Over the years I’ve played in a lot of various live band lineups. I’ve played in 3, 4, 5 and 6-piece rock bands as well as some 20 person Jazz bands. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is the bigger the band, the bigger the problems. I’m talking about scheduling problems, personality conflicts, incompatible work ethic, weak skill levels and mismatched goals for the band. It can be a real challenge in a band with a lot of people to keep it functioning. Fortunately there is an excellent solution to this problem. All you really have to do is have a compatible, stable group of core musicians.
When I’m talking about the core of a band I’m talking about the most essential instruments required to make performing as a live band possible. In my case the most essential instruments are Drums, Bass Guitar and Guitar with the players of those instruments being able to carry the lead and harmony vocals as well. That means you must have a drummer, bassist and guitarist together that share the same work ethic and have the same artistic vision for the band. The three people that make up the core of the band must be available for all booked gigs and practices. They must lead the way when learning new songs as well as being flexible enough to cover missing parts when only the three core members can make it to the gig. It’s a very good idea to have an entire nights worth of music that can be played by only the core members of your live band.
Once you have your core members the band can grow in size from there. You may want to add a keyboard player, one or two lead singers, a second guitarist or even an entire horn section. The beauty of having a stable core group of players becomes evident when your horn section is unable to show up to a gig. You will still be fine with the core group there ready to play. It’s the same for any of the other “extra” members of the band. If your keyboard player can’t make it to the gig or quits unexpectedly, that’s fine because your core of guitar, bass and drums will be able to carry the extra load until the keyboard player makes the next gig or you find a new one.
There is really a lot of freedom that comes when you have an established core group of players in the band. It becomes a lot easier to commit to gigs when you only have to be 100% sure that three people can make it instead of seven. There’s also a lot less pressure to carry along a weak member when that member is not as essential to the groups functionality. You will still need one core member to be the band leader and it will be essential that all active members of the band feel like they’re full contributing members of the band. In all honesty the band will always be better with a great keyboard player or lead singer. But the core members of the band will know where the true stability lies.