Thursday, February 7, 2008

Band 101 Chapter One-Forming a Band

I've decided to write a series of articles about starting a band. I've decided to do this because I meet people all the time who want to start a band but have no idea what they're doing and subsequently aren't ever able to get anything off the ground. A lot of the advice here will seem obvious, especially the first articles, but it's useful. There's something very honest about discovering things like this for yourself, but that leaves you learning most things the hard way. I don't regret starting off totally naive with my first couple of bands, but in hindsight, there are a few things I wish people had told me to start off with. I'm by no means an expert, but I've played in several serious bands so I know a little something about what I'm talking about.

The first step is obvious; find people you want to be in a band with. Even if you live in a small town, or are young and don't know many people, chances are you can find at least a couple other punk kids in your town who know a little something about playing guitar, and there's always going to be some kid who plays percussion in marching band that wants to do something else. Just get three other guys together, decide what you're all going to play, and go from there. Nowadays you can just go buy a book on guitar chords and bass method and teach yourself the basics that way, the rest will come with time and practice.

The second step seems obvious, too, but it's a big hurtle for a lot of bands. Decide what kind of music you want to play. I don't mean pigeonhole yourselves right away, but you all need to have a serious discussion about bands you like, what would be influencing you all individually, and then seeing how all of it can mesh together. A band of four guys who all want to play four completely different styles right out of the gate is not going to work, no matter how great of friends you are. When I was in Slag, the bassist and I were the two songwriters, so we ended up spending a lot of time together going over songs again and again, trying to figure out which direction we were going with them. I'd say probably 70% of the time we were just arguing; it was always me telling him the songs needed to be faster or have more changes, and him telling me the songs needed to less dark and more accessible. We just had two completely different takes on songwriting and we were both too stubborn to back down. As a result, some of the Slag stuff came out really interesting and uniqe, and some of it came out sounding directionless. But either way, playing in the band felt like something of a chore at times.

After you're all pretty sure you know what you want to play, you need to actually start playing together. Starting out with covers is good if you're all new, because it gets you used to playing with each other. Playing covers also teaches you how to watch each other and stay in communication enough during a song to keep to keep it all together. Another good thing about learning covers early on is it gives you a basis for how to write a song. I get stuff from bands all the time who compare themselves to bands they don't actually sound anything like, and it sets a bad tone when you're expecting to hear a certain sound from a band and get something else entirely. If you like a band a lot and you all decide that's the direction you want to go in, learning how to play some of their songs shows you how they build their material. You'll learn what scales they use, how they structure songs, and what chords they're using. That gives you something to build on.

I'm not telling you to rip bands off, but study them and learn. If you're able to do this with a lot of bands, you'll start to come up with really unique ideas of your own. I think the biggest problem with most bands now is they're so limited in what they actually draw influence from that their sound is stagnant. You have to make yourself a student to music. You have to like it and you have to really want to do it and believe in what you're doing, but you also have to have the patience to study it and learn from it, otherwise you'll never be able to create something that's truly your own.

More next time!

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