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Background

I recently took over as lead singer of an alt rock band. Around the same time, we lost our guitarist due to a move, and our bassist and keyboardist decided to leave at the same time. We filled these three positions, and it's essentially now a brand new band with the drummer from the old band. All these changes have effectively put me in the de facto leadership position of the band.

My experience in this kind of band is extremely limited, so I don't really know what I'm doing. I don't typically hear of professional bands having a "leader" so to speak, and despite our high ambitions, I want to make sure everyone feels relaxed during our practices. I tried to run our first practice by just basically playing what we felt like, but it felt incredibly disorganized.

I'm okay taking on the role of organizing the band and its practices, but I want to be careful that the band doesn't think I'm viewing it at "MY" band, instead of a collaborative effort.

Question

Is it typical and expected, even in a relaxed band setting, to have one band leader structuring the practices, deciding (with input from the band) what songs the band is going to pick up and practice, and basically keeping everyone on task? How does this change as a band becomes more professional, and what does a typical practice session look like for a rock band?

(To be clear, I'm not asking for opinions on what I should do. I'm interested in finding out what's typical for bands in this genre, so I can use that information to make more informed decisions for my band.)

  • I have asked the other band members for feedback and their thoughts, but I thought it would be valuable to ask outside folks as well. My guitar teacher is also an experienced professional musician and serves as much as a general music mentor to me as he does a guitar teacher, so I'm going to pick his brain as well. – Greg Jackson Jun 12 '15 at 20:07
  • This is opinion land. What is wrong with it being "Your Band". The less you want a title like that, the better you will be with it. I say, why work to define such a thing, just do your best to push toward greatness with and without the band, and then it will be what ever it is. Some band mates push, others don't. That's OK, but cooperative pushing is good. – amalgamate Jun 12 '15 at 20:23
  • I'm not asking for opinions on what I should do for my situation, I'm asking what's typical, since I really don't know. I can then use that information to decide for myself what's appropriate for my case. I don't have any issue with taking on leadership. What I mean when I say I don't want it to be "MY" band is that I don't want to take on a dictatorial role, or for the band to feel as if they're there to satisfy my ego. I've seen that happen before and I don't like it one bit. – Greg Jackson Jun 12 '15 at 20:26
  • I've clarified the question a bit to make it clear I'm not looking for opinions or specific advice, but rather information on typical practices. – Greg Jackson Jun 12 '15 at 20:29
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    The members of your band will tell you what is appropriate through their actions and words. While @Shevliaskovic has a very good answer, your band may not give you much of an opportunity to choose. – amalgamate Jun 12 '15 at 21:24
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I don't think there is a definite answer here. I have been in bands where all the members act as 'leaders' at the same time and at bands where one is the leader. In most bands I know, there is a leader.

There are pros and cons in both of them.

  • When everyone in the band is a leader, thus making it a democracy, it is hard and time consuming to decide what to do. When everyone suggests a song to practice, and you have to talk about it, it would take time out of the rehearsal time. But, it would be fair, because all of you would agree on what to practice.
  • When there is one leader, things can go smoother and faster in deciding what to do. The only problem here is that it might seem like dictatorship.

What I can suggest to do is to talk about what you are going to rehearse at the rehearsal before the rehearsal (like on Facebook, over the phone, or in person if you have the time) and then appoint one as the 'rehearsal leader', who will be the person that will organize the rehearsals. This way you'll have democracy when deciding what to do, and leadership when you need rehearsal organizing.

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    Note that there is a difference in the words Dictator and Leader. – Shevliaskovic Jun 12 '15 at 20:36
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    Flat hierarchies can also lead to amazing creativity, if the chemistry is right. – leftaroundabout Jun 13 '15 at 5:54
  • Difficult one. I've been in bands where the 'self-elected leader' actually isn't that clued up, and tells the rest how to do things that just aren't right. Gets very difficult to cope in those circumstances, does one shut up, put up - or leave? Works o.k when there's a problem at a gig." See that guy there - he (thinks he) is the band leader." – Tim Jun 13 '15 at 6:14
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Some good thoughts here, definitely. To add another voice to the dialogue, I'd recommend you sit down with your band-mates and have an honest discussion with them about the same things that you've brought to us.

Psychologically, what you're telling us is that you want to make sure everyone in the band feels needed / important. The easiest way to solve this is to have a discussion wherein everyone is democratically assigned (by the group) a unique job. If everyone has a specific job that contributes to the band's success, then no-one is the be-all / end-all diva.

By balancing responsibilities, everyone has a "buy-in", everyone is important / necessary, and no-one can argue about how the band just belongs to one person. Sure, not all of the positions might be musical, but all are very necessary. Not to mention, splitting jobs up like this is exponentially more efficient / effective.

Ideas for positions:

  • Rehearsal Director - responsible for scheduling, organizing, and mediating rehearsals.

  • Technical Director - responsible for all equipment (transportation, correct accessories / setups, etc)

  • Tour Director - responsible for booking gigs and any / all necessary accommodations

  • Accounting Director - responsible for any / all financial transactions related to the group (depending on how much money you earn from this, you could qualify to write off all these expenses on your taxes).

  • Marketing / PR Director - responsible for advertising for shows, getting the word out, updating the website / facebook page, etc.

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First of all I need to commend you for being wary of the "this is MY band" scenario. I applaud you for being aware of that and being respectful of your bandmates.

Secondly, with regards to how you practice. There aren't really any rules as such, but if you guys are serious then you do need to knuckle down.

Speaking from experience (whilst professional we rehearsed 6 hours a day, Monday to Friday) I can tell you this.

  • Talk outside of rehearsal. Go grab a pizza and talk in a neutral setting about what you're gonna do. Get agreement and buy in from everyone in a non-band related environment
  • If you're still getting songs together then agree that's what you'll be working on. We had a rule "play it till you hate it". So work on that song and don't be tempted to stray off into jams. If that happens then you, or someone else can reel things back in quite easily - "hey guys come on, remember what we agreed? Lets stick to the song"
  • If the song is just not working then agree on that and kill it. Move onto the next song and stick with it.
  • If you have a bunch of songs pretty much nailed then work on the set. Play it like it's a gig. No messing around between songs, no chatting or jamming. After each successful set go take a break. After your break do the set again. You should be doing the full set at least 3 times in a 3 hour rehearsal (unless you're set is longer than an hour of course, but at the stage you're at you'll likely be doing 30 minute sets).
    • Communicate. In band environments tensions can fester and become poisonous faster than in any other environment I've known. Remember you all want the same thing but music is such a personal thing, you guys will have disagreements. Respect each other and try to be open to others ideas.

Finally - bit of side advice, document, log and be open about songwriting credits as if you get to a serious level it will bite you on the ass if that aspect isn't crystal clear.

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It's virtually impossible to answer, as the mix of players in any band will produce many different dynamics, and even a change of one player will make a huge difference to those dynamics.

It actually matters not whether it's a rock band or any other sort. Although the greater the number of members, the greater the dynamic spread, thus probably the greater need for one central focus person - whom we'll call the leader.

You're asking specifically about rehearsals, rather than all the other aspects that are contingent with bands. I raise this, as other band members are maybe better at some of those, and it's good to share responsibilities - it also gives others a feeling of more worth - especially if they are better at filling their niche in the band - getting bookings, finances, looking after equipment, etc.

Again, it depends on the mix of band members, but all being equal and having a say at rehearsals can waste an awful lot of time. Some bands I've worked with have actually had 30 minutes playing time in a 3 hr rehearsal, due to 'discussions' taking up the vast majority of time. so, if there is one central character whose job it is to keep everyone on task, so much the better. Studio time isn't cheap!

That person, though, needs to know his stuff. Experience as a player, and as someone good with people management is essential.There have been several bands I've worked with where that person, who may have got the job by default, or through delusions of grandeur, was not the right person. Telling others what to do, but not in fact having much of a clue, so credibilty is lost (in my eyes) very quickly. Being able to explain simply, and expect reasonably attainable results works well. It's no good telling the drummer to do something that he knows won't work!

Another idea is to let each person (if they're happy doing it) to be in charge for specific numbers. In fact, it's a great idea, as everyone soon finds out who is the effective 'leader'. Say five players in the band, five numbers at the practice, each takes one as his 'baby'. Total responsibilty for that one. For the others, do as asked. It becomes clear what will or won't work. Then follow up with the successful 'leaders'' ideas.

There will be occasions when none of these ideas work, and that's when there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Then, the dynamic problems take over the band - perhaps it's doomed. Been there several times, rather like being on a ship with no captain. Too many people throwing in too many ideas - o.k. they may be great ideas, but is paid-for practice time appropriate for battles?

Just my tuppenceworth, but every situation is different, and can and will change, even with no personnel changes.

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You need a goal - we have to perform these 6 songs next Saturday. You need a shared acceptance that it MATTERS if you get them right. This may sound obvious, but players who just come along for a thrash aren't unknown! You need at least one person in the band who is capable of detecting problems, and has some idea what to do about them. You need to be able to hear each other. You probably need to play quieter.

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I would suggest the early practices be devoted to getting the new members up to speed on the music? Do you have charts or just recordings? Each practice they should come ready or semi-ready to play a few more of the band's songs. Click track for the drummer as suggested above is a good idea that should always be available. Bottom line is you've essentially "hired" the two new guys and it's your (and the drummer's) job to integrate them into your team. Last suggestion would be to record your practice sessions, just a mic or two in the room, nothing fancy and everyone gets a copy.

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