Starting a Band: 10 Lessons I've Learned from Launching Chinese Melodrama - Act One

[nggallery id=33] The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity for me surrounding my new band, Randy Bales' Chinese Melodrama. In case you haven't seen it, we have a new blog and a Twitter account, where you can keep up with our latest activities. We've played in the Bay Area at least two nights every week for the past two months, and spreading our joyful energy has yielded plenty of early interest in our fledgling local band.

I've been so amazed with what I've experienced that I put together 10 brief lessons from launching my first ever band. Let me say right away that it's been a total team effort with my friends and fellow musicians, Randy Bales (guitar/vocals) and Cathy Luo (percussion/bass/vocals).

1. Practice in public

  • In other words, be sure to play outside your comfort zone in public every once in awhile. Most of us can learn something from this statement: "Don't be so humble. You're not that good!" I can't tell you how many times Randy has encouraged us to play songs that I didn't feel were "ready". I can also tell you that at our first gig, I was deliriously frightened of what might happen! I had so many ideas about what a "performance" needed to be. Yet if I had waited until I thought we were ready, we might still have never performed in public to this day! My point? Be willing to start small. Just be sure to start!
  • Even if you consider it "practice", show up at your own personal best every time. This doesn’t mean you play perfectly. It means you set an intention for HOW you are showing up each time, and you let go of the results. And you do this every single time.
  • Notice that there will always be ways to improve upon your performance, but never be disappointed in yourself. If you’re tempted to “get down” on yourself or be harsh with your criticism, notice it and ask, “How will this help me show up at my best next time?”
  • Keep playing and be kind to yourself no matter what. Always know that you will have another opportunity to grow. It helps if you…
  • Create a regular consistent schedule of opportunities to play in a supportive environment. You will always get more comfortable by doing what seems uncomfortable at first.
  • All that said, also develop some “comfort food” – material that can always make you feel good, for those moments when you need to boost your own confidence.

2. Do the thing you think you cannot do.

  • This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is framed on the wall of my office. Practicing in public (item #1) was exactly the thing I thought or believed I could not do, until about a year ago. My peak discomfort point was reached – in a public, but safe, setting – and it forever changed what I believed was possible for me musically.
  • Give yourself the gift of being open to this kind of transformative experience. Instead of avoiding the thing you fear, embrace it as the very chance you’ve been wanting to break through to your next level in life.

3. Strike while the iron is hot.

  • If you have an intention or an idea, start NOW while your energy is behind the project, and take defined steps right away to make your idea feel real to you.
  • Learn to trust yourself. Go with your first instincts.
  • Take small, defined, and consistent actions over a period of time rather than waiting for everything to be “perfect” before you begin. Hint: There is no perfection, so get over yourself and act now.

4. Support other people’s efforts with generous encouragement and humility.

  • Judgment comes more quickly than understanding. Seek to understand first.
  • Capture and share not only your own work but others’ as well. Facebook is a great example of how this works. Don't you love being tagged in photos or videos? And reading others' comments or "Like"s? There is a real-world analog to this, and it's called being present, supportive and expressive. Try it!
  • Collaborate openly. Playing with other artists helps build bridges of trust and understanding, and helps you understand yourself better too.

5. Know your partners’ interests.

  • What I mean by this is understanding what’s in it for the other people involved. For example, if you’re a musician, take the point of view of the event promoter or the owner of the venue hosting your event. Why are they interested in booking you? What value will you bring to their establishment or event?  Taking time to understand this point of view will help you provide higher value and therefore become a more desirable partner in the future.

6. Know what you want AND what you don’t want.

  • Know your own style. You really can’t be everything to everyone.
  • Know what you do well, and keep doing it so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.
  • Know what brings you joy and love from a situation (what makes you say “Hell yes!”) AND what your limits are (when you’ll say “No”). Both are important.

7. Gather a great team, with individual strengths and effortless collaborative energy.

  • Don’t keep score. As a soloist I never thought much about this. I focused mainly on my own technique and playing everything right and hoped everyone would just hear and see me. Only now do I appreciate the feeling of true partnership, humility, and support in sound. I feel a person’s heart in their music, no matter what – closed or open, hardened or mushy, afraid or receptive, tentative or persuasive.
  • I embrace the fact that I can’t do everything, and that everyone adds a particular value to our overall sound. I love this about a great group of people playing music together – the group energy becomes one, and we create so much more than any of us could alone. I appreciate this every single time I play music now.

8. Sometimes real life actually unfolds BETTER than your best-laid plans.

  • Learn to trust this and you'll begin to enjoy living here on this earth a lot more, right now.
  • Say “Yes” to unexpected or scary opportunities.
  • Prepare to be surprised. Pleasantly.

9. Show up on time, and be present.

  • Multi-tasking and music don’t mix.
  • Much of the magic of music comes from the total focus and involvement that is required of everyone making it. We could all use a dose of this.

10. Do something you find genuinely FUN and it will be contagious!

  • You can’t substitute good energy for anything else. What starts with YOU becomes infectious energy for anyone in your presence. So, if you’re having fun, you’ll spread that energy. It also works the other way, so if you’re troubled by a situation, check in with yourself first and ask what energy you are bringing.
  • Even our "marketing" activities are fueled by fun and enjoyment. For example, we made custom Chinese Melodrama fortune cookies, which people enjoy eating as much as enjoy handing out! Find out what brings you alive, and start spreading your best energy in what you do.

Read more about my journey with Chinese Melodrama in these posts:

Learning to Play Again

Feel and Heal with Music