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What's on the Island

How to add (or replace) a member of an existing band through effective auditioning. 

(Part I of II)

by Jason Montero

We had been a band for a little over a year when we got an opportunity to play in a "battle of the bands" type thing. The first prize was some dough and some high-profile shows, showcases and national openers. We wanted those shows, so we said OK. About two weeks before the gig our drummer decided that he was going to quit drinking, quit smoking and go on a macrobiotic diet. He felt playing in bars was bad for his health and he was leaving the band, immediately. We found a replacement and had less than two weeks to teach him the set for the competition.

We won the "battle" and the replacement agreed to join the band. At one of the showcases he got pissed off at our guitar player and hurled a pint beer glass at him, in a room full of windows. We were never invited back to that club and he became our second of five drummers.

A couple of years later, after finally finding a drummer who was talented, dedicated, reasonably sober and compatible with our band; our bass player came to practice and announced that his wife was pregnant and he was going to have to leave the band. For reasons it would take too long to explain here, his replacement was left in the parking lot of a closed Greyhound station in Montrose, Colorado with all of his a rainstorm. He was our second of five bass players.

My point is that if you have a working band and you stay at it for a while, you are going to have some turnover. It is a great rarity to find a band that has been together for any length of time, successful or otherwise, that has all of the same people it started with.

There are plenty of articles on how to start a band. You can find one on almost any indie music website. A good example is this
article by Suzanne Glass from INDIEMUSIC.COM , she addresses a lot of issues including places to find players. I would like to focus on how to REPLACE or ADD a player in an already existing band.

I feel it's important to say right out the gate that whether starting a band or replacing a member, chemistry is almost everything. Unless you are in very particular circumstances it is not wise to base your decision solely on musicianship or musical style. I have seen a group of individually phenomenal players make a mediocre band and I have seen a group of mediocre players make a phenomenal band.

It's the intangibles that ultimately matter; communication, unity of vision, dedication.Chemistry. This puts you at an advantage if you only need one player because you can determine how they interact with everyone else in the band. If you are starting a new band, the larger your core group is when you begin auditioning the better your chances of finding compatible people.

The first thing you need to do is figure out where to look for players. My advice is to begin in your own community. Talk to the people you know, whether they play music or not, tell them what you are looking for. You'd be surprised whose brother's, uncle's, neighbor's, boyfriend is looking for a band. Go to jams and open mic nights. Sit in, talk to people, you may jam with someone and click or see someone playing whose style you dig. Go out and see other bands play. They might be on the verge of breaking up, or a cat in their band could be considering leaving or looking for a side project. Ask around.

While doing this you may also want to run an ad in your local entertainment paper or post in the classifieds on music websites. Maybe a player is new to town and she doesn't know anything about the scene yet, she could be looking in the paper and web classifieds to find people to play with. I've gotten calls from people who were moving to our town and trying to find a project before they arrived. I've spoken to a few people who didn't care where they lived, they were just trying to find the right band and they were conducting national searches on indie music sites.

This is a trickier gambit because in most cases you will be talking to absolute strangers and more than likely by e-mail or over the phone. In my experience, using these combined methods of shaking the tree and putting out an ad you will end up with plenty of options. This brings us to the next step, how to go about the interview process.

The first few times we auditioned people for our band we would talk to them informally on the phone and if they didn't seem like a complete freak we would get together with them, sit down and talk, jam a little and see where it led. This often took a very long time and sometimes you'd know in the first few minutes that it just wasn't a fit. We have since worked out a better system that saves a lot of hassle and uncomfortable moments.

We made up a list of questions that we would ask each person we talked to, stuff that was important to us and gave us some indication of where their head was at. It helps at this stage of the process to know what's important to you and where your head is at. Aside from straight up personality conflicts, I believe that the biggest reason people leave a band is different goals. Do you want to play a couple times a month on weekend nights for fun and beer money? Do you want to play original music, cover songs or both? Do you want to travel? Is music a hobby for you or is it a career path? What are your goals and how do you plan to achieve them? What sacrifices are you willing to make?

I've heard a lot of different things from people leaving our band. Someone might be starting a family and not be able to deal with all the travel and time off from work. Another might be going back to school to complete their degree. Some folks get caught up in the "rock and roll mythos" and think playing in a band means flying around in Lear jets doing lines of cocaine off of a super model's ass. When they find out it usually means sleeping in a van, living on $10 a day and driving through the night they may not be as anxious to "sell their soul for rock and roll." It helps if everyone in your group wants the same things and are willing to sacrifice the same things to get them.

The right player for your band might be a bad choice for another band and it could have nothing to do with musical ability or personality. If your goal is to be the next PHISH, with a 150 night a year gigging schedule, no day job and a bus with a shower you want to make sure you don't find a guy who's planning on playing in a band while he finishes his law degree and then intends to go to work full time and raise a family.

This month we looked at where to find players and how important it is to know the goals of your band and the musicians you audition . . . NEXT MONTH we'll look at all the nuts and bolts; the interview, auditions, and callbacks.

READ PART II . . . The questions to ask and how to run your audition!

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Jason Montero is a guitarist, singer and songwriter out of Charlotte, NC. He has been a professional musician for over ten years, playing in a variety of groups and arrangements and on numerous recordings. He is a co-founder of the band Honey Child ( who have been making music and touring for more than seven years.




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