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How to fail at starting a band in college

| Thursday, May 6, 2021

Elaine Park | The Observer

(Or: A coming-of-age essay about giving up on your dreams)

Step One: Want to start a band 

All failed bands start the same way with someone wanting to start a band. If you talked to me in high school and asked me if I wanted to start a band, I would probably say that bands are cool but not my thing before switching the topic to be about AP U.S. History. The truth was I never thought I was cool enough, and after a half decade-long journey of adjusting my persona to be who I want to be, I can proudly say that I am not cool enough to be in a band. This did not stop junior year me from starting on the band BackPocket, which never played a show, but does have one unfinished banger. It wasn’t born out of a desire to be “cool,” but to belong and to play music. Everyone is just looking for a place to belong; it’s OK if you aren’t “cool” or “good” — if you like music, play it. If you can’t play, do what others do and show up to the concerts and sit on the wall with the bands and blend in with your friends. People want you to be a part of their scene. In fact, the Notre Dame scene is desperate for participants. They want you at their house shows and concerts. Lake Side is performing this Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., show up and care. BackPocket may just be an unfulfilled dream, a poorly defined Instagram page and plenty… I mean plenty of merch designs (my favorite is Emily’s — our drummer — idea to wear shirts with pockets backward), but the confidence it brought me when engaging with people I now call friends gifted me my favorite memories from college. Music is an easy way to connect with people, so why not use it? The first step in failing to start a band is wanting one, but that’s OK because the first step in being a part of anything is wanting it.

Step Two: Have friends who have better things to do

This is the hardest part of starting a band, and the reason most bands fail. Bands are a lot of work and sometimes people care more about friends, school or their mental health than playing music with their friends. I could never make my bandmates more available or more dedicated and it was one of the hardest lessons to learn. Sometimes it’s not enough to want something badly, other people have to want it too. The thing that I was so desperate for — belonging — suddenly was becoming the thing breaking up my band. I couldn’t maintain friendships with the people I loved and force them to come practice, and in the end that wouldn’t be fun. Maybe I don’t have an album out on Spotify, but I can still call the people I started the band with my friends — us wanting different things didn’t destroy that. I may regret not having a band, but I don’t regret not ruining my friendships. If there was a way to have both I couldn’t find it, and if I get too sad about it I just re-watch the sixth episode of “Freaks and Geeks” to validate myself. 

Step Three: Care too much 

I wanted to write music. I learned how to play two instruments proficiently in order to be a valuable member and have a composition notebook full of the most embarrassing emo lyrics. I wanted to be in a band. Do I wish that I could Dave Grohl this situation and release an album of just me playing the songs? Yes. Do I want to? No. First of all, I do sound worse the Dave Grohl — my singing voice is disturbing to say the least — but also being in a band was about sharing the creative process with someone. I have spent my whole life making art alone whether it be writing, painting, playing piano or editing a video. It is usually just me and my ideas. It is nice to share things, especially creativity. Working with my bandmates on music were the best nights of my life. Willoughby — our guitarist — has the voice memos to prove it. The recordings feature me squealing and then crying when a song sounded good. Making something with someone even if no one sees it is still rewarding, it’s still magical, it’s still all the things it’s meant to be. 

Step Four: Realize you never failed 

Starting a band is hard. The music scene is full of dedicated people. This past weekend, alumni drove and flew in from all over the country to perform. These people cared about their music. I started a band for two reasons — to play music and to feel like I belonged. I did both. I learned so much about music and what makes it good. I also got to be a part of a community. I will always consider the people who were in BackPocket my bandmates. BackPocket, the band, did fail. It would be disrespectful to all the wonderful bands on campus to say otherwise. There isn’t a but. It failed. I just realized that I don’t care. Maybe my kids will never find an old video of me playing in a rad basement show. That’s OK. I’ve watched the people I love leave their dreams behind for other things in a lot of ways this year, and I thought it would be devastating to see, but it’s not. Sometimes, it’s OK to let go and give yourself the space to be something else. Sometimes, writing a song with a friend and banging on drums with another is enough. That being said, start a band. Even if you fail, you won’t.

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