I host a popular open mic in Portland, Maine, and the number 1 question I get from musicians is:
I want to start a band, but I don’t know any musicians. Even if I do find the musicians, I don’t know the first thing about booking my band, coordinating a schedule, making a playlist, etc.
There are literally millions of musicians on the planet. And there are also millions of musicians who will never make money pursuing their passion.
Why is this? Some musicians simply have no interest making money playing music. It’s for their own enjoyment, and that alone is more than sufficient. The others simply don’t know where to begin or are scared what people might think of them if they turn into a “rockstar”.
If you’re in the first category, I would safely assume that you would not be reading this blog post. But if you’re in the second category, then I’m sure you’re screaming internally “YES, THIS IS ME. So what can I do?” I can’t help you face your fears, but I can help you in the process!
Well, you’re in luck! Here is a quick how-to-guide for starting a band!
How To Start A Band
1. Establish your goals & ideal music career
Establishing your personal goals in the music industry is a huge step. Knowing what you want before creating the band is PIVOTAL.
Like any relationship, there are always going to be issues that need to be resolved. The best way to prevent this is to have a clear-cut set of goals and standards that you and your band members have in common.
For starters, just lay out your ideal band. Here are some questions to answer:
Does the band play covers or original music or both?
What genre will you be - will it be laid-back or high energy?
Who is your ideal client - would it be bars? restaurants? Private clients?
Do you want to make a whole lot of money and quit your job or do you want to just make some extra income or maybe none at all?
What are your personal goals in the industry and what are you looking to achieve in your music career?
Ultimately, the choice is yours. There is no wrong answer. There is no limit. I highly recommend you read this article when setting your goals. So grab a pen & some paper (yes, I mean physically write it down!) and get started writing down your goals!
How To Start A Band
2. Find a place to jam
Why find a place to jam before meeting musicians? Well quite simply put, you need to have a space to hang out and jam before making the commitment.
Although it is ideal to have a sound proof space, it is not necessary (yet). There are a variety of options at this stage in the game. Try one of the following options for starters:
Your residency (during the day)
Band practice spaces (Some cities have cool spaces you can rent for band practice spaces)
There are a thousand options. My band started in my friends bedroom. Many famous bands started in garages or basements. Where ever it is, just find a place you could bring a potential member for an “interview” (please don’t call it that, though).
How To Start A Band
3. Find musicians with similar goals
There are plenty of amazing sources out there that can help you to find band members in your area. I outlined my three favorites below.
1. Attend open jams & open mics - How to start a band
In my opinion, this is the best way to find members for a band. Typically people who attend open mics are looking to meet musicians and get their music out there. If you find someone with music you like, initiate the conversation. Start with them. Tell them why you liked their music and what was good about it. Ask them if they play out or if they’re in a band. Establish the rapport before you dive in with your intentions. Get a sense of the persons personality - could this work in a band? Does this person seem to align with my ideal band member? If the answer is yes, invite them over to your cool jam space!
2. Create a post on free networks - How to start a band
There are so many options for this. You could make a post on Facebook to your friends asking for help find musicians to jam with. You could also search for a music network in your area using Facebook (Simply search “Music network of ‘insert your state here’”) You could put a post on Craigslist. You could post on public forums. Search relevant hashtags on Instagram. There are so many options for this it is almost daunting. Use the free networks and find some people!
3. Attend workshops & networking events - How to start a band
Okay, this option is not free but is actually my favorite. By attending music workshops you kill two birds with one stone. You learn about the topic at hand but you can also meet people with similar ideals and goals as yourself. Don’t be annoying or distracting, but reach out to others that attended the seminar. Ask them their favorite part of the seminar. Ask them about themselves. Ask them about their music. Network, network, network!
The items above are my three favorite tactics to finding musicians near me. Simply Google Search “How to find musicians for a band” and you’ll get a variety of blogs and articles that point you in the right direction with other platforms of finding the ideal bandmates!
How To Start A Band
4. Create the music
You’re excited - you’ve got your band and you guys are good…individually. Before you get too excited and start emailing every pub in town, there are still a couple of steps.
So you’ve got your band and it probably doesn’t have a name yet. That’s okay. Start by creating some music.
If you’re looking to become a cover band, have each member list 10 songs that they think would be cool with your band’s sound. Vote on the songs to make sure all members want to learn them. If you can’t come to a unanimous agreement, either list out some more songs or have each member vote on individual songs with a 1-5 rating - “1” being “I absolutely hate this song and will not learn it” and “5” being “We need to learn this song BADLY”. Anything that averages a score less than a 4 gets tossed.
If you’re looking to become an originals only band, there are many routes you could go. You could review the tastes of your band and find other bands that you all like and try to create music similar to those bands. You could go completely off the path and make music that sounds like no other band ever (Think - The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and the list goes on).
The most important thing to do on this step is to jam, jam, jam. All the time. I am constantly writing lyrics in my pocket journal or on my phone’s notes. I’m always recording my riffs I play on the guitar to use later. The writing process is different for everyone. I’m not here to tell you how to craft your music or the right way to do it, but there are plenty of classes and workshops out there that can help you in your pursuit of writing originals music. Just Google search “Music Seminars in my area” and you will find a bunch of options. (Tom Hess has a cool writing workshop that might be worth checking out)
How To Start A Band
5. Get some high-quality recordings
You’re well on your way to making music! At this point, you should be pumped about the process. Recording and making the videos is the fun part!
This is a quintessential element when it comes to booking your band. Every potential venue wants to hear your music before hiring you. The recordings should be professional, however, you could also do the recordings yourself if you understand DAWS and have the equipment. A good recording is SUPER important and VERY rewarding. I recommend spending the money and going to the studio unless you have a studio that can produce good products for less.
Some options to make extra money: Crowdfund (Kickstarter), Busk (street-performing), or each of you split the cost of the recording. You can get a decent recording of three-ish songs in most areas of the United States for around $500-$700 or less if your band is well rehearsed and can nail the songs immediately.
Whether you record 1 song or a whole album, you will need a recording to pitch your band successfully. Go out there, do some research, and get recording!
How To Start A Band
6. Get good promotional content!
Appearance is everything. Looking professional is a huge contribution to getting gigs. Bottom line: look pro. Be pro.
Congrats on your recordings! Now that you have those sweet tunes, it’s time to look like a pro!
There are a lot of elements to promotion - you need a logo, pictures, videos, and witty sayings for social media posts. It can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here is the order I suggest for acquiring promotional material.
1. Professional Pictures
I mean real pictures. Not just iPhone pictures. You can generally find a good photographer online or by asking around. In the Portland area, I know I can always find rock-solid photographers from $100-$300 depending on shoot style, location, and length. Spend the money and get solid pictures. It’s worth it. This is your career, if you want it to flourish you’re going to have to spend some money.
Videos get more engagement on social media platforms than any other form of media. I still you hire videography professionals for music videos, tour videos, and live videos, but you can use your iPhone or Android to get simple videos. The videos can be pretty much anything. Did something funny happen on video? Post it with a witty caption. Do you want to show a quick clip of what the band has been working on? Sweet - take a video and post it.
Word of caution: Although you can take videos on your phone, I recommend having some sort of professional video on your website/social media/EPK. For example, when I toured Iceland I hired a professional videographer to capture high quality footage to compile into a promotional video. You can check it out here.
3. Logo and Branding Aspects
Again, I always hire-out for this. This is your brand and it is pivotal that it is appealing, clean, and professional. However, if you’re good with this stuff, then dive in! If you have ideas, don’t be afraid to tell your graphic designer about them. Check out my logo to the right.
Having trouble finding pros? Use apps & websites like Fiverr, Freelancer.com, Thumbtack, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace to have prospective professionals come to you!
How To Start A Band
7. Create your EPK / Website
Electronic Press Kits & Websites are what separates the pros from the amateurs - they are a fantastic way to put all your promo on one, easy-to-use page.
Electronic Press Kits (EPKs) & Websites are crucial when it comes to the final stages of the booking process. Personally, I have a website because I like to blog, sell merchandise, and post tour dates on it. Personally, all of my websites are done through Squarespace. There are a variety of easy-to-use website building platforms. For starters, try Squarespace, Bandzoogle, or Wix and see which one makes the most sense to you. Building a website can be fun & frustrating. Stay focused and be patient.
Here are some sections you should have on your initial website:
Home page - A simple landing page that links to all social medias & the pages mentioned below.
About Me - should be 4-7 sentences and should include a description of your band (i.e. influences, genre, catchy explanation of overall sound & vibe), achievements (when you released your first album, upcoming shows, etc), and brief description of what you plan to do.
Music - Remember that music you recorded? Here’s where you can post your MP3 or WAV files (Make sure they’re your own songs - if recording covers make sure you give proper credit). Most website builders make this very easy to do. Personally, I embed a Spotify player on my website that is linked directly to my Spotify account (the releasing & distribution process is a story for another article - check out Distrokid or CDBaby if you’d like to release your tunes FIRST on the major online music outlets). I also recommend putting any HIGH QUALITY videos you have on this page. Rule number one: videos get the most engagement. Period.
Contact Me - This page is super simple but important. Make sure you have a “contact me” page that has an easy-to-use contact submission form. Make it as easy as possible for people to get in contact with you.
A word of advice: Find artists similar to your style who are already successful and check out their websites - although you don’t want to clone their design, it will give you some creative ideas and inspiration.
How To Start A Band
8. Get out there!
You’re ready to go! Here are some tips for getting your first gig..
If you’re in a cover band, I suggest the following routes to getting gigs:
Make Business Cards: This element is still crucial in today’s world! Don’t downplay the power of a clean and tidy business card! Get some inspiration online!
Attend Open Mics: Some open mics have “gig potential” meaning, if you’re the right fit for the venue, they will hire you for a paid gig! Aside from this, other musicians are a good network to have. My musician friends & I are constantly sending each other clients when we’re booked or unavailable. Bring your new business cards!
Talk to your existing network: Countless friends and family have gotten me gigs throughout the year. I bet you have a friend or two that works at a restaurant or bar. Be bold!
Visit, email, follow-up: Go to the venues you want to play at and get their booking agents contact info. Notice that I didn’t say “leave a card”. Although you still should leave a card, it is pivotal that YOU get their information as well so you can follow up. When following up, send an email 1-2 days after meeting. If they don’t respond, send a follow-up email or phone call 3-5 business days later. People are busy - so make sure you make a good & brief first impression.
My band started out playing covers, so that is mostly where my first-hand knowledge ends. However, I have some friends that play originals only, and this is the route I suggest based off of conversations with them:
Make Business Cards: This element is still crucial in today’s world! Don’t downplay the power of a clean and tidy business card! Get some inspiration online! (See mine to the right)
Make sure your music is released: I know I said this before, but definitely make sure you have original music on Spotify & iTunes. I still have a hard copy of my CD’s, but I don’t believe those are necessary.
Get on playlists: You know those Spotify & YouTube playlists you listen to? Find playlists with a similar style to you and message the curator with your music and ask them if they would be willing to add it to the playlist.
Connect with other local original artists: Find some artists in your area that are a couple steps ahead of you, but on a path you want to be on. Link up with them and do a show together. Bring all of your crowd and they’ll bring theirs. Collaboration, not competition!
Find venues: I recommend finding some smaller venues in your area that will let you play your originals. Some might pay you, some might be free. Look for microbreweries, coffeeshops, and listening rooms at first. Once your name gets bigger, I suggest looking at the website’s of larger venues you want to play at and finding bands that sound similar to you that are 2-3 months away. Send the venue an email and ask them if they have an opener for the selected act and that you’re interested in being one. Keep it short, informative, enthusiastic, and appealing. Provide reasons why you should be the opener with a link to your website or EPK.