At one time or another, most musically inclined teens and young artists have dreamt of turning their love of music into a lucrative career, but doing so takes a lot more than just musical talent and a yearning for the spotlight. The truth is that the music business is high-tech and extremely competitive, so just because you’re in a successful high school band right now doesn’t necessarily foreshadow a future at the top of the charts. In fact, successfully breaking into the music industry takes a lot of hard work as well as some knowledge about how the industry works. The following guide breaks down some of the crucial basics for how to start a band as a teenager if you’re interested in turning this hobby into a long-term lucrative music career; good luck!
First Thing’s First
Just like any other endeavor in life, standing out by playing in a rock band (or any other musical group) takes some preparation. Before doing anything else, you need to take into consideration two things: the music genre you’re most interested in, and the type of music you want to play—meaning do you want to write your own material or simply perform other musicians’ songs? These things need to be discussed and thought out before you grab your instruments and start playing and singing, as they also impact the target audience you’ll attract and your ability to monetize in the long run.
At this point, you may or may not have decided on the members of the band. Oftentimes, one or two people decide they want to be in a band, but the first step is to think about all of your band members and who they should be. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that can help clear up what this first step should entail:
- What is my role going to be? As soon as you figure this out, it’s much easier to move on to the next decision you’ll have to make, as each member needs to play a key role without redundancies that could render you – or other band mates – unnecessary.
- What is the genre going to be? Answering this question helps you decide what types of instruments the band members need to play. A heavy metal band is going to need a different arrangement than the boy bands out there, for instance, which can also impact the budget, where you’ll play, and how you’ll market your group.
- Are you going to provide the backup vocals? Most bands do their own backup vocals, but you can choose to use backing tracks (or prerecorded music) if you prefer.
- What gender is the band looking for? Some people want all of their members to be the same gender to get a specific sound, but a mix of male and female voices also sounds nice, though there may be a lot of pressure in the music world to craft a group with a certain “look” to appeal to audiences that have proven to be loyal concert goers who will buy the group’s tickets, merchandise, and otherwise help them rise to popularity and achieve their ultimate goal of success.
If you have access to ideal complementary members to form the perfectly balanced band, you’re in luck; that said, lots of people lack direct access to the different people needed to comprise a well-rounded music group, and many bands had to look far and wide to find their missing members. Therefore, your next step may be to scour social media to identify and connect with other talented musicians or a current solo artist who may top off the list of potential members. Think of this as a business decision on your part, meaning the right people are important.
Your goals for the band will ultimately depend on two things. The first is the level of commitment. In other words, you have to choose members who have a strong commitment to the band’s success, from the writing process to the first show, touring, and possibly pursuing a traditional record deal. The last thing you want is to choose someone who just wants to have some fun on stage or sees the band as a temporary hobby, rather than the start to a serious, long-term career. Make sure the person you “hire” or partner with is on the same page as you. Second, you need to make both short-term and long-term goals because this is the only way to see consistent progress within the band. And make sure each of these goals is specific and written down in detail.
Choosing the other members of the band requires you to consider both their talent and how well you get along with them. After all, you’ll be spending hours and hours with these people, so you need to make sure they are all like-minded individuals and have the same commitment and goals as you do. Again, don’t just choose people because you’ve known them a long time or consider them friends. A great place to start is to take this step seriously and consider it a professional decision on your part, as these band mates may become your future business partners and career colleagues.
The next question is, where can you go in order to find these musicians? You actually have a lot of options available to you, and some of the best ways to find them include:
- Social media: There are numerous sites dedicated to musicians who are looking for membership in a band, and the musicians are usually dedicated and play/sing very well. Look for them on various Facebook pages, your local Craigslist site, or even sites dedicated to helping you find your next bandmate, such as BandMix.com.
- Schools: Schools are a great way to find good local musicians, and if you have a college nearby, it’s even better. High schools can be good, too, but it’s not as likely you’ll find the same experience or commitment level as places that have older musicians who may be music majors or have legitimate industry connections and performance opportunities, even if they’re just college professors and university events (to start).
- Local musicians: It’s always a good idea to search out local bands found in local pubs, malls, restaurants, music clubs, and watering holes. Check the newspaper to determine who is playing where, and if you notice a musician who really stands out, you can ask them if they’d like to audition.
What should you do once you find a musician you’re interested in? The first thing you need to do is gauge their level of enthusiasm. In other words, do they seem really excited at the prospect of being in your band? Ask them how long they’ve been playing and what type of music they like best, and be sure to conduct an audition that will test their ability to keep time, blend in the group, harmonize, and improvise. You can also broach their interests, likes, and dislikes to determine if they’re a good fit for your own band, as clashing personalities or conflicting viewpoints could prove problematic later on. Remember, it’s up to you to keep asking questions so you can determine which prospective member is a good fit, just like any music industry executive would do when creating a young band.
What Do You Need/Want in Your Band?
It wasn’t that long ago when all bands consisted of a singer, an electric guitar player, a bass player, a drummer, and a keyboard player, but nowadays, different scenarios are not that uncommon, especially as technology takes on some of those roles. These days, a successful band might also have horn players, synthesizers, and even a woodwind or two, though it might instead have talented technical producers replacing some instrumentalists. If you have good enough musicians (with a good ear and technical know-how), you won’t need tons of instruments on the stage. That being said, the production technology required to replace live musicians can be expensive and require costly software subscriptions, so you’ll want to ensure you – and your band mates – can afford this or else find a more affordable option.
Certain Decisions Need to Be Made
Once you’ve held the auditions and chosen the musicians you want in your band, there are still a few things you need to decide before you do anything else. One of the first things you should do is assign someone in the band to be a contact person, so to speak. Think of this person as the manager of the band, a go-to person when reporters have questions they need answers to or additional information in general. This is often the person who formed the band, but it can be any of the members. This role will encompass the more business-focused aspect of booking gigs, managing press, and spearheading the band’s marketing and growth strategies until or unless you land a real full-time manager.
In the beginning, you likely won’t be able to afford a person who books your rehearsals or your shows, especially before you get officially signed with a manager, so you can think of this point person as someone who does all of those things in the early stages. Make sure the person appointed takes this role seriously, as this member could be the one who makes or breaks your band’s career success.
The person who writes your songs is also important. This can be more than one person, of course, but keep in mind that writing your own songs is harder than it sounds. Hit songs that are popular with the general public are difficult to produce, and if your goal is to continuously come up with new songs, the challenge is even greater. Consider each member’s talents and skill level, but remember that the “main” songwriter doesn’t have to be anyone in particular.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many of the chart’s biggest hits follow some musical principles and formulas of songwriting that can be found and learned online, even in videos completely free. If you’re serious about writing top hits, it’s probably worth your time to study the writers and producers behind your musical idols’ biggest hits and adopt some of those strategies and formulas to your own songwriting process or perhaps even hire out an affordable freelance songwriter to help accelerate those hits.
Next, you’ll want to make sure you set a definitive schedule for rehearsals. Find a good practice space and decide to rehearse a minimum of once per week. Consider this schedule set in stone because regular rehearsals are crucial to your success. If you plan to be a successful band, rehearsals need to be regularly scheduled and always taken seriously. Even professional bands with record deals have to rehearse on a regular basis, so get used to them.
Speaking of rehearsals, you’ll need a definite space to rehearse each week, and it’s usually best to choose a professional rehearsal space with amps, mics, and good acoustics if possible. That said, starting out in a garage may suffice for a bit, but it probably won’t be sufficient for recording. Once you do choose to find a more professional space – whether for daily or weekly rehearsals or less frequent recording sessions – you’ll have to decide how to pay for this public space or music venue, which may prompt your group to start pooling their money, taking on part-time side gigs, or boosting the number of revenue-generating activities your group pursues.
What about the Band’s Name?
Choosing a name for your band can be harder than you think. Everyone will have their own opinion as to what it should be, but before you get started, it’s good to keep a few things in mind. First of all, you’ll have to use a name that isn’t already claimed. Do an Internet search and make sure the name doesn’t belong to another band, a company, or anything else that is “official.” Don’t just research the music industry for the band name you’re considering, but also check the USPTO (US Patent & Trademark Office online) to ensure it isn’t trademarked or in use by an operating company.
Another thing you’ll want to consider is this: how does the name sound when you say it out loud? This may sound odd, but it can make a big difference in the name you end up choosing. When you get your first gig, they’ll be announcing you to the audience, so you need to consider how the name will sound when that happens. Even more importantly, you need a name that suits your overall image. There will be a consistent look and feel to your band, and the name has to suit this to the letter, as this determines your branding, which can improve or constrain your ability to make money from your brand image.
Along those lines, your chosen band name, logo, and any other branding you’ll promote needs to look good in print (and online). Once you get your record deal, that name will be all over promotional materials and be talked about in all sorts of media outlets, but names with certain offensive wording may be suppressed in the news and by search engines, while names that are too long may not be catchy or fit in limited space marketing materials. You’ll also have online pages such as Facebook and maybe even a YouTube channel (which is a great idea, as it’s free marketing you own), so you’ll want the name of your band to both sound good and look good, regardless of where it’s found. Most bands take a long time to come up with a name, but it might surprise you and just pop into your head one day!
Either way, you should remember that branding is just as big of a part of some bands as the music they play, so while it may seem trivial, this is one of the most important elements of a music career, and record company executives spend serious time and cash on branding consultants to craft brand images they believe will pull in the big bucks.
Should Your Band Have Some Type of Written Contract?
Once again, if you’re going to form a band, you have to accept the fact that this is a business and not a hobby, and if you’ve reached the point where you’re renting rehearsal spaces and coming up with a name, you already know this. This brings up other decisions that need to be made, including whether or not there needs to be a band agreement or contract. An official contract is never a bad idea, and it’s even better if you work with a lawyer to make sure all T’s are crossed and all I’s are dotted.
The first thing you’ll want to include in the agreement is the overall commitment of the members. For instance, they need to agree—in writing—to a certain number of rehearsals each week, to which of the members will make the final decision when a disagreement comes up, and to who is going to pay for what, among other things. Everything has to be in writing because even like-minded musicians can disagree on things.
There also has to be something in the agreement that mentions royalties and the percentage that each band member gets when recording original songs, granting interviews, and everything else. The best thing to do is choose a lawyer who is experienced in this type of contract. This way, nothing important will ever be overlooked or forgotten. Even the smallest details have to be covered in this agreement. If you think of your favorite artists, it’s a guarantee that they have this type of contract, which breaks down ownership of band content (songs, equipment, revenue, etc.) by percentage, as well as an outlined method for tie-breaking decision-making, in case conflicts should arise.
Naturally, you’ll need more than just the members of your band and lots of hard work to be successful. If you’re still in your teenage years, you can hire friends to be unofficial photographers, public relations representatives, bookkeepers, etc. They can even become official, paid positions once you start to make a little money, but for now, if it works, you should consider asking people to fill these types of jobs. It takes a long time to “make it” in the entertainment industry, and in the meantime, you’ll want to have as much help as possible.
Making a Professional Demo
Naturally, you’ll need some type of demo to impress the executive music producer, and there’s one word of advice when doing this: keep it short. Not so short that the producer doesn’t get a realistic idea of your talent, but not so long that they’ll decide not to listen to it at all. Regardless of the kind of music you play, you should keep the demo to around 30–45 seconds. Play a cover song (that they’ll likely know and be able to easily gauge the talent) or something you sound especially good in, and once the right people hear it, you’ll be on your way to the next step.
You also need to be conscious of the appearance of your demo. If you can afford it, have it professionally done, which means renting some time at a professional recording studio. Don’t just record a CD in your basement and write the name of the song on it in handwriting. Make sure it is printed and sounds crystal clear, with no noises or disruptions in the background. You already know that first impressions are important; now is your time to prove it.
Marketing Your Band Is Crucial
If you live in a small town or city where talent scouts usually aren’t found, you’ll have to continuously market your band and seek out opportunities for visibility to get closer to the music industry connections that can catapult your success. Even if you’ve already played your first gig and gotten paid, you need to improve your sound and keep rehearsing so you can get even better. If you play without getting paid—think of a musical church group—it’s still a good thing because it allows you to grow as musicians. These unpaid jobs can also be thought of as a safe place for you to play because you aren’t getting paid, and no one is expecting you to be perfect. Nonetheless, if you have someone record the gig, you may have enough high-quality content for social media marketing that could eventually reach a much wider base of fans and even catch the eye – or ear – of industry execs.
Speaking of industry execs, it’s imperative that once you’re professionally performing, you’ve set up a website and various social media pages for your band, including lots of full-color photographs, videos, and recordings so that recruiters can learn what you look and sound like. Post performances on your YouTube page and tell everyone you know about your band.
To be clear, when you’re an inexperienced or new band, there is no such thing as over-promoting yourself. In fact, even after a music production representative, booking agent, or some other member of the music business discovers you, you’ll still have to participate in your own marketing efforts. It will take a while for people to recognize your sound and look, but until then, continuous marketing and promotion are crucial, which means you might as well accept that this is a part of your life now (and embrace it, as the most successful self-made bands soared off their own creative promotion efforts).
Trying to determine how long it will be until you’re discovered is almost impossible. All successful artists had their own time frames, so there is no specific average. One thing is certain, however, and that is the fact that you can never stop working at and honing your musical skills. Even if you’re in the early ages and haven’t reached your teen years yet, don’t just assume you have plenty of time because the chances that it’ll take a while to be discovered are much greater than the chances you’ll be discovered shortly after your public debut.
In other words, the harder you work at your skills as a musician, the more you write songs and rehearse and play your heart out, the closer you’ll get to being discovered and fulfilling that dream of being a professional musician. If you research some of the most popular and well-known musical artists of any generation, you’ll probably be surprised by how long they were working at this job before they became famous. That should be enough to prove to you that you should never quit.
Arguably the best part of the music business is the fact that, though competitive, almost any hyper-talented musician who works hard and pursues industry opportunities has a chance of making it, as there’s a wide variety of industries, musicians, and fan bases out there. Furthermore, social media and the internet has largely democratized the industry such that individual musicians and unsigned artists are able to take the reins on marketing and monetizing their own music, whether or not they ever ink a deal with a traditional record label. In fact, there are musicians today who only got their big break due to a viral video or a song that caught fire on TikTok or YouTube and ended them up in a record executive’s office.
However, despite the increased access to fans and free marketing, writing one good song or posting covers for a few months doesn’t guarantee long-term career success. If you want to know how to start a band as a teenager and take it to the big leagues – as in, make it a lasting career – the answer is simply perseverance and perpetual improvement. So long as you’re moving forward, you’re still in the game, and each song you write, show you play, and video you post offers up yet another chance at catching your big break.