40 Bands Speak Up: “What You Wish You Had Known Before Starting A Band”
Think back to the moment you decided to start at band. Remember how difficult it was to find the right band members? Googling “join a band” or “wanted band members” Recall naming your band, endless rehearsals, and first shows. What would you tell your younger self now? To kick off the Heat On The Street blog, I reached out to some up and coming bands and asked them one question.
“What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started a band?”
I was curious to see what topics would come up the most, and I’m willing to bet you are too. Thankfully our panel of bands delivered big time. If you haven’t started a band yet, what follows will surely be golden advice for you. And if you’re already on your way, you will definitely learn something new. By far most of our respondents wish they knew more about the business and financial aspects. I was impressed by their passion for the craft and commitment to building relationships (and fans). I’ve grouped their responses into these categories.
- Music Business Knowledge
- Songwriting and Music
- Relationships and Networking
- The Expenses of Running a Band
- Unforeseen Passion
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What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started a band?
Music Business Knowledge
“All the aspects of running an independent band as a business. It is not only important to invest in your yourself, in all aspects, such as quality recordings, promotion, transportation, and marketing/press, but to make sure you don’t overextend yourself financially and work within your budget. The more effectively you can run your band as a business, the further along you can push yourself independently while also staying out of debt and surviving financially.” – Awake At Last
“I wish I had known more about the music business when starting a band. I feel this would’ve helped me reach some of my goals quicker. I started Small Talks with the end goal of taking it as far as we possibly can, and reaching as many people as we can, but I did not bother to do any studying on the music business. My main focus was making music that could reach people emotionally and entertaining an audience. I wanted to help them find a safe place and escape reality. So the business side of music is almost a whole new language for me. After signing to Common Ground Records we were taken into a whirlwind of great opportunities requiring me to think like a business owner rather than an artist. I wish I had seen the similarities in a professional band and a business earlier in our start!” – Small Talks
“You can’t just trust anybody’s word on doing something for your band. A lot of letdowns happen throughout the years and you learn quickly that it’s very much so. A band has to make a name for themselves. If you want something done you just gotta have a do it yourself sort of mentality.” – Colossal Dream
“I wish I understood how to sell, promote and market my own band’s music DIY before starting out. That would have saved a lot of time and money if I knew fully how to do these things myself, rather than pay someone claiming to be a “manager” or “producer”.” – Alive In The Night
“How much time we really would be putting into this project. Each one of us has a full-time, corporate job and many other things we do day-to-day. Chase is about to get married and in another band. Curtis has a wife and kid. Ben is married and in college part-time. We devote a lot of time to each detail of Parallel Colors, as we are a completely DIY band. Everything, including the promotion, booking, recording, mixing, mastering, merchandise designs and order fulfillment, logo and album art designs were done in house by one of us.” Ben – Parallel Colors
“You can’t do it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who is clearly doing something right and say “hey, how did you do that?” Because that’s how you learn and get better and then eventually you’re able to pass it on to other bands. Embrace the community in your music scene.” – Gianni – Baseline
“Band image. The internet has become a big part of the industry, and if you can’t keep up you are sure to fall behind. The music a band puts out still weighs heavily on listeners but if you don’t have a consistent image to match, it could be a waste. The music should never be put on the back burner but if they would like to continue with a following a defined image is necessary. It is a case by case for certain bands but to those who want stay relevant you have to stay up to date In our technological age.” – Zachary – Ocean Of Illusions
“It’s hard finding the right group of people to write and play music with. With the right group you can really push yourself and the band far. But with even one member that doesn’t fit well can really bring a bands progress down.” – Know The Ropes
“The one thing in prior bands that I wish I would have realized sooner is that you need to have a clear concise vision for everything you do, and you need to have a quick way of coming to those conclusions. I think every band is different, but you have to figure out where everyone stands in the decision making process. Is one person going to make all the creative and business choices or is it going to be a democratic process where everyone gets a vote? Things will run exponentially smoother if you can figure that out early in a bands life. I definitely took those lessons from past bands when starting Summer Wars.” – Tripp – Summer Wars
“I feel like “Knowing how the music industry works” would have been a HUGE question. And by this I mean how do small local band’s get discovered, or how to get signed, or how to build your band and music into a business. I have been in and out of bands for quite some time, and I’ve had the honor of learning all of these things from band’s we’ve played with or knowing people who have accomplished these things.” – Neil – Truth In Time
“As a band, we all collectively wish we had known many different aspects of the business side of music. The biggest element of the business side of music that we have encountered is the legality of our endeavors. We have quickly learned to cover ourselves with a contract for virtually everything related to the band, whether it be guests visiting practice or graphic designers creating our artwork. Through such experiences, we have also realized that to stay productive both musically and business-wise, band members need to essentially be a family and work together collectively through anything. No matter what, band members need to trust each other and be respectful.” – Forward Order
“Staying organized. Delegating responsibilities within the band in order to not overwhelm one another. Do your research! Stay educated on how much things actually cost. Research producers, merch, etc. Set small short term goals. The bigger ones start to happen a bit more natural. Set things up behind the scenes, keep it simple, pay attention to detail! Write good song.” “And for the love of God, please make weekly practices a thing! (Write Good Songs).” – In Memory Of
“In today’s world, especially in the oversaturated entertainment business, it is getting harder and harder each and every day to stand out in the sea of bands…” “The immense personal sacrifices, financial investments and struggle bands need to face in order to build a name and success are not an overnight thing.” “Having a strong foundation for the band since day one is beyond crucial. Most bands have the misconception that labels, managers or agents will be the instant game changer in their career….” ”I have learned from my past experiences that we the artists have control. If you work very hard, write really great music and invest time and money in your material, marketing and shows, you may actually have a chance…” “Best Advice I can give you is treat your band like a professional business and as long as you write great music that people can relate to, you will have a career.” – Gus Sinaro – Sinaro
“You have to put in 200% effort and dedicate time. You have to treat this like a job and take it seriously to move forward and hopefully take it somewhere.” – The Epitome
“How much of an investment it is. And that no one just “discovers” your band these days anymore and decides to turn you into rockstars. You have to earn your stripes.” – Tiaday – The World Over
“Do any and everything you can, to take care of the legal side ASAP, if you are going to be serious about doing this for the rest of your lives, and do everything with a contract.” “Secondly, whether you are playing a 10 person crowd at a bar that has no personal care for what you are doing, or playing a 10,000 count festival, you give your all on that stage. Every single “gig” should be treated with that respect. If you only make one fan of your product for your efforts, you have still done your job. That one fan has the potential to become exponential and help get your product to more eyes and ears.” – Follow The Awakened
“How much promoting plays a big role in the music industry today.” – Craig – For The Better
Songwriting and Music
“How to write a song. Would have saved me years of trying to make people like all the dozens and dozens of awful songs I made at first.” – Head North
“Music theory! And also that Slovenia has multiple types of vignettes so that you don’t buy the wrong one and get fined when you go there on tour. But in all seriousness, the one thing we wish we knew would probably be that the one who ends up winning is the one who thinks he can.” – Awake The Dreamer
“I’m actually glad that I went into starting a band with the exact knowledge that I did or else I might have become disenchanted with it early on. I guess if I had to pick one thing that I wish I knew before starting a band was more about music itself. Theory, more guitar chords, how to play more instruments, etc.” – Tank – Energy
These guys had a lot to say, and I couldn’t let good advice go to waste.
On writing: “Just write (and general life fact – just get shit done and master your craft). Write as much as you can and OFTEN; someone once asked me “If two people were asked to create the best painting in a month; and one spent all their time researching to paint only one, and the other created a new painting every single day – who would have the best one?” That stuck with me. You can learn everything you may need, but it doesn’t mean shit until you apply it or you define who YOU are – you truly learn through trial and error.” Brett – The New Pacific
On money: “Spend less to earn more – this really stuck with me. Need a new piece of gear? Buy used shit! Almost all of my equipment is used and I’m proud of it. I get it’s not always an option to get paid at shows, but at least try to get gas money for a guarantee.” Brett – The New Pacific
On booking shows: “Want to play that band you love, but they aren’t playing your town – or the closest promoter never emails you back? Book it your damn self. Unless your favorite band is AC/DC, it’s actually a lot easier than you think to book, promote, and run your own show. Find a local VFW to rent, do some warm up shows with some friends bands, and then once you get some consistent attendees – reach out to some booking agents! Start small and work up.” – Brett – The New Pacific
On band mates: “Try to have similar goals, or else what’s the point? Be a leader. Don’t know how to do something or get it done? Be the person who figures it out. Send emails, ask questions, read books.” – Brett – The New Pacific
On your ears: “Oh, also don’t be an idiot. Wear earplugs. I’m constantly plagued with saying “what?” and “huh?” – Brett – The New Pacific
Relationships and Networking
“Every member’s willingness to maintain and nurture the relationships with their bandmates matters just as much as their musical abilities. That also involves being on the same page in terms of dedication and being as reliable as possible. There is nothing more frustrating than spending so much of your time on the road with someone you don’t even like anymore.” – Parting Gift
“Making a genuine connection with people is HUGE. You can only carry your band so far, and making friends and building relationships with the people who are grinding just like you is extremely rewarding. Going to shows, talking to people, investing into what other people have going on, and being active where you can is crucial. Without doing any of that, I wouldn’t be in Dead Lakes and I would be at a loss as for what to do.” -Sean Adam – Dead Lakes
“How important everything you put out as a band is to your longevity. Everything from your merch designs, to your recordings, to how you present yourself via emails and social media. When I joined my first touring band we were self produced and the recordings showed that. With Dead Lakes we have been working with top notch engineers. We had Kris Crummett mix and master our first two singles and most recently we worked with Casey Bates from start to finish on two unreleased singles. Without having quality recordings, we didn’t hear back from reputable bands, managers, and labels. It took quality product and overall branding to get the attention we were looking for.” -Sumner Peterson – Dead Lakes
“I wish I knew the importance of networking and being active in your local music scene, being a friendly face and regularly attending gigs over other local bands is a great way to create mutual interest and getting involved with venues and promoters! So if you’re just starting out, get your smiling face out there and show support for the other guys around you :)” – Shiney – Deadset Dream
“We definitely wish we would’ve known how to make more connections and gain more attention from fans and promoters alike. Also, we wish we would have known is how much it can take to get your band started. Between gear, merch, travel expenses, and production the bills add up very quickly.” – A Burden To Bear
“We all knew that we loved playing music but the icing on the cake for us was the feeling of reaching people with our music. Wish from the beginning we knew the power behind what we were trying to do in our local music scene and it has been the most amazing thing we could have ever asked to do!” – From A Broken Oath
“You have to make friends in the scene and go to local shows first to make connections and to be able to get on shows. It definitely would have made it a lot easier on us in the beginning!” – North Street
“Networking and the commitment and devotion that needs to go in to establishing a strong network of peers, professionals, and fans alike. A few of us in Elysian Drive grew up being those kids that never quite fit in with the rest of the crowd. Not just the popular opinion either. I think we all knew it ourselves on some level. Growing up with that loner/independent mindset, while it can offer a lot of time for practicing music skills, it can also adversely create a bit of a void in being able to connect effectively with the individuals who really enjoy the music you create. That kind of disassociation from social norms, in addition to coping with life after substance abuse, is a pretty covered topic throughout our debut album, “Backlash” that was released this May. These feelings are not uncommon, and it’s important that people know how much reaching out to someone can affect the world around us. Whether it be a friend, a family member, or a fan, the connections you make in life are priceless.” – Sean – Elysian Drive
“Having the knowledge of how to gain followers naturally through word of mouth, email sign ups at shows, or just having the confidence to talk to people before/after a set.” – Eurydice
The Expenses of Running a Band
“How easy and inexpensive it was to record clean DI tracks to send off for mixing and mastering. We would’ve saved a ton of time, effort and money.” – Of Tyrants
“Definitely to be financially ready for the expenses. Between the recording process, touring, and marketing your band before label support it takes a big toll on your pocket. Playing shows regularly and selling merch definitely helps but usually won’t be enough. These things are expensive and you always pay more for better quality.” – Viewpoints
“For any new band, I think what’s really underestimated is the amount of money that will have to be put into the project just to take it off of the ground. For Louder Than Words, with a limited budget, I wish we knew what investments were the smartest to take as far as promoting shows and all around marketing for the band beforehand. I also wish we knew how much being in a band would affect everyday relationships with family, friends, and whoever else that might be close to us. Nonetheless, we absolutely love what we do and we’re excited for the future of the band!” – Louder Than Words
“That it takes five members crammed inside a tiny apartment to be able to put as much money into the band as possible.” – 2 Shadows
“I do believe the one thing no one understands about being in a band is the MONEY. We put all our spare cash just to bring solid tunes to the world.” – Kopperhead
“I would have liked for someone to have told me just how addicting the whole experience of playing music is. Writing original songs, performing them live (and touring, which is its own animal entirely), and working to carve out your own niche is a ton of hard work. But it’s so rewarding even at the lower levels of the scene. I once played a show in a plywood shack with a dirt floor in the middle of the Arizona desert” “To anyone that isn’t in a band, that seems completely insane.” “But that’s how gratifying music is to me. I would play that shack a thousand times and love it every single time, just because I’d have the chance to play music.” – Outlier
“Playing in a band is full time job. It’s a lifestyle you live and breathe 24/7 if you want to accomplish anything.” – Arm The Witness
The one thing I wish I’d have known is that it IS achievable, there’s so much focus from peers that the only way to get through life is through standard career paths and that the music world is all good luck but this couldn’t be more false, it’s all about hard work and it’s all very achievable!
“How quickly it would impact my entire life and how I could react to it better.” – Tony – Cathedral Hills
“It can be tricky to find a flexible job that can pay the bills and keep food on the table, while allowing you to leave for long stretches of time. You may end up with some interesting and even lame jobs while pursuing your music, so become very comfortable with waiting tables and bartending. Occasionally you will find a reputable business job that is run by a bro that wants to help your band or someone adept enough that it becomes beneficial. Be comfortable with the idea of changing jobs frequently to comply with the amount of time you will need to chase your dreams.” – Cameron Jones – High Wire
“That being in a band comes with many selfless acts with no guarantee, each and every second of the experience is as much business oriented as it is fun and fulfilling.” – Words From Aztecs
“That patience and perseverance were crucial to the trade. I would have started a long time ago.” – David – Takers Leavers
“How unforgiving and tough the music industry can be at times, but persistence and hard work pays off.” – Good Night Irene
“The amount of dedication and sacrifice you must put into your band to make it work.” – Volition
“I wish I knew how much music/art would be under appreciated today.” – Anthony “Audiodream”
Last but not least, and to remind us that music is fun, and we have to stop and dance every once in a while, there is Static Charmer.
“One thing we wish we knew before starting the band is how to salsa dance better on stage, because people like salsa dancing, I guess.” – Static Charmer
I want to thank all the bands for contributing and responding well to this idea. What in this round-up resonates with you? Did I miss an important warning to future musicians and bands? Please share in the comments! I’d also love to read your response to the all-important question: What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started a band? If you haven’t started your band yet, what’s the biggest question in your mind before starting? This information will help to shape the future of Heat On The Street content. We’re building this resource together. Thanks for your comments.
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