One of the things people think about when they imagine the college music experience is participating in small performance groups. They think about rock bands, chamber music groups, quartets, all sorts of stuff. However, at least at my school, there are far fewer groups than there are students. This is despite the fact that the first advice pretty much any music graduate will give is to perform in and work with a small group. So, if your school suffers the same problem, you can be the person to do something about it! Start your own small group, and you’ll even get to put “Founder” on your resume.
Decide what kind of group you want to start. Are you looking at something that you can get bar gigs with? Wedding gigs? Do you want to perform more classical concerts? What kind of instruments do you want the group to have available? Have an end goal in mind before you start anything else, so you can plan backwards from there. It’s harder to start a successful group if you just throw people together without any idea what they’re going to be doing for the project as a whole.
Contact potential group members and gauge interest. Once you know what you want the group to kind of be, go talk to people who might fit your vision. An electric bass player does not fit into a strict classical string quartet. If you have someone you desperately want in the group, who does not fit your initial idea, get creative! Having an electric bass could make a Bach string quartet sound completely new, and novelty sells tickets. (Quality sells even more, but people won’t know how good you are if they never show up in the first place.)
Work together with your fellow musicians to figure out goals for your ensemble. Now that there are multiple people in your performance group, it’s no longer just your baby. Work together to make sure everyone has the same end goals in mind for the group. If one person sees the ensemble as a possible touring venture, and another sees it as a fun thing to do on a Friday night, there’s going to be conflict. Group conflict isn’t necessarily a group killer, but if people approach it with a different level of seriousness, someone is going to get upset and quit. Avoid that. Keep everyone on the same page.
Sample goals: playing X number of gigs a month, recording an album in X amount of time, playing at a certain level of proficiency, learning a certain piece, etc.
Set up ground rules. This is an offshoot of the above point. Are you going to have fixed rehearsal times? If not, how will rehearsals work? What happens if someone can’t make a rehearsal? How will any profit made by the group be handled? Is someone going to be the final arbitrator of group conflict? Are there any grounds for kicking people out of the group? How will people be added to the group?
Obviously, you don’t have to figure out all of these things immediately, but a couple basic rules about attendance and profit splitting will come in handy in the long run, and cut down on drama.
Commit. The number one cause of death for musical ventures is apathy. Your shiny new ensemble will never even get off the ground if you don’t care enough to put in effort. You have to care, you have to put in time and effort. Otherwise you’re going to be a couple people who get together to play a song and yell at each other. That’s not a group, that’s a Partridge Family reunion.
Starting a performance group can feel overwhelming, but I promise it isn’t. You just have to put on your big girl boots and stand up for yourself and your plan. Once you have that ability, the rest of it is just practice and bureaucracy. Go forth and bring music to the world!