set up my drums again. I don't have a rehearsal space and the garage is full of "things to get rid of" so they're behind the couch in the living room for now. Nothing says "good neighbor" like a full set of drums behind your couch. I'm sure one of my neighbors won't mind because he drums next to his kitchen. I can look down on his head from our upstairs window while he plays (I'm not stalking--I'm checking out the view and his head is shiny). He always stops playing at 8:30 p.m. That's rock & roll, good neighbor style, and it's inspiring.

Are you thinking of forming a band? Let my past experiences edify you. With age comes wisdom and sometimes senility; hopefully not at the same time. First off:

1.) You'll need to play an instrument, or at the very least: sing. I'm sorry--there's no getting around this, although people have tried, especially in the early 80s.

2.) You got that pesky music-playing part out of the way. Now what? You'll need some bandmates, of course. Unless you want to be a solo artist but it helps to have a band first before you "go solo." Where on earth do these people reside?

If you're lucky maybe some of your friends or your significant other(s) are musically inclined. Great! You've formed a new social club AND you get drink tickets. But wait--there's a catch: if you end up getting in a fight (and you will), the band will suffer and it's all about the band, so approach with caution. Like having a roommate, not every friend makes a great bandmate. Witness the amount of bands not speaking to each other who started out as friends. The Ramones didn't speak to each other WHILE they WERE a band. That makes collaboration trickier.

So you don't have friends, or friends who play music. No problem. Just put an ad in Craigslist, or if you want to go old-school, on a bulletin board somewhere or in the back of a weekly. Who will be in touch? Scads of wanna-be musicians and a few people who can actually play. You'll have to listen to their demos and decide who gets to audition with you. What a pain! Welcome to being in a band. The pain has only just begun!

3.) So you found some bandmates--excellent! You'll need to rehearse. A lot. Otherwise you'll sound like shit and you don't want that. Where will you play? A handy basement? A garage? A rented rehearsal space? Here's where I've rehearsed over the years, lugging my drums from one room to another in the hopes of mastering the perfect roll (not even close yet):

a) My friend's living room - the neighbors immediately and tearfully complained.
b) Hourly rented rehearsal studio - lugging equipment on a once or twice-weekly schedule is not too terribly fun but it's possible. You have to plan your evening/days in advance so you don't use up your valuable rental time simply setting up. Kind of stressful.
c) A shared monthly rehearsal space with other bands. Just like having roommates but with more beer and inexplicable garbage to take out. If you're lucky you'll like your rehearsal bandmates and you can play gigs together. It's like The Brady Bunch when they all decided to be musical and they got their own variety show. In the 70s, these things really happened.

5.) You have managed to cobble together some songs (I won't get into that part--that's another post for another blog)--now what? It's time to take the big step and put on a show! I used to play at this scary dive in the Tenderloin in San Francisco called The Sound of Music. On Tuesdays, we'd often play with our friends in The Wee Doggies and see who would show up to stare at and heckle us. We weren't very good. In fact, we were slightly terrible, but everyone liked us anyway. Go figure. Sometimes we'd invite people on stage to play along and so our band would grow from three to twenty-six, depending on who was in the audience and who could fit on stage. It was a good time. Kind of like a garage sale but with bands.

Later when I got older and actually tried to sound "together" with my band, we threw a party and played in our bandmate's living room. This way, we could decorate the house, wear shrouds and play very cool old animated films on the TV behind us to keep people from getting bored. We controlled the environment and even though we kind of sucked, it was fun. That's how the first and only Heaven's Gate Cult memorial party kicked off. I never said we had good taste.

Your first show in a "real" club. How does that happen? Sorry, but you'll have to call or email some people who run the bar or club. It's called "working it." They'll want to hear your band, so send them something--an MP3, or a burned CD, or a wax cylinder--I don't know what the kids send anymore. You'll need some promo material, like a photo and a band name. Make sure someone in the band has a reliable contact number or address. This is sometimes harder than you think. Do your best.

You got a call back! Someone cancelled on a Wednesday night NEXT WEEK. Can you play? Say, "YES!" or be cool and say, "Let me check with our booking agent. Oh--she says OK." Then call your bandmates while your heart beats too fast.

On the night of the show, show up when the booking person says to. They always tell you to come too early but that's because they're trying to avoid flakes. Make a good impression by actually showing up when they say to. If you get more shows, you can come late and join all the other bands who do so.

You might get to do a sound check. Congratulations--the club is somewhat professional. Hopefully your soundman (or woman, though I've never met one) will not be on drugs or drunk and can actually hear. Did you remember to tell all your friends and relatives to come out to the show? About a third might make it if you're lucky and a normal person. If you're super-popular, well, too bad for your huge audience--the first show is not always the greatest. Don't sweat it. Just do your best and have a GOOD TIME ALL THE TIME. Your audience will pick up on that and they'll probably follow suit. The rest is up to your ability, talent, being in the right place in the right time, that elusive thing called charisma (or not), etc.

If you're an average, decent band, you'll break up within a year-and-a-half. If you manage to stay together past that--congratulations--you're married to each other, at least musically. You'll probably end up recording some songs and I'll tell you how to store hundreds of CDs in your garage for the next ten years (another time).

Hope your band experience is as exciting as this genius mashup made from Ron Howard's Cotton Candy: "Hot Rash!" by Rawbtube.


Mildred Davenport said...

Another sad story about a girl in a of the Ronettes has died. The NY Times had a nice article today: "A Life of Troubles Followed Estelle Bennett's Burst of Fame"

Lisa Mc said...

I saw that article--very sad. Mental illness is the worst (next to cancer). It just tears everything up that is good in life. Rest in peace Estelle.