Being in a band is hard work. It’s like running a small business where all of your coworkers are in a relationship with each other. In order to have a successful and fun experience, all of the members have to gel together in terms of personality and playing styles.
But how do you go about finding somebody new who fits well? It takes a lot of hard work and persistence, for one. Follow the guidelines below to help the process move swiftly and efficiently.
How to find the right band members
1. Manage expectations
Right from the beginning, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble by setting expectations for what you want in a new band member. The key to this, however, is to make sure that your expectations are realistic. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment and stagnation as the position remains empty.
Let's use transportation as an example. Many bands state explicitly that they need the new potential member to have his or her own reliable transportation. You generally need a car to get around on the West Coast, so we would consider that a realistic expectation. But what if you live in the Northeast? Many people in cities like Boston or New York choose to go without a car due to traffic, the cost of parking, and the fact that it's generally unnecessary because of excellent public transit.
By requiring that the new member have his or her own vehicle in one of these places, you're greatly reducing the pool of musicians that you have to choose from. This is a good example of an expectation that might need to be flexible.
If you have high expectations and really are looking for a top-level band member with a great personality and equipment, then by all means, don't compromise. Be aware, however, that the higher your expectations are, the longer you will likely have to look (and the more expensive the player will be). Sometimes, evaluating your expectations and being flexible about the ones that are less realistic can speed up your search drastically.
2. Conduct pre-audition interviews
In a creative group, somebody's personality fitting well is just as important as his or her playing. That guy you just met might play really well, but could you handle sitting next to him or her in a cramped tour van for 10 weeks?
Talking to a potential member prior to auditioning him or her will help the process go a lot smoother. If it feels like somebody's personality is a weird fit, you'll probably know within 10 minutes. Beyond personality, this is also a great time to reaffirm your expectations and see if this musician meets them. Perhaps he or she doesn't have a car, but lives near the practice space. If his or her personality fits well enough and he or she has the playing chops, that information may help you make a decision.
Here are some band member interview questions you might want to start with:
- Transportation: How does this person get around town? The bus, a bike? If he or she has a car, is it reliable?
- Equipment: Does he or she have professional equipment? Is it big enough to rehearse and play gigs with? Is it too big or inappropriate for the style of music?
- Musical influences: What does his or her playing sound like? Who does he or she listen to and draw influence from? Is it similar to the music that your band plays and listens to?
- Time versus commitment: How much time is he or she willing to devote to a new project? If your band rehearses twice a week, will that work? Is this person available to drop everything for touring? This is especially important to make clear from the beginning. If the band is too much of a commitment, he or she might realize too late that it's not a good fit. The inverse is also possible: you might be a casual group, and your new bandmate might be looking for something more serious.
- Financial situation: Does the new member have a steady job and income? Does he or she have a stable place to live? Will personal issues arising from money force flakiness with the group? If the band is fundraising for a new release, tour, or marketing campaign, would this person be willing and able to chip in the same amount as everybody else to make it happen? Would taking time off for gigs or touring wreck him or her financially? This can be a little personal, and you don't need to get too deep into this subject, but it can be important.
3. Distribute recordings and chord charts
Do you have clear recordings and chord charts that you could send to the new band member? If you need him or her to learn parts independently, it's important that he or she has the resources to do so.
Whether for the audition or after the new musician has been accepted, having access to these resources will smooth the transition immensely. Recordings don't need to be professional quality, as long as he or she can clearly hear the form and chord changes and riffs in the song.
If you have a specific part written that you want him or her to play, include that in the recording as well. Chord charts can be typed up quickly into a word processor by copy and pasting your lyrics into it, then writing the chords above the words. You could even handwrite them if you write cleanly.
If he or she has the materials to learn the songs on his or her own time, and actually makes use of them, it really shows that the person is willing to dedicate time to the project. That alone could be a factor in accepting your group's newest member.
Where to find band members
1. Reach out to your network
If you've been playing locally for a while, you've likely got a decent-sized network of local players. Whether that be session musicians, guys in bands you've played with, music store owners, or other industry pros, all of these contacts should be where you start looking for a new bandmate.
Start by thinking about the players you know directly and whether or not they fit your needs. This includes your friends, but also people in bands you've played with. Likely, if they're serious about music, they would be happy to hop on board with a second band. It can't hurt to ask!
If you don't know anybody personally who would be a good fit, then you should start asking around. Reach out to musicians you know and trust, and ask them if they know anybody who would be a good fit. You can cast a much wider net if you combine your network with the networks of all the musicians and local industry pros that you know. Plus, the players they recommend will usually be solid and reliable (otherwise, they wouldn't have recommended them!).
2. Open mics
The open mic has been a staple in local music scenes maybe since coffee was first invented. Young musicians with grand ambitions take equal footing with old, world-weary veterans who know a thing or two but never managed to find success. They definitely have a reputation for being a showcase for unremarkable amateurs, but they're also a great place to test out new material for professionals, so if you can wade through the mediocrity, there's often some really talented diamonds in the rough. At the very least, you can make new acquaintances who are interested in performing and start a social network that could yield some great contacts in the future.
3. Musician meetups
In many cities and towns, you can find groups of musicians who get together to play music. These can range from once a week to once a month and are often targeted at specific genres. So, for example, if you're a folk musician, there are many opportunities to sit in with local musicians and turn out a few standard tunes.
A quick search online will yield many results for these types of events. Meetup.com is a popular destination for things like this, and in some of the bigger cities, there are a lot of networking and educational workshops or seminars where you can find people to discuss music with and possibly folks interested in jamming.
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5. Social media
Facebook has tons of groups that allow for newcomers to a city to ask questions and make connections. Take a look around your preferred social network, and see if any potential band members are out there. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Go out and find some local music! In really big cities, I've found that it can be hard to figure out where the good shows are, but take some chances and be willing to have a beer while a crappy band plays. Talk to strangers, strike up conversations with the bartender, and eavesdrop on the next table. Just meet people, and eventually you'll find someone else who's at least looking to jam.
7. Ask a music teacher
Do you know any local music teachers in your area? They're great resources that you should take advantage of!
For one, great music teachers are likely great players as well, and you could always ask them if they're looking for a new project to join up with. However, teachers generally keep a full schedule, and will likely be too busy to rehearse frequently and tour. Great teachers often attract great students, though, so they can likely introduce you to some musicians you might not find at local gigs.
If you've got any good teachers in your network who know your sound, ask them if they have any talented students who would be a good fit. The better and busier the teacher is, the more likely it will be that he or she has a few great players to recommend to you.
Ty Trumbull and Dylan Welsh contributed the original content for this article. Compiled and edited by Lisa Occhino and copyedited by Allison Boron. Special thanks to Rachel Bresnahan.