About a year ago I felt the pull of wanting to perform my own songs live. I’ve never been naturally inclined toward performance. Instead, I’ve written song after song fueled by some unknown urgency to join music and lyrics. But after 10 years off from having a band, I was ready to start again from scratch. Here is roughly how I did it.
1. I made a list of songs I wanted to play
First I made a list of songs that I could picture playing live. The list was about 15 songs and included both originals and covers. A theme of “ska” began to emerge, even though many of the songs were outside of the ska genre. I began making setlists, and listing to the tracks trying to envision the type of instrumentation needed.
2. I began rounding up players
I started by posting an ad on Craigslist that led to jam sessions with several drummers and bass players. I made recordings of the jam sessions with my iphone, and sometimes using ProTools so that I could listen back later and find out who and what was working well (or not). The jam sessions centered on four key songs that I felt represented the range of music I wanted to play. I probably jammed with different folks about 10 times.
3. I gave up on Craigslist and invited friends into the band
It turns out that my friends are better musicians than most of the people I happened to meet by posting ads on Craigslist. Through my friendship network I was able to find an amazing bassist and drummer. I guess I had to dead-end with strangers before I was ready to embrace my friends again. I think it was insecurity, and not wanting to depend on anyone for favors. I misguidedly thought that recruiting strangers would alleviate that concern, but it turned out my friends were both enthusiastic and dedicated to my new cause.
4. I wrote horn charts
I decided to have a small horn section in the band in addition to drums, bass, and guitar and vocals (that’s me). Horn players are notoriously busy, often playing in several bands at once. I thought that having charts for horns would allow me the flexibility to player with different horn players as needed. I began charting out horn parts using Cubase and then exporting the midi parts into Finale. At first my friend James Gregg did most of the translating into Finale, but later I became more confident and began creating my own charts from scratch.
5. I had 72 t-shirts printed (optional)
This was a personal touch. Nothing says “the band is real” like some quality silkscreened t-shirts. My nephew designed a band logo, and I had the logo printed by a loca company on a small run of 72 shirts.
6. I recruited two horn players
If you know one horn player, you can meet all of them. My friend Bruce was willing to play baritone sax, and he knew a guy named Willie who might be interested in playing tenor. As I listened to them run through the charts for the first time, I was sensed an epiphany: Previously, I would rehearse a new set of songs with a band for weeks. Horn players can do it in one rehearsal.
7. I booked a show several months out
It took some begging, but after calling and emailing several venues I finally found one that would give a brand new band a shot. I immediately began spreading the word on social media.
8. We rehearsed about six times
The upcoming show provide the perfect fire under our asses. Not wanting to embarrass ourselves, we worked hard to dial in our 13 song set.
9. We played our first show
It wasn’t perfect, but we had a great first show with an amazing outpouring of support from our friends and fans of my former projects.
10. We booked more shows and posted videos