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Thread: Shared Band/Leader Wisdom

Postby cphollis » 10 Oct 2021, 16:56

Hi everyone, I have just assembled a successful band, and have learned much in the process. Should anyone want to try what I did -- or perhaps give their existing band leader some helpful suggestions -- you might this useful.

The reason that I am starting a thread is that I'm hoping others can contribute.

This is a bit long, and meant to serve as a reference for others.
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To start with, like others I have been in many bands over the years: some good, some trying to be good. I have seen what can work and what doesn't. I partially retired two years ago, so had the time and inclination to put more effort into making music.

There are plenty of band acts locally, none of which I would make an effort to go see, several of which that I find annoying to listen to, so I leave if they're playing. There is ample audience and plenty of venues. I live in a beachside retirement community, so also plenty of happy retirees (or near-retirees) who like to come out to hear good music. I have seen them light up and really enjoy things if you get the music right for their ears.

Over time, I got a clear image in my head of what sort of band the local crowd would make an effort to come out and hear.

It should be fronted by two strong vocalists, going back and forth. The material should be drawn from the mid-60s through the early 80s, and cover great songs that other bands don't want to tackle. No loud anything: guitar, drums, etc. Don't get locked into any genre or band style. Great vocals up front, a really tight band supporting them, going from cool song to cool song and resulting in a thoroughly entertaining experience for our target demographic.

I studiously wanted to avoid a genre label. I don't want to be easily labeled dance band, tribute band, party band, wallpaper band, crappy covers band, island band, etc. We will pander a bit with certain tunes (e.g. Mustang Sally, Sweet Caroline) within reason, and if the pay is good. If we cover an overly familiar tune, it'll be in an interesting way you haven't heard before.

Someone in the audience should go home thinking "gee, that was great to see all those songs done that way".

"Band vision" is very important when you recruit others. Every good musician you meet will have strong ideas about the type of band and music they want to play -- and how they want to play it. That's all well and good, but I need them to buy into my vision -- at least to some degree -- to make progress.

Without a clear, agreed vision up front -- and one that you will need to remind people of -- problems can result down the road.

Fortunately, I had a core of great folks from the last band, including a wonderful female vocalist. I got them all saying the same words that I was using regarding vision, etc. When we went to recruit outside, we could be very clear about what we were looking for, why we were looking for it, expectations, etc.

The other thing I found I had to be very clear on is -- what was the goal of the band? What does good look like? I started with the big goal: we all had to have a blast doing this, or it wasn't going to work. If it isn't fun for everyone, no amount of money, ego boost, etc. was going to compensate.

So that meant Job #1 for me was to make sure everyone was really enjoying the band experience -- band and audience included!

Now, if you're a process person like me, maybe step back and think about all the things that could be done to make a band experience more enjoyable for everyone?

It's quite a list:

* a nice rehearsal place: clean, safe, great-sounding, PA ready to go, fridge, bathroom, parking, etc.
* killer, ear-candy mix for everyone at rehearsals
* considerable prep ahead of the rehearsal: agreed songs, lead sheets, calendaring, keeping track of progress
* clear communication: work to do, decisions to be made, next steps, encouragement and enthusiasm, etc.
* "performance infrastructure": PA, lights, monitors, sound person, transport, etc.
* producing and assembling promo stuff: photos, audio, logos, facebook page, etc.
* keeping an eye on personalities and interactions, stepping in if there's a disruptive issue.
* and, finally, getting quality gigs -- but not too many, as we all have other lives to live.

If the band experience is not enjoyable for everyone, you will know quickly. And that causes bands to lose members, break up, etc. None of that happens if everyone is having a blast. No one wants to end the party! To be fair, there are some people who can't be happy regardless, so they move on.

So, maybe I can expand on the topics above.

I bought a dedicated rehearsal house here when such things were much less expensive. We did a bit of rehab to it to make it secure and functional, but little else. I'm not worried about someone damaging something. People leave their stuff, set up, ready to go. This was a serious investment in my music happiness, and it has paid off. No place to play, no music, no fun, etc. When I sell it, I will do quite well financially. No one pays rent, this is my contribution. The run rate is quite modest.

The music house is set up with personal monitors (or IEMs) for each musician station. I use an X-Air 18 and the P16-M units to deliver a custom mix to each monitor. Rehearsals sound GREAT as a result as everyone plays at a moderate volume, then cranks up their personal unit to get the mix they want. We record every rehearsal simply by plugging in a laptop. Bring extra disk storage, or have a big internet pipe to take everything to the cloud.

The core of the band (vocalist, keys, drums, bass) is very talented, and could be a decent act on its own. Add tasty guitars, a killer male vocalist and a sax player for sizzle -- and it's quite the lineup. Finding good people is always hard, but when you have something great to offer them, it gets that much easier.

The prep work was considerable, and still is. For each rehearsal, I have to figure out where we are in the process, choose 10-12 songs we want to work on, make sure they are notated correctly, find example videos, then distribute and nag a bit. I run rehearsals 70/30 -- 70% real work, 30% trying out new songs, new arrangements, etc.

This last 30% has turned out to be very important. This is where band members can suggest a song, show us something they've worked out, have us listen to a different version, etc. People will send me links to videos, things they've recorded, etc. and I will play them out over the PA so everyone can hear and comment together.

This is an important component of "fun" as we're done with work for the night, beers are being opened, lots of social chatter, etc. Also, people are heads down when it's 70% time as a result, knowing what's coming later.

Our female vocalist is also a successful real estate broker. She is in charge of getting gigs, and it turns out she can get as many as we want. She walks in, asks who is in charge, and then turns on the charm full blast. No one has said no yet. This has brought up a discussion around what kind of gigs do we want, how many, what's our minimum, how do we feel about charity work, etc.

Remember, it's all about fun, not money -- we established that way up front. Example: someone will want to get paid more for a gig, so others will volunteer their share because they want to play the gig. Objecting person will quickly withdraw their objection.

Our drummer also has good audio and video recording skillz, and a network of friends. The bass player knows a retired professional sound engineer who also records and who's great. It takes a village, so we've got ours.

I am captain of the ship, but am nothing without my crew. I definitely have firm opinions on many topics, but mine is not the only one. I give plenty of room for discussion, debate and consensus building. I make absolutely sure I don't get my way all the time.

We are now exactly 8 weeks from our first big concert-style gig. Facebook is alive with buzz, and people making plans to see us. This makes me think we have a real band on our hands.

Mindset has been important. Yes, this is "my band", but I see my role as a facilitator for others so they can enjoy their experience. In doing so, I'm having a blast. If I stop having fun, I'll stop doing it.

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Diving a bit deeper on the content producing process now: setlists, arrangements, etc.

Speaking as a process design guy, this is an interesting one. Each musician starts with a list of songs that appeals to them, including me, as I've been in a ton of bands and know what's worked well in the past. I also know what can be done well live, and what might require a studio's worth of gear.

Since we're a vocals band, we start with what the singers want to sing. Slower stuff goes in the opening set, and so on. About a third of their choices didn't make the cut for one reason or another. Next, non-vocalists start suggesting stuff. Some of it is the usual easy jammy stuff people like to play, so let's do some of that if the vocalists can make it interesting.

This results in a three-part list which I continually update and publish back to the band:

* Songs we've all agreed belong on the setlist. These get full-boat treatment: full-notation, detailed arrangements, change keys to suit vocalists, etc.

* Songs we've tried, but are not sure will make the setlist. We will play these a few more times, and then decide whether to promote them to set list status, or not. Songs can live here a good long time. As they get promoted, other songs get demoted.

* Songs that someone would like to try. We find a youtube that's somewhat similar to what we're aiming for, send it around with a few notes on key and tempo, and then give it a try during "fun time" at rehearsal.

You can see what's happening here. Any band member can suggest a song, and it will get full consideration. We aren't investing a lot of time to do this, and it keeps it fun. Everyone has a voice. The setlist will naturally morph from gig to gig this way. As I look at our current setlist (too long!), I can see contributions from everyone.

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Personal perspective commentary, e.g. why am I doing all of this? Why don't I just do something else that's easier?

Quick answer: because I've tried all those alternatives (and maybe a few you haven't thought of) and it's ultimately not satisfying.

I want to play great music live with an awesome band in front of a great audience. Since I couldn't find that gig (well, not without touring), I ended up deciding to try and put together one of my own. I did the homework on the demand side of the equation. I knew what people would want to see, because I would want to see it.

Circumstances were right, all the prep and investment work had already been done, etc. -- so the gap turned out not to be all that big.

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Small update on rehearsal structure?

We have the usual once-a-week group rehearsals, but now another layer is spontaneously developing. The vocalists want their own vocals rehearsals, sans band. The guitarists now want to rehearse signature parts together, separately. The vocalists are heading out of town for some time, so the instrumentalists are going to arrange some killer jams for those parts.

All of this is happening rather spontaneously, helped along because there's a dedicated place to go do it that makes it easy, etc.

That's all for now!

-- Chuck
Last edited by cphollis on 10 Oct 2021, 17:23, edited 1 time in total.
I think I have gear issues ....

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