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What's on the Island

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

(Part II of II)

by Jason Montero

Last month I looked at where to find players and how important it is to know the goals of your band and the musicians you audition (if you missed Part I of the article you can Read it Here). This month I'll look at all the nuts and bolts; the interview, auditions, and callbacks.

As I stated in the first part of this article 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. It's critical to ask some important questions to make sure everyone in your group wants the same things and are willing to sacrifice the same things to get them.

The following questions are the type of things we'd ask and why I feel they are important:

What are your musical influences? Most of us play in the vein of what we listen to. If a guy cites a bunch of jazz influences and you're starting a punk band you might want to make sure you're on the same page. I wouldn't say to immediately exclude them, hey you never know, but it should raise an eyebrow. Also, if you're talking to a bass player and she says Les Claypool and Jacquo are her greatest influences be prepared to meet a really notey, out in front type of player. This question isn't a deal breaker but it can give you some insight.

What type of gear do you play? This can give you a clue as to a player's style as well as level of dedication and professionalism. Again, it's all about what your looking for. If you're starting a bluegrass band and you talk to a guitar player who has a Paul Reed Smith he plays through a Line 6, down a half step and in drop C# tuning you may want to move him to the B list. If a guy doesn't know what he plays, "I've got an electric guitar and an amp." It will tell you something about their experience or their priorities. This question is also not a deal breaker, but good things to know.

Tell me about the last band you were in. This will tell you a lot about a player's experience and goals. Why did they leave that band? How long was it together? Did they play the same instrument in that band that they are auditioning for in your band? This is another case where it's important to know what you're looking for. If you have a band that plays all your songs and your talking to a potential drummer who played guitar, sang and fronted his last band playing all his own songs; you have to be aware of the fact that you might be about to get another writer and singer in the group as well as a drummer. Are you OK with that? Is it something that they're still interested in doing? Are they hoping to maintain a side project?

Why are you interested in joining our band? Basically, what are your goals? After our band had been around for a while it became easier to weed people out with this question. A lot of the people who would call would already know what we were about; had seen us playing in the clubs, knew we traveled and played 3-5 nights a week, knew we wrote our own songs etc.I can't stress enough how important this question is. As with all these questions they are asked to create a dialogue. You'll want to explain your goals as a band and see if they're open to them.

Maybe someone calls and says they're hoping to play a few shows a month, write songs and have a good time. That doesn't mean they're not open to playing full time if they think it's realistic. Maybe they've had some bad experiences, or played with mostly unfocused and unmotivated people and they think that's all they can hope for. If you're serious and you have your shit together and you communicate that, they may be willing to take another chance. Conversely, if you talk to someone who wants to play regularly and make a living at it and you're just looking for someone to play 2 nights a month, they might be able to give you that time and still find another project to fill up their time. I have met many people who play in more than one band and manage to balance it out.

You'll want to gear your questions toward what it is you're looking for. I've had a conversation with a player and ended up hooking them up with a buddy's band that needed someone because it was a better fit. Try and get a feel for the person on the phone. Better an awkward moment or question on the phone than wasting your and their time meeting for an audition. Explain this to them if you feel uncomfortable or "cold" running down a list of questions. I have had a lot of people thank me for approaching this seriously and professionally and not wasting their time.

Now you have a short list (or at least shorter) of potential players, having narrowed your choices in the interview process. Make some tapes of three or four of your songs and ask all the people your interested in to come pick one up. I usually go to some centrally located coffee shop for a few hours and ask them all to stop by. That way you get to meet them face-to-face on neutral ground. If you have a lot of time, or that's a hassle, you can always mail a tape, or e-mail mp3s, whatever, just get them some music. It is now time to set up the audition.

The most effective and painless way I have discovered to do this is to get a rehearsal space for a number of hours and rent or borrow the piece of gear you are auditioning someone on. If you don't have a place that you usually rehearse, or would rather not hold the audition there, most towns have a rehearsal studio where you can rent a room by the hour affordably. You can usually rent a drum kit, or a bass rig or guitar amp from a music store for a day pretty inexpensively. You can save a lot of time at the audition not having to deal with all the set up and breakdown.

A lot of the drummers we auditioned wanted to use their own snare, that's cool. Most guitarists have particular pedals and such they use, no problem. We try to be accommodating but it can be telling if someone is completely uncomfortable with playing foreign gear, especially if they're in the rhythm section. We have a number of gigs where a backline is provided and you have to use it. You know the dynamics of your own situation, largely it will tell you if a player can roll with it and make do. At the initial audition it's not really important to scrutinize someone's tones.

We'd give each player a half hour slot, have them come in and play on the tunes we'd given them and then do some improvisational jamming. You don't have to decide in a half hour who you're going to choose, you just want to narrow it down to a few players who you can get together with for a few hours on their own gear. Again, be up front about what's going on. Explain that it's not a high pressure situation and that you're completely aware that they're not on their own gear, and that they're in a room full of strangers,'re just going to see if there's a click.

In a half hour you can tell what kind of work someone put into the songs you gave them, what their overall attitude is and how they gel musically with the rest of the band. Get the rehearsal space for two or three nights the following week and invite back the most promising candidates for a full night of playing. It might be a good idea to give them some more music.

After getting together for the callbacks and playing with each person for a few hours, you'll either have someone you can start working with or you start the process all over again. On rare occasions we'd choose two people and start working with them both to see how it developed. We've always been completely above board about that with everyone involved. On one occasion we called a guy from the rehearsal space at the end of the half hour auditions and offered him the gig. He's still our drummer today, sometimes you just know.

The reality is that the hardest part of being in a band is keeping it together. Although it's the "rock and roll dream" to start a band with a group of your buddies and be rocketed to fame and fortune, that is a small minority and more typically it's a lot of hard work, practice, sacrifice and the ability to change and grow.

People's priorities change, their goals change, they make decisions on new information. Fortunately, every time you replace a person in your band, or add a new member, it's an opportunity to think about what you're doing and why, where you're headed and what you ultimately hope to achieve.

Group performance is a unique endeavor; every individual is a vital part of the ultimate group dynamic. You may take on a new person only to find out they complete, or change, or evolve your sound. It may sound like an arduous process, but I can tell you that having gone through it literally dozens of times has made me clearer about my intentions, more respectful of my band mates dedication and, I feel, a better player.

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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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