How To Find Musicians
An earlier version of this article first appeared in Acoustic Guitar Magazine
You've been singing for awhile now, you've developed a technique and style that works for you, your confidence is high, and you just need one thing before you hit that jam session, stage or studio: other musicians! Finding musicians to play with is like finding a combination of the perfect job and the perfect mate. Finding someone you get along with can be hard enough, but to find someone (or ones) who shares your artistic taste, your vision, your dedication, and your schedule can be a daunting task. Luckily, the world is packed with musicians who are probably looking for you. If you can put the time and thought into your search it's probably just a matter of time until you find your musical mate(s). Here are some steps that can help:
Before You Start Your Search
- Get prepared. What are you going to say to the bass player you meet at Borders who asks you what you do? Can you describe the music you like and what your abilities are in an easy soundbite? "I'm a belter and I want to put together an acoustic Nirvana cover band." Keep it simple. The bassist may not be right for you but a friend of hers might be, so you want something easy to remember. No one likes to pigeonhole themselves (we're all originals, aren't we?) but try to put yourself in a ballpark.
- What do you want? A guitarist at your level with whom you can jam? A band that is dedicated to getting a record deal? A once-a-week casual jazz gig at the corner coffeehouse? Get very clear about your goals. The clearer you are, the less chance you'll be sidetracked by musicians who aren't right for you.
- What can you offer? Musicians will play with you for a variety of reasons. It's pretty easy to lure musicians to a jam session (many are known to follow the scent of free beer and chips), but securing the level of committment required for starting and maintaining a band is quite another matter. Some players have a "no pay, no play" rule. For many a struggling artist this may be a deal breaker. But paying your musicians does have a definite advantage: you get to be in charge. She or he who signs the checks calls the tunes. If you want musicians to play for free, however, you may need to offer them something else. If you write all the songs, are you willing to split future royalties with the band? Do you have a lead on a paying gig? Great contacts? Don't be discouraged if all you have is talent, vision, and drive - a dream and a well thought out plan can be very seductive. Be honest: I have voice students who have found musicians by saying something like "I have no track record, I've never performed, but I've studied voice for two years and my teacher says I'm great."
- Get Organized. The first thing that's said when two musicians get together to play is "So what do you know, dude?" Make a list of the songs you do. Get sheet music or chord charts in your key and gather them into a folder. Make copies.
If you're doing original music, record a CD of it if you can. A CD is also handy if you sing cover songs. Many musicians will want to hear your voice and/or your songs before agreeing to play with you. Think of this CD as your calling card, and pass it out to any potential musicians. Don't spend too much money on this pre-demo CD; a guitar/vocal or piano/vocal CD will get your voice and songs across sufficiently, and many producer/engineer/musicians can help you record one for cheap. If your songs aren't finished, get your lyric scraps together in a notebook, so you have something to show future collaborators. If you have the money and determination, another avenue is to record a more elaborate demo that more clearly shows your musical vision and abilities. You'll have something splashier to show prospective musicians, and you can use it to market yourself before you've found them. The world is filled with producer/engineers who have their own studios, and they usually have a stable of musicians they can use for their projects. Lastly, make a list of any relevant contacts you have: photographers, booking agents, graphic artists, etc.
- Where will you compromise? Your dream band can readily be found. . . in your dreams. The real world usually offers up something less. Will you join a band that loves your singing but refuses to play your songs? What if you find the perfect band but they want you to only sing back-up vocals? What if that great guitarist can only rehearse Sundays from 3 to 4 o'clock? You want to be flexible without getting stuck in a situation that's worlds away from your goal. Know ahead of time what your limits are.
One of the best things about going out is that you'll meet and befriend other singers. They may not all share your exact musical goals or abilities, but there's nothing like being part of a community of singers to keep you happy and on track throughout your musical search and beyond.
A final inspirational story: when I moved to LA years ago I knew exactly three people in town. I immediately sent my demo CD to the local music paper's demo review columnist, then waited eight months for the review to appear. During that time I went to every open mic and club I could find. (By the way, you'll meet more people if you go by yourself.) I met my future bass player at an open mic and my future co-producer at a club. My demo was finally reviewed the following summer and I subsequently received a call from a producer/engineer/guitarist who'd read the review and liked my material enough to offer me spec studio time to record my first album. While recording the album we formed a band, started dating, and later got married. So get motivated, get organized, get out there and good luck!
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