I have had the privilege of sitting as a judge on the largest annual Band Competition in Finland. It has 200 bands attending every year, and I’ve been part of the judging panel since 2005. The competition is aimed at unsigned bands, and is open to anyone. The entrants are picked in the order of entry submissions, so the bands are not required to have previous gigging experience. Some of the bands are playing their first ever gigs, while others have been playing youth clubs for years. Needless to say a bit of experience goes a long way. Year after year, I’ve witnessed the same problems that the bands make in the beginning of their journey. Here is my top list:
1. Weak Lead Singer
There are so many amazing musicians out there, especially guys who have picked up the guitar at an early age and spent a lot of time practicing in their bedrooms. Then they’ve put together a band, and realized that someone had to do the dirty work of singing. As a result the band plays amazing music, but the vocalist is shy, out of tune, or sings as little as possible.
Every now and then you see a great band that doesn’t have a lead singer, but unfortunately most of us are hard-wired to expect a focal point for the band, which is the lead singer. If you are not up for the job, then don’t attempt to do it. Instead try to find someone who can carry the role, and concentrate on what you know and love most.
2. Mismatch of Characters
Many young bands are made up of one or two strong characters, and the rest of the band members are scraped from whoever they manage to find from their immediate circle of friends. The result can be very confusing to watch. An example is a band that had a glam rock style guitarist and vocalist, a hippie drummer, a Goth keyboardist and someone’s 14-year old brother on the bass. A band is one entity. There is room for various characters, but essentially they are different sides of the same thing. If you’re too far apart, no one quite understands what they are looking at.
3. Unprepared For the Worst Case Scenario
It’s incredible how many bands turn up without back up guitars, extra drum sticks and snares or sturdy samplers. The first rule of gigging is, if something can go wrong, it will. You must have your back up guitars ready when a string snaps, a new pair of sticks when your trusty old ones snap or have a plan for when your computer decides not to boot. At a gig it’s one strike and you’re out. Every band has mishaps on their gigs, the experienced bands recover so quickly that the audience doesn’t even realize anything happened.
4. There Is No Show
Without experience it is understandable that new bands find it difficult to be natural on stage. You’re no longer in your bedroom, so hiding behind your hair while plucking your instrument is rarely interesting for the audience. It’s not just about the music. It’s about sharing a moment with your audience. Invite them to your world, and look after them.
5. Too Much of A Show
Having a huge element of a show can quickly backfire too. I saw a fantastic band. They played well, were unique and had great songs. They also had a huge show. The band was dressed as bishops except for the bassist who was naked and painted green. The band entered the stage carrying the bassist on a cross. The same crazy show continued in their artwork and websites.
That’s all good, and certainly made them unforgettable. However the show completely overshadowed their music, which was skillful, touching and catchy. No one remembered what they played or had to say. Everyone just chuckled at the naked green bassist.
6. Too Serious
We know that music is the most important thing in your life, that you practice like mad and intend to go far. However, that focus and seriousness can make you look and sound like a bit of a boring git. Many of the winners in the competition had bit of a cheek in their show. When you don’t take yourself quite THAT seriously, you’ll be more relaxed, play better and be more fun to watch.
7. Meme bands
Each year it’s easy to spot which bands have been making an impact among teens. There are at least 20 clones at the competition. It’s great to start with being inspired by your idols, but you need to quickly move on if you want to get an audience of your own.
8. Lack of Good Tunes
This is an obvious one, but I can’t emphasize it too much. There are amazing bands out there, that look good, play well, and set the audience on fire. But their songs are completely forgettable, and no one really cares to hear the music once the euphoria of the live situation has faded away. Great songs are what make or break a band, so put enough blood, sweat and tears into writing tunes that set you apart from the rest.
Image by yellowblade67