What aspiring musician hasn’t, at one point or another in their life, wanted to start a band of their very own?
If you’ve developed your musical skills as a solo artist but feel that burning urge to branch out and try forming your own band, then the great news is that you’re not alone!
But, like so many others, you may be wondering where to start. What do you need in order to form your own band?
9 Solid Tips on How to Start a Band
1. Nail down your reasons for wanting to start a band
Everyone has a core reason for wanting to start a band in the first place: Sometimes the desire to form a group comes from something deeply ideological, and sometimes it simply comes from the urge to make great music!
No matter what reasons you have for wanting to join forces with other musicians, you should lay them out clearly as a sort of “mission statement” before you move on to any other steps.
Your mission statement will serve as a tool that you can use, not only to communicate your vision to others but to keep yourself on track as well: It’s something that you can always return to if you feel lost, overwhelmed, or derailed along the way.
By revisiting what compelled you to get started, you can reassure yourself of your goals and puzzle out how best to move forward whenever you encounter any tricky obstacles.
2. Next, determine what you want your sound and image to be like
Every band needs to have a catchy name, but they also need a recognizable style or vibe in order to stand out in their audience’s memory.
Your band’s sound and image will probably be closely linked to your reasons for wanting to start a band in the first place, since it’s natural for people to gravitate towards music that matches up with their personal values.
However, it’s important to dig deeper and specify some of the finer details that you might not have thought about before. Important things to consider while working out the vibe of your band include:
Genre, sound, and style.
What kind of music will you play? Country? Neoclassical? Rock? Folk or Blues? Metal? For most people looking to start a band, this question is one of the easiest ones to answer!
But being able to articulate your genre, alongside any nuances or divergences from the usual style, will help you communicate efficiently when you’re seeking out bandmates. Having a list of influences and being prepared to discuss the similarities and differences that you want between their bands and yours can be helpful, too
Ideological themes and band message.
The importance of this detail can vary greatly depending on what type of music you play.
For example, if you play neoclassical pieces or other types of instrumental music that don’t feature any lyrics, then your music may not put forth a very potent message–other than the mutual love of music that you share with your audience, of course!
However, if you want to demonstrate any strong political or religious views through your music, it’s imperative to define them clearly so that you can avoid any conflicts of interest: Any sound can be paired with any message, but make sure you’ll be able to explain everything clearly to any potential band members.
Views related to peace, aggression, religion, anti-religion, and politics can all be deeply personal and quite touchy. Make sure everyone knows what they’re signing up for and ensure that they agree with your message.
It’s important to figure out what kind of presence you want to have when you and your band are on the stage–and most of the time, this goes hand-in-hand with your genre and any ideological messages you might have.
If you play instrumental folk music but storm onto the stage while shouting your intro like a rockstar, your audience may be a bit confused!
On the other side of the coin, if you want to play in a genre that’s more intense, like metal or punk, be prepared to bring that kind of energy to the stage.
Make sure you work out how much you want to engage your audience in the music, as well. Just a tip: Unless you’re going to a very warm and inviting environment like a local harvest or blues festival, it may be best to wait until you’re more established and popular to invite singalongs or other types of audience engagement–you don’t want to fall flat, after all.
If you believe that music should come first in your band, then you’re right: No band will succeed if they look good, but sound terrible.
However, a band with a good sound will find much greater success if they put a little extra effort into their image, too!
Just as is the case with your stage presence, you’ll usually want to match your visual image at least somewhat with the genre and style of music that you play.
Or, if you really want to break the mold, make sure it’s done with confidence and is obviously deliberate.
Each part of your band’s image should be executed thoughtfully and with a sense of purpose.
Some musicians might not think to take this into account at first, but the way that band members interact with each other in the public eye can be a big success factor.
You’ll definitely always be on the lookout for a basic level of band “chemistry” when you start recruiting members.
However, the way you present your interactions to your audience will have a big effect on the performance’s mood as well.
Keeping things professional and avoiding any bickering on stage is a must–but there’s more.
In a way, you and your bandmates become “characters” once you step onstage, and defining those characters is an important part of the process.
Sometimes a band’s vibe relies on the idea of friends having fun with each other. Sometimes it’s all about a couple or a family performing as a way to get closer to one another.
Whatever type of dynamic defines your band, stick to it and develop it together as you grow.
3. Find your first bandmate and further develop your plans (both creatively and technically)
Once you figure out what kind of a band you want to have, you’ll want to seek out your first member!
Depending on your situation, this might be a friend you’ve had by your side all along who’s been helping you plan your image and sound from the start.
If not, then you’ll want to clearly state what your band’s vibe is like so that anyone who contacts you will have a good idea of what you’re about.
Referring back to the list of defining traits that make up your vision for the band will give you a good idea of what details to include in any calls you put out for band members. Your goal here is to make sure that anyone who responds knows exactly what they’re getting on board with.
Next, prepare a band agreement. This might not be the most fun or creative part of starting a band, but it’s absolutely necessary in the long run: Everyone involved in the band will need to share a clear understanding of their commitments and responsibilities within the group.
How much time per week will you agree to spend on practice sessions?
Which days will work with everyone’s schedules?
Where will you practice together?
Finances are extremely important to work out as well.
How will you budget money for your band?
Will everyone pool resources together to budget for transportation, food, and stage equipment for gigs–or will each member be responsible for covering their own needs individually?
It’s up to you (and your bandmates!) how you handle this, but everything should be laid out clearly and everyone should reach an agreement to avoid friction within the band that could interfere with performance and progress.
4. Figure out how big you want your band to get
And we’re not talking about the number of band members here, either: We’re talking about reach, reputation, and fame.
Looking at things realistically, you’re probably not going to become the next Black Sabbath–at least, not overnight!
Now, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dream big, but it does mean that you should have a realistic idea of what it takes to reach each “level” of musical popularity and plan out how to attain each one.
By the way: Some bands wind up deciding that they would rather stick more to studio recordings than live gigs later on, which is understandable for anyone who’s experienced stage fright–but most bands simply have to perform live at one point or another in order to build a name for themselves.
And, no matter how great a band is, they’re bound to start off with small deals–even after they reach the point where they can start recording. That’s okay! You’ll put your name out there, get people talking about your image and your sound, and receive valuable feedback while you’re still in a great position to adapt to your audience.
Starting out with smaller gigs is also a great way to manage expenses.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have plenty of resources from the start, you probably won’t be able to hook any big gigs, let alone tour, for some time.
Your first small gigs might be pro bono. Again, don’t get disheartened by this: You’re still sharing your music and getting your band’s name out there, and it’s bound to pay off.
Once you start getting paying gigs, you’ll get a better feel for how big of an audience you really thrive with!
Just a side note: The band agreement that you draft at the start of your project should be flexible enough to grow with your band when possible, but it may still need to be adjusted as you evolve together.
Keep the lines of communication open at all times and discuss any potential changes as they arise to keep things running smoothly.
5. Recruit other members and start writing music
Recruiting other band members is easier once you and your first bandmate have practiced enough together to nail down the foundation of your sound, image, and dynamic. You’ll be able to privately produce some rough demos, if you wish, to share with anyone who’s interested in joining so that they can determine if your band is the ideal fit for them. You’ll also have worked out at least a basic idea of how big you want to go with your band, so that people know what kind of project scale they’re signing up for.
Obviously, now you’ll need to write a good lineup of songs so that you can play your first gig and, eventually, get your first album off the ground! This is where things really start to get fun: The creativity of you and every member of your band can truly shine as you collaborate on new pieces and improvise together.
In terms of how much music you’ll need to have polished up and ready to go before you perform or record: The window is wide, and largely depends on genre. Generally speaking, you’ll want each performance or album to fall somewhere between 40 minutes to an hour in length. The number of songs that you choose to fill your runtime with can also vary a great deal, but a good rule of thumb is to shoot for anywhere between 10 and 20 songs.
Don’t worry about getting overly technical with your runtime, but definitely consider your audience and what they’ll expect from you based on what other artists in your genre have done. Progressive rock, for example, can feature very long tracks that will drive the total length of your album or performance past an hour. Punk bands, on the other hand, will sometimes produce tracks that are extremely short, resulting in an album that’s just a few minutes long! Most bands fall somewhere in the middle–but no matter what, you’ll want to leave your audience feeling fulfilled by the time your performance is done.
6. Clearly agree upon everyone’s band roles as you settle in
As you recruit band members, it’s important to know where everyone stands: Alongside your general band agreement, make sure that each member knows early on what their individual role or job in the band will be. That might be a no-brainer in terms of who plays which instrument and who writes the lyrics, but there are plenty of other things to consider. For instance: Who will be in charge of staying on top of the budget and making sure that the group makes affordable choices? Who will create or outsource promotional materials for the band and distribute them to build up a fanbase? Who’s best suited to sniff out potential gig venues or recording studios and contact them with inquiries?
Oh, and one more thing about gigs and studios: Even if you’re most excited about the idea of giving live performances in the long run, you’ll still have to find a solid recording studio for your demo, if nothing else. And, handling communications with a studio and venue hunting will likely be too heavy of a workload for one person. So, this area may demand some flexibility and require you to distribute the workload between a couple of people. When a band is just starting out, each member may have to wear many hats to keep things going!
Each practical job within the band will play a key part in its success, and you don’t want to find yourself scrambling last-minute to figure out who will do what. Plan ahead, and don’t be afraid to let each band member find their own natural niche as long as things stay fair for everyone. If someone seems uncomfortable or unhappy with their role in the band, reach out to them privately to make sure that everyone’s in a position where they can perform at their best.
7. Practice, practice, practice!
Practicing with your band is imperative: You’ll figure out how to get in the groove together, get a feel for transitioning from one song to the next in various orders, and work out all kinds of technical difficulties in private that would be embarrassing to encounter in front of an audience.
And, it might sound cliché, but practicing in front of family and friends is a great way to get a feel for what it’s like to perform. Even the strongest of us can get quite nervous before walking out onto a stage in front of a crowd!
It’s also important to be prepared for a bit of criticism here and there as you find your sound, and refer back to your original game plan in order to determine how constructive it is. If someone says that they could hardly hear your vocalist, then that deserves some attention! However, many things are simply a matter of taste: Someone might not like your rock band because they simply prefer blues and folk instead. Accept their feedback graciously, let it roll off your back, and get back down to business!
Hear what Ed Sheeran has to say about practice:
8. Have a clear plan for how to promote your band
You already know that you’ll have to have a bandmate or two in charge of generating and distributing promotional materials. Depending on how confident you feel in your ability to communicate the band’s message to new people, you may wish to do this yourself in order to preserve the integrity of your original vision. Alternatively, you may feel better about the idea of delegating this type of work to someone else who has more experience.
Either way, be sure to preserve transparency within the band so that everyone stays on the same page and functions efficiently as a team: Make sure that whoever’s in charge of advertising communicates with whoever oversees the band’s budget, and vice versa. It’s also a great idea to encourage each startup band member to promote upcoming gigs, releases, and any other events to their personal circles of friends and family to increase the band’s reach–regardless of who’s in charge of advertising as a whole.
Also, keep in mind that you’ll want your promotional materials to paint a clear picture of what your band is about. Refer back to the fundamentals of your band’s image, sound, and message to make sure that people know what to expect–but don’t be afraid to break the mold a little bit, too! After all, you have to stand out from the rest of the music world somehow.
9. Record a demo, get your first gig, and then record your first album!
Once you’ve laid the foundation for your band, the next natural goal is to nail down your first gig and grow to the point of recording your first album! In order to get the ball rolling, it’s ideal to record at least one demo to share before you start looking for gigs. That way, you can provide a solid preview of what your band is like. Demos can come in numerous forms, depending on your band’s budget and style. CDs, cassettes, and even flash drives can all be good for your band’s demo.
How long should your demo be? Well, demos can range from a single song to an entire album’s worth of tracks, so you have a lot of creative freedom here. Just make sure that, if you start out with just a single, you pick a song that represents your band well as a standalone track. You may want more than a single on your demo and prefer to record a couple of songs to go with it–especially if your band’s sound tends to vary a bit. No matter which route you take, your end product should be something that immediately shows people who have never heard of you what you’re all about.
By the time your bandmate in charge of seeking out venue opportunities has found an opening for you, your band should ideally have at least a dozen songs ready to roll–preferably with a few extras for the sake of flexibility. This holds true even if you haven’t recorded those songs in album-ready quality yet! Many people wonder which comes first after the demo: The album or the gig. And, in the vast majority of cases, the answer is the gig!
Remember: Giving live performances will build up your band’s reputation, hone your stage presence, and drum up interest. Gigs can also help you increase your popularity to the point where it becomes much easier for you to find a recording studio that’s open to working with you. And, depending on whether you can catch some good paying gigs, they may help you afford a better studio setting and finance your first album release as well. So, as soon as your demo is ready and you can find a venue, get gigging!
Starting your own band will take a great deal of planning and effort, but the experience of playing music that you love with a group of people who share your vision is unbeatable!
Plan and write out your band’s purpose, defining traits, and member roles as you develop your dynamic, and don’t forget: The key ingredient in any type of band is lots of practice.
Make sure you put in your greatest efforts at every turn, and be prepared to adapt to the curveballs that life will inevitably throw your way: If you put together a great team and work hard together, then you’re bound to make a name for yourself!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.