SIX STEPS TO FORMING A BAND

We printed this article on our Girl Trobule website quite a few years ago after young bands kept asking us how we formed and stuck together for so long. We'll repost it on this site also. The references might be old, but we feel that the information is still pretty solid.
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Bon here. I've run into a couple of new bands, young kids just starting out on this journey of entertainment. As I watch them progress I start remembering how it was for us in the first year. So I'll start this off. I've seen a lot of bands come and go. Bands are fragile, especially when they start off. Here's a couple of tips we've learned that I think will help somebody just forming a band.

STEP 1 - PLAY WITH FRIENDS: I never knew it when we started out, but I've learned that music really has very little to do with the dynamic of being in a band. Getting along with each other and being able to stand together when the crap hits the fan from clubs, labels, other bands and even fans is what's going to make or break you. Sure, playing a song from beginning to end is nice but liking the guy beside you is nicer.

I once read a column by B.B. King in Guitar Player Magazine. Okay, the guy has just about sold his soul to the Devil and every ad exec in the world but he still had a point. He was talking about how he picks out a band. He said he could take a guy who's 100% human being and 50% musician and work with him until he gets good enough to be a 75% musician. But if he's 100% musician and 50% human being "there ain't a damn thing I can do with him". Musicianship doesn't mean squat if your bandmates aren't cool.

I remember when the band Limp Bizkit was auditioning guitar players all over the US for a replacement. That was about the stupidest thing I ever heard of. They should have known better. Instead of playing guitar for Fred Durst, each person should have gotten in a van with him and rode around in rush hour traffic trying to find a parking space (doing this when everybody had to pee for the ultimate test). He'd know who the best choice was in about 10 minutes. The idea is to keep the band going. You're going to be married to these people so make it someone you can live with. The musicianship will follow.

STEP 1a - BUT DON'T GET TOO FRIENDLY: Romance and Rock don't mix very well. I know there are some examples to the contrary but Dead Moon doesn't count. Having a relationship with somebody is tough enough. Do you really need to compound the situation with the strain of trying to make the band work too? Like I said, I realize you can name some bands that contain couples but for every one of those I can name you 10 who fell to pieces.. Well, wait a minute, I probably can't name them because they lasted about two months.

I've seen it so many times I'll even give you the scenario: Johnny forms a band and Cindy joins up. They have to spend a lot of time together and Johnny gets the primal urge. Soon Cindy is liking him back. They start dating and the band is going great. It's so great to be really in love and in a great band! Things are really working beautifully. But for whatever reason Johnny and Cindy start having a few fights. The rest of the band is now riding on the love life of Johnny and Cindy. The relationship isn't looking too stable. Johnny gets fed up with Cindy's unpleasantness and decides to go out with Trudy, the bands' biggest fan. (Politically Correct scenario: This can also be reversed or in any combination.) Cindy gets wind of it and freaks out at practice. Now Johnny and Cindy fight constantly and practices stink if they happen at all. Johnny's pissed off, Cindy's pissed off, the other band members have had a belly full of the whole damn thing. A good gig comes around but who knows if Cindy and Johnny will stay in the band long enough to play it? Pretty soon nobody can stand the sight of each other. If only Cindy or Johnny had been in the band by themselves. Then when the nasty break-up went down the main thing you'd get out of it would be some bitchin' new "I Hate Love" songs - always a sure fire hit. If a cute new keyboard player joined Girl Trouble I wouldn't give us another five minutes as a band. Girl/boy bands are great. Try to keep your hormones to yourselves.

STEP 2 - LEARN TOGETHER: It's nice to have a hotshot but the hotshot is going to either tire of your inexperience or ride roughshod over the whole group forever. Start off with a bunch of inexperienced music-loving losers and keep playing until you think you can bring it out for the world to hear. Don't worry if that's going to be six months down the road. If you listened to me about step one you're going be having a good time no matter what you're doing. So take it slow and make sure you're learning together, which leads me to the next point...

STEP 3 - LEARN SOME COVERS FIRST: This is how we started out. We got some flack for it too. This guy we knew said we "weren't a real band until we wrote our own material". That was in 1984 when every band had to be "artists" and have a serious message. Hell, we were still learning how to play.

Here's my point. I firmly believe playing and composing are two separate things. Just because you can play well doesn't mean you'll be a great songwriter. It started with the Beatles and Rolling Stones and Kinks and Who, etc. These bands had brilliant composers. But they knew how to play first. They started learning skiffle covers, and blues covers and played covers eight hours a night in clubs, seven days a week. Listen to those old tapes. They were pretty hotshot musicians before they ever considered writing their own material. Playing covers will give you a good basis to start on, you'll learn how a song is arranged and it will give you a positive experience when you can play a song together. Then when you've played together awhile you can take a crack at songwriting. And you'll be better at it because you'll understand the mechanics of a song.

And here's a hint I don't usually give out: PEOPLE LOVE COVERS. Here's a way to prove my point. Try playing a half hour of stuff nobody's ever heard and then break out with "The Witch" by the Sonics or "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love" by Van Halen. I won't have to say another word on the subject. And Mr. Artsy Fartsy up at the top of the paragraph ended up loving covers too. Even though we went on to write our own material (and we really like writing our own songs) we'll never stop playing covers. It's just too much fun!

STEP 4 - NO FORMAL RECORDING UNTIL YOU'VE BEEN PLAYING FOR A YEAR: I have run into so many bands who form, write 27 songs, record, and put out an album...then the next month they...well, you get the idea. What is your damn hurry? If you are in this for the long haul believe me one year is going to seem like no time at all. Nowadays myspace is a perfect place to get your music out there without having to make the leap to the real thing. So make sure you've got it together and that you will never be ashamed of what's out there permanantly/officially. Remember that old school admisistration crap about how your school performance would follow you throughout your adult years? Well, your school performance might not, but an awful recording will. We didn't make a record until we'd been together for three years! For this I am thankful.
STEP 5 - NO EXPECTATIONS: Chances are that you are not going to be discovered, make a ton of money, live in a "crib" that would make Puff Daddy (or P Diddy or PeePee Daddy or whatever he wants to call himself this month) green with envy, have tons of groupies or expensive cars or three million dollar bathrooms or get any amount of fame. Think of fame as becoming popular enough that eventually 200 people might show up for your gig. If you get into this band with any expectation of success you are going to be way bummed out and be a drag for the rest of your bandmates. No successful band that we knew ever did it to be successful. They did it because they had to. The urge to play was overpowering. They would have gone right on playing the Rainbow (like we played with Soundgarden) or the Central (when we played with Green River/Pearl Jam and Mudhoney) or the HUB ballroom (where we played with Nirvana). Those guys weren't playing to become famous (that's always a nice dream in the back of your mind but usually about as likely to happen as winning the lottery). They were playing because they loved what they were doing and even though the band experience can be a huge pain in the butt, the reward of making music with your band is the big payoff, period. When we started out our big dream was to get good enough to open for the U-Men. After we accomplished our initial goal, everything else has been pure gravy.
STEP 6 - DON'T LISTEN TO ANYBODY ELSE: In fact, you don't even have to listen to me on any other steps but this one (oh yeah, and number 5). Have you ever thrown your back out? Everybody, and I mean everybody, will know just what you should do. "Bend this way; No, stoop that way; No, use a heatpad; No, use a hotwater bottle; No, you need ice; No, take aspirin; No, Never take aspirin!" Get my drift? The first minute you start your group get ready for critcism, helpful hints that aren't very helpful, and critiques. You will get a barrage of "you'd be great if only..." from everybody and their dog. Hell, even Billy Childish, you know the guy from Thee Headcoats, once told me that Girl Trouble would be a good band if only we'd get rid of that awful singer: "He's like the guy from Queen!''. This is to illustrate that everybody knows what's best for your group. Promoters, other bands, soundmen, record label people, fans, and even friends will be "helping" you. I'm not saying that every hint is wrong. We've listened to people when we knew what they were saying was the right thing. But if it's right it will hit you like lightning. Here's the biggest help I can ever give you: IF IT DOESN'T SEEM RIGHT TO YOU, IT'S NOT! Use the force Luke, because this is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. You really do know what you want. We've come up against more goofball ideas and sometimes we went ahead and did them against our better judgement. And always when we've gone ahead with an idea that "didn't seem right" for us it turned out it wasn't. Over the years we have developed very sophisticated "bad idea" radar. Now we can pretty much smell a stinkeroo coming a mile away. So always trust your intuition on gigs, record dealings, and whatever the band is dealing with. You'll be better off in the long run and that's what I want for all of you...a good long run.

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