Having played guitar for over a decade, I’ve played in a few bands, been to a ton of auditions and found myself getting fired more than once.
No matter what band it was, what sub genre of metal I was playing (black metal, power metal, heavy metal), there were similar things that I constantly saw… and if you’ve played in a band, I bet you’ve seen too.
Ideally when you join a band, people turn up on time, learn the songs and you guys rehearse playing the songs together.
Or maybe you jam together to write new ideas.
Unfortunately… this is not always what happens…
Even at professional levels in the music industry!
One manager I’ve met described their job as part business, part management, part baby sitting.
I’ve heard stories about artists hiring professional session players for festival shows… and their session players didn’t learn the songs before rehearsals…
Here are 8 Things I Learn From Playing In Metal Bands:
1) Learn the songs
There is always someone who turns up to rehearsal without learning the songs.
Must Read: How to learn any song on guitar
This makes no sense. For some reason, people think they can just wing it, or make it up on the spot.
This has happened to me with multiple bands I started.
I once tried starting a Mr Big covers band. The drummer and the bass player made it to the rehearsal. We started playing.. the drummer misses a change. So we start the song again.
He misses the changes again.
We ask him if he knows the songs… and he admits that he didn’t. He was just going to play a 4/4 rock beat over everything.
We told him the songs were a bit more complicated than that… and he left.
Another time I had a guitarist come to play a rehearsal. He had been given the songs and even tabs for the songs several months before the rehearsal… and hadn’t learned the songs properly.
It was really disappointing and I let it get to me more than I should have at the time.
If you are going to a rehearsal or an audition… then learn the songs.
2) Know the commitment level
Commitment levels vary. And that is ok. But everyone needs to be on the same page.
Some people join a metal band and take it seriously, some don’t.
Some people have different ideas of what “taking it seriously” means.
Ideally, you want to be in a band where the expectations are clear up front.
If the band avoids conversations about direction, then they do not take it seriously… no matter what they say.
If the band is there just to jam some covers, have a few beers and laugh around, that’s fine – that’s cool and it is a ton of fun. But everyone needs to know that and be on board with it.
If the band is there to work and make records, then that is fine too… but people can’t treat it like a party band.
Def Leppard fired their guitar player after their first serious tour in America. They were starting to do some big things, which takes work, and he was partying every night… and surprise surprise, it affected his performance.
Sometimes the commitment level of a band changes as it evolves, and there is nothing wrong with that.
But you do need to make sure that everyone is on the same page as the band evolves.
You want to find a band that not only share the ambitions you do, but also the work ethic.
Plenty of people talk the talk, but very few walk the walk.
I played in one band who were adamant that they wanted to “make it”… but the guitarist would turn up to rehearsals hungover, or coming down from a coke binge. The drummer wouldn’t take a day off work to play an opportunity that turned up…
Always look at a persons actions… do their actions match their words?
3) You have to learn how to deal with people
Egos and insecurities can be titanic – especially in a band.
When people do something creative, they are personally involved, on what can be a deep emotional level.
Any invalidation of their creative effort is seen as an attack on their identity.
“This idea is not good” gets interpreted as “You’re a total idiot and you suck”.
If an opportunity comes your way, you might find that some people are too scared and insecure to take advantage of it.
Learning how to deal with people is vital to navigating a band successfully.
4) Someone has to call the shots
If your band is there to hang out and have fun, then this doesn’t really matter, but if you want to create, then this is vital.
Democracy is terrible. Especially for a heavy metal band. Someone has to call the shots.
Ideally, your band wants a couple of principles everyone agrees on, e.g. “We want to make a record and play gigs next year, we turn up to rehearsals on time, we learn the songs before hand”, and one person who is in charge of decisions.
One person who is in charge of decisions.
This does not mean that other people cannot contribute ideas and suggestions, it means that what happens is decided by one person.
This ensures that things happen and the band moves forwards.
If your band is a democracy, then monumental amounts of time will be wasted with pointless arguing. “I want to play this cover song”, “No I want to play this cover song”.
One band I played in spent an entire rehearsal ‘deciding’ what cover song we were going to play.
Then when an opportunity to play a big show came through… no-one was confident in the setlist…
Maybe we should have been practising the songs rather than waste time on picking a cover song…?
A band is only as strong as its leader, and if it has no leader, or it has a weak leader, your band will thrash around like a headless snake.
5) Plan your rehearsals
Plan your rehearsals, like you plan your work and your day.
Everyone should know in advance what it is that you are doing next rehearsal.
Are you going to bring a few beers and jam some Black Sabbath? Are you drilling the setlist 4 times in a row? Are you working on stage presence for an hour?
Are there band logistics that need to be sorted for the next rehearsal?
6) Everyone needs to be flexible to take on opportunities
Sometimes, even at a big level, things go wrong.
A touring band might not have a support for a show. Or their support cancelled, got sick, got injured… the list is endless.
But it does happen.
If your band can be available and prepared to play, with not too much notice, then you take advantage of opportunities that other bands cannot.
If one person in the band is not flexible enough… then the entire band cannot take advantage of opportunities.
This only applies if you want to take things to a higher level. If your band is a hang out and party band then this doesn’t matter so much.
7) Having a social network helps you find the right people fast
Advertising online on various websites sucks. You get all sorts of responses from all sorts of people.
You have no idea who the hell these people are, you have to sift through a ton of time wasters, and half of them will turn up to an audition and totally suck.
You will find some amazing musicians… but you have to do a lot of work to find them.
If you have a good social network, especially in the metal scene, you will either be able to find good players, or know someone who knows someone looking to join a metal band.
The metal scene is not that big, and knowing the promoters, bar owners and the other people who make things happen can go a long way to your band getting to play cool places.
The easiest way to build a social network in the metal scene is to goto shows and talk to people, which is easy because heavy metal fans are awesome.
8) A band needs money
When you are starting out, everything costs money:
- Travelling to rehearsals
- Renting rehearsal rooms
- Travelling to gigs
While your metal band can get by on a low budget, it is still going to need *something* to get by on.
It’s been a long and bumpy road… and I’m sure it will only get bumpier…
But nothing is as fun or as exciting as playing in a metal band.
Whether it has been playing on stages in small venues, playing on stage with my heroes, or working abroad in a recording studio with rockstars; it’s undeniable that heavy metal is a crazy amount of fun.
Learn from my lessons and make your next band a great one!