What to Pay Attention to When Auditioning a Potential New Band Member

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

There are bands out there that have been performing for so long that all of their members have been replaced twice. There are other bands that lose one member and then break up, unable to rebuild that chemistry with anyone else. Bandmates have a private language, a way of relating, and a musical style that’s hard to articulate by simply naming influences. It’s easy to understand why finding the right fit is so difficult. But you’re not going anywhere without a full roster. Here are eight things you need in a bandmate and how to audition for those key attributes, using Mary, the imaginary drummer, as our test case. We’ll assume she’s already seen your flyer with your 18 favorite bands on it and is excited about your genre of music.

1. Show up on time
It might seem obvious. It might seem stupid. But there are millions of wonderful musicians out there who are always late, oversleep, and miss rehearsal, or can’t seem to keep a vehicle on the road to get to shows. If Mary can’t make it on time to the audition, has car problems, or has trouble coming up with gas money to get to you, expect that to be an everyday thing… even if she swears that she usually has her act together. If she’s super talented, that makes it even worse, because you’re afraid you’ll never find someone as good if you let her go. But believe me, nothing is more aggravating in a band than having to wonder where the drummer is.

2. Match your working style
Think about the way your band adds material. Do you play covers or originals? Do you do a lot of improvising? Do you write as a group, or does one songwriter bring a completed song to rehearsal, where the other players add their parts? Some bands practice songs on their own at home, and then bring them together having already learned the tunes. Others carve improv sessions into new songs in a collaborative process. Whatever your process is, put your applicant through it. Approximate your regular working style as much as possible to make sure that Mary can handle it. You’ll find out pretty quickly if she’s bullheaded about making changes or can’t take criticism.

3. Able to handle all of your material
We’ve all heard players who sound amazing playing their favorite style, but fall apart or get frustrated when faced with a different groove. Mary might be great at playing a straight funk, but if your band has ballads, something super fast, or a song in an odd time signature, she’d better hear that stuff too, so you know she can play it. The best players get bored playing similar material all the time, and actually excel when given some diversity to work with.

4. Strong stage presence
Maybe you’re in a goth band that stands motionless during your shows, surrounded by skulls and candles. But for most bands, showmanship is important. You don’t need to be on stage to have stage presence; it should be obvious in rehearsal. Players with good stage presence need to be comfortable enough with their instruments that they can divide their attention. If Mary shows some emotion while playing, makes eye contact to look for cues or changes, and acknowledges something cool that another player just did, she’s probably going to be a good performer. If she keeps her head down, trying not to screw up, then that’s probably what you should expect during a live show. Maybe that’s okay for your band, but you should know before you hire her.

5. The right attitude (whatever that means for your band)
There are eager young players who may not have the chops to keep up with you. Then there are crusty veterans who only seem to care about getting paid. Somewhere in the middle of that continuum is the player you want. If Mary can play well and have fun, that’s a great sign. But you should be thinking about what other personal traits you’re looking for. Does your band have a political, religious, or social outlook? Does Mary need to be an anarchist, an environmentalist, or a nihilist to fit in with the rest of you? These things should probably be made clear from the outset. Then there’s the level of sarcasm she’ll have to deal with. If your bandmates rip each other constantly and throw crude jokes back and forth, you’d better not hold back during the audition. You need to know if she’ll give it right back, ignore you, or get upset.

6. Thinks your band is great
Just like a job applicant, Mary’s auditioning you, too. This means that your band should be ready to play well for her. The rest of you should be there before Mary arrives, warmed up, tuned up, and prepared to rock.

7. Capable of performing sober
There’s an uncomfortably close relationship between music and alcohol, and countless bands have been brought down (or made much worse) by drug abuse. People who abuse tend to normalize this behavior. If Mary shows up to the audition and asks for alcohol – or brings her own, and starts drinking during the audition – that’s a major red flag. This holds true even if you tend to have a beer or two yourselves during rehearsals.

8. The final verdict
After you’ve auditioned Mary, you may want to sign her up on the spot. Or you may have decided she’s not right for you. Or you may need to have a band meeting and decide between her and Bill the Other Drummer. Either way, somebody needs to call her and give the thumbs up or thumbs down. Nobody likes making the thumbs-down call, but it’s disrespectful not to. After all, she took time out of her day, came to your rehearsal space, and put up with your band for a couple of hours. If it’s a “no,” she deserves to hear it from you, be thanked for her time, and not have to sit around wondering if she got the gig. In the end, all towns are small towns, and treating people respectfully and politely can only help your band rise.


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