Forming a Band: An Exercise in Futility

I’ve been trying to form a band on and off since moving to Austin about 1.5 years ago.  It’s largely been a painful process.  I know other musicians in my social network, but they either are committed to other projects or there is no mutual interest in working together or both.  So I generally rely on friends of friends, craigslist, hitting on strangers, etc.  I’ve made a couple friends doing this, but am still bandless.  It’s not that I’m real demanding or have a really niche project in mind, it’s just that finding a band with strangers is a miserable process by design.  There are a lot of factors at play when attempting this sort of thing…

Casual tolerance: Even if you’re strictly in it for the money, you still have to tolerate the people you work with.  When forming a band, this is generally the first issue that presents itself.  When you first meet your potential bandmate, it’s likely that one of you will fall somewhere between dull to downright offensive.  It’s like speed dating I suppose (at least the way they portray it in the movies) where you essentially have some degree of chemistry with a person or you don’t.  It’s pretty obvious pretty quick.  And yet when the meeting is done, nobody has the nerve to just say “maybe next time.”  Instead it’s an uncomfortable “I’ll be in touch” even though that’s a lie.

Mutual Musical Interest: You’d think this is already covered if someone responds to your ad or something like that, but taste in music is a very tricky thing.  It’s generally acceptable that you don’t agree on everything.  It’d be creepy if you did.  But this can be a massive source of conflict.  Usually the way it goes down is like this.  Person A says “Modest Mouse is absolutely my favorite band ever… but not their early stuff, that was too weird.”  Person B goes “oh yeah, they’re cool” but inside they are thinking Person A is a moron and shouldn’t be allowed to own an iPod.

Similar Motivation/Objectives: Pretty simple here, but often a killer of bands.  If one person wants to get drunk and jam and the other person wants to release albums and go on tour, there’s going to be problems.  Everyone involved has to have the same general goals in mind for the band.

Compatible Schedules, Personal Situations, Etc: All sorts of weird problems can come into play here.  Maybe one person works nights and the others work during the day.  Maybe one person doesn’t have a car.  Maybe paying $10/week for rehearsal space is not an option.  Whatever it is, you all need to be able to regularly pick a time and place to practice/play and it can’t present an issue for anyone.  Sure things come up, but so often there is a person in the band that always has a problem with commitments.

Comparable Talent Levels: Lots of people have different opinions on this and it usually comes down to what you’re doing and the egos involved.  Personally, I’ve played with people that have post-grad degrees in music as well as people who couldn’t name one note on their instrument.  It really doesn’t matter if it doesn’t negatively impact the music you’re doing.  Essentially, you can be at any talent level as long as it’s not noticeable in a bad way.  However, there’s plenty of times where there is a vast difference in talent and it’s a major issue.

Friendship: Assuming you’re doing this for enjoyment and not a career, friendship will come into play.  Some people can’t handle showing up for practice/gigs and leaving it at that, they want to get more interaction out of the people they do music with.  Others need friendship as a way to work together, resolve disputes, etc.  Maybe you don’t have to be best friends, but at some point you likely have to do more than just tolerate your bandmates.

Not sure about anyone else, but I think it’s amazing bands ever happen.  For what it’s worth, I’m trying to make forming a band a bit easier for the world, hopefully it will help a bit.


Jay Ratkowski runs this joint, which is why his name is on the front door. You can find him elsewhere at Google+, Facebook, or Twitter

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Author: Jay

Jay Ratkowski runs this joint, which is why his name is on the front door. You can find him elsewhere at Google+, Facebook, or Twitter

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