Start me (band) up
March 19, 2009 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I sing. I don't read music. I don't know musicians who play my kind of music. But I want to be in a band. What do I do?

I live in New York City. I sing things like blues, classic country (think Patsy Cline), rockabilly, etc. (If you can imagine Neko Case, Nina Simone, or Etta James singing it, it's probably something I'd like.) Recently, I performed at a cabaret with a couple acquaintances (who aren't available to play with on a regular basis) backing me up on guitar, harmonica, and bass (I posted a recording from our rehearsal on Mefi Music). Performing (and getting a great response from it) reminded me how much I love doing this. I want to have a group to sing with regularly (guitars, bass, drums, etc.) and maybe perform with from time to time, but I've never done this before, and don't know where to start. Mefites, what should I do?
posted by ocherdraco to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Just post on craigslist. Vox seeking band. Write what you wrote here. Treat it like looking for a job.

Also, get involved in your music scene and just start asking musicians you run across a lot, and like, whether they know of anyone interested in starting a project with you. Go to more live shows. With blues there are likely to be regular jam sessions in your region. Go to an open mike with a killer a cappella number. Just put yourself where the musicians are.

Don't worry about reading music.
posted by Miko at 11:06 AM on March 19, 2009

This isn't gonna help - but how can you sing without reading music?

You're right, that didn't help. Don't be discouraged if you can't read music, plenty of singers out there can't read music. If you've got a good ear and have a sense of singing in tune you'll be just fine. It's more about just being able to read music, if you want to join a barber shop quartet than yea, go learn to read. If not than fuck it, don't let that hold you back. On a side note, in my experience w/ craigslist it really sucks hard when it comes to finding musicians. Like Miko said, surround yourself in places where you're gonna find musicians (bars, open mic nights, the liquor store.)
posted by BrnP84 at 11:14 AM on March 19, 2009

Reading music is totally unnecessary in blues, rock, and pop music. It can be an excellent skill later on, especially if you write and want to transcribe, or if you get into arranging. It is also much more helpful in jazz. But the main genres mentioned don't rely on sheet music.
posted by Miko at 11:16 AM on March 19, 2009

Best answer: While I imagine reading music would be a worthy skill to have, I have never been in a band where anyone read music, or where any music was notated in any fashion. And I've been in quite a few bands.

Back in my day (get off my lawn) the Lakeside Lounge was a bar that might have bands performing that sound like you might want to sound, although leaning a little to the gritty side. If that's still the case go there and make friends with people.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:41 AM on March 19, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the specific recommendation, dirtdirt. Anyone else know good places for me to go? A little preliminary googling is turning up a lot of jam sessions that are just for instrumentalists, and open mics for folksingers, and a lot of other stuff that isn't appropriate for my particular inclinations.

If I came out of this with three or four good clubs to go to (and it looks like I've already got one), that would be fantastic.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:48 AM on March 19, 2009

The worship pastor at my very very large church, who has had cds out himself and worked with lots of folks in the music industry does not read music.

I CAN read music but usually don't bother. And iirc Eric Clapton doesn't read music.

So, don't let that intimidate you.

I'd hang out at open mic nights and jam sessions and make friends and connections if I were you. There are songwriter/musicians out there who can't really sing all that well (I am one of them) and they'd appreciate having someone who can do their stuff.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:56 AM on March 19, 2009

I read music about as well as I read phrasebook Spanish, and about as slowly, and it's not something that's caused me any problems as a performer or a collaborator. It's handy to be able to decipher the stuff, but like Miko says, it's not exactly something you need for most pop music forms.

The genres you're interested in aren't exactly niche, so finding people who are looking for a vocalist in a big city shouldn't be hard. Craigslist isn't perfect, but it's not bad and it (along with actual paper classifieds in local alt-newsweeklies and such, these are generally free) is pretty much the first stop regardless.

Put out a listing for "musician available" being clear about (a) what you're into and (b) what your intentions are (jamming, casual practice and fun, occasional gigs but not seriously we-are-a-gigging-band regular thing from the sounds of it?) and go from there.

Hitting up music-oriented open mics can be a good way to find other musicians—almost everybody is in or has been or wants to be in a band, and you can start finding out about other venues and musical folks that way.
posted by cortex at 12:03 PM on March 19, 2009

Response by poster: OK, not reading music is not a problem. Check. Got it. Thanks. Let's take that as a given from this point. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:09 PM on March 19, 2009

Miko suggests "get involved in your music scene" - what does this mean? How does one "get involved"? Building musician playgrounds? Tutoring baby musicians? Really, I have no idea.
posted by amtho at 12:22 PM on March 19, 2009

Mainly that means going to shows, talking to people, becoming someone that is known to other musicians in your area. Then when they are looking for a singer they may think of you and get in touch. Open mikes are good for that because people can hear what you can do.

You should set up a myspace page with some of your rehearsal recordings and some pictures, which you can refer people to when you reply to their ads or talk to them in person. There are also a lot of musicans on there, so you can network that way.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:52 PM on March 19, 2009

Best answer: I would recommend the scene over Craigslist. Every time I've tried to use CL for this, I've gotten a response from one of two types of people. Either some freak in west philly with a synthesizer and home recording studio, or someone who plays the indian pan flutes and would love to go in with me to hire a peyote shaman and host rituals. I'm a classical flute player. That's soooo not my scene.

That said, when I kept my eye out for groups to audition for as a classical singer, I have had significantly more luck getting opportunities to perform through contacts.

Show up to a show that is similar to what you would like to be doing. I'd suggest even making up some business cards. They could say:

singer, badass

Hand them out to people whose music you like, and say that if they're ever looking for someone to sing, you'd love to join them sometime to see what sweet sweet music you can make together.
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:33 PM on March 19, 2009

Best answer: What InfidelZombie said, plus:

-read music publications for your region and/or arts and culture papers. Read the recent show reviews and upcoming show listings (they're often nicely broken down by genre).
-go see as much live music as you can
-talk to the musicians on breaks and after the show.
-haunt open mikes, they're great for meeting a lot of people who are getting started or in between full-band acts
-Google around for an arts or music nonprofits promoting local culture and music or particular genres of music. There are so many, doing different things like teaching young people, putting on cultural series, preserving specific traditions - get involved with one of these
-go to a musician's union event or write them for more info
-go to music stores and instrument stores and check out the bulletin boards. Often there are "musician wanted" ads up there. Also, they're good places to run across musicians. Chat up the clerks. Make up some cards with your MySpace and email on them and leave them with people who know musicians, bring them to shows with you.
-Google for local music blogs, read them and comment
-look for some music festivals in the genres you like. volunteer to help put the festival on.
-check out this list - blues and jazz networking, clubs, jams
-look for a community chorus or other volunteer choral group you can sing with. It may not be something you want to do forever, but it gets you into the world of music, and in a chorus every person pretty much knows other musicians. Again, good for networking (and vocal training)
-do you have any promotions skills? If you can do poster design, logo design, website building, or anything like that, you can offer those skills to musicians and bands via the music store bulletin board, etc, and start getting to know people that way
-learn and practice a lot of songs you like
-take a music or vocal class at a nearby college or adult learning school. Beginning piano is a great thing for vocalists - or just music theory or vocal technique. Spend extra time hanging around the music department of the school and reading the bulletin boards
-once you know a few musicians you might want to start hosting your own events - get a space and invite people on a regular schedule to just come over and sing

...there are a lot of ways, but each community is different. I'd say just do your best to go where musicians are, and don't be shy.
posted by Miko at 2:40 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

"OK, not reading music is not a problem. Check. Got it."

Well, if you're only trying to be in a band, that it isn't a problem. But if you want to become a serious musician, then you really should learn.
posted by MattMangels at 4:52 PM on March 19, 2009

Well, yes, knowing music theory/being able to read music and chords is a useful skill to have and definitely helps me in writing songs, for instance-but particularly if your ear is really good, not necessary.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:44 PM on March 19, 2009

Response by poster: Okay, thanks folks. I think I've got enough in here to get me started, at least. (If you care to take a look, the performance that spurred this post is up on YouTube now.)
posted by ocherdraco at 6:06 PM on March 19, 2009

I can't tell you how many serious, professional musicians I know who don't read or who read with painstaking slowness. Yes, it's good to learn, but it all depends on your genre (and you can be really 'serious' in genres that are all ear and have highly developed music). The OP is fine now, she can learn later if she wants.
posted by Miko at 6:48 PM on March 19, 2009

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