You’re starting from scratch. You have an instrument, friends who also have instruments, a place to make a lot of noise, and a dream… now what? You all want to make good music. You all have opinions. You all want the same number of people who entered the band room to leave the band room alive. Here’s some things I’ve found helpful to establish at a first band practice:
Influences – this is the cornerstone of any band, and can let you know pretty quickly if there’s any sort of compatibility… as weird/corny as it sounds, think of a first band practice like a first date: you’re trying to find out if there’s anything in common and if it’s worth continuing. If one person is dead set on prog rock and another is hell bent on death metal, you can either form a prog-death metal band or, more likely scenario, those two people should be in different bands.
If you find a few common influences, it’s a great starting point. While you should never go out and say “I want this band to sound exactly like (insert artist)”, it helps establish the overall vibe you’ll work toward by saying you like the sound of (artist) or (artist), then over time find a way to make it your own.
It should also be mentioned here that you don’t need to start writing on day one. Sometimes starting off with a cover song or two lets you see how you work together, and will also serve to establish that foundation. You can look back and say yeah, we learned that song as a full band (go team!), and kind of builds morale early (this is something I wish I had known many many bands ago – if you push writing too quickly, the band falls pretty quickly too)
Collaborating styles – you want to get an idea early on of how each member functions and how to best work with that, changing their styles as little as possible… if possible. For example, some guitar players are very good with just jamming out and coming up with riffs on the fly and kind of wing it. Others usually need to take an idea home, go over the details solo, and come back to practice with a finely tuned riff.
These should be handled in very different ways: if you have a guitar player who is a riff machine, invest in a crappy boombox or something with recording capability, put it in the room, hit record, and let him go to town. You can always go back over the tape at a later time to see what was good and what wasn’t. I’ve worked with a guitar player who forgot more good riffs than I had ever written, and we found this the best way to deal with that. Conversely if someone is of the second type, don’t expect them to come up with gold on the spot. In all likelihood you’ll just waste practice time and also make them uncomfortable.
Remember: it’s only when you let each member collaborate in their own style and NOTHING comes out of it that you should start to be concerned.
Expectations from each person – it doesn’t hurt to lay the ground rules early on. If someone in the band is constantly below your expectations then, well, it’s kind of your fault for not making them known. Establish the basics:
-how many practice days a week will you aim for?
-Which days can everyone meet?
-Do any members have fluctuating work schedules?
-How will you stay in contact with each other? (side note: always a good idea to make a sheet with everyone’s cell and email addresses, and make sure each person has a copy)
-How many days in advance should a member try to let everyone know if they can’t make a practice? (with the obvious emergency situations not factoring in here… one time we had a drummer who was running an hour late for his audition, only to get a call from him and look out our practice space window to see that he had wrecked about a half mile away. He was fine, and obviously the punctuality thing wasn’t a factor in this situation)
Expectations from the band as a whole – this is one that often goes ignored, and acts as a ticking timebomb for band implosions. Some members of the band may want to quit their day jobs, tour the world, and sell a million albums. Others may see this as a creative outlet and just a fun hobby. And some may just want chicks.
It’s important to get this out of the way early on, and figure out what each member wants to do with this thing you’re collectively creating, because the conversation gets much harder down the road. Imagine if you were on the verge of signing a record deal only to find out half the band never had any intentions of going on tour… see the dilemma?
Member Roles: Finally, figure out the roles of each member (but this is also something you can kind of ease into). For example, some members might be better at handling the finances, some better at booking shows and interacting with other bands, some better at writing the foundations for a song, etc.
… and there is always someone who needs to be kind of the band a-hole, and make sure things are staying on track. If no one else is stepping up after a few practices and your band’s kind of wandering aimlessly, well then buddy, it may just need to be you. It’s not so bad. If you’re wondering if I’ve ever been in that situation, I’ll answer that with a question: how do you think I was able to write this so easily?