Most of us have started off rehearsing in the same sort of space – a parent’s lounge room or garage being the beginners eternal go-to favourite. This is not a long-term option however, as generally most parents have something known as neighbours. Even if you or a fellow band member is lucky enough to have parents prepared to put up with the infernal racket you are almost certainly making at this stage, you can be sure their neighbours are not. Yes, it’s a mildly amusing novelty at first, but three Saturday afternoons in a row of hearing your neighbour’s offspring butchering AC/DC songs at full volume is enough to test the patience of the kindest soul…
Basically, work on the assumption that you have one free rehearsal at the home of each member of the band that you can use up before you must start to look elsewhere.
So what you’re looking for is a dedicated rehearsal space. Initially that doesn’t necessarily mean an actual proper grown-ups rehearsal studio… any space will do (so you think), so you end up trying your luck with a variety of local places that may fit the bill – a village hall, a church hall, a scout hut, you get the idea. Usually these places are available for free, or are very cheap, and they’re local. These are both essential criteria for a rehearsal space at this stage because you’re probably still at school and (a) have no money (get used to that), and (b) you need your parents to drive you there.
However, these places all tend to have one thing in common – an almost complete lack of convenient power outlets, and no facilities for a musician whatsoever. By this I don’t mean toilets or a kettle, I mean a PA system. You don’t have one yourselves of course as you could only just afford your crappy guitar and amp, and you’re not even quite sure what the PA does. This doesn’t bother the budding drummer, guitarist or bass player for a moment, but you realise the importance as soon as anyone wants to sing, or play an instrument that may not necessitate its own amplifier but does need a mic and a PA system in a band environment – trumpet, violin, didgeridoo etc.
This problem is compounded by the fact that usually these types of rehearsal space have bloody appalling acoustics – polished wooden floors and glass windows are a fantastic way of making instruments that are usually unbearably loud (drummers and guitarists I’m looking at you) even fucking louder.
So you need a PA system capable of getting a vocal to cut through this noise – and it most definitely is noise – and they don’t really exist within the realms of affordability. The cheaper make-do options include plugging in that quality microphone the singer purchased from Aldi into a guitar amp, which will sound awful. No matter what you do. Why can’t I just get the musicians to turn down their amps I hear you say? Well… granted, I suppose it is technically possible. But with the best will in the world there’s not a lot you can do to make drums quiet, yet still sounding like drums.
Actually that’s not true. It’s easy to make the drums quiet, you simply fire the drummer. This is an appealing solution in so many ways, but with some major drawbacks. It’s better perhaps to bow to the inevitable and move on.
What you really need is a proper dedicated rehearsal room. There are varying levels of quality out there, and as with most things you’ll generally get what you pay for. This is a lesson you should learn as early as possible. Personally I doggedly refused to learn this lesson for many years. Don’t be like me. I remember the first proper rehearsal room I hired with my first band. This is a surprisingly exciting moment. It was about ten quid for a three-hour slot, and had a vocal PA, loosely speaking. This was more like it. And close enough to home to mean lifts from parents were feasible.
It was indubitably right at the bottom of the rehearsal room league table – fighting relegation to be honest – but it was still a better rehearsal room than we were a band. Then again, it was a sideline for the farmer that owned the land, and I think that this possibly wasn’t his area of expertise, even with the best will in the world.
It was a rather dilapidated old brick building in the countryside that had seen much better days – the building equivalent of an old Ford Escort rotten through with rust and sitting on a pile of bricks in an overgrown garden next to a broken washing machine, a wicker chair with a hole where the seat once was, and a fridge with no door. Several things about it have stuck in my memory: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles curtains, the woeful attempt at soundproofing by nailing about six egg cartons to the wall, and the slightly unnerving feel of the place.
But, to its major credit, it did have a stage-shaped, slightly raised area at the end of the room, so you could pretend you were on stage being a proper musician – a hugely important feature for the budding rock star – and a PA that worked okay maybe thirty percent of the time. I later found out that the building had formerly been a prisoner of war camp that used to hold enemy soldiers in World War 2, which goes someway to explaining the unsettlingly eerie vibe of the place. Although as we were knocking out piss poor versions of early Metallica songs, I reckon any ghostly inhabitants were staying as far away as possible.