How to form an Adult Band – 12 Tips
Long ago and far away I wrote an article about how to start a band. Actually, it wasn’t far away- about twenty miles from here- but it sure was long ago. The year was 1984 and my guitar lesson company, Metal Method, had been in business for only two years. This was the mid eighties and the popular slogan of the time was “Heavy Metal Rules” (horns appropriate here). As I reflect back on those days I can almost smell the sweat and hairspray oozing from the dark side of Sunset Boulevard. Enough of the past. We’re not kids anymore. Right? Let’s talk about how to form an adult band.
That was then, this is now
The average age of my Metal Method student was seventeen. Many wanted to grow up to become rock stars. I promoted that dream, selling the idea that with hard work and perseverance you too could dominate the stage.
“One of the motivations for creating Metal Method in the first place was to create a demand for the type of music I love. How did I intend to do that? Teach ’em to play guitar and form a metal band. Everyone that performs creates their own audience and that expands the base.”
In 1984 I wrote an article about “How to Start a Band.” Over the next thirty years I revised the piece three times. A few days ago I brushed it off and gave it new life in a fourth revision. Still, when you read the article it’s to be remembered that it was written for rock star wannabes. It is a step-by-step procedure for putting together a band that would be capable of dominating the world of music. I wrote this a year before I put together Hawk which included members that went on to play in King Kobra, The Bullet Boys, Racer X, Fight, and Judas Priest. So, I did know a thing or two about putting together a successful band.
1984 was so yesterday
Well, my friends, this is not 1984. The youngsters of 1984 have grown up. Those 16-year-olds are in their mid forties now. Never too late to rock! The great thing is, many Metal Method students from ’84 are still among us, dwelling deep within our Forum and I love every one of them. Keep the flame alive my friends!
A common story that you hear on the Forum is, “I learned how to play in the eighties. Life got in the way and the guitar went into my closet. I grew up, raised a family and now I’m back with a vengeance. I’ve got the money to buy that cherished guitar and amp. Finding the time to practice is a challenge but I’m meeting that challenge and having the time of my life.”
Forming an “Adult” Band
A big part of playing music is about live performance. I know many of you are happy to play music in the bedroom for your own enjoyment but isn’t that a little selfish? Music is to be shared. It connects us. It touches our souls and when shared touches the souls of others and brings us together. Music is really too beautiful to keep to yourself. Maybe it’s time to move beyond the bedroom.
Aside from that, when you play in a group you’re motivated to learn songs from beginning to end. Otherwise, you’ll be embarrassed when everyone in your band knows the song but you. That motivation doesn’t happen in your bedroom. In your practice situation you can learn bits and pieces of songs for the rest of your life and nobody but you cares. So, think about it- why not form a group and perform for others? You can begin by playing for friends, then backyard parties. After that you may wish to move beyond your comfort zone and play for an audience of strangers. For now, let’s just talk about getting together with friends. They may not be friends now but once you meet these people and play music with them they will become friends. If you take a chance and step outside of your comfort zone you can be having the time of your life beginning right now.
I have a neighbor that lives across the street from me. He jammed with his buddies on guitar when he was a kid but never got beyond learning a couple of songs halfway through. Like many of you he grew up and raised a family but didn’t lose the dream. He started taking guitar lessons a few years ago at a local studio. The studio not only specializes in teaching students to play their instruments but they also form bands with these students. My neighbor Larry was too nervous to play guitar in a band so he picked up a bass. The school arranges performances in local clubs and bars. I’ve seen Larry’s band play a couple of times and they sound great. My friend, at the age of 66- is playing in his first “real” band and absolutely having the time of his life. The moral of this story is, it’s never too late to begin.
How to Form an Adult Band – 12 Tips
Begin by finding one other musician
That’s where it all starts. It only takes two to begin practicing songs and jamming. Build your band one musician at a time. That way future members will be “joining” a band not just putting something together. Sometimes it’s hard to find even one other musician. Usually, this problem happens when you live in a small community so there aren’t many musicians to choose from. Whether you live in a small town or big city I recommend that you spend an extraordinary amount of time finding the right musicians. People often settle after a week or two of auditions. Sure, you should get together with the people that you find from your initial efforts but don’t stop looking. When I was in my early twenties I lived in Atlanta and joined a band that was formed in Michigan. The drummer, keyboard player, and vocalist from that group had recently moved to Atlanta. They needed to replace their bass player and guitarist. This was a great group of guys that were mainly interested in putting together a “buddy” group for a hobby. I joined the group but had other ideas. I wanted to become a professional musician. It’s not that I “settled” to play with these guys. They were all more experienced than me. As time passed I kept raising the bar and one by one the guys from Michigan quit the band. Eventually, I was the only member left standing. One by one my friends from Michigan were replaced by musicians that had professional aspirations.
Buy a bass and your band will have a bass player
It’s difficult to find a good bass player. If a musician is pretty decent on bass they normally want to play guitar. It’s easy to find another guitar player. Why not buy a bass and a small bass rig and take turns playing bass until someone fills the spot? Who knows, that someone might be you. It’s way easier to find a band if you play bass than if you play guitar. It’s a great place to start. In the process you’ll begin learning the foundation of songs. Who knows? That awesome band that you’re playing bass in might need a guitarist one day
Find other musicians on your level
Many guitarists don’t think that they’re good enough to play in a band. Actually, the opposite is true.There are way more beginner and intermediate musicians to select from than awesome players. Create an online advertisement to reach local musicians. Begin by sharing your musical taste, level of experience, and time available to practice. You understand the need for quality equipment for a professional guitar sound. It’s not out of the question for an adult to spend three to five thousand dollar on the guitar and amp of their dreams. Or as you might tell your spouse…”Less than a thousand dollars for everything honey.” It’s as important to find compatible band members as it is to have top notch equipment. Maybe even more important. Why not spend money on targeted advertising on Facebook or Google? Chances are, that’s where your future band members can be found. It’s quite likely that they’ve included guitar in their Facebook profile. Record a video and upload it directly to Facebook. It will spread to more news feeds than if you include a YouTube link. Promote the video. You do this in Facebook’s Ad Manager. Target geographic area, age, hobbies (guitar), and possibly musical taste. Begin by purchasing $20 of advertising targeted to your local area. If you get some interest but not enough, be prepared to spend a couple hundred dollars on advertising. Just do it $20 at a time and revise the ad until you find something that works.
At least one rehearsal a week
It would be great to practice five days a week but as an adult it’s difficult to get everyone together at the same time. You must have at least one rehearsal a week. There will be homework to insure that progress continues. Each member must practice the group’s material five days a week at home, on their own schedule using prerecorded backing tracks. More on the backing tracks later. To keep an adult band together you must be able to accommodate the busy schedule of four or five working adults. That’s difficult because things come up that disrupts even the best of intentions. So you must be able to use pre recorded tracks to substitute for your friends that are too busy to rehearse this week. If everyone works diligently on the song list, on their own time, you can still make progress. Why not use modern technology to solve this problem? Use Skype to include members that are stuck at home or on the road. The missing member might still be able to jam along with the group. I assume you wouldn’t be able to hear them but they can hear and play along with you. Plus, they can take part in the band’s discussion. If a band member is too busy for a video meeting use Google Hangout to record a video of your session to YouTube. Missing band members can participate at their convenience.
Learn one new song per week
Add a new song to your song list each week. Keep it simple. You don’t need to learn overly complicated tunes at first. Begin by playing songs with simple structures. After you’ve got a dozen songs learned you can either embellish some of your previous arrangements or learn something more complex. Initially, don’t learn leads note-for-note. Instead, learn how to do a very basic improvisation. It’s not difficult to play a simple lead to any song. It’s not necessary to impress…. that will come later. It’s always a good idea to stay several steps ahead of the rest of the group. If you want the majority of tunes to be of your choosing (and who doesn’t want this), bring the completed arrangement, lyrics, and chords to rehearsal. If you show up with a song and nobody else does, guess what song that you’re learning this week? I have been called devious but I’m really just someone that wants everything to go my way regardless of the cost. lol
How to form an adult band – choose material as a group
The material that a band chooses for their song list should reflect the musical taste of the entire group. Keep this in mind when choosing material to present to the group. Of course not everyone is going to love every song on the list. Each member will have favorites. Still, if anybody objects to playing a song don’t include it in your song list. Since the band members should have similar tastes you can find music that everybody enjoys playing. If not, you may be in the wrong group or there may be other members that don’t fit. This goes back to Tip 3. Don’t just throw together a group. Take the time to find members with similar experience, taste, and goals.
Develop a system for practicing at a low volume level
You should be able to practice at such a low volume that the vocalist doesn’t need a microphone. There are many ways to do this. It usually involves a small mixing board, a headphone amp and all instruments direct into the mixing board with a Pod or other direct-in device for guitar. The singer doesn’t need a microphone. The drummer can keep beat on pads, an electronic kit (plugged into the mixing board) or just use hands on their thighs. It’s so much easier to work out parts at a low volume level than to have amps cranked. Once you know the part, crank it up. Another advantage to this is, you can actually warm up with the band backstage before a gig.
A multi-track recording of your music is the key
When you learn a new tune record your part along with the entire band using a multi-track recorder. Record each instrument of the band on a separate track. Give each musician a “minus one” mp3 file or CD to play along with. What I mean by this is, a guitarist should have a recording of the drums, bass, and vocals minus guitar. That way the guitar player can practice all songs daily on a convenient schedule. The band doesn’t need to practice together to experience “band practice.” Just play along with the band recording.
There are many ways to do this. I have a Zoom recorder that is ideal. You can even get an adapter to turn your iPhone into a Zoom. When band members are able to hear recordings of the band it lessens the need for criticism. Most of us can hear problems when listening to a recording. If a player is too loud, for example, that will be obvious to the player. When standing in front of an amplifier it’s difficult to judge sound levels and can turn into a volume battle.
Pay a local guitar instructor to fine tune your sound
Instead of taking a guitar lesson take a band lesson. Your local guitar instructor will be more than happy to help manage your practice sessions and probably for a very reasonable fee. Their experience can move you to your goals much faster than doing it alone. Plus, it’s always good to have an objective, unbiased third party opinion in the house. You can tell the bass player that she’s too loud and it might not make any difference to her. If she hears it from a respected instructor, chances are, she’ll take it seriously.
Rent or create a space to rehearse
This is a no brainer but still a necessity. You’ve got to have a place to practice. I explain this in-depth in my How To Start A Band article. You may initially need to rent a space yourself. Eventually the expense can be shared by the entire band. There are places that allow you to book by the hour. This is cost effective but can be difficult due to moving equipment in and out and setup time.
How to form an adult band – set a date three months from today to play somewhere.
That’s right. You may be the only one to be in your band at this moment so take charge. Set a goal to play in front of an audience three months from today. Monthly review this goal and note how you’re doing in your quest for stardom.
Metal Method instructor Doug Marks author of The Complete Rock Guitar Course