Doing the ‘band thing’

I received an email the other day from a TesseracT fan by the name of Ryan, asking me for advice on being in a band. How to get the work / band balance correct. How to fit in time for rehearsal. How to make connections and book shows etc. The questions are great and I think potentially helpful to many people - so instead of replying directly to Ryan’s email, I’m going to write a blog covering each question instead.

“How do we get the ball rolling? How did TesseracT do it back in the day?”

I’m going to answer the second part of that question first. TesseracT spent two years rehearsing every weekend. We’d set up on a Saturday, play through the material we had and then spend maybe half a day rehearsing on the Sunday - usually having spent the Saturday evening drinking Leffe in my tiny house in Twyford or getting drunk with our buddies in Reading.

I own my own rehearsal studios so we were fortunate to have no costs for the studio time, other than our travel, and we also didn’t have any time constraints. Plus once we’d set up all our gear, we really needed two days to be able to casually drop into rehearsal rather than being super disciplined about our times. That’s just how we work. I’m not saying this is a good way to do it - we were just fortunate enough to have that luxury.

After perhaps 18 months rehearsing the same few songs (Concealing Fate Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Sunrise, Nascent and April), we had enough material to choose from to create a live set and book some shows. Amos was the first to suggest we get something booked in the calendar, so we each asked around our network of friends and other bands to see who would book us. We managed to fumble together a five-date mini tour of the UK. Bracknell, Leeds, Wolverhampton, Weston-Super-Mare and Milton Keynes. It was crap, but it was a start and we learned so much from those five shows. Plus the terror of taking this project live was finally gone.

If you’ve not played a show yet and you’re working on your own material, it’s very difficult to decide when you’re ready to play live. In my band before TesseracT, we spent a ridiculous amount of time rehearsing and tweaking, only to ever play maybe ten to fifteen shows. It was worth it because it made me the connections to eventually join TesseracT. It also taught me that you need to jump in at the deep end sometimes and book a show. The experience of a single gig is worth many rehearsals.

It’s been a very long time since anyone in Tess’ has booked a show on the bands behalf - we have booking agents do this for us now. Back in the day, we would ring around bars and venues, email promoters, speak to other bands we knew. I’d imagine those methods will still work today but there’s almost certainly online forums / directories for these things. Facebook groups are a good place to start - I’ve heard UKTM on Facebook is useful.

One thing to watch out for is the promoters who offer pay-to-play shows, where you’re required to buy a number of tickets to sell to your fans. These are bad - the promoter isn’t promoting anything and he / she is getting their money regardless because you’ve bought all the tickets. My advice would be to stay away from these type of deals. Yes - it’s appealing to play a show somewhere outside your town but not if you’re buying a chunk of the tickets.

If you’re struggling to make connections with bigger bands and promoters, try another tactic. TesseracT gets inundated with messages from bands and musicians asking us to check out their latest music and asking if we can ‘play a show together’ or if they can open the local show in their city. Sorry world, it doesn’t work like that. We have a booking agent who books our shows and at the level of business at which we operate, every decision is strategic. I couldn’t even get my own side band ‘Heights’ to open for TesseracT at this stage.

You can for sure make connections with other bands who are starting out by messaging them on any of the various social platforms - if you genuinely have something to offer them, i.e. a gig swap. Put on a show in your home town and see if there are any bands out there who will play it, in exchange for you performing in their town. Better yet, look out for shows in other towns and go to them to see if they’re the type of band / people you want to work with. Face to face will always beat a written message.

I wouldn’t advise contacting more advanced bands on Facebook in the hope that one of them will respond and offer you a chance. In my experience this isn’t effective.

Photo credit to 'spaetfried' on Instagram

“How do you handle the work / band balance?”

The short answer is, unless you come from money or are a successful entrepreneur - the hard way. I’d for sure encourage you to set up a business that you can run from anywhere in the world. That’s easier said than done but the eventual freedom it creates is life changing. I know this from experience. Everyone in TesseracT has some sort of side-business which runs along side the band and none of these businesses require us to sit behind a desk in Slough.

The other option is to try to hold down some form of regular job alongside the band for a long time - this is really difficult and detrimental to both in my opinion, but I do understand that for some people, it’s the only option. I worked as a civil servant for seven years, then as an assistant bid writer for three years - all the time trying to be in a band. I was drumming with TesseracT for three years whilst holding down a regular 9-5 office job and it just became unrealistic. I was exhausting my annual leave entitlement on short European tours and it got to the stage where I literally had to either leave my job or miss the opportunity for TesseracT to tour the US for the first time - so I quit my job, which was a pretty big leap of faith.

Music is a risky business and I do feel that in order to be in with a chance of succeeding, you’ve got to be willing to take leaps of faith. Mine have been: First when I moved across the UK to be in a band; Second when I quit my job to focus on Tess’.

You’ve really got to do everything possible to make it work - working as hard as you can. We all need money to exist and to fund the early years of a band, so unfortunately my answer is, you need to do whatever you need to do. Make your decisions from the heart but pay attention to your head.

There’s a section in the email which doesn’t directly ask a question but does touch on a problem every band faces - line ups and band member changes.

"How to find the right people to work with."

This is the most difficult thing to get spot on. Especially as people get older and collect more life and financial commitments.

The first thing to ask yourself is this -

Do I want to form a business with this person / these people?’

Do you trust these people with your money and to make smart decisions on your behalf? If the answer to that is no, then don’t be in a band with them as you’re delaying an inevitable problem. Eventually a band can become a business and at that stage, everyone in the business becomes a director, a decision maker, a shareholder… It’s not a fun question to ask yourself but it’s a vitally important one.

Another huge difficulty is finding the right people to start a band with. The easy option is to look locally and look within your group of friends - and sure, that can work if you’re really really lucky. For the majority of successful bands though, it’s fair to say that they have made a significant life-move at some point, to a different town or even country in order to make a band happen. If you’re struggling to find the right people for your project locally, then expand your vision globally. Believe me, when you’re touring the world it will seem like a much smaller place. You can absolutely collaborate with musicians across different continents and then get together for strategic rehearsals just before a tour. Maybe that sounds farfetched but I know bands that do this. TesseracT did for a while - Amos lived in Shanghai for four years and we still made it work - easily. Dan sang in and toured with Skyharbour - a band based in India.

The final important point to consider (other than obviously the ability to play an instrument and collaborate creatively) is - Do I like this person? - I’ve only ever once been in a band with a person who drove me absolutely crazy and it was the honestly worst time of my musical life. I was miserable. The rest of the band were miserable. It was really bad until it was resolved. If you’re having genuine arguments with anyone in your band or if there’s any unresolved tension, either resolve it or move on. Don’t let these people hold you back or make your life miserable - let go and move onto better things.

I’d like to end this blog by thanking Ryan for his questions and by hopefully giving his project Away With the Seas a little nudge in the right direction.

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