Ask Fan Landers: Who Should I Start My First Band With?


Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls’ Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Dear Fan,
I have almost no technical musical capabilities. However, for some reason, I have recently found myself in a situation where a few people are interested in making music with me, I suppose due to my tastes, attitude, and general involvement with DIY. This would be purely for fun and I am by no means trying to “make it” beyond creating something that I think is good. I’m trying to decide who to play with. On the one hand, a couple of my best friends want to start a band. On the other hand, a friend who I don’t know as well, but with whom I think I have more shared music/art tastes and band-oriented goals, also wants to start something. I know I don’t have time for more than one project right now. Would you play with your best friends or the person who seems more musically compatible?

First World Music Problems in Brooklyn

Dear Firsty,

Congratulations. This must be very exciting for you — and it should be. Both of your options are promising, so there is really not a bad one between the two; also, if one doesn’t work out it’s not like you suddenly turn into a fallen woman — your other friends, or maybe their friends will want to play with you. Or maybe you go solo. Or maybe you never be in a band again! WHO KNOWS! That is the excitement of it. Your first band is rarely your forever band, unless yr Michael Stipe or Salt n’ Pepa.

Ultimately, the choice here is speculative — you mostly have hunches to go on. We can indulge a half dozen parallels and mixed metaphors about dating here — but it comes down to this — you can have all the chemistry in the world but once you get in bed it’s, uh, sparkless or vice versa. And even if it’s good, you are not going to know if it’s actually magical until a month or two in.

Being in bands with other beginner types is fun, especially if you are friends and it’s not some careerist endeavor. The downfall of beginner-on-beginner bands is that sometimes it’s hard to figure out some the machinations of being a band, running a practice, writing a song, figuring out what is a good song. It can be slow going even if you are ambitious and practice tons. The fun of it is that you figure it out together and it can be as bonded and as intense as family. Being in a band with a more experience person or people can be valuable especially if you are looking to get the bands into motion more quickly, but it can also be kind of frustrating if you are just learning an instrument and they are not entirely willing to make space for that magic. If they are smart they will. Playing with established folks, (especially a good drummer) can raise your game quite quickly.

Starting a band with a best friend of mine when she was just starting to play drums was one of the hardest but most rewarding friendship experiences I have ever had, even at it’s most bitterly frustrating, when one of us would storm out of the practice space shouting or crying it just made the band mean that much more to us despite that it went approximately nowhere. Starting a band with friends can also show you sides of them that you have not known — the dictator, the person who is always late and always needs a ride, the person who talks a big game, the (wo)mansplainer — and it can be really agonizing to try and work around that new knowledge in the context of your day to day with them.

Talk to these two friend-band-options and see what they are thinking — how often do they want to play, what in their dream of dreams do they want the band to become, what are their expectations on your time, is this just a seasonal fun band? — and get on the level with them about whether you can practice more than one night a week or tour ever or just wanna keep this on the basement show low. From there, I would go with whomever feels more like a solid, training wheels situation — someone who can support your ideas and of what a beginner brings to the table — which is the sort of magic and enthusiasm and happy accidents established musicians spent their lives trying to recreate.

Welcome to musicianhood,

The Top 15 Things That Annoy the Crap Out of Your Local Sound Guy

Why EDM Is Thriving While Other Genres Are Sinking

The Oral History of NYC’s Metal/Hardcore Crossover