Joel from Boston writes:

I wonder if you have any suggestions for finding a band. What I’m really looking for is a good bandleader. I’d like to be in a semi-professional band with fully professional people — like Hit & Run — if I could meet someone like Rebecca, male or female, I’d join that band right away. I feel like I could be a better player to be under the guidance of somebody invested in making a band_ sound good. I’ve been going to jams, but that doesn’t seem to be turning up very much. What other ways would you suggest to get my name out? Is this covered in your book, “How to Make a Band Work”?


Dear Joel,

Well, this is a good question, and I think it’s a great focus for you. This is not covered in How to Make a Band Work (it assumes the band is already together, and it talks to the band or band leader).

To get your name out, go to lots of jams and play great, seem like an agreeable guy, and keep gravitating to the best singers and players. Hint: Many of the best jams, with the best musicians, happen quite late at bluegrass festivals. At some point you’ll start getting to know them, especially if you’ve shown yourself to be an excellent player and nice guy. Sooner or later, you’ll get in a good band that way, whether they ask you or you ask them to start a band with you.

Most great bluegrass bands have had a powerful lead singer and at least one standout instrumentalist. (Pause while you think of exa-mples. There are almost no exceptions.) If you want to be in a band that does well, find your way to the best lead singer you can. That is the critical element (this and the need for great material are discussed in the How to Make…. book). You can imagine how I felt when Tim O’Brien agreed to start a band with me! Great lead singers are not easy to find. A really good tenor singer is tough to find too. When you have both, that’s paydirt.

You are also in need of an organized and aggressive band leader — someone who can get gigs and guide the band musically. Those are in really short supply too, especially among people who are skilled musicians.

To get in a group with people like that, you have to have something significant to offer. I haven’t heard you in quite some time, but I bet you’ve been improving steadily. Consider whether what you have to offer is so good that the people you want to be in a band with would think they were lucky to get *you*.

What this leads to is: to add to your value as a prospective band member, various non-banjo skills can be pivotal:

  1. Good at and willing to work hard to get GIGS. Bands thrive on gigs, and die without them. This skill is discussed at some length in How to Make… along with how to keep the band organized in everything from travel (road managing) to rehearsals to sound checks to interpersonal issues. This person can and often does get extra pay for their work (as these are “band leader” functions.

  2. Good baritone singer (not an awful lot of those). (Note: #s 1 and 2 are what I offered Hot Rize, and one or the other has figured in in every band I’ve been in.)
  3. Own and can do well running a good sound system, including a big enough vehicle to transport it. This is a biggie, both asset-to-the-band-wise and work-wise. Like #1, it often can get extra money for the one who does it. At first, though, it’s probably better to offer it free except on fat gigs.
  4. Write good material that the lead singer likes to sing (though you don’t have to be in a band to write for a band). This one has been another asset in my “portfolio”.
  5. Less of a critical factor, but it’s great to offer: a convenient, comfortable, and hospitable place to practice.

So those are some really good *band* oriented assets you can offer. If you are only equipped to play banjo, you’d have to be a mighty good picker to beat the “competition” of other good banjo players who might have other assets to offer a good band.

I’ll stop there. I feel this is solid, realistic advice, and you can figure out how you stand with respect to these skills, and which ones you may want to cultivate. You are young enough to embark on any of these, learn as you go, and within a year or two, be really good at them.

Best of luck, Joel!