Three Mistakes That Will Ruin Your Band
Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that any bands succeed at all, given all the things stacked against them. The world can be very unforgiving to music, especially for those of us on the fringes of popularity (or, if you’re like me, staring at the fringes of popularity through a high powered telescope). This makes it all the more important to not unintentionally sabotage your band with common – and preventable – mistakes.
This article explains five of the most common mistakes that I’ve seen bands make, and provides suggestions on how to avoid them. Some of them might seem obvious to you. On the other hand, some of them may not even seem like mistakes when you’re in the middle of making them.
Mistake 1: Failure to Communicate
It seems almost ridiculous to have to point this out, but I’ve met and worked with plenty of bands that absolutely suck at basic human communication. It’s an epidemic in the music world. Being great at an instrument or charismatic on stage doesn’t translate to being able to communicate clearly and effectively with your band. This is not something to be shrugged off; communication problems are at the root of nearly everything else that can go wrong with a band.
A good idea for any band is to set aside some time to put down the instruments and chat. Tailor it to fit the attitude of the band and the people in it. It can be a proper “band meeting” with an agenda, an informal meeting where everyone gets to vent whatever’s on their mind, or pizza and pints at the pub. The only requirements are that all members participate, and that no one who isn’t directly involved with the band is in attendance (Translation: your manager is welcome; your girlfriend isn’t).
In general, I can’t over-emphasize the importance of face-to-face communication. You should of course use e-mail and text messages for what they’re best at: conveying basic, well-understood facts (e.g. set list and soundcheck time for the next gig). When it comes to issues that have any sort of emotional weight, however, these forms of communication fail to convey the nuance and subtlety that you can only get from being in the same room together. If you need to bring up a touchy subject with the band, save it for the next time you’re together. You might text them to say “I have something important to talk about next practice” so they’re prepared to listen, but leave it at that.
Mistake 2: No Goals, or Plans to Achieve Them
You put together or join a band, get a nice musical vibe going, and get comfortable with each other. Cool. Now what?
You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) how many bands don’t ever get anywhere past this point. The ones that do are the ones with goals, and perhaps more importantly, plans on how to achieve those goals.
Communicating is a big part of setting goals. Every band goal starts as an idea, so don’t be afraid to tell the band what you’d like to accomplish, and don’t be quick to dismiss an idea from someone else. The best goals are ones that are realistically achievable; as fun as “play Madison Square Garden” is to think about, it’s not realistic for 99.999% of bands. Your first goal should be an easy one, like “learn <insert popular song here>” or “set up a band website.”
Once you’ve all agreed to the goal, split it up into small tasks that can be assigned to individuals in the group. Tasks should be assigned according to ability and availability. Lastly, set a deadline for when you’d like those tasks accomplished. Again, the key is realism – if anything, give yourself more time than you think you’ll need.
Accomplishing goals as a band is the best way to move up the musical food chain. The sense of accomplishment and teamwork will also give you lots of positive energy and bring you closer together as a group.
Mistake 3: Not Knowing Your Audience
If someone asked you to describe your band’s target audience, would you be able to? Can you clearly and simply describe what kind of person would buy your albums and come to your shows? If not, you need to figure this out – the sooner, the better.
“But Matt,” you say, “why do I need to put a label on people? Can’t I just say that my audience is whoever wants to listen to my music? I don’t care who likes my stuff or who doesn’t.” I get it – I truly do. You just want to make music and to hell with everyone who doesn’t like it. Don’t think of it as labelling people though; think of it as finding a common ground or a connection with the people who like your music. Think of it as a way to reach more people who will be receptive to your message, because that’s exactly what it is. Knowing your audience is the key that unlocks a lot of doors. It allows you to focus on choices that enhance your career while ignoring unproductive ventures. It’s the difference between playing to an empty room and playing to a packed house.
If you’re just getting started, or if you’ve hit the reset button on your band’s career, your first step is to do some research. Look at the audience for other bands you are similar to. What are they like? Are they young, or not so young? Are there mostly men, mostly women, or a mix of both? Where do they go to see live music? Do they use Facebook or Twitter? Where do they hang out when they’re not listening to live music? Learn as much as you can, and use this information to make your decisions.
Don’t feel bad if any of these mistakes apply to your band. Nobody is perfect, and even the most successful bands do stupid things from time to time. Rather than being ashamed of your band’s mistakes, you should share them in the comments so others can learn from them.