How to Start a Band: Proven Steps for Instant Success

Rock Band Singer Guitarist

With a rich 25-year journey as a musician under my belt, I've learned that establishing a successful band is akin to launching a business. As kids, my friends and I wrote originals and performed all across town, because we loved music. But as I got older I learned that success in this industry required more than just passion. It would take the right team, a solid strategy, a product that resonates with the audience, and exceptional marketing. But unlike most traditional businesses, bands emerge from an artist's passion and personal connection to music. This is precisely why Band Pioneer exists, to help musicians bridge the gap between the art form they love, and the business aspects required to succeed in the music industry.

Hillside groove 1
Hillside Groove, an original Funk/Hip-Hop band from Charlotte NC's local music scene in the 1990's

This guide aims to equip existing bands, and musicians wondering how to start a band, with the knowledge required to create one and dominate their local music scene. Skill definitely plays a role is starting a successful band, but it's the branding and marketing that are key to success. If you're a proficient musician looking to start a band as a career or side hustle, this is the article you need to make it happen.

First things first... You need a band to be a band! 

Step 1. Finding Band Members

Musicians often find themselves in the company of fellow musicians. This makes your friends and acquaintances the perfect starting point when seeking potential bandmates. But keep in mind that friendship doesn't always translate well into professional relationships. Friends might overlook or tolerate certain behaviors that could disrupt a band's productivity or cohesion, such as a lack of punctuality, insufficient practice, or diverging commitment levels. When deciding how to start a band, success should be your top priority. It's more important to select band members based on professionalism and shared musical objectives than it is to surround yourself with friends.

The Musicians Lifestyle

We always encourage our readers to consider their band a business. Your eccentric guitarist friend might be fun to jam away with to Oasis's Wonderwall over a few beers late at night, but would they be reliable in a professional setting? Would they consistently arrive on time, contribute to creative brainstorming, and meet their commitments? If the answer is no, don't expect them to be any different in a band context.

The objective is to locate musicians who share your level of enthusiasm and dedication and ideally lead similar lifestyles. If your ambition is to play full-time, you'll require musicians with flexible schedules and fewer responsibilities. However, if your availability is limited to weekends due to parental duties, musicians with day jobs will do just fine.

Musicians on Craigslist

Once you've exhausted your personal network, Craigslist can be a valuable tool. It offers opportunities to find bands in need of a member, musicians seeking bands, and a platform to promote yourself and the band you're trying to form. Sometimes, instead of spending time figuring out how to start a band, you might stumble upon an established band, and fast-track your journey to the stage.

Social Media Musicians

While most social media platforms lack Craigslist's specificity for connecting musicians, they can be effective in certain contexts. Niche groups, such as neighborhood Facebook pages, school or work groups, can be treasure troves for finding local musicians. Through a neighborhood meetup organized on Facebook, I connected with two members of my current band Exit 85, and years later we've cornered the market for cover bands in our local music scene, getting requests to play every club, festival and private event in town.

Exit85 waxhaw taphouse
The original members of Exit 85, introduced on a neighborhood Facebook page, now touring regularly across NC and SC.

Church Musicians

Churches can be a surprising hotspot for local musicians trying to learn how to start a band. This is especially true for Evangelical or non-denominational Christian churches. Many have bands loaded with untapped talent who gain weekly performance experience. If this avenue is open to you, it could yield valuable contacts.

Musicians at Music Stores

Last but not least, make sure to not overlook your local music store. They are almost always owned by musicians, run by musicians, and packed with customers that are musicians. These stores often feature notice boards with ads for bands in need of members or vice versa. Striking up a conversation while shopping for band equipment might lead to promising leads as well.

Backup Musicians

Coordinating the schedules of multiple band members can be a daunting task, especially when life's other commitments come into play. Once your band is performing regularly, you may encounter scheduling conflicts that threaten to force you to pass up desirable gigs. To avoid this scenario when starting a band, it's wise to have a roster of backup musicians ready to step in at a moment's notice.

It's a significant ask for an occasional player to be familiar with your entire repertoire, so flexibility is key. Be prepared to tweak your set list to suit the skill set of your stand-in musician.

Establishing relationships with other bands in your genre can also prove mutually beneficial. Instead of viewing them as rivals, see them as potential allies. They can fill in for absent members, share venue contacts, and offer insights into which locations might be a good fit for your sound.

Now that you've uncovered how to start a band, and found success assembling its members, it's time to find your sound!

Step 2. Finding Your Sound

Answering the question of how to start a band will inevitably lead you on an explorative journey to find your unique sound and identity. It's a fine balance between catering to your audience's tastes and expressing your own creativity. As you embark on this adventure, you'll need to consider whether or not to play covers or originals, the importance of creating a comprehensive set list that aligns with your objectives, and for those writing original music, the artistry involved in that process.

Covers vs Originals

Before we go any further learning how to start a band, let's address a point that might be a bit contentious: unless you're already a well-known band with original music people are already familiar with, the majority of clubs, restaurants, bars, festivals and private events, will not want to hear your original music.

People generally seek familiarity and fun. They want to unwind, sing along, or dance to songs they recognize and enjoy. Busting out favorites like Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" or Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" are sure-fire ways to fill a dance floor. But playing an original song you've painstakingly composed probably won't elicit the same response.

If crafting original music is your calling, consider concentrating your efforts on online promotion. Look into our articles on distributing and marketing your music online.

When performing live for unfamiliar audiences, covers are your best bet. Sprinkling in the occasional original song can provide variety and may even be appreciated by music enthusiasts in the crowd. But remember that these discerning listeners are not the majority. Be ready for a potential drop in audience engagement when you play your originals. Don't take it personally—bar-goers are notorious for their short attention spans. Keep them entertained by punctuating your originals with crowd-pleasing singalongs.

Always gauge your audience's reaction. If an original song is well-received, feel free to try another in your next set. But if you start to loose the crowd by playing an original, you should probably skip the next one.

Build a Set List

Performing live at most venues requires knowing a lot of music. 50 to 100 songs may sound like a ridiculous amount to learn, but it's pretty par for the course. Most venues typically want bands to play for 3 hours, which you can do in 3 50 minute sets, or 2 80 minutes sets. Playing live for one 80 minute set would roughly be about 20 songs. Double that and you'll be playing about 40 songs per show.

If you're playing often however, you're not going to want to perform the exact same songs every night. Repeat guests will spot this pretty quickly, and may even call you out on it. "They play the same songs EVERY time" would be pretty easy ammunition for trolls. Having an additional 20 to 30 songs to shuffle in and out is helpful to keep your performances fresh.

Laminated depeche mode setlist
Laminated Depeche Mode setlist from 1994

Taking Song Requests

You will undoubtedly get requests. Sometimes a lot of them! The drunker the crowd, the more you can expect someone to holler out something like "play some Chill Peppers" in between songs. Feel free to ignore the cliche "play Freebird" comments. Yes you will get them. Plenty of them! And yes it can get obnoxious. Of course being prepared to rip off a bar of the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic can also get you a few cheap cheers. So it may not hurt to have it in your back pocket, as painful as that may be. But the point here is, the more songs you know the more requests you will be able to honor. 

Playing a song somebody loves and is dying to hear is a great way to win over your audience.

Writing Your Own Songs

For those of you that are creatives seeking how to start a band with an original sound, writing original music is an exhilarating experience. But it also requires some thoughtful considerations.

First, be mindful of your band's collective sound and style. Original songs should align with the genre and vibe that you've chosen for your band. Find a style that you all know and enjoy, or experiment with fusing your individual styles together. There are rock bands like The White Stripes, funk bands like Vulfpeck, and Hip-Hop groups like OutKast. And then there are bands like 311 that fuse together all 3. Regardless of which genre(s) you choose, be consistent. Uniformity not only strengthens your identity but also helps your audience know what to expect.

Second, consider the songwriting process. Will one member take the lead, or will it be a collaborative effort? Both approaches have their pros and cons. A collective effort can bring diverse influences and ideas while also making sure everyone is represented, but can also be difficult to manage. single songwriter can ensure a unified vision, while 

Don't forget to welcome constructive criticism during the process. It's essential to ensure everyone in the band feels heard and involved, which can ultimately lead to better compositions.

Lastly, remember that writing original music is a journey, not a race. Some songs might flow out in a single afternoon, while others may need months of refining. Be patient with yourself and your bandmates. After all, the ultimate goal is to create music that resonates with your audience and truly represents your band.

Step 3. Find Music Rehearsal Space

Before you can even think about rocking the local music scene, you'll need to find a suitable rehearsal space. This is where you'll hone your skills, refine your setlist, and develop your unique sound as a band. It's important to find a space that's accessible to all band members, offers enough room for equipment, and where noise won't be an issue.

Where to Find Practice Space

Consider local music studios that offer rehearsal rooms, community centers, or even a spacious garage. You could also explore self-storage facilities, which often have affordable units large enough for a band. Make sure the place you choose can handle the noise and offers enough privacy for productive sessions.

Practice Schedule and Commitment

Once you've secured a rehearsal space, it's time to get serious about scheduling. A band is only as strong as its most inconsistent member, so it's crucial that everyone is on the same page. Establish a regular rehearsal schedule that works for all band members, and make sure everyone is committed to showing up and giving their all. Remember, consistency is key to progress. Missed rehearsals not only slow down the band's development but can also lead to tension within the group. Set your expectations high and hold each other accountable. This way, you'll all be ready to dominate the local scene when the time comes.

Step 4. Musician Branding

Creating a Band Name

Choosing the right band name is one of the fun parts of learning how to start a band, and a pivotal step in establishing your identity. The band's name should be memorable, easy to pronounce, and ideally, reflect the music and image you want to project. It's your brand and will be the first impression for potential listeners. It needs to roll off the tongue with ease, and not be so obscure that people have a hard time Googling it. Take time to brainstorm ideas, make sure the name isn't already in use, and once you settle on one, start using it consistently across all your platforms.

Creating a Band Logo

Iconic logos like the Rolling Stones' tongue and lips or Daft Punk's stylized helmets are instantly recognizable and have become synonymous with the bands themselves. Having a great logo is a significant aspect of a band's identity. However, creating a logo that embodies your band's essence and appeals to your audience can be challenging, especially if your artistic skills don't quite match your musical ones.

The Rolling Stones logo svg
The Rolling Stones' iconic logo, designed by John Pasche

But don't worry - this is where professional graphic designers come in. They can take your ideas and translate them into a visual representation that suits your band's image. Remember, your logo will be your band's visual identifier, so it's worth investing time and resources to get it right.

Daft Punk logo
Logo of the French Electronic duo Daft Punk

Creating a Band Website

In today's digital era, having a dedicated band website is an essential part of how to start a band. This is your band's home base online, where fans and potential booking agents can find all they need to know about you. Your website should be a well-organized, visually appealing showcase of your music, photos, performance videos, and upcoming show schedule. It should also provide links to your social media profiles to encourage visitor engagement. If web design isn't your forte, consider hiring a professional or using a website builder tailored to musicians. A well-crafted website can greatly enhance your online presence and your band's visibility.

Creating a Band EPK

An Electronic Press Kit (EPK) is a professional music resume that provides promoters, venue owners, and media professionals with key information about your band. An EPK typically includes high-resolution band photos, a biography, press releases, music samples, videos, and a list of past performances. An EPK helps secure gigs and media coverage, as it provides all the necessary information in one easy-to-access digital package. It's like a business card, portfolio, and promotional brochure rolled into one. As with your logo and website, investing time and resources into a professional-looking EPK can significantly boost your band's reputation and appeal to industry professionals. For more EPK info, click here to read our article breaking down everything you need to know about how to create one.

In part 2 of this article titled "Music in the Digital Age" we cover everything you need to create a strong logo, online identity, website and EPK, regardless of your budget.

Step 5. Obtaining Band Equipment

Sebbi strauch f8i4 C6e JV3c unsplash

Performing live requires a lot of equipment. The larger the event, the more you need. Some venues have their own sound system that musicians can use, but in my experience, the majority do not. If you want to start a band that can stay active and play anywhere, you need to invest in all of your own equipment.

There are also options for renting equipment, and for larger events like festivals it is pretty common to do so. Big events often need proper staging, lighting, even insurance, and therefore often pay quite a bit more knowing bands will have these additional expenses. Restaurants and bars however, have much smaller budgets, and rarely have their own music equipment. It doesn't make sense financially to rent equipment for shows like this regularly. They'll expect you to bring everything you need in order to book you.

What Equipment Do You Need to Start a Band?

In most bands there is individually owned equipment and shared equipment. The shared gear is usually just your PA system. And then each musician is responsible for everything else needed for their specific instrument. For example, a lead guitarist will have their own guitars, amp, pedal/effects, and whatever else they need leading up to the connection into the mixer. Likewise a drummer will have their own drum kit and any mics needed to connect to the mixer.

The purchase of a PA system as well as how it is transported and setup, is often a shared responsibility since every member of the band needs to use it. How you fund this can be done a couple of different ways. But it's important to come to a firm agreement on who has ownership, because if a member leaves they will want to recoup these costs. Once that is decided, each member can chip in to purchase it, or you can use the profits from a couple shows. 

The most common components of a PA system that you will need is:

  • Mixer/Soundboard
  • Amplifiers (only needed if using passive speakers)
  • 2 Main Speakers
  • 1-2 Subwoofer Speakers (2 are needed for outdoor and larger events)
  • Monitor Speakers as needed (1-3 floor speakers or an in-ear monitor system)
  • Microphones, direct boxes, cables, accessories, etc

What Equipment Maintenance Is Needed for a Band?

Maintaining your band's equipment is an often overlooked part of how to start a band, yet crucial aspect of a successful music operation. Regular maintenance ensures optimal sound quality, prolongs the lifespan of your gear, and prevents unexpected malfunctions during performances. This includes regular cleaning, making necessary repairs, changing strings, tuning instruments, and updating software for digital equipment.

While regular maintenance can prevent most issues, equipment can sometimes fail unexpectedly. Therefore, it's wise to budget for potential replacements or repairs. Remember, the condition of your equipment can significantly impact the quality of your performances, so consider equipment maintenance an investment in your band's future.

Step 6. Obtain Stage Lighting and Effects

Ryan ancill Ky By78c1lww unsplash

Lighting isn't mandatory, but it is necessary for playing outdoors at venues that aren't well-lit. It also adds flare to your stage appearance, creating ambiance and excitement, spotlighting certain band members, and illuminating the dance floor. Remember, keeping the audience engaged is priority number one! So, you'll want the dance floor to appear as an extension of your band.

Some bands also like to use effects like smoke machines. These can add a fun punch to your performance but are by no means mandatory. And effects like this tend to vary depending on the music genre and personal preference.

If the venue is a club or concert hall, they might already have a stage, sound system, and their own lighting, significantly easing your load-in and load-out process. But, the vast majority of places you'll perform at will lack adequate lighting. Without your own lights, you might end up barely visible or, worse...completely in the dark!

Step 7. Finding Music Gigs

Trying to find gigs as a new musician without many contacts can be a daunting task. But unless you have a manager or booking agent, you are your band's salesmen. If you don't do it, nobody will. The internet provides some useful ways to automate this process, which we'll discuss, but eventually you just have to roll up your sleeves and start talking to people. But before you do, make sure you are ready. I can not stress this enough... Do NOT book a gig until your band is comfortable and competent performing live. Playing before you're ready can wreck your confidence and burn your bridges with venues. People will notice and may even call you out on it if you're nervous to the point that you're fumbling your instruments, forgetting lines and parts, or stopping or starting over because you don't know how to improvise your way out of a mistake. You don't have to be perfect, no show ever is. But you need to be able to play 40 to 50 songs back to back without hesitation.

Play your first shows at a party, not a professional establishment. Family, friends, co-workers, or neighborhood get togethers are great places to iron out the wrinkles and test your newfound musical prowess. People you know will go easier on you then a room full of drunk strangers. Get some honest feedback. If you feel good about it and everyone is saying you rocked, then you're ready to take stage at a professional establishment. But if it doesn't go well, then you can take a step back and continue working on your set lists, without having burned any bridges.

How to Get Music Gigs

1. Create a list of places you'd like to play. Places that have opened recently are a great place to start because they won't have established relationships with other music acts yet. Venues that have been around for awhile are more difficult to get into because they tend to stick with acts they already know.

2. Email each of these places 2-3 times. Tell them your intentions and include links to your website, EPK and compilation video. But don't expect many replies. Emails are easy, so you have to try. But they're also a blackhole. And the email addresses you find on venue websites usually doesn't even go to the person that books shows.

3. Call each of these places. Ask to speak with the manager or whoever is responsible for booking. Get their email so you now have legit contact information, and send them your website, EPK and video. You don't want to be obnoxious, so give them about a week to respond. If they don't reply, call them back. The squeaky wheel gets the grease!

4. Walk-ins are even better. Ask for the manager or person responsible for booking bands, and repeat everything in step 3, except this time you’ll be putting a face to the picture. If you had business cards made, make sure to give them one. Keep some business cards on you, and make this a part of your weekly routine. If you go to a restaurant or bar that has live music on your lunch break or after work, use the opportunity to tell the manager about your band and hand them a card.

5. Look for booking information on festival or local event websites. These types of shows are great to play because they pay really well, aren't scheduled very late, and often have large audiences. But they can be difficult to book. If booking information is on their website then you'll have a lot of competition, and it may even be booked years in advance. If it's not, then a nearby venue owner and/or local government representative is usually responsible for organizing them. Once you have contacts at venues, if there's a festival or large event in that area, make sure to ask if they can put you in contact with whoever coordinates it.

6. Sign-up for an event planning services like Gig Salad. Some event and corporate party planners only use platforms like Gig Masters or Gig Salad to book bands. These platforms can get you legit shows, but it's hard to get traction when you're new on them with no reputation or reviews. If you choose to use one you'll likely have to start with some cheaper shows to get some positive experience posted about you, and work your way up to higher paying events. Make sure to stay active and respond fast. Replying before your competition can make the difference in getting the gig. These services also have options to create an electronic press kit. So if you don't have one on your website, you can use the one you create there in your online and email marketing materials.

Step 8. Digital Music Marketing

Alexander shatov mr4 JG4 SYOF8 unsplash

The internet has drastically transformed how to start a band with music marketing over the past 20 years, allowing musicians to reach global audiences from the comfort of their home studios. Whether you're a composer writing original music, or a cover band trying to book local venues, digital marketing is the game-changer you need!

With sections dedicated to marketing, social media, and finance, Band Pioneer is chock-full of resources to help you transform your music hobby, into a lucrative business. Here are some resources to guide you in this essential journey:

Step 9. Create a Band Partnership Agreement

Starting a band can be a ton of fun, but having fun doesn't mean you can overlook the legal aspects. Establishing a Band Partnership Agreement can save you a world of trouble down the line. This document delineates the responsibilities, rights, and profit shares of each band member. Remember, your band is not just a creative endeavor—it's a business. Having clear agreements in place can help prevent disputes and ensure everyone is on the same page about their commitment and expectations. 

Step 10. Enjoy the Ride!

Starting a band is a thrilling adventure, often demanding as much patience as it does passion. Success might not happen instantly, but with consistent effort it will come in due time. In the meantime, focus on creating cohesion and camaraderie among bandmembers, appreciating each other's individual journeys, and working through your inevitable differences.

Above all, never lose sight of the fun! The music industry can be tough, and achieving band success is no small feat. But the joy of playing music and the bond you share with fellow musicians outshines the challenges. Cherish these moments while they last, and enjoy the ride!

This article focused on the tangible steps of How to Create a Band. The next article in this series, How to Start a Band in the Digital Age, focuses on the digital steps, and is every bit as important! By following the steps in both of these articles, your band will will have a comprehensive plan for success, socially and financially.

Leave a Reply!

Joe

Respectfully, as a musician for over 50 years, I cannot believe that social media is a thing. It is horrible for marketing. Trust me, the youngins keep on calling me "Skibidi," and I have no idea what it means! Stay away from that as a marketing strategy.

Joe Kiser

Nah. Being able to do duets, music videos, live sessions, etc, from your phone, and showcase them to thousands of viewers worldwide. There was nothing like that when I was coming up. We'd put thousand of flyers across town just to get a few extra people to a show.

Thomas Clarence

You made an interesting point when you mentioned that starting a band can be a thrilling adventure. With that in mind, I would think that it would be a good idea to attend local concerts so that you can talk to other bands. Talking to other band members seems like a good way to get some tips on how to start yours. https://samsaranyc.com/about

Jürgen

Wie kann man in einer Band Musik machen und Geld verdienen in Europa?

Jane Conners

Establishing a successful band requires more than just musical skill. Especially in the modern music industry. You must have strategy, marketing, and bridge the gap between artistic passion and the business aspects. Few musician swant to think about that, but it's fact.

Joe Kiser

Great info. Most kids jump into music without a clue what it takes to succeed. Wish I had guidance like this back in the 90s!

Keep Reading!