The Basics of Being in a Band

Blog credit: Chris Martin

Being in a band is hard. I’m not going to sugar coat this in any way but despite the challenges, stress, financial exhaustion and pulling my hair out regularly, I wouldn’t and couldn’t stop for anything. 

I had played guitar since 2002, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I tried to put a band together. I had recently bought a new guitar and was ready to put my love of Metallica, Megadeth and Sepultura into action with far more enthusiasm than ability or talent. After reaching out to friends on Norwich Darkside, a now defunct local musicians forum, I was able to put a rehearsal together with all the members I needed. 5 members with loose connections to each other and similar tastes in music. 

We rehearsed for the first time and wrote a song or two in the first few hours. It was a great session that went surprisingly well, and I left feeling excited and elated that I had a new band that kicked butt…and then the drummer left. Left is an interesting way to put it… he just didn’t show up for the next rehearsal or the few rehearsals booked after that, and we were left drummerless after only one successful session. 

He eventually did come back and after 4-5 more rehearsals we had enough songs together to play our first show. We opened a local metal night under the moniker “The Toxic Crusaders”, a temporary name because we couldn’t think of a good one and our singer had been watching the Toxic Avengers the week before the posters went to print. The show went OK and I felt great about playing my first ever live show. The response had been amazing and the feedback afterwards was mostly positive. “That was a great set but you need a new singer”. 


Band playing on stage

One of the earliest Shrapnel shows at the Marquee, Norwich circa 2009

We did just that. Reaching out through connections and to people we knew, we got hold of a new vocalist locally who also happened to know a good drummer. The songs were brought over from before, improved and we came up with Shrapnel as the band name, fitting the music as fast and piercing heavy metal. Rehearsals became the highlight and priority of the week (much to the dismay of my family, friends and grades) and if we weren’t rehearsing once a week, it was twice or three times. We locked ourselves away for weekends at a time and wrote our first four track EP. Since then we’ve gone on to release three critically acclaimed albums through Universal Music, toured the UK and Europe and even had a lifesize cardboard cutout in HMV Tokyo, Japan… Very cool. 

I’ve learned a lot during my time with Shrapnel and looking back, I recognise themes that are similar to almost every band out there at any stage of their careers, long or short. My hope is that anyone reading this will be able to relate on some level, gain some insight as well as hopefully avoid the same tropes and mistakes that I made along the way. 


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Practising and Learning 

Learning to play your instrument is usually the starting place for all budding musicians and it goes without saying that you’ve usually learned a few songs, riffs, beats and bits before you launch into a band situation. For some people music is something that comes very naturally and they are able to find pitch, remember their parts and get difficult parts nailed with ease. I’m very jealous of these people and I won’t repeat the names I have for them. I have to work incredibly hard and dedicate a huge amount of time to learning and maintaining my playing. 

Sadly playing guitar isn’t like riding a bike, it’s much more like going to the gym. You take too much time off and you lose the progress you made. Making sure that you’re scheduling your time and being consistent with rehearsing and practising is crucial. Without boring yourself to death, coming up with a routine and schedule to make progress and retread solid ground as well as learning other people’s songs (all genres) is without a doubt the best advice I can give in terms of learning and improving on your chosen instrument. I still don’t do enough and the older I get the harder it is to find the time, so use the time you have wisely and don’t waste it.

Practising on your own and playing in a band are two completely different things and getting the balance of both is going to lead to a much more adaptable and multi-skilled musician. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by musicians who were more talented than I was in the beginning. I had been a bedroom player for four years and picked up some fairly bad habits as well as not pushed myself as much as I could have. Getting into a situation where I needed to be better in order to keep up and be a member of a band forced me to up my game and get better. I needed to be good enough to play with my band mates, I needed to be better to play live and I needed to be better to record my parts in the studio. Being forced into this definitely made me a more proficient and driven guitarist and I wouldn’t have made this progress without the pressure of being in a band with other musicians. 


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As an introvert I never liked attention or being in the spotlight. Which is why I always found it odd that I loved performing. My first live show back in 2008 was such a strange experience because I didn’t feel nervous or anxious about playing in front of people at all. For festival shows and large capacity venues I get an adrenaline rush akin to being nervous, but this fades as soon as the intro tape rolls and the show begins. Nerves are something I always struggled with growing up but being able to perform as a musician has opened doors to being able to confidently perform and speak in front of other people. Yes, I’m still an introvert but I owe much of what confidence I do have to performing for a number of years. 

Having been a performer for a number of years, toured the UK and Europe and also been a sound engineer, working with other bands I cannot stress the importance of having well maintained gear and spares. Spare leads, spare strings, spare instruments, spare power leads, spare tuners, everything. A costly endeavour but one that will save your show, career at some point. We opened a show for Exodus at Islington Academy early in our career and just as we were about to go on stage I went for a wee.. As you do. My belt buckle decided to break, it fell apart with multiple pieces falling into the toilet and leaving me with jeans that wouldn’t stay up 2 minutes before I was going on stage. The other band on the bill (Manmustdie from Scotland) were prepared enough and helpful enough to lend me a spare belt that they had and we were able to perform. From that day on I have always been as prepared with spares as I can possibly be. I keep the borrowed belt as a memento and am still thankful I didn’t have to play in my pants. 


Somewhere on tour with Xentrix and Acid Reign 2015

Somewhere on tour with Xentrix and Acid Reign 2015


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Musicians tend to be either 110% dedicated and into what they’re doing and driven to the point where no one can stand us (yes I group myself into this category) or they’re the most unreliable, lazy bums known to man. You find a fellow musician that’s balanced and you hold on to them for dear life… that and a drummer who shows up and plays in time. 

Balancing time for being in a band is one of the most challenging elements. Putting your health and the health of your friends and family are obviously priority and should ALWAYS take priority but it’s no secret that at times you’re going to have to make difficult decisions in order to make waves. I have missed family weddings and strained relationships because of opportunities that have come up. I’ve missed my kids birthday being on tour and chosen to play festivals over parents birthdays etc. These things never make me feel proud but I do believe I made the right choice. The key thing here is BALANCE. If the opportunity consists of a gig that costs a lot of money to potentially play to a small crowd and not get paid, it’s not worth upsetting anybody over. If the opportunity involves a large crowd, good press and networking opportunities that come around once in a blue moon, it might be the best thing to do. It’s important to know that at some point you have to make these difficult and often upsetting choices for the long term goal and people will inevitably be upset with you for doing so. Be prepared and dedicated enough to be able to make those choices but also only make those choices when the outcome is worth the cost.


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Recording has changed so much over the past 10 years. Our first full album was recorded over a month at Parlour Studios in Kettering with renowned producer Russ Russell(*). We chose Russ to do the album because of his work with bands such as Napalm Death, Evile and At The Gates who were releasing albums that sounded incredible and all from a studio less than 2 hours away. The price tag was over £10,000 which was an unreal amount, especially for a bunch of amateur teenagers with no record label and only 2 years of being in a band under our belts. We made it happen somehow…

We had previously recorded 2 EPs which were doing well and had learned a lot about the process and what was needed. We were well prepped with fully written songs, we had demo tracks with us all time stamped and with click tracks ready, we had rehearsed everything to death and had come prepared with packs and packs of spare strings, sticks and plectrums. The process was incredible and we learned so much, watching every move, cut and edit Russ was making, we observed the mic setups and the process and asked question after question throughout. This whole session was as much an education as it was a creative process and it was worth every penny we spent on learning from an utter professional. 

The resulting album got us signed to Candlelight Records who after almost 2 YEARS of searching, accepted the album and put it out to critical acclaim. Yes, it took us that long. A big takeaway from this was to be patient. I see artists all the time put out sub standard content because they want it out and they don’t wait for the opportunity to create it and release it to its full potential. If you release something too early and too poorly, you may as well not have released it at all. 


“The Virus Conspires” Released in 2014 via Candlelight Records. Produced by Russ Russell and artwork by Eliran Kantor.

“The Virus Conspires” Released in 2014 via Candlelight Records. Produced by Russ Russell and artwork by Eliran Kantor. 

Fast forward to our newest record and everything is different. No longer can we afford to book in for a month to record away from home, we have work, families, responsibility and all those adult things to make being in a band so much harder than it was when we were teens. The last album was written and recorded at home predominantly. We can send each other demo ideas and riff videos/ midi drum tracks to each other with a click of a button and be well on our way to a record before we get in to rehearse together. The whole writing process is much less intimate than it used to be but can easily be just as collaborative if you make it so. 

We were lucky enough to be able to learn so much during our previous recording sessions that recording at home has been achievable to a high standard. We record drums in a studio with an engineer we trust and I do all the guitars, bass and vocals. We sent dry signal tracks off to a producer to mix and master and were fortunate enough on our newest album to use the legendary Swedish producer Jens Bogren. The result is unreal and we can’t wait to get this album out on May 31st 2024 (Shameless plug… buy it….thanks..). 


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Preparations to Release 

You’ve fully recorded your release, had it mixed and mastered and now it’s time to get everything else together. Artwork, PR, release schedule, reactions, tour schedule, merchandise, radio play…. The list goes on and will honestly take a blog of its own to get through, so let’s do that next time.


Shrapnel will release a new full length album “In Gravity” on May 31st 2024.

Shrapnel will release a new full length album “In Gravity” on May 31st 2024. 

(*) Russ Russell has recently been treated for esophageal cancer and needs your support. As well as wishing Russ a speedy recovery, I encourage you to donate at the following link:


Last updated on: 22nd March 2024