Hobby #1: Don’t Start a Band – Part 1

This is part 1 of a series dedicated to grown adults who love music and are considering starting a band.  In this article I will highlight some reasons why you shouldn’t start a band.  Future editions will consider some of the reasons why you might want to start a band despite this advice and some alternatives to starting a band that might work better for you.

Photo by Ruslan Alekso on Pexels.com

Part 1:  5 Reasons Why You Should Not Start a Band

Canadian rocker, Bryan Adams famously sang, “Me and some guys from school had a band and we tried real hard.  Jimmy quit and Jody got married.  I should’ve known, we’d never get far.”

The 1990s ska band Reel Big Fish had an even more pessimistic take on starting a band, “Don’t start a band.  Nobody wants to hear, nobody understands.  Don’t start a band.  You’ll be so disappointed that it was nothing like you planned.”

Adams ultimately finds success and looks back on the struggle nostalgically, while Reel Big Fish seems to provide their listeners an earnest warning about the music business.  Both of these artists ultimately found success in the music business, so perhaps their perspectives on the business should be taken with a grain of salt.  Their experience is relevant for sure, but it’s an outlier.  After all, how much could they possibly have in common with those of us who are just restarting our rockstar dreams, most of us haven’t even bothered to replace our rusty guitar stings yet.  We’re worlds apart from each other, but perhaps Bryan Adams and Reel Big Fish are tapping into a universal truth that we all can relate to: being in a band takes a lot of time and effort.

It’s not my intention to kill your rockstar dreams.  By all means, it’s your life, I think you should chase your bliss.  In fact, that’s what this blog is all about, finding happiness through making music. So, if starting a band is how you find your joy, I truly believe you should.  However, if you’ve been out of the game for a while, you may be able to learn from my experience and find a better path to happiness with out all the effort that goes into a starting a band. 

So, here are five reasons why you shouldn’t start a band:

Reason 1: Starting a Band Takes Resources

You’re and adult now.  You’ve been working for years and built a nice little nest egg for yourself.  You have a little expendable cash to spend on equipment.  Maybe you’re blessed and you’ve acquired gear you never dreamed you’d own when you were younger.  That’s wonderful, I hope you enjoy all that you’ve earned, but there are resources other than money that a band needs that are harder to come by:

  • Time: Good bands need time to rehearse, write music, play shows, make promotional materials, etc.  Do you have enough spare time to do all of this?  Do your bandmates have the time too?  Chances are that you have enough adult responsibilities that will conflict with your band duties.  Even if you have the flexibility to make it work it’s unlikely that you can find enough bandmates that don’t have scheduling challenges like soccer games, work trips, and other special events that just can’t be missed.  It’s like Adams said “Jimmy quit, Jody got married.  I should have known, we’d never get far.”
  • Energy: If you’ve never played in a gigging band before, you may underestimate the importance of energy. Consider the following situation: it’s Thursday afternoon and you’ve got a gig tonight.  You sneak out of your day job a few minutes early to meet the band at the rehearsal space to pick up the gear.  You put everything into cases including the drums, amps, guitar, public address system and load it all into your cars.  You drive to the club, but there is no parking nearby, so you have to park several blocks away. You make multiple trips to load your gear into the club.  You unpack everything from the cases and set it up.  If you’re lucky you have a quick sound check and even have few minutes to grab a bite to eat from the bar before you play.  The lights dim, you rush on stage and play a blistering 2-4 hour set.  You put every ounce of energy you have into the set, and it paid off, you played an amazing set, and you are wiped out.  Now, the show is over, the bartender pours you a beer and you get a quick minute to relax before the gear needs to be packed back into the cases and lugged back down the block to the car.  You drive back to the rehearsal space and unload the cars before driving home for a few hours of sleep before work on Friday. Sure, not every gig is that exhausting, but many are.  Maybe you’d be willing to do that once in a while, but maybe not every week.  How often do you need to play out to be happy?  Maybe you’d be content playing one gig a year.  Maybe you wouldn’t mind having a year to rehearse between gigs, but that is a lot of effort with only a little pay out.  Would your bandmates all be content with that? Maybe, maybe not.
  • Talent: A lot of us started bands when we were kids, some of you probably started your first band before you could even play an instrument.  We got together with friends, and we learned together.  We essentially created our own talent pool. Sure, that model might work as adults, but learning to play when you’re older is more difficult (but definitely not impossible if you’re dedicated).  Maybe your buddy says he’ll learn to play drums, but do you think he really has the time and dedication to make it happen.  Maybe he will, I hope he does.  However, there’s a good chance he’ll washout before you ever play a gig with him. When you’re older, you may need to draw from an established pool of players.  This may be possible in some communities, however, it may be impossible in some smaller communities.  After all, how many people in a town of 2,000 people will want to join your Meatloaf cover band? 
  • Network of support: young people are set up with a unique social structure that gives them an advantage for starting new bands.  They have easy access to their classmates, many of whom are motivated to go to shows.  Moreover, they are active on social media and have time to promote their gigs.  Of course, the average adult can learn social media and you may have tons of friends who are willing to come out to your shows.  However, most of us adults don’t have the time to keep up with all the social media trends, and our social circles tend to grow a bit tighter as we age.  Even our closest friends may not be able to make it out to see you play your 10pm Tuesday night set.
Photo by David Yu on Pexels.com

Reason 2: Competing Priorities

You and your bandmates are not kids anymore.  You have real responsibilities, things that can’t take a backseat to your band.  It’s sad, but it’s true.  You may be able to get a way with putting the band in front of work or family occasionally, but if it happens often, you’re likely to alienate yourself from those that you love the most.

If you’re a solo artist, perhaps you’ll be willing to make that sacrifice.  However, if you have bandmates you have to realize that they will need to make similar sacrifices.  Do you really expect your bass player to miss his son’s graduation to come to rehearsal? That’s just not going to happen.

Let’s say you practice every Thursday night.  If you have 4 or 5 people in a band, it’s fairly likely that one of them will have a conflict that night.  Perhaps work is sending your singer to Santa Fe for a conference next week.  Next Thursday your drummer’s kid is turning three.  You’ll find that more often than not, someone will have a conflict. 

Of course, you can have rehearsal when a band member is missing.  However, making progress that way is extremely difficult.  After all, how well can your metal band play without a drummer?  Even if you rehearse without your drummer, she wouldn’t have learned everything that you did, and she’ll have to catch up when she returns.

Reason 3: Difficult to find an Audience

With all due respect to Rush, does anyone really want to hear another Rush cover band?

When you’re young it’s easy to find an audience.  Young people are more willing to stay out late to see your midnight set at the club than us middle-aged folks.  Even if you happen to play in a great location with good foot traffic, do you think that a young crowd is going to come out and see you and your grey-bearded buddies jam each week?  Maybe they will if you’re tremendously talented or if your music is in tune with the zeitgeist, but that’s probably a stretch.

Musical tastes change over time, and most of lose interest in chasing the fads as we get older.  It’s very likely that stylistically the music that want to play doesn’t have a real world audience in your area, at least not the way it used to.  How many clubs book heavy metal bands or grunge bands anymore?  There are a few I’m sure, but not as many as there once were.  In fact, bars that book bands seem to be dwindling across genres. Those that remain are probably trying to fill a particular niche.  If you’re not aligned with it, you’re going to have a tough time booking a show.

Reason 4: Competing Goals

Maybe you have assembled a reasonably talented group of people and you want to start a band.  Do you really all want to accomplish the same goals? 

Maybe you really want to write your tunes and play live, while your drummer is more concerned with making an album.  Your singer is just in it to meeting groupies.  Your bass player is in it because she loves to hang out with you and jam, but she’s already got an important day job that is her key focus.

If you and your bandmates are not aligned in your goals, then some of you will eventually be disappointed with the outcomes you achieve (or do not achieve).  If you really love to write, would you be satisfied playing in a cover band?  If you’re not happy, why put in the effort for a hobby?

You could try and replace some folks or quit and find another band to join.  These are options and that might work out for you, but is it worth it?  Maybe if you’re dedicated to finding a way to superstardom, it might be worth it to shake up the lineup, but is superstardom really your goal?  If not, is it worth burning bridges with those you care about in the process? 

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

Reason 5: Things That Are Cool When You Are Sixteen Aren’t As Cool when You’re Sixty

This is easily the worst reason not to do something that you love.  Nonetheless, it’s worth pointing out.  When you were younger, some people may have thought you were cool if you were in a band.  Now that you’re older that luster tends to fade.  Some people may think it’s amazing that you’re following your dreams, or struggling for your art.  However, I think many other people see you a poor struggling artist, or worse, someone having a midlife crisis.

I’m woefully unqualified to speak for the younger generation, but I think it’s safe to assume that they have a very different relationship with music than us older folk have, and they may not value the type of music that you do, at least not in the same way. 

Admittedly, this is an overgeneralization. The younger generation has grown up with digital music readily accessible throughout their lives.  This means that they can choose to listen to new music and old music, or even better, they can listen all of it.  I think there is good reason to suspect that they do relate to some music associated with previous generations.  Consider the recent uptick in the popularity of Queen.   On the flipside, they’ve also grown up with newer genres like EDM (electronic dance music) that are computer-based, and not particularly well suited for bands.  Regardless of how open-minded and well-listened they are, they might enjoy hearing your band’s spirited cover of Free Bird, but an ever dwindling niche of listeners wants to listen to your four hour set of Lynyrd Skynyrd covers.  In my experience, decades based cover bands seem to do well if they can capture the zeitgeist of a time gone by.  It’s been really exciting for me to see 90’s cover bands play the songs I loved growing up.  It’s great to see how they reinvent the tunes I loved, and sometimes hated.

Regardless, what is considered cool changes over time and you’ll need to adapt if you want to continue to play live.  After all, no one wants to go see a lame band.


I stated it earlier, but it is worth repeating: my goal is not discourage you from chasing your dreams.  Rather, I want you to consider whether or not this is really the dream you want to be chasing.  We all have limited time on this planet, as we get older the time remaining is even more limited.  A rational and wise person will recognize this and try to optimize the time that they have doing activities that they love or that otherwise enrich their lives.

If you simply must play in a band, do it!  Part 2 of this series will share some reasons why you should consider ignoring what I wrote above.  Be sure to check back. 

If by the end of Part 2 you agree with me, that starting a middle-age band is not the best way for you to spend your time then you should definitely check back for Part 3.  In that installment I will share a series of ideas of what you can do instead of starting a band that might get you that similar rush, without all the effort, time, money, and sacrifice.

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Goblin Ears

I'm clinging to my youth by enjoying music as much as I can. Want to join me?

3 thoughts on “Hobby #1: Don’t Start a Band – Part 1”

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