So, either you’ve managed to nail this whole rhythm and pitch thing or you’re planning to, and your next step is to join a band? Awesome! I was in a band with people I loved for just under 4 years. I got some great experiences out of it, went places I’ve never been before and generally got to have a whole new level of fun.
I started playing guitar when I was 14, dropped out of sixth form to study music at college (much to my parents’ dismay) and went on to do a ‘Popular Music’ degree, which covered everything from recording, to industry & management, to social & historical aspects of music. I was the bassist of a band called Cynotia with one of my best friends, his then long-term girlfriend and a strange enigma of a drummer. Friend of a friend who hardly spoke when we met him, but wow this guy could play drums better than any drummer I’d ever met. He hit so hard you’d think your brain was having its own personal earthquake. Eventually he started opening up and we discovered that he was the most quick-witted, educated-in-bizarre-facts guy you’d ever meet. But that’s another story.
Cynotia aren’t ‘famous’, but we had a fair bit of small-stream success; our highlight was when we were picked to be “Soundclouder of the Day”, racking up thousands of listens in just a few minutes.
Unfortunately, my life got insanely busy to the point where I could either catch up on the sleep I needed before I puked, or travel 100 miles to play a gig, sleep on a sofa and get a train at 5am the next day. I tried that for a while because I really wanted to be a part of Cynotia, but it didn’t work out. So, with a long amicable chat and a hug, I stepped down. No one wanted to say so, but I was pretty much holding the band back by never being available. Thankfully, they’re still going strong and still kicking arse loudly – go check them out.
Anyway…if you want to embark on the crazy band journey, here are a few tips:
Understand what you want to get out of the band. Is this a serious endeavour, or is it a bit of fun? Do you want to hang out, play music with some friends and maybe play some local gigs? Or do you want to be gigging up and down the country, pay to make merchandise, drive around in cramped cars….maybe even make some money?Both take dedication, but know which you want, and check that the rest of your band feels the same. Trying to carry people who aren’t as in to it as you are is annoying, and vice versa. I once genuinely got asked if I wanted to join a band with “guys who like to screw around a lot, eat some crisps and maybe play some songs”. Gee, thanks. Thankfully, all 4 of us in Cynotia seemed be in the same mind frame and wanted to take the band seriously.
Don’t let the “girl musician” thing get to you. At college, I was one of only three girls on the course – the others being a vocalist, and a classically trained flautist and double bass player. This left me as the only girl in a testosterone-filled room of boys who played guitar.Now don’t get me wrong, I am by no means an exceptional musician. But I’m good at what I do, put in the hours of practice and am secretly a perfectionist – whilst recording Cynotia’s album I think I nailed every bass part in one take, but just decided to redo them anyway.
Even if this sums you up as well, you’ll always have someone who makes a “girl musician” joke: girls can’t play guitar; girls should be making the band sandwiches; they’re only in the band to look good. Screw that, turn it around and then prove them wrong on stage. Gwen Stefani has said that even when No Doubt were starting to hit the big time, people would mistake her for a girlfriend of a band member.
Promoters, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Don’t get me wrong, most promoters are good at what they do and genuinely love music. However, there are also “promoters” (note the inverted commas) who do it just for money. There are so many stories of promoters not bothering to tell bands they’ve cancelled a gig, promising pay but not living up to the promise, and blaming bands who’ve travelled miles and miles for not bringing a crowd – the jobs in the title “promoter”. Unless you’re a very well-known band, how exactly are you going to get 30 fans to turn up to a gig in a town you’ve never played in before, 200 miles away from where you live?
There are Facebook groups you can join to find out who or where to avoid, and who to trust. But as much as we talk, they talk too. If you’ve got a reputation for being late, or for trashing the place/yourself, odds are you’ll mysteriously find yourself getting fewer gigs.The final thing you should avoid at all costs is ‘Pay to Play’ – the concept that you should be so honoured to play a gig that, instead of you getting paid money, you pay them to grace their stage. This is bullshit, and is hopefully dying out. AVOID.
Be on time! If like most bands you have to pay for a practise area, you pay by the session. If you turn up 15 minutes late and it takes you 15 minutes to set up, that’s half an hour of money that you may as well have set on fire. Same with travelling to gigs. Aim to get there early, always allow for traffic and rush hour. What’s the worst that can happen if you turn up early? You get some KFC and a couple of beers. Turn up late and you risk annoying everyone, missing your soundcheck, or maybe not get to play at all. I’ll be honest, we lied to a member of the band a few times about when we had to leave, so we could get places on time.
Make sure to use ear protection. Get some £15 soft plastic reusable earplugs from a music store; these will save your musical life. They’re much better than the disposable sponge ones as they don’t dampen sounds – it will just make them quieter. Plus, as long as you give them a good clean, they’ll last for years. You may think your ears are clean, but have you ever worn earplugs repetitively? I know some people don’t use ear protection for reasons such as “it takes away from the energy” or “it’s not cool”, but if you still plan on enjoying listening to music at 50, wear them!
This one is short but sweet: if, after a gig, a guy is talking to only the girls in the band about how they’re interested in the music, but show absolutely no interest in talking to the boys in the band, guess what their really interested in. Don’t be blinded by someone claiming they really like your band and know people who know people.
Like with everything, a lot of it is down to luck or who you know. Some terrible bands end up being in a good position for a while, while some amazing bands can go almost unnoticed for a long time. Just make sure you’re smart – practise hard, check out venues before you book gigs and don’t give up on a good thing.
Finally, HAVE FUN. If you’re not having fun making music, then what exactly are you doing? Not every band makes it, but that’s irrelevant. My time in Cynotia was priceless; I’ve a lifetime of memories and anecdotes to tell. As of yet they’re not millionaires, but if they do end up rolling in money, I’ll just be glad I was there when I was. We were 4 people playing ridiculously sweaty gigs, frequently ending up with blood on our instruments, sometimes to a packed room, sometimes to a bare room. Always loud. Good luck, guys!
Words + Images: Liv Swann