As fun as being in a band is, it can challenge you in a big way as a musician and a person. Don’t underestimate it – if you’re trying to be serious about your band, then these are the 10 commandments you need to live by.
edit: This also applies to attending blues jams.
1. Thou shalt be a good hang
Number one rule of being in a band: be a good person! Be nice and easy to work with, and you’ll get consistent work. Plus, music is supposed to be fun, and it’s hard to have fun when there’s a lot of personal tension among the group.
2. Thou shalt know thy place
Are you a main part of the band that should be contributing and putting in as much work as everyone else? Are you a hired sideman who should just be hanging out in the background and playing your parts perfectly? Somewhere in between, perhaps? Wherever you sit on the spectrum, be sure you know where you are so that you aren’t stepping on any toes or taking too few responsibilities.
3. Thou shalt come prepared
If you’re in a serious band, you can’t be a slacker. If you’ve got parts to learn, learn them before rehearsal. Same if you have parts to write or business tasks to complete. Make sure your gear is ready to roll (i.e., functional) and that you bring all of the necessary equipment to every rehearsal/gig. Don’t be the drummer who has to borrow a drum key or the guitar player who needs a pick.
4. Thou shalt conduct thyself with professionalism
Regardless of how crazy your group’s image/stage persona is, that shouldn’t be something that gets taken off the stage. Just as you should be easy to work with when working with your bandmates, you should be easy to work with when communicating with industry professionals and venue owners. You definitely want to be asked back, and that’s not going to happen if you show up late, get wasted, trash the venue, and send an inarticulate and grammatically incorrect apology text a week after the gig. Don’t forget, it’s the music business.
5. Thou shalt pay thy dues
Almost everybody in the professional world starts from the bottom, and your band will likely be no exception. Yes, the gigs and opportunities will get better, but they’ll never have a chance to if you’re constantly complaining about getting booked on crappy days and not making an effort to really network with other musicians. Hard work will pay off, but you can’t take shortcuts or think that a platinum record is just going to materialize out of thin air.
6. Thou shalt use appropriate equipment
Don’t ruin your awesome gig playing behind a singer/songwriter by dragging your Marshall stack to the coffee shop. Similarly, don’t bring your little three-piece jazz kit when the metal band you got called for wants you to bring your eight-piece. Know ahead of time what sort of gear you are supposed to bring so that you can make it less awkward for the other musicians playing with you.
7. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s gear
Maybe your second guitar player just bought a $4,000 Gibson that’s way nicer than yours, even though you consider yourself to be the superior player. Or maybe the band that’s opening for you is a bunch of high school kids that can’t play well yet, but they have rich parents and are thus rocking vintage Marshalls, Ampegs, and Ludwigs. What do you do in a situation like this?
You get over it. That’s it. Get over it. Gear doesn’t make the player, and just because you think you deserve that crazy expensive guitar doesn’t mean you should get envious or feel rage when somebody else has one, even if you think they “deserve it less.”
8. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s romantic partners
This should be a no-brainer. You ever hear the stories about the drummer getting with the bass player’s ladyfriend? Or the one about Jimi Hendrix dating Keith Richards’ girl? Yeah, that burns bridges and creates a lot of drama. There are plenty of other fish in the sea – don’t start messing with your friends’ relationships.
9. Thou shalt complete the work that lies ahead
If you’ve been reading the Sonicbids blog at all, you might be thinking, “Boy, being successful in a band sure seems like a lot of work!” That’s because it is. And the only thing holding you back is you not doing that work and putting in that time (unless your music legitimately sucks – but that’s an article for another day). So do it. Think of your band as a really, really part-time job. Like, 10 hours a week. Part of that is going to come from rehearsals, gigs, writing, and practicing the material on your own, but what are you going to do on the rest of the days of the week? Well, for starters, you could read through this blog for a few minutes, and you’ll no doubt come across a number of things that you could be doing that you aren’t yet to push the career of your band forward. Now, imagine if every person in your band considered the band a 10-hours-per-week part-time job? Imagine how much progress would be made!
10. Thou shalt always give 100 percent
As a band, you’ll have to have goals. However, what happens often is that a band will set goals that they simply half-ass, and thus, never actually achieve. That could very well work in your favor: if you’re the band that actually busts their ass to meet their goals, you’ll step immediately into a different level from the other bands that aren’t doing the same.
Whether it’s promotion, networking, writing, playing a gig, making a record, or anything else that you do as a band, half-assing it will give you half-ass results. The results you see are directly proportional to the amount of work and effort you put in. Make it happen.
Dylan Welsh is a freelance musician and music journalist, based in Seattle, WA. He currently plays in multiple Seattle bands, interns at Mirror Sound Studio, and writes for the Sonicbids blog. Visit his website for more information.