Sax on the Web Portal - Starting a combo

  • Starting a combo

    I'm certainly not the most experienced individual in the world, but I've been playing in a jazz combo of some form or another for the past 5 years, and a bit over a year ago I started up the group I'm currently with, Zarathustra. (If you want to check us out and see a little bit more of what we do you can send me a private message.) I'd say that most of the stuff that people have been saying is valuable. I think there is nothing better in terms of learning how to play than actually playing in a real, live setting.

    Now onto the important stuff:
    1. Make sure you've got access to music. This may be through a teacher, parent, friend, whatever, but get some fakebooks. Once you have some fakebooks, if you have any knowledge about music theory then do some arranging and make your own arrangements. I'd say get comfortable playing some standards before you try writing your own stuff (and when I say some I mean a lot.)

    2. Try your best to practice as often as possible. My group performed at least once a week and practiced at least once a week (provided we didn't have any other gigs set up) and we learned a lot rather quickly, so imagine what you could do just by practicing twice a week. And make sure these practice sections are actually practice sessions. It's good to occasionally go off and jam on whatever you may like, but it's just as important to spend time woodshedding even the most basic of jazz charts.

    3. Look around for local places that my be good performance spots and get to know the people that work there. Our first gigs came from a local coffee shop in our area. Myself and the other "leader" got to the know the owners of the place well enough (or at least became comfortable enough with them) to ask them if they wanted a band to play there and that's how we got our start. And don't be afraid to ask multiple places, because as long as you bring in customer's, most places will be more than willing to let you play there.

    4. Use any connections you might have. I know some very great musicians in the Northwestern Ohio/ Southern Michigan jazz scene and thanks to them I've either been able to pulled down a gig, get music or have a good word put in on my behalf. If you know people with connections, ask for their help, chances are they will be more than willing to help you.

    5. Make sure there is a "leader." That leader doesn't need to take any public credit or get on an ego trip about it, but somebody needs to be in charge, run rehearsals, book gigs, etc etc. Without that things get muddy and nothing gets done. My group actually has two leaders. This works ok because myself and the other leader communicate everything as soon as we find out about it, but this can also lead to trouble, so I'd suggest just picking one and going from there.

    6. Be professional. Seriously. It's important. Show up on time, be set up WELL before your show starts and be dressed appropriately for the performance at hand. If you're playing at a bar on a friday night you could get away with looking a bit casual, but don't ever look bad or sloppy, look clean and nice, even when "dressing down." Act like you know what you're doing (but don't be cocky) and do your best to be polite to everybody, even hecklers.

    7. Have fun. A big part of your success lies in 2 things: 1. whether or not the group is committed to learning and working on the music and 2. whether or not the group enjoys playing together. If both of these things don't happen then you'll stumble the entire way. I've actually had to remove people from my group because of both of these problems. It's never fun to do that, but now thanks to that we are a hard working, cohesive group that loves what we do. If you guys have fun while you're playing not only will you give off a more intense and full performance but the audience will be able to tell that you're enjoying it as much as they are.

    I suppose that's all I have at the moment...but I'll let you know if I think of anything else.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Starting a combo started by redryder View original post
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. cliveyx's Avatar
      cliveyx -
      Try to start out like any small business and look for a market. If there are places to play thats great. Do a freebie or give them a demo. If there are no suitable venues you may have to become a promoter as well and that get`s risky but can pay off big time.

      If you need to make money then it`s essential to build the profile of your band ie Press/radio/TV coverage. That will help you get gigs and negotiate better fees. Keep the band close, small and tight so you can use small PA and a Small transport System.

      Thats a pretty good start without knowing anything about what you want to achieve. Main thing is try to and be as Pro as you can.
    1. fsaxwas9's Avatar
      fsaxwas9 -
      Based on my very limited experience compared to some, I'd probably be more qualified to tell you what NOT to do, but that's helpful sometimes too. I think Clivey hit on a hugely important point about being "as Pro as you can." Don't think that can be overstated.

      Always be prepared, always be on-time, wear the proper attire, have a good quality demo recording, quality promotion materials and web site. Isn't getting started up is kind of a full time job if you're not already an established player on the scene?

      I think it helps a lot of there's a differentiator to set your group apart from similar groups. Could be featuring a vocalist on some tunes, specializing in certain genre, arrangements, etc.

      What is the standard these days as far as promotion strategy, demo packages, website features, etc.? I'd like to know more about this myself....
    1. adamk's Avatar
      adamk -
      Whatever style(s) of music you decide to play. Be sure that all band members are really cool with it and can play it or are very motivated to learn.
      That's been a problem with one of my bands in terms of drummer/percussion players. Genre will define the band alot. Too diverse and it can be hard to find work.
    1. JayePDX's Avatar
      JayePDX -
      You asked sort of a generalized question, so it's a bit hard to know exactly how to answer. But here is my take:

      1) Build it from a nucleus: If you have just two or three musicians you play with, start getting a 'book' together with those folks. Start with around 6-10 songs and get them down to a degree where you are comfortable with them. When you are there, then add whatever piece of instrumentation you are lacking.

      Reason is this: it is easier and more focused to start with a nucleus that already has familiarity and focus and a conception, then to just get 4 or 5 people together and start with "OK, so what should we start with ?". It's not hard to 'add' a drummer, or bass player, or second horn, or keys or guitar to an already-formed trio or duo.

      1a) Appoint an Enlightened Despot. A band needs a leader, someone who is gonna be in charge of logistics and musical direction. I love Egalitarinism (three cheers !), but in a band it doesn't work very well. Gotta be someone heading up this Fiasco.

      2) Once you have everyone on board and you are practicing regularly (at least once a week, the more the better), work your 'book' or repertoire up to 12-16 tunes. After a few practices, start recording the sessions on something simple, even just a laptop or a Zoom portable or something like that...so you can hear yourselves. Once you feel you are getting your sh#t together... pick your strongest 4 or 5 tunes.

      3) Record those 4 or 5 one day, two takes of each. For recording, the choice is yours. Some folks are really proficient with making decent home-recordings using Mac programs or whatever. Some folks like going into a studio and paying for an hour of recording and an hour or two of production (i.e. mixing and burning).

      3) Pick the best 3 tunes to come out of the recording session(s). Burn some discs and convert the files to MP3 or MP4.

      4) Make a webpage. Could be something as simple as facebook, myspace, or one of those band-hosting websites. All it needs are some pics and the 3 sound samples.

      5) Approach the venues you wish to play. Direct them to the web page or drop off a disc.

      6) As noted above, it's OK to start out doing a freebie or two (although honestly, DON'T make that a habit because venue owners will take incredible advantage of a free band ~ also, if the place serves food and drink, you should damn well get some for free). Allow them to let you pass around a hat, or leave a tip jar at the counter or in front of the band.

      Alternately, maybe play a private party of a friend or acquaintance. The point of this is to have some low-pressure performances to start out so you can acclimate to playing in front of folks.

      6) If you are in a big town, you may wanna investigate if there are any band promoters or agents around. Saves you the drudgery of cold-calling on places; and in the live music world, connections are everything.

      7) When you get a gig playing out (i.e. not private affair, but a public place) invite as many friends and friends of friends as you can. Quite honestly, venue managers don't give a foooook whether your band is good or atrocious. They do care if you bring folks to their establishment.....

      Hope this helps.
    1. RandyJ's Avatar
      RandyJ -
      My advice would be do not start a group. Get out there and find a group to play with first, then play with several groups. Learn what it takes to be a good leader, watch the good and bad aspects, learn pros and cons of dealing with venues. Then find some musicians wanting to do what you want to accomplish and go from there.
    1. Thomas's Avatar
      Thomas -
      Quote Originally Posted by RandyJ View Post
      My advice would be do not start a group. Get out there and find a group to play with first, then play with several groups. Learn what it takes to be a good leader, watch the good and bad aspects, learn pros and cons of dealing with venues. Then find some musicians wanting to do what you want to accomplish and go from there.
      This is the right advice.
    1. JayePDX's Avatar
      JayePDX -
      I disagree wholeheartedly. If you wanted to play and there were NO other decent players available, that would be one thing.

      But given this isn't the situation, you are under far, far less pressure to begin playing with musicians you already know and are familiar with. And since the OP already says he has a few other players ....going out independently and seeking an already-formed band is not good advice. The dynamics of that are completely different. The thread is entitled "Starting a Combo". It isn't entitled "How do I get to play out as much as possible ?"

      He already has a few players filling some of the chairs....

      Let it be your project, and grow it the way you want.
    1. 1953SBAALTO's Avatar
      1953SBAALTO -
      I'm gonna agree with Jaye and partially with Randy.
      Jaye makes excellent points and to borrow from the Blues Brothers; "A gig like that, you gotta prepare the proper exploitation."

      Borrowing from Randy's advice, if there are other local musicians you know that play out regularly and are willing to help you out, by all means ask for help. But be aware, some may see you as competition.

      It seems like you're in high school and every high schooler should start a band or 2. Look for local venues that cater towards the under 21 crowd, that will be your best bet for getting opportunities to play. Some bars don't want bands with high schoolers because they can't bring in the paying crowds that slightly older bands can, but don't let this discourage you. It is great learning experience that will help you be more successful down the road.
    1. Dr G's Avatar
      Dr G -
      I'd suggest that you get the group together, rehearse for a while, and develop as a unit before you even think about getting the gigs.

      There's little sense in selling a product you don't own.
    1. windy aft's Avatar
      windy aft -
      Once you get a few tunes together try to find some open mic's at coffee houses, cafe's and /or bars
    1. fsaxwas9's Avatar
      fsaxwas9 -
      Some great insight and interesting comments so far. I was part of a start up group years back where I had a major role as far as musical direction. Later, I got hooked up with a duo playing in a more specific genre where I was essentially a hired hand doing my best to play what fit their concept (although there was a lot of freedom afforded to me).

      Having limited experience performing there are definitely advantages to the sideman role. In retrospect I learned so much in that capacity and it ultimately helped push my playing into new directions i might not have explored. Adding more dimension. Supporting the musical point of view of other players is a very worthwhile endeavor, maybe because of the focus on collaboration. Which ultimately is a key to any group concept, imo.

      I'm not trying to discourage starting up your own group whatsoever. Just thinking through the advantages to both approaches. In both situations, our groups followed a similar approach as JayePDX suggested as far as repetoire. Starting with a smaller core group of tunes, zeroing in on a handlful of tunes for a demo recording.

      The sideman deal for me was a samba group along the lines of Getz/Gilberto. Very enjoyable and a very specific vibe. My straight-ahead group was more of a guitar-sax quartet playing straight-ahead music, some jazz tunes, standards, and a few originals. Trying to make it with a mainstream group along the lines of a Sonny Rollins-Jim Hall quartet (or Paul Desmond-Jim Hall if you prefer) was a real challenge - I think to succeed there some real special things need to be happening with the group. There are advantages to specializing in a certain genre.
    1. saxcroissant's Avatar
      saxcroissant -
      In my experiences, just ask around. But whatever you can get, take it. Starting off, you're gonna be stuck doing a few charity gigs where you don't get paid. And as long as those go well, word of mouth will carry around, and then people will ask you to play for certain events. The biggest thing is just getting your name out, so charity gigs, handing out business cards, open mic nights, craigslist, etc. Where I live I can pretty much never find a gig, and it's even harder to find people to get together to play with. But you're lucky to have other people who are interested in doing a combo, that's definitely a great start!
    1. Pita26's Avatar
      Pita26 -
      I'm certainly not the most experienced individual in the world, but I've been playing in a jazz combo of some form or another for the past 5 years, and a bit over a year ago I started up the group I'm currently with, Zarathustra. (If you want to check us out and see a little bit more of what we do you can send me a private message.) I'd say that most of the stuff that people have been saying is valuable. I think there is nothing better in terms of learning how to play than actually playing in a real, live setting.

      Now onto the important stuff:
      1. Make sure you've got access to music. This may be through a teacher, parent, friend, whatever, but get some fakebooks. Once you have some fakebooks, if you have any knowledge about music theory then do some arranging and make your own arrangements. I'd say get comfortable playing some standards before you try writing your own stuff (and when I say some I mean a lot.)

      2. Try your best to practice as often as possible. My group performed at least once a week and practiced at least once a week (provided we didn't have any other gigs set up) and we learned a lot rather quickly, so imagine what you could do just by practicing twice a week. And make sure these practice sections are actually practice sessions. It's good to occasionally go off and jam on whatever you may like, but it's just as important to spend time woodshedding even the most basic of jazz charts.

      3. Look around for local places that my be good performance spots and get to know the people that work there. Our first gigs came from a local coffee shop in our area. Myself and the other "leader" got to the know the owners of the place well enough (or at least became comfortable enough with them) to ask them if they wanted a band to play there and that's how we got our start. And don't be afraid to ask multiple places, because as long as you bring in customer's, most places will be more than willing to let you play there.

      4. Use any connections you might have. I know some very great musicians in the Northwestern Ohio/ Southern Michigan jazz scene and thanks to them I've either been able to pulled down a gig, get music or have a good word put in on my behalf. If you know people with connections, ask for their help, chances are they will be more than willing to help you.

      5. Make sure there is a "leader." That leader doesn't need to take any public credit or get on an ego trip about it, but somebody needs to be in charge, run rehearsals, book gigs, etc etc. Without that things get muddy and nothing gets done. My group actually has two leaders. This works ok because myself and the other leader communicate everything as soon as we find out about it, but this can also lead to trouble, so I'd suggest just picking one and going from there.

      6. Be professional. Seriously. It's important. Show up on time, be set up WELL before your show starts and be dressed appropriately for the performance at hand. If you're playing at a bar on a friday night you could get away with looking a bit casual, but don't ever look bad or sloppy, look clean and nice, even when "dressing down." Act like you know what you're doing (but don't be cocky) and do your best to be polite to everybody, even hecklers.

      7. Have fun. A big part of your success lies in 2 things: 1. whether or not the group is committed to learning and working on the music and 2. whether or not the group enjoys playing together. If both of these things don't happen then you'll stumble the entire way. I've actually had to remove people from my group because of both of these problems. It's never fun to do that, but now thanks to that we are a hard working, cohesive group that loves what we do. If you guys have fun while you're playing not only will you give off a more intense and full performance but the audience will be able to tell that you're enjoying it as much as they are.

      I suppose that's all I have at the moment...but I'll let you know if I think of anything else.
    1. Harri Rautiainen's Avatar
      Harri Rautiainen -
      Quote Originally Posted by JayePDX View Post
      1a) Appoint an Enlightened Despot. A band needs a leader, someone who is gonna be in charge of logistics and musical direction. I love Egalitarinism (three cheers !), but in a band it doesn't work very well. Gotta be someone heading up this Fiasco.
      As much I am for democracy, you've got a point there, JayePDX!

      We have a septet plus vocalist. I cannot afford to let the decisions be based on popular vote. We have a gig coming soon where we have a 60 min. set. I will set a list of 13-14 pieces. After a pressure I will allow one change and one song moved to another place

      We are fortunate to have an experienced pro writing arrangements for us; some of them exclusive. That will help us setting a repertoire differentiating us from others.

    Facebook comments



  • Amazon ad

  • Google ad

  • SheetMusicPlus

  • Recent Forum Posts

    lePhilippe

    Re: Selmer Série 1922 / Modele 22 - an ongoing study

    Hi Douglas,

    Here's a modele 22 alto, no 2360.

    https://www.leboncoin.fr/instruments_de_musique/1177536870.htm?ca=10_s

    lePhilippe Today, 07:21 PM Go to last post
    vries1

    Re: Help needed to identify this tenor sax

    Here's a Desidera Verona tenor for sale in France:

    https://www.leboncoin.fr/instruments_de_musique/1178433669.htm?ca=13_s

    Pretty horn!

    vries1 Today, 07:01 PM Go to last post
    mijderf

    Re: Stan Getz vs John Coltrane

    Agree with the lack of emotion in John Cold-Trane's playing. I am actually OK with Coltrane, but he sounds detached in a lot of his playing.

    mijderf Today, 06:54 PM Go to last post
    mijderf

    Re: Stan Getz vs John Coltrane

    Agree with the lack of emotion in John Cold-Trane's playing.

    mijderf Today, 06:53 PM Go to last post
    Souportwenty

    Re: II-V-I pentatonic lick (ENG sub)

    Subtitles are fine for me. Thanks!

    Souportwenty Today, 06:52 PM Go to last post