The best and worst thing about being a musician is that you’re never done learning. Even seasoned pros can discover something new when they head into the studio or out on tour.
We asked 20 artists - from Blackberry Smoke to Siouxsie And The Banshees - for their key pieces of advice on being in a band and received a wealth of useful tips on anything from tour bus etiquette, to living on no budget and common sense gear guidance. Read on and become enlightened...
Find like-minded people
“For me, the best tip is to find some dudes that want to do the exact same thing that you want to do and that you connect with.
“It’s hard, it’s very hard. We all have our individual quirks and it’s nerve-wracking in little bits, at times, but we all understand each other and, immediately, that’s how it was.
“And, when you’re on the bus, no talking in the bunk area. Period!”
Get a coffee grinder
“Coffee. Yeup, coffee!
"Invest in a good coffee maker and grind your own beans. The darker the better.Also: chew with your mouth closed and when it’s four in the morning, shut the fuck up!”
Trust your instincts
“The main thing is to trust your own instincts and to never listen to an A&R man… It’s a transient job and they’re only there for their own self-interest, so that’s one of the things I would say is key - to trust in your own vision.
“We were very lucky because we were successful right from the beginning. Having Hong Kong Garden be a big hit, right out of the box. Even though the A&R department didn’t really understand what we were doing, it was making them money, and when that happens they leave you alone! We just used to deliver the finished the album and say, ‘That’s it and we’ve chosen the singles.’ For many, many years we got away with it…”
Keep learning other songs
“One thing that springs to mind is that, if you’re playing an instrument, you should keep learning songs and keep learning how to play what others have written. I find it a really useful thing.
“If you’ve heard a song and you’re thinking, ‘How did they do that?’ Go out and watch them play, maybe find a YouTube video, and that can expand your musical palette quite a lot.
“It’s easy when you’re in a band to get stuck in your own way of doing things and forget that you should be learning and working on your instrument. So you need to be creative by means of continuing to learn.”
Don't change for anyone
“Lately I’ve been circling around this one concept of just ‘be yourself’. I think everything now comes back to that, for me. In writing and touring and being a band and having that identity as you’re doing things, you have to be yourself.
"The thing with this career is you’re gonna get surrounded by people who want to change your image and have their input and you’re going to want their input and feel like you have to live up to people’s expectations of you.
“I’ve even done it to younger artists myself, I’ve been like, ‘Oh, you guys should do that!’ I think back on it and I’m like, ‘What an asshole!’”
If you tour hard, keep your rig simple
“I’ve been through all the boutique stuff and come full circle to the basic stuff, so I use a Boss DD-6, a Super Chorus, an EHX Memory Man and POG, a Holy Grail reverb, a Vox wah and an Akai Headrush as a looper.
“It’s all simple for a reason: if anything ever goes down, I know that I can go to any guitar shop and get one.I never leave the house without a Boss TU-2.
"It’s got an awesome buffer in it, so I can guarantee a solid line to my amp, no matter what effects I put after it, and while there are probably better tuners out there, it’s the one used by most people.”
Respect the tour bus plumbing
“If you’re ever going to bed on a tour bus, don’t forget to bring water – you will be dying in the morning – because I guarantee you, you will be getting wasted.
“Don’t take a shit in a bus, either! It’s not cool, because then the bus driver will find out and he’s got to pick the shit out of the bus. You will get in trouble!
“Finally, don’t ever try and copy what’s new or coming up, because you’ll just be a saturated version of that. Just write what’s yours and what you enjoy writing. New music will come out and everyone duplicates this music, and there are just thousands of these fucking shit bands that sound ridiculous. So just write what you enjoy writing and stick with it!”
Say your name at gigs!
“I used to forget to say my name! I used to forget to say, ‘I’m Eaves’! I used to just come on and play and if I was really into it, I’d carry on playing for like half an hour/45 minutes and I’d actually forget to say it.
“Even at big shows. And then people would come up to me afterwards and be like, ‘We didn’t catch your name…’ and I’d be like, ‘Fuck! I didn’t even tell anyone.’
“So one of the first things I learned was at the start and end of your set, to actually say your name, so people know who they’re watching! I used to do it all the time. It’s surprising I got anywhere!”
If you want something done right, D.I.Y.…
“Don’t expect anyone else to sort anything out for you – and, if they do, there’s a good chance they’ll cock it up. It’s the old thing of ‘If you want it done right, do it yourself’, but that’s so true.
“Also, I think there are so many bands at the moment that getting noticed is the hardest thing. There are so many good bands that don’t get spotted, so you’ve just got to find a way to make people take notice of you.
"Whether that’s through creating a whole overall package, having great aesthetics and artwork and making your own videos, or just having a really unique sound or finding something new to do. Finally, you’ve got to be great, or you’re not going anywhere.”
Touring? Pack lots of underwear and socks
“I’m a big believer in packing a lot of underwear and a lot of socks. They should be a musician’s best friend at all time.
“The worst thing you can do is travel and tour and not have clean underwear and clean socks. It sounds like the most ridiculous thing ever and the smallest thing, but it changes everything.
"That’s my number one piece of advice for every single person wanting to tour or be in a band: always pack lots of underwear, lots of socks.”
Lose the egos and you'll have a better time
“Just being around the guys, being around good company and people who enjoy it as much as you do helps a lot. Having no egos definitely helps a lot as well and always making fun of each other.
“It keeps all of us level-headed. So no matter what anybody will say to me, my band’s probably already said it. We keep each other pretty level headed and make fun of each other all the time, it keeps everyone sane out on the road.”
Make your band better every day
“Always, everyday, do as many things possible as you can to make yourself and your band better – whether that’s social media, that’s rehearsing, all of those things.
“When I was younger, all I did was practice and concentrate on things that could further my career in music. It’s a very tough world the music business and there’s no shortage of musicians, so what makes you stand out?
“Also: stay honest and true, because rock ’n’ roll in general, you can’t really fake it. Stay true to what style of music you want to play.”
“Be as nice as you can to everybody because you don’t know who everybody is. And just doing that in general is a good idea.
“Then, when choosing band members, it’s important to remember that everybody’s different and you can’t change people. You’ve got to accept people for who they are and then you can grow together. And then: always have batteries in your pedals! I’ve come a-cropper on that one recently!”
Accept that your band will suck at first
Andy: “Be prepared to suck when you start. You’re going to be rubbish.
"Also accept that you will argue, but know that that arguing - as long as you do it constructively, and you’re all working towards something and want the best for the band – is beneficial. As long as it’s constructive.”
Ben: “I think being in a band is the best way to get better. I’ve got better, faster being in a band than I ever did when I wasn’t in band. Practising with other people in a room just forces you to get better so much faster.”
Find your niche
“I think niche market stuff can get you a lot more attention than trying to be mainstream all the time. Everyone’s trying to be commercial, but there’s a big enough following in the world for niche genres.
“My whole life when I was a kid, everyone told me I was crazy to do the blues thing and that I’d never make a living out of it. There weren’t many people doing it, especially here in South Africa. But I think that kind of assisted me because you didn’t have to wade through the million people to get noticed.”
Buy decent gear as soon as you can
“As early as you can afford it, get decent gear. I went through maybe four years of using half-assed junk and, eventually, when I started spending – not even loads, just a bit – more money I noticed a difference in both the sound of the band and even our professionalism.
“For the first two or three years of the band I played through a Vox Valvetronix, a digital amp. It sounded great at home, but it wasn’t until you take that out and sound engineers are like, ‘What is this?’ that you realise that the sound doesn’t carry. It’s the same with guitars: you can spend £200 on five guitars now, but I spent £400 on my guitar and it’s lasted like five years and I’ve only had to fix it twice.
“Also, we played for a long time without tuning pedals - literally unplugging between every song - which just seems like madness now! So get tuning pedals…”
Make a tour itinerary
“Be organised. The main thing is the tour itinerary. Long as you you have that you know how long you can sleep for, when you’ve got to be up - basically how long you can rest for.
“It’s gospel for me on tour. I have an Excel template that I do for every day that has travel distances, what we’re going to do the next day, how long the journey is and all of that. It’s the gospel when you’re on the road!”
Live with your mum and dad
“I think the biggest tip I could give people who are trying to get by in a band is to live at home with your mum and dad for as long as they’ll have you!
“Otherwise you’ll spend so much time working jobs trying to pay your rent that you’ll never have time to commit to the band. If your parents will have you, stay at home as long as you can. Even once you’re touring a lot, because otherwise you’re just paying rent on a place you don’t live in half the time and it becomes even more galling…”
Prepare to compromise
“I think that when you have a band you’ve got to be prepared to compromise. A lot of times people want something done their way and a lot of times bands are, let’s say, ‘youthful’.
“I don’t want to say immature, but I definitely was kind of immature… But sometimes you get upset about things that don’t really matter in the long run. The most important thing is working together and writing.
“Also, obviously, whatever your instrument of choice is, that’s the priority, but I also think it’s good to work on your voice. I find that whether you’re in a band or a freelance artist, you’re much more valuable if you can sing a little bit.”
Don't spend money on drinks
“A really strange one, for touring and for saving money, is never to buy a drink! It took me a little while, but it’s a good lesson to learn.
“You’ll always find water for free wherever you go, whether it’s a venue or whatever. You can survive without soft drinks and, well, everyone’s different with alcohol, but if you’re squeezing every penny, I’d say don’t spend money on drinks, because you can always find water for free.”