March-April 2008

Now what? Decide if the band wants to co-own a PA. If so, then perhaps the money from the two gigs should go into a "band kitty" that covers things like this. Who should hold the dough? Ideally you start your own bank account, but since that sounds like a lot of work, one member can be designated treasurer. This is a tough role. One band in my past had a "treasurer" who spent all the kitty money, not as an embezzler but as an inept money manager who mixed his incomes into the same account. When the band needed the money, he had it. But it had come from his family savings account, along with a note from his wife firing him from the band treasurer role.

Working on repertoire is probably harder. Some band members will think that the band knows enough songs and sounds fine without more practice. Some band members think that five nights a week of practice isn't enough. Compromise must rear its ugly head.

It is more like work than fun for most people to practice anything. In today's world, you're supposed to master new challenges overnight, while most of us struggle with programming the VCR. The sad truth is that very few bands sound good without a lot of practice: honing the areas that need work and adding new material and arrangements periodically to keep the mix fresh.

There are ways to make practice more bearable. If you get along socially with your band, make one practice a pot luck dinner followed by playing, or have a barbeque. If it's more of a business relationship, you can still spring for some chips and beer and make sure to take orchestrated breaks. Low paying gigs serve as good formal practices, so hit that little coffeehouse around the corner for one night of free entertainment if you can pass the hat. Play at your kid's next scout meeting. Hit Grandpa's retirement home some Sunday afternoon.

Oh, and practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. If practice has derogated to gossip and scones, or if you spend too much time on one tune to the exclusion of others, you need to focus. Decide what you can reasonably accomplish in the time allotted to practice, and stick to a schedule. And break someone's heart if you have to: if the song isn't working and practice isn't helping, drop it. You can always come back in a few months, but don't devote 90% of your time to 10% of your repertoire.

Play decent instruments. You need not own a Martin to play guitar, but you need to own an instrument that stays in tune, looks comparably decent and sounds pleasing. Or at least two of the three.

Most gigs want a show, to some extent. But unless you have a degree in performance art, keep in mind that you're a music group and not an improvisational comedy troupe. And the stage demeanor needs to match the venue and event. If you're providing music for a model home show from a stage made from a double wide motor home, you will probably be performing in a different manner than if you are performing at a small concert hall or even a coffee shop. Some gigs require you to be unobtrusive. If you took the job, be unobtrusive.

If your uptempo numbers aren't getting a response, try a ballad. If anyone says you're playing too loud, believe them enough to have a band member or trusted friend assess the situation. If the person complaining you're too loud is the person that hired you, you need assess nothing other than if you want your paycheck. It's always much more flattering to be told to turn up.

If your original intent was to have fun in a band, have fun. Don't let money or petty arguments break up your band. But if you are starting to notice that it isn't much fun anymore, talk to your bandmates. Maybe it's time for a change. You can always re-form in fifteen years and play the Native American casino circuit.

Play live music. Go out and see live music. Make your kids go out and see live music. They will thank you someday.


Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He's released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard's and Paul Simon's revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.

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