What to Expect Your First Year as a New Band
Somewhere, some kid unwrapped his or her first guitar this Christmas. And, maybe he or she found a few other kids who also received instruments, and have decided to form a band.
Photo by Alex Ramos Vanilla Sugar, year one survivors
It's an exciting time. You come together, bonded by the notion of changing the world with your unified creative vision. That, plus you get to choose a cool band name and talk about the type of groupies you hope you'll attract.
But what happens next? Settling on "CthuLou Dobbs"--I'd love to see that band logo, btw --and blurting out you prefer brunettes with blue eyes takes all of five minutes. What's the rest of your first year as a band going to look like?
My kids are members of four bands at the moment, so I asked them and some of their friends to think back on their Year Ones. What do they recall, and what advice could they offer these newbs who have never even broken a G string or gotten too drunk to play a gig yet?
But before I turn it over to them, I'll tell you what I recall from those early days.
Practice. Lots of it. My kids were serious about making music; it wasn't a passing fad. Chords strummed out, hours at a time, until they became something recognizable. Trumpet lines repeated like I was hearing the Symphony warm up in my home. So much piano playing in the den I thought I'd time warped back to an Old West saloon.
My son's band started as a duo and became a quartet over time. For a couple of years, one of its members was his sister. She first went on the road with the band when she was just 15. She recalled those early days as idealistic and hopeful.
"Your first year of being in a band, everything's cool, everyone's getting along. Second year? Everything fuckin' sucks," she says. "Everyone hates each other, everyone wants to kill each other. But that first year? It's like the honeymoon period."
You'll need one of these. Except maybe nicer than this one.
She bowed out of the group last year to focus on her own music and to save her relationships with her brother, the band's members and its fans. Everyone seems much happier this way.
Jessica Perry's band, Vanilla Sugar, formed in 2012. She said the challenges don't always lead to band breakups.
"Starting up a band can be one of the most difficult things to accomplish in music," she says. "You have to find the right chemistry between people, usually four or five different people, with completely different personalities and make sure it works."
For her and her bandmates, the right mix was an all-female group delivering alt-electro-pop. Think Sleigh Bells reimagined as Sleigh Belles and you've got the gist.
"Much like the relationship between siblings, there will be fights, arguments, disappointments and you just can't avoid that," she says. "But with each argument that is overcome, the closer you and your band members will be."
If you can get your fellow bandmates to share your passion and practice and also get past the creative and personality differences that doom bands, you've got to take the music to an audience. Doing it once is a no-brainer. Keeping it going is the hard part.
"Your first year, expect no one to be there at your shows, because no one knows who you are," my daughter says.
Harsh. But, honest. Most of those first shows were family-and-friend events. And even those people may stop showing up. It's easy to get discouraged because it can take some time to generate a fan base, and the best way to do that is to play shows whenever and wherever you can.