The AIM Guide to Starting a Band at Southampton University

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Besides working with the Alternative and Indie Music society, being in a band at Southampton has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had: you get the opportunity to meet new people, enjoy new music (including your own, hopefully) and sample some of the city’s best and lesser-known venues.
When it comes down to it, my only regret was not getting the whole thing going a lot sooner, having wasted my entire first year on the sidelines or attending the odd open mic as a solo artist.

It occurred to me one of the key reasons for this was not really knowing how to get started: Where to meet the right people, where you could practice once you were all ready, how to go about getting booked for shows at local venues, and so on.
It was a nice surprise to discover that everything you need is readily available on your doorstep no matter where you live in this town, so with that in mind here goes:

Where to Start – If you haven’t met them by accident on a drunken night out, it’s unlikely that you’ll just miraculously bump into your talented line-up of members.
As a result it’s up to you to get out and look for them.

  • Your first port of call is mutual friends, ask around your immediate friends group and find out if they know anyone who plays an instrument who might be interested in being a part of your free-form jazz odyssey.
  • Branch out to Facebook. Make a status stating what/who you’re looking for and ask people to ask their friends.
    While you’re on there you may as well join the Facebook groups for
    AIM (The Alternative and Indie Music Society) – good if you’re looking for those hipster kids with twangy guitars and floppy haircuts
    LiveSoc (The Live Music Society) – great as an all-rounder, they’ve got a huge variety of talented musicians
    RockSoc (The Rock Music Society) – your best bet for long hair and screamo vocals
    Make a post in each of these groups stating exactly what you’re looking for. They host thriving communities who are more than happy to help you out and put you in touch with the right people.
  • Don’t close your browser just yet as LiveSoc also have a website boasting a comprehensive member list including each individual’s favoured instruments, availability and what they’re looking to perform.
  • If you’re feeling particularly enterprising, design a poster with your name and number/e-mail/Facebook details (depending on how you feel about handing out personal information) on some rippable tabs at the bottom. Ask around campus about putting them up where they’ll be seen.
  • Go along to a few open mic nights around town. Suggested venues include SUSU, The Hobbit, Talking Heads, Shooting Star, Bent Brief and so on.

What Then? – OK so you’ve been inundated with comments, texts, e-mails, letters and telegrams from which you’ve managed to pick and choose what you’re hoping will be the star lineup for your supergroup.
My next suggestion would be to head straight to the pub at the first chance you get.
It’s important to know that you’ll get on with this lot, at least on a fundamental level, and what better way to find out than sharing a few pints and maybe some nachos together?

Talent food.

This is also a great opportunity to discuss what you each hope to get out of the project.
Your dreams of being a runaway success, giving up your degree and touring the world for 10 years may not be reflected my your prospective members and it’s important to establish a context under which this plan goes ahead.
It’s amazing how quickly differing levels of commitment can affect how much you collectively enjoy playing together, so make sure you establish a firm foundation of mutual agreement on your goals. Is it just for fun, or are you taking this seriously?
It’s also a good idea to find out how much past experience each of you has, both in your instruments and (if you feel it’s the direction you’re likely to take) playing live.

Keeping in Touch – The best advice I can give you on communication is to head straight back to Facebook and create a private group with your new bandmates.
Here you can post links, photos, events, info about practice times and gig opportunities, and any other chatter in a way that is much easier to keep track of than a giant message stream between all of you.
You’ll also tend to find that general banter in this group brings you all closer together without having to organise meetings all the time.

Yeah we're gonna be "huge"
Another day in the Triassic private contact group.

This is also the best place to stick up demos or samples of recordings you want to work on together.

Booking Your First Practice – Practice space around Southampton and your very own SUSU isn’t always very well advertised but believe me it’s there!

  • LiveSoc have a number of practice slots pre-booked in The Cube every Saturday, which also come with some free-to-use equipment. Details are available on their website. I’ve used these before and they’re mostly very reliable.
    My only hang-up would be timing as you typically don’t get much more than an hour and a half which, when you include setting up and packing down your gear, isn’t always enough time to start work with a new group.
    These are more practical when you’re hoping to do a few run-throughs of a set-list before an upcoming gig!
  • SUSU has its own room booking system available for use by all students, this is especially convenient when band members may not be available on weekends but you all somehow have a free afternoon on Wednesdays or whatever.
    NB -Be sure to book an appropriate space, death metal at SUSU Café probably wouldn’t go down too well.
  • If you’re getting no love from the union, try looking further afield! There are a number of dedicated spaces at convenient locations in Southampton. These will cost you a small amount for hiring but in return you get up to 6 hours of quality practice time and equipment to boot!
    River Studios are my personal favourite as they offer good rates and decent equipment for a nominal fee.

Building Your Fanbase – Once you’ve come up with a snappy name and you’re ready to go public, it’s time to start reeling in the punters. A lot of this is up to you and there is an innumerable number of ways to go about it, so I won’t focus on it too much.
The basic areas to cover are Facebook and Twitter as these are used most by almost any target audience. Encourage your bandmates to invite all their friends so you’ve got a community of fans who are actually interested in what you have to offer.
My personal advice would be to avoid spam at all costs. Try to make any content you post both engaging and relevant to you as a band. Find a niche or unique quirk about yourselves and make a big thing out of it! 

Lol dinofarts.
Engaging AND relevant.

Also, be sure to list working contact details so that anyone looking to book you in future knows how to get in touch.

OK We’re Ready to Play to Real People! – If everything up to this point has gone well and you’ve established a decent following then it’s time to get the hype going.

  • You may want to consider playing some smaller open mics as an acoustic act in order to promote yourselves. The people attending these events are likely to be wired into the local music scene and you can be sure to meet them again, so try and make some friends!
  • Search for the pages and groups of local venues like Joiners, Talking Heads and Soul Cellar. Make contact and ask about available slots for an up and coming student band.
  • Get in touch with us at AIM. We run a monthly gig at SUSU called Frequency which is all about giving local artists a chance to play to a consistently decent crowd. We’re always looking for fresh talent and if we can’t get you a slot, we’ll feature you in a Live Lounge session on our weekly Surge radio show ‘AIM Hour’ instead!
  • When you nail your first slot, try and get as many people along as possible. It’s a real confidence booster to see so many of your friends there and makes a fantastic impression on the venue who will be more likely to try and book you in future as a result.
  • If you know anyone who works for local student media (The Edge, Surge, SUSUtv etc) try and get someone along to record or review your show. There’s nothing more heart warming than logging into The Edge website and finding a gleaming review of your first performance.

Finally, I realise this is probably a cliché but for heaven’s sake enjoy yourself.
Whether it’s a future career path or just a hobby, there really isn’t any point unless it’s fun. If you feel it’s becoming a chore, don’t be afraid to try something different and reignite your passion for the music you’re playing.

See you at Glastonbury ’13!

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Discussion6 Comments

  1. avatar

    From my experiences in SUSU bands, practice space and finding nice promoters is the biggest struggle – this article clears alot of that kinda stuff up, so I hope it helps people! Makes me really wanna start a band…

  2. avatar

    A shockingly painful read. Surely nobody with the capacity to play music in a band actually needs this information? It is cringe-worthy and egotistical. Particularly the advice to revolve your band around facebook… “You’ll also tend to find that general banter in this group brings you all closer together without having to organise meetings all the time.” Oh dear. Nice way to plug Triassic though!

    Jonny Vaughan
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    I’m really sorry if this article has rubbed you up the wrong way ‘Name’.
    As an an arguably competent musician I felt this information wasn’t made clear to me at at all in first year or at any point during my time here.

    It’s nice to know that there are many local artists who’ve worked this out for themselves as that shows passion and drive.
    I just figured it might be helpful to encourage anyone who was unsure about how to go about this despite their aspirations!

    Rob
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    Name you sound a little bitter. You say that “nobody with the capacity to play music in a band actually needs this information”; however, there’s no necessary correlation between being a talented musician and knowing how to market yourself or interact with the music industry whatsoever, so your claim is completely unjustified. Moreover, it could be argued that the fact that Triassic was plugged through the article provides a good example of how to plug one’s band, thus making the article doubly helpful to the reader (in that it provides both sound advise and a concrete example).

    Jonny Vaughan
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    The plugging was a very secondary motive
    I think it’s fair to say the pictures are there for comic relief from the wall of text.
    I should also point out that since this advice is based on personal experiences it only makes sense to use examples from my own life rather than attributing my assertions to the actions of another artist.

  3. avatar

    Great stuff! Thanks so much for posting this – really informative and answers alot of questions! And hey, if it’s worked so far for you…
    Thanks again – *Off to the Livesoc website*.

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