I recently completed watching the amazing Masterclass by Metallica called, Metallica Teaches Being a Band, on http://www.masterclass.com. What an excellent series of lessons on how to operate as a band, including lessons on song writing and showmanship. It would be totally presumptuous of me to try to offer advice on the same level as a multi platinum band that has been recording and performing for four decades. A band which has sold millions of albums and sold out countless shows around the world. But I’ve been in a couple of bands, have played live for years and I am currently in a band, so I do have some my own insights to share.
By the way, I highly recommend checking out the Metallica Masterclass, even if you’re not a fan of their music. They have some invaluable advice to share, gained over 40 years of hard knocks, trials and tribulations, tragedy, and immense success.
I think this is the most important part of being in any sort of group, band, or team. You will be dealing with different personality types, different worldviews, and different levels of experience and knowledge. You must recognize that we’re not all the same and that everyone has something to contribute – otherwise, why are you on the same team? I am as guilty of this as anyone but in a group setting, you must tame your ego and sometimes bite your tongue. Not everyone is as enamoured with your opinion as you are, so be humble enough to realize this. Dale Carnegie’s advice of using your ears and your mouth in the same proportion as you were born with is very pertinent in this type of group setting.
You will be spending several hours with the same people, in a relatively small space, so you will have to be able to live with one another in some semblance of harmony. Empathy and understanding are extremely important. Being open to other members’ suggestions is also important. And being honest enough to express your opinion, in a respectful way, without belittling them, is just as important.
Another element of patience is remembering that we don’t all learn the same way. We also don’t all hear music the same way or like the same music. Empathy and understanding go a long way to smoothing the path is this regard as well.
Everybody is busy and everybody has their own life to live but do yourself, your bandmates and the band project itself a favour – practice your fucking parts. It’s really irritating being in a band when one or more of your bandmates come to practice unprepared. Sure, ask questions if you’re stumped by a part of one of your songs. Look for guidance; we’re all grownups and we’re all willing to help but, seriously, come prepared or don’t come at all. And if you’re behind on practicing some of the songs, be honest and say so up front. We can always move onto the next one.
Practicing as a band is essential too. Practice the way you intend to play live so you don’t get surprised when you’re on stage. There’s nothing more embarrassing than playing a song in front of an audience that you’re not very familiar with, and that you haven’t practiced as band. If you think you can fake it front of a live audience, think again. Most people will be able to tell that you’re not prepared to play that particular song.
I am fortunate to be in a band where we’re all relatively serious and really don’t mess around very much. Sure, we have fun, joke around, and tease one another, as guys always do, but we’re all committed to having productive practices and all share in a desire to having a successful band. Being focused, having a plan, and being serious about creating good music together is key. Bear in mind though that being serious is not the same as being solemn. It just means you care enough about the project to not waste time during practice.
Not every practice will go your way. Not every show will be one to remember (for the right reasons). And not every recording session will turn out the way you wanted it to. You may argue, disagree or even fight from time to time. Don’t make it personal or else your band will be doomed, and you might damage or lose good friendships in the process.
With a positive end-goal in mind; with everyone rowing together in the same direction, more or less (we are all crazy creatives after all); and with empathy and charity to your bandmates, you should be able to overcome these obstacles that WILL come your way, sooner or later. Keep it positive and happy, and above all, have fun. Even if you are trying to make money from your band, if it’s not fun, what’s the point?
Bonus tip: Self-evaluation
Below is a video of song we played during our most recent practice.
The feedback I received was that my bass was too loud. Looking back at the video a few times, I now realize that criticism is valid – something to be vigilant about next time. Which leads to an important consideration: recording yourself playing, either by video or just by sound is a good way to spot deficiencies in your playing as a band. You will also spot good things too – I hope. Either way is a good way to monitor your progress, but reviewing video, similar to the way sports teams review video of the games they play and of their practices, is very revealing. The camera and the microphone don’t lie.
With honesty and humility, this kind of review will help you improve as a musician, individually as a bandmate, and collectively as a band. I sincerely hope that these tips and pointers will help you on your musical journey.
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