This post is not necessarily a “how to,” but I’m excited to share about starting my own band for the first time at age 46, and maybe you will glean something from it.
First, my music history. I have a degree in music (trombone) and most of my paying gigs (besides teaching) had been pit orchestras, churches, and the like. Then about three years ago I joined a five piece band that gigged every weekend. There were improv solos, the people danced, and it was good. I left the band three months ago. It was a difficult time, and when a woman who works at one of the venues we played heard, she told me that if I put together a group she would book us. I figured other venues might do the same, and I began to think about the group I would like to have.
I don’t consider myself a natural leader, but I realized that the only way to have exactly what I want is to create it myself. And what I felt like in the moment was hard rock. After being the only woman in my previous band, I also felt like finding a group of women.
There are some nice things about being 46. One of them is that you’ve met a lot of people and they know you can play. I found a bass player quickly (my friend Tami) and then I started asking around. It turns out that someone I knew as a woodwind teacher was mainly a drummer. The singers who popped into my mind were too busy, but I asked a trusted singer friend for a recommendation, and the first name she gave me turned out to be a gem of a voice and person. I decided to bring in a token man, a trumpet player I hadn’t played with since college who has since toured with some big names. If there’s any instruction in this, it’s to be patient. Yes, I’d like to get back to my previous income, but I definitely don’t want to end up with someone who doesn’t fit. I was very careful and, against everything in my impatient soul, never put out an all call. Another thing that’s nice about being a little older is that the other members (mostly younger than me but still several years out of music school) knew what THEY wanted, too. They knew where they want to gig, how much money they want to make, and what kind of music they want to play. There’s every indication that we will work well together. And have FUN together.
Next I started writing and arranging. One thing I learned from my last band is that you write very differently for gigs where people want to dance than for an album or concerts where people sit in chairs. I’m moving on now, but I started with writing three hours of music that will, I hope, get people on the dance floor. One is even not so subtly named We Just Want You to Dance. They are all between 110 and 144 BPM. Now that I have a gig’s worth of dance songs, I am less restricted, and the best of the new stuff can join the best of the dance stuff on albums.
Another thing I learned in my last band is that booking gigs and showing up with the right equipment is hard work. I’m really glad I know that going in. Booking gigs takes pounding the pavement and having a social media presence.
Succeeding at gigs takes research into the setup of each venue. What is their sound system situation? How long do we have to set up? (Not that there aren’t surprises when you show up.) And by the way, know how much venues near you pay. How much will each band member take home? How will you pay for mics etc?
I lucked out in that the music store where I give lessons will let us rehearse there. I also lucked out that everyone in the band is probably capable of sight reading a gig. It’s actually hard to believe I’m so lucky to find these people. It’s hard to believe we’ll actually happen. But it seems to be happening! The harder you work, the luckier you get, as they say.
And as for jazz, well, it just so happens that everyone in the group has substantial jazz experience, so I have a feeling it will burst forth before too awfully long. It’s hard not to make this blog about my feelings. Blah blah blah I was sad, blah blah blah I’m afraid to hope. Blah blah blah sometimes jazz is too much. But I really just want to encourage anyone thinking about starting a group. Be patient, ask trusted musicians, put a ton of time into the writing/arranging, build a social media presence, and be prepared to have persistence when it comes to booking. Have fun, and tell me how it goes!