Please welcome our bassist Jake who is locked, loaded and ready to march you through the finer points of instrument choice.
Date: Before you’ve even started.
Venue: Bedrooms and garages and music shops across the globe.
Crowd: The inner you.
Choose your weapon. Pick your poison. Select your euphemism.
There will be a number of momentous decisions in your band life. Most of them will revolve around what you can afford to eat, what order to play the 6 covers you know and how the hell to get your gear to gigs. (spoiler alert: it’ll be your mum’s car) They will also mostly take the form of raging battles with the other members of your band. You know, those guys that you rely on, wouldn’t ever be without but desperately want to execute and chuck in a ditch. Yeah, them.
This decision though? Oh, this one is all yours. What do you play? What are you? Which particular deity of the Rock Pantheon will you channel? There’s a variety of factors that could help you decide this. Cost of gear, size of gear, how much patience you have, how much natural rhythm, bravado. All of these will factor in, but mostly, it’ll come down to which one you think will make you seem cooler. Or sexier. So let’s have a little look at the options shall we?
Lead singer – Regardless of whether or not you’re the actual frontman for the band, you need to have the confidence of a war-time general, and preferably, a decent set of pipes on you. While many bands have made it with the raw warbling of an angry, oppressed punk at the helm, it does help if you can intentionally hit a few notes. You need a tonne of confidence, charm and charisma. Or at least the ability to fake the hell out of it.
- Bonus: Your equipment is, well, in your damn throat so getting it to gigs should be pretty easy.
- Downside: The slightest cough or chill can ruin your performance and you’ll become super sensitive about getting the sniffles near gig time. Stock up on honey.
Lead guitarist – Want to be a lead singer but really can’t sing? Or do you just need something to hide behind? Learn to make a guitar sing for you, with nimble fingers you can make your six-string wail like a banshee. Just make sure you get at least one solo per song if not more. Do be warned, this role comes with a high chance of addictive guitar buying. Also there’s going to be about a million of you at every audition, you’re basically the first job filled in every band so… happy hunting!
- Bonus: You don’t have to worry about your looks, no-one is looking at your face, just your fingers.
- Downside: You can’t just solo your way through an entire song. Unless you’re in an 80’s tribute act. Also expect to be told to turn the volume down a lot, so learn to lie.
Rhythm guitarist – Generally a bit more down to earth than your lead counterpart, a solid player who doesn’t need to show off. You’re almost certainly just happy to be here. Expect to be designated driver a lot.
- Bonus: No need to destroy your fingers learning to play blistering solos.
- Downside: You’ll always be known as “the other guitarist”, if you’re even noticed.
Bass player – Well done, you’ve chosen to do the job no one wants! Bass players are the unsung heroes of the band, the golden rhythm keeper providing a spine to the music. Your thumping lines will keep things moving in the right direction, and they can be simple, or complex as hell. You have chosen well, but no one will care, or remember you.
- Bonus: You can phone it in and no one will notice you.
- Downside: No one will notice you.
Drummer – A brave choice indeed. Ignoring the fact that you need the rhythmic talents and coordination of a particularly musical octopus, plus the stamina of a pro-athlete, you also need to be OK with being hidden. You post up behind your fortress of percussion at the beginning of a gig and don’t emerge until you’re bathed in sweat. That’s not to make mention the fact that starting out as a drummer you’ll find it incredibly hard to rehearse because your gear is huge and always noisy.
- Bonus: Save on gym membership, every rehearsal and gig is essentially a full body workout.
- Downside: Getting your gear anywhere is a massive ball-ache. Plus your life expectancy is basically zero.
Some other kind of instrument – Well done indeed, you have committed to trying to rock out in some kind of incredibly niche fashion like Folk-Metal, Fantasy-Power-Rock or Brass-Core. While I admire your stones I’m sure I’ll never hear you play.
- Bonus: Conversation starter?
- Downside: No gigs. Constantly explaining what your band actually plays.
So there’s my take, but who am I kidding? You’re gonna go with your heart first, your head second and your natural ability someway further down the line. And that’s fine, confidence makes up for a lot of things, so play it like you mean it and most people won’t even notice.
Even better, play it loud and barely anyone will.
Photo by Judy Dean via Flickr