How to start a new project with other musicians

Creating new music and starting a new band is an exciting time. This guest post from Joe Hoten explores the best ways to approach working with new musicians and starting a new project.

Before You Start a New Band

You’ve just been to a show and had the best conversation with someone you met there – you like all the same bands, hate all the same bands, and agree that the time has come for a musical revolution. The air is heavy with promise, your mind is racing, and you just can’t wait to get together in the practice room to see the fruition of that initial spark.

This type of encounter is precious, because, for many of us, it’s a rare one, and therefore not to be wasted. How disappointed would you be if, at your first practice, you weren’t so much changing the course of history as you were standing around awkwardly, not knowing where to begin? This doesn’t just affect amateur musicians, either : Kurt Cobain and Mark Lanegan, Lou Reed and Metallica and U2 and Apple all wished that more had came of their meetings of the mind. And while some things are just not meant to be, here are a few preventative steps you can take to ensure your project doesn’t implode on day 1.

Catch them live

The best way to get a sense of your new musical friend is to see them in action. If they’re in another project, go along to their next show – or you could both arrange to go to the next local open mic night. You’ll get to know their style, and, with any luck, you’ll see how the bands you both like have influenced their playing – and then the cogs will start to turn. And if you both go to an open mic night and do a turn each, you’ll both put each other at ease by putting yourselves on the line. Heck, you might even end up performing together that very night! And if either of you end up thinking better of it afterwards, don’t take it personally – you had the best of intentions, but with something like music, you can’t just talk about what you sound like, and you might just not see how you’d fit together. At least you’ve both been open with each other at this mic.

Check their online past

While we don’t want to appear to be advocating Facebook stalking, the fact remains that most of us with a musical past will have uploaded a song or video at some point. And, hey, if you’re happy to have God-knows-who checking out your material, then so should anyone else who publishes themselves on the net, right? So count yourself as one of the God-knows-who crowd, and open the investigation on your new acquaintance. See if you can hear in their past recordings any semblance of the music you were both so excited to talk about – and see if it’s half decent. You can’t realistically expect to find the next Hendrix hanging around your local bar, but there are brilliant musicians everywhere you go, so hopefully this one you’ve met wasn’t just talking the talk. Remember to be fair and check the date on the recordings, but more importantly try to imagine what you could achieve together while you’re listening.

Find a place to practice

Agreeing to jam is all well and good – unless you never settle on a venue. Too many times have the words ‘Yeah man, we should jam sometime’ lead absolutely nowhere – and one of the reasons is that you haven’t agreed where this jam is supposed to happen. It’s understandable if, at first, you’re not sure enough of each other to let each other into your respective homes – after all, you could be a mass murderer, and still be an decent musician, a bit like Charles Manson or the banjo players from Deliverance. Meeting on mutual ground is the safer option with a new acquaintance, so check out some local practice spaces and split the cost of a couple of hours. You don’t need anything too fancy or lengthy, and there’ll most likely be a staff member or two on hand just in case things get weird.

Pick some songs to learn

This is probably the most useful thing to agree on before your first practice – it can be really, really frustrating if you just ping-pong song suggestions to each other that one of you doesn’t have a clue how to play. In fact, it’s worse than frustrating – sometimes, it can leave you downright miserable to have your expectations dashed. Realising that you’re not on the same page as someone you felt a connection with is like a mutual betrayal – definitely something worth avoiding.

On a more positive note, some of my best experiences of first band practices have been a direct result of choosing a couple of covers we were all psyched about. It felt amazing to go from not knowing how we’d gel musically, through the nervous count in on the sticks, to just nailing the song first time. You can ride those kinds of waves for a while – it really helps you feel like anything is possible. And all it takes to make that happen is for you to agree on what you want to play, and for you each to go away and learn it.

Keep in contact

Before your ‘big day’, make sure you keep a conversation going between yourselves. If you’re serious about wanting to make this project work, then show each other that you are. Appear interested and excited about the prospect of working together soon, and you’ll find that you start feeding off of and into each other’s energy. You can send each other links to videos or trivia relating to your shared favourite artists, strengthening the bond and widening each other’s horizons. Don’t cool off too quickly, as you’ll seem uninterested, and at this stage you really have no obligation to each other, so either of you could drift off into more welcoming arms. It also demonstrates that you’ve not been at the forefront of each other’s mind, which could easily lead to an underwhelming first jam.

So, there you have it – before diving headfirst into the throng, run a couple of background checks on your potential bandmate, solidify your joint musical purpose, then, if everything’s looking good, keep the hype train stoked. It’s not every day you bump into somebody who sees the world through your eyes, so let’s make the most of it!

Written by Joe Hoten from Bands for Hire – www.bandsforhire.net.

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