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How to start a band this new year

By Alex Spencer

If you’re a lone bedroom musician armed only with an instrument and a dream, maybe this new year’s resolution will be to finally start a band. But that begs the question, how do you even start?

Help is at hand: Cambridgeshire Music - the music education service which runs a School Of Rock And Pop in four centres across the county - has just released a free guide for anyone thinking about starting their own musical outfit – whatever their preferred instrument or style. It’s full of

Cambridgeshire Music students (6151295)
Cambridgeshire Music students (6151295)

Help is at hand: Cambridgeshire Music - the music education service which runs a School Of Rock And Pop in four centres across the county - has just released a free guide for anyone thinking about starting their own musical outfit – whatever their preferred instrument or style. It’s full of practical advice about how to:

find bandmates

organise things

make the most of rehearsals

get gigs…

and even start making money.

“Starting a band is a great way to build friendships and strengthen your musical abilities while doing something you love,” Ross Wilson, Music Development Manager at Cambridgeshire Music, said.

Ross Wilson (6151313)
Ross Wilson (6151313)

“It can also be pretty infuriating if it doesn’t go right. The idea of this guide is to give young musicians and new bands some really useful, practical advice that will help them to focus on the sheer fun of making music with friends.”

Here are some of Cambridgeshire Music’s top tips for getting started:

1. Start before you think you are good enough

Cambridgeshire music student (6151277)
Cambridgeshire music student (6151277)

So what if you can’t play guitar like The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach or drum like Louise Bartle from Bloc Party? You don’t have to be a musical genius, a well-connected musician, or a natural songwriter to get started. History is littered with great bands, like The Sex Pistols and U2 (Bono says they were "A band before we could play") who barely knew one end of their instrument from the other. If you wait until you’re perfect you’ll never get going.

2. You only need three chords - at first

Plenty of famous songs only use three chords, which is great news for guitarists starting out. How about: ‘Just Like Honey’ by Jesus and the Mary Chain (G#, D#, C#), Common People by Pulp (C, G, F) and ‘If You Wanna’ by The Vaccines (C, F, G)? So you can play, and compose, great tunes knowing less than a handful of chords.

3. You don’t have to write your own songs. All sorts of acts, from the Rolling Stones to Panic! At The Disco, started out as cover artists. Some have even made a career out of it.

4. You don’t have to know lots of musicians. If you aren’t friends with other musicians, don’t worry: dig around on social media for a few minutes and you’ll find lots of useful information about the local music community, with opportunities aplenty!

5. Go to local band nights

Seek out potential collaborators at local bands nights. Suss out the local scene to find promoters who might be interested in putting you on stage, or to meet other acts who might give you a leg up with support slots at their shows.

6. You don’t need a practice space. Don’t have a massive house and/or parents who are happy for you to drop the odd cymbal down the stairs? Fear not: Cambridgeshire Music’s School of Rock & Pop can help you with practice space, and many schools will let you use a room.

7. Technology is your friend

Basic recording software like Garageband makes it easy to record tracks, enabling absent bandmates to practise virtually at home when they can’t make it to rehearsals.

6. Deal in demos

Take advantage of the fact that it’s never been easier to record and place demos online and, with a bit of effort, make money out of them as well. Recording demos gives you a calling card when trying to sell your act to promoters. It also helps you to build an online following through sites like Bandcamp. Demos can also be used to set up profiles on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Pledgemusic, enabling you to build funds, as well as a fanbase.

9: Persevere

Being in a band is never a smooth journey. Bandmates will bicker. Venues will turn you down. People may be disparaging about your efforts. Always remember that this happens to everyone, and that the best way to overcome it is to keep going. Even if one band comes to an end, you can always start a new one somewhere else. The most important thing is to play music that you’re proud of, and to keep having fun.

Want to learn more about writing songs and playing in a band in 2019? Cambridgeshire Music’s School of Rock & Pop for under 18s meets weekly in Cottenham, Soham, Linton and Trumpington. It covers everything from pop and rock to folk, acoustic and metal. You can find out more, and download the brand new bands guide, at www.cambridgeshiremusic.org.uk

Nick Mulvey’s tips for starting a band.

Nick Mulvey (6151309)
Nick Mulvey (6151309)

“Let any success come as a side-effect of making music with your friends”

Singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey started his first band at Chesterton Community College when he was 14, made his name as part of Mercury Award nominees, Portico Quartet and is now a successful solo artist. He has just returned from a European Tour and will be curating part of this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival.

“For all those starting a band – I salute you! My first tip is this: play for the sheer fun of it. It will always sound better that way. By all means have dreams of success, but let any successes come as a by-product, a welcome side-effect of enjoying yourself making sounds with your friends and getting lost in those sounds so much that someone actually wants to put you in front of an audience, and that audience then catches your bug. And on it goes…

Nick Mulvey (6151311)
Nick Mulvey (6151311)

“My second tip is to study your heroes and study them closely! Always remember that they started from scratch too, and there is no reason why you cannot do what they have done. In fact, your artistic heroes (whoever they are) are proof that it CAN be done. They show the way, so read and watch interviews with them, listen to their body of work, wonder about their journey to great artistic achievement, watch their live shows on YouTube, and find out the stories about how they wrote their music, how they achieved their look and mastered their craft.

“I started my first band when I was aged 14, in year 9 at Chesterton Community College. We were called Manifest and it’s a mystery why the entire planet never heard of us and our Jamiroquai-meets-Oasis sound (ahem). I jest, but it was a solid start and I loved it. And I’ve never stopped. So good luck to you – and break a leg!”

Cambridgeshire Music’s entire online guide can be downloaded at cambridgeshiremusic.org.uk

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