Being a lone wolf only works for the select few.
Prince comes to mind.
Trent Reznor is another.
There are more but they’re the minority.
It’s hard to be an island when you’re making music, which is why you need some additional musicians to help you flesh out your sound. You might have a great singer/songwriter thing going on with one guitar, vocals and some simple electronic drums when you’re recording your songs, but getting extra perspectives and expertise is invaluable to taking your music to the next level.
Even Reznor and Prince had some help from session musicians so there’s no reason not to find somebody that can help. They don’t have to be a permanent member of your band. It’s about creating a network of musicians you can rely on when you’re creating music.
Where to Find Musicians
Let me ask you these questions to get you thinking about where you can find some musicians that could be interested in your project:
- Do you know any musicians that are great but are doing their own thing?
- Do your friends know any?
- Do you know any bands that have great musicians that you can “poach” for a while?
- Have you looked at the wanted ads, either on Craigslist or at the music store?
These are all great starting points. Musicians naturally like to play music so think about all of these questions to come up with ideas of where you can reach out to someone.
Don’t be afraid that just because someone is doing their own thing that they won’t be interested in working with you. Musicians naturally like to play music so unless they’re completely booked for the world tour, chances are they might have some free time to have fun with your project.
Also, asking somebody who’s already in a band to play on your project isn’t asking them to “cheat” on their band. People all have priorities but if they can fit you into their schedule you’re not going to hurt anybody’s feelings.
Don’t be afraid to ask anybody you can think of. The answer to every unasked questions is always “No.” The worst thing that can happen is that they say no. And wouldn’t you rather know?
The same goes with the Wanted ads. If you really want to play with somebody but don’t know any musicians personally in your area then Wanted Ads are the way to start. I have to admit, it’s a bit hit or miss but it all depends on what you’re looking for. Getting to know more musicians, however good or bad they might be is much better than staying in the same place and never getting to know anybody.
Networking isn’t just a way for business people to make business connections. It’s the first step to creating a relationship in any industry. In the music industry that means jamming with other musicians, gigging with other bands or going to shows and talking to other music-minded people. Networking is also a skill, and a damn hard one at that, but you’ll never network with anybody if you don’t get yourself out there in some way. Whether it’s going to a show, emailing a guitar-playing acquaintance or browsing the wanted ads it’s all a helluva lot better than staying home and wishing you had a band.
Get out there. Find where the musicians are. Connect with them. Rinse. Repeat.
You’ll make connections. You’ll make friends. You’ll make music. Trust me on this one.
- Make a list of all your friends and acquaintance that play an instrument.
- Make a list of bands that you know personally where you can approach one of the players to play on your sessions.
- Browse the Wanted Ads daily for a week and make a list of everyone you think could be a good fit.
Little by little you’ll increase your network of music friends.
Finally, you should also Post Your Own Ad!
Let’s talk about that a little bit.
A Guide to Craigslist Posting
I get frustrated with Craigslist a lot. We’ve had a revolving door of Craigslist musicians in The Long Wait throughout the years and it’s taught me a bit about how to get your message across on Craigslist.
1. Be Honest About What You Want
Finding a musician online is kind of like online dating. You need to be a good fit with each other. What that means really depends on what you want. If you just want to get together to jam then you can be a little more flexible about your needs. But if you have a vision for your music moving forward and you need dedicated musicians then your needs are a bit different.
The goal is to be transparent about what you want, post often and be on the lookout for postings that could match your needs.
2. Outline Clearly Who You’re Looking For
If you really need a drummer, clearly specify that. Don’t just say you’re looking for musicians to jam with. Chances are you’ll get a lot of guitar players that are terrible drummers, like myself
Also, you might have some deal-breakers when it comes to finding someone. In our case, we needed someone who could learn our originals fairly quickly that was also not too old. I don’t mean to sound “age-ist” but after a lot of trial and error we found that we simply couldn’t relate to older musicians as a part of our band. We were looking for a permanent band member and having someone on the same walk of life as you was important to us.
So when you’re posting your ads, ask yourself:
- Are you looking to jam on three chords for a few hours, write chords, melodies and lyrics (i.e. songs), or someone to help you with something you’ve already recorded (i.e. laying down a drum part).
- Are you looking for specific character traits? If you need a 20-something female drummer for your all-girl punk group then clearly specify that in your ad. Your female drummer will be difficult to find but at least you’ve filtered out the middle-aged male guitar player from cluttering up your inbox.
- Are you looking for a permanent band member, or just somebody to play music with?
- Is there a specific skill level that’s necessary(e.g. more than 3 years playing etc…)
And finally, don’t despair if you don’t find your Dream Team in 24 hours. Back and forth emailing, setting up auditions and getting a feel for each other takes time. We’ve found some good musicians to play with over the years through Craigslist but for every good one, there were at least 4-5 people that just didn’t work, for a variety of reasons.
Always Be on the Lookout
Our current line-up for The Long Wait is an interesting one, and really reinforces most of the points I’ve made in this article.
- Liz and I met each other at an Open Mic. We liked each other’s stuff and we connected from there. We’ve been in the same band for about 5 years now so making the effort to get your ass out the door and open your heart at an Open Mic can definitely make a lasting difference in your life.
- Tyrus and I met on a plane. It’s pretty random and I doubt it happens a lot but it goes to show that you can always be networking. I was editing audio and my computer, he was reading Modern Drummer. We obviously had music in common so we got to talking. A month or so later he auditioned for the band and we stopped looking for a drummer.
- Paul is Liz’s cousin. I’ll admit, “my cousin’s a bass player and he’s supposed to be pretty good” threw up a ton of red flags. What if he wasn’t good and we had to fire him and bruise a family relationship? It was a risk but in the end he turned out to be a great bass player, a fantastic person to hang out with and an invaluable member of the band. This is the equivalent of the question “Do your friends know any musicians?” in the questions above. Liz knew Paul the bass player and the rest is history.
- John is Ty’s friend. They had played in bands together for a long time. Since John is a phenomenal guitar player and overall nice guy the transition was pretty seamless into the band. He added the textures and the tasteful lead guitar playing the band needed.
I’m explaining all this to prove a point. Let’s look at it from Liz’s perspective so you can see what I mean:
Liz went to an open mic with a group she found on Craigslist. She met me and we started a band together. I’m extroverted so I started talking to Ty on a plane. Liz knew a cousin who played bass and Ty had a friend who played electric guitar.
It all started with two musicians meeting each other to see what happens. Then the network grew from there.
So even though this is a guide with some tactics to finding band members I think the overall strategy is this:
Don’t be so goddamn shy and get out there and introduce yourself and your music to other musicians.
You literally have no idea what’s going to happen next.