So you formed a band. You’ve been practicing in your drummer’s garage, and you’re wondering when you should get out in front of an audience. My answer is as soon as possible. The benefits of playing early far out-weigh waiting. It doesn’t have to be a full gig. If you can find an opening spot or even an open mic that is all you need. It will give everyone a gut check before or after the performance. Let me tell you why.
The main reason I say to play out as soon as possible is because you can lie to yourself about what your band is until you play your first gig. What I mean is the truth of what your band is comes out when you play out. I was in a band that wrote most of our own music, and after our first gig the drummer quit because he wanted to be in a cover band. I was at a total loss because it seemed obvious to me that we were doing originals. Then it happened to me.
A couple of years later I formed a band with my writing partner, but due to unforeseen circumstances he was forced to quit. We ended up continuing forward, but with the line-up change we ended up playing our first gig where 17 out of 20 songs were covers. I had thought I was in an originals band, imagine my surprise. Granted there were other issues, but a big issue for me was the set list. We played a gig on Saturday, another on Thursday, then by Monday I was out of the band. Lesson learned, but not until after more than a year of practicing together as a band.
A gig on the book makes everyone take a hard look at what they have dedicated their time to. I’ve had people quit, and I have quit under similar circumstances. I had a singer quit when we said that we were going to do an open mic in two months. The singer didn’t quit right away, but before the two months were up they had left the band saying they didn’t have the time to give to the band. I believe it had more to do with the fact that there was a live performance fast approaching.
I quit a band when I realized that the group was not very good. It was a fight to try to get songs put together. The songs seemed to get worse with each practice. As I watched a looming gig approaching on the calendar I realized that it would be embarrassing to play in front of an audience. I walked away and felt so much better.
Not everyone will be on board with the idea of playing live right away. Here are some excuses that you might hear:
“We’re not tight enough.”
This is my favorite excuse, because it is unquantifiable. I think this is why I’ve heard it so often. Don’t get me wrong it can be true, but how do you know if the band is tight enough? Who makes that call? Do you want to know what the best way to get tight is? Playing live. Now go book a gig.
“What if we suck?”
Who cares? Every band has sucked on stage. It is a right-of-passage. It also doesn’t matter how long you have been together either. If one or two members have an off night it can sink a whole set. It happens. The greatest enjoyment I get out of a show is overcoming adversity. Mistakes and problems happen there is no controlling that, but how you handle the situation is something you can effect. Besides if you suck that bad you can always go back to practicing, and come back in a couple months with a new band name. There problem solve, go book a gig.
“I don’t know how to play in front of an audience!”
And you’re going to learn how to by hiding in your garage or basement? Playing live is one of the greatest feelings a musician can experience, and you won’t know how good it can be until you try. I am a quiet unassuming type, but put me on a stage with a band and I’m jumping off the drum riser and running through the crowd. Live performance brings out a part of me that usually stays dormant. Go find your inner rock star, go book a gig.
“We don’t have enough songs.”
Go to a local open mic, all you need is one song. Have a couple extra in your back pocket just in case. A band I was in played an open mic where we pulled people from a different part of the bar that wanted to hear more. We did it to test the waters of that particular bar, and we ended up booking a gig because of it.
The biggest thing you will gain is your time back. If you only spent a couple of months with a band before you or someone else quits all the better. I wasted a lot of time in bands that ended up dying after the first gig, until I learned my lesson. Then I pushed for a live performance as soon as possible, even if it meant that I would be the one leaving.
Three months spent on a doomed project is so much better than a year. Granted if you are new to the whole thing, then spend a bit more time in the woodshed getting ready to play live. But if you’ve already been out there then go and book that gig.
Having a goal makes it easier to work harder. It is hard to push everyone to learn songs, but if you have to learn them because you need enough material to fill your set you’ll be amazed by how quickly those new songs come together.
There you go, now get out there and book a gig. It could break up the band, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Wasting a year or longer to have the group fall apart after the first gig is a much worse situation. Being stuck in a bad band is a waste of time. Leaving a bad situation, and trying to find the right situation is time well spent. Now go and push the issue.