Leading A Band: Part 1 of 10

In this 25-part series, I’ll tell you how to lead a band. It’s that simple. How to control the dynamics, the setlist, the musical direction and focus of a band. This is part one.

Part One: Your Ego.

Grow a thick skin ladies.

If you’re going to get onstage and play an instrument or sing, you’re going to face the criticisms of everyone. Your worst critic, if you’re lucky, is going to be yourself. But I’m not talking about that. No. I’m talking about somebody else pissing and moaning that you, your talent, your creativity, are somehow open to discussion.

It’s not. If you open it for discussion, you’ll first need to get your ass off the stage. The stage is the place you go when it’s time to play.

I think I’m getting ahead of myself. Or maybe behind myself.

Let’s start with the moment you decide to do Your Own Thing. Either you’ve played in other bands, or you’ve spent years, or days, honing your craft and you’re ready to do something with it. But you can’t find a collection of people already doing the thing you want to do.

What do you do?

You lead your own band. You tell the other musicians what to play, how to play it. I’m not talking about a note-by-note detailing of every part of every song. Very few bar band musicians want to be told what exactly to play.

But most supporting musicians, (those in YOUR band) need to get a basic idea. Either a reference to another song, (GOD HELP YOU if you’re trying to do an exact cover of a song. Are you? If you said yes, just, just lie to me and say “no! I am creative enough that I want to put my musk stain all over that song!”), or perhaps reference a mood or a vibe.

Sometimes, you just have to break it down like that for a song – tell the band to build it up to this moment, then explode, and then artistically smoke a cigarette for the back half of the song.

But long before you get to that moment, you, the band leader, must have that vision for the thing. The Stones wanted to play authentic blues, the Kinks wanted to play authentic Stones, Bruno Mars wants to play authentic Michael Jackson. Whatever it is, always ask yourself if your song selection, your musician selection and your musical direction is true to that vision.

Your band can mix originals and covers, polka and punk, as long as the delivery of those tunes remains dedicated to your vision. YOUR vision. If you have musicians in your band who aren’t willing to follow a visionary, wish them the best of luck, send them on their way.

A band that’s an honest-to-god even-voiced democracy is one of the most frustrating things to be a part of. Nobody wants to say no, nobody wants to say yes, everybody wants to be sure everybody else wants to do the same thing, so you end up like Chip N Dale spending 45 minutes going, “oh after you!”, “no, I insist! You first!”

So let me back up on my back up. If you are not the leader of the band, have faith in your leader’s vision. Or get out. If you lead a band, and then go play sideman in another band, know your place in these two.

Jesus I’m just rambling jackassery things now.

I’ll write more when I’m sober.