Thinking about starting a band

Discussion in 'Salsa Music' started by El Conguero, Jul 17, 2011.

  1. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    Hi everyone,

    Well, I've been away from SF for a good while now, in part because I moved from FL to CA for a new job. And while I miss my home, my family etc. I find myself in a bigger city (I'd rather not say which for now, just for security reasons and all that) and possibly in a position to start up a salsa band. It sounds like a ton of fun (and for most musicians, yes it is fun not work lol) and we have plenty of venues here, for the future. But since this isn't even the starting point (this is more like pre-planning stage lol) I have a couple questions for you guys.

    1. Is salsa even popular on the west coast?
    Today I got to check out a couple of the Hispanic neighborhoods and heard norteña, ranchero, y más norteña. Outside of the Hispanic neighborhoods, I only hear salsa in my favorite Puerto Rican restaurant (went there 2day :D ). So as much as I'd love to see a band get going I wonder how it will be recieved. I live in Southern Cal. and that's about as much info. as I'm giving out for now, lol. I miss the PR-influenced music in Florida and I WILL NOT drop salsa for accordion music (lol). :)) but is there even an interest in salsa in SoCal?

    2. What would you say is the minimum requirements of a salsa band?
    Obviously, in a perfect world I'd have the full percussion, brass, and vocal sections that make our music so cool, but what would you say are the most essential instruments to salsa? (Note: by "salsa" I mean the Puerto Rican/Cuban combination of son, mambo, maybe a little plena/bomba etc. and not an umbrella term that includes bachata, merengue, cha-cha, latin rock etc. - I think u get the point).

    I know the ideal would be something like this:
    11-15 people - congas, timbales, bongos, maracas, guiro, piano, bass, 2-3 trumpets, 2-3 trombones, 1-2 lead vocalists and 3-4 background singers

    Personally I'd love to see this:
    5-7 people - congas, timbales, bongos, vocalist w/maracas, piano, bass and trumpet/trombone (these last 2 can be done with my excellent keyboard but obviously live is better lol).

    I think it'll really depend on who I can find that plays and what they play. I've been watching some YouTube vids 2nite of groups that are just 4-5 people (minimum I've seen is congas, timbales, piano and bass or instead of bass a vocalist w/maracas or guiro). So... what do YOU think?

    Thanks in advance. :)
  2. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    It is easier to sell gigs for a smaller band because you can set a lower price. But for a genuine "salsa" sound I'd say you need a complete band including real horns.

    The smaller size would be just fine for doing more traditional music. I would recommend congas, timbales, bongos, vocalist w/maracas or guiro, piano, bass and trumpet. then you have a nice septeto. I you want to add the synth you could do that of course and even use it to play tres lines.
  3. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    Absolutely. Use real horns. You can get a lot out of sound out of just two trumpets -- just check out those Pacheco/Casanova albums.

    And check out this group, which could be seven instead of eight: www

    Try to get musicians that can also sing coro to cut down band size.

    I think if you're in or near LA then there should be a live Salsa scene happening.

    Good luck!
  4. MacMoto

    MacMoto Administrator Staff Member

    The smallest "salsa band" I've seen live was a duo - a conguero and a pianist. A bit limiting in terms of repertoire, of course :roll:
    I think you'd need at least two on the percussions, a bass and a piano, plus at least one other instrument (brass/sax/vibes/flute/violin - choice dependent on the style/sound you want to produce) as the bare minimum.
  5. Mambo T

    Mambo T Rhythm Deputy

    What part of Southern California? Big difference if you are in LA or Orange County as opposed to San Diego
  6. bailar y tocar

    bailar y tocar Clave Commander

    SoCal has lots of salsa bands and a very large number of capable salsa musicians. Within the continental US, the level of musicianship for latin music is in the top3 to top5 category. So, you are in the right place to get your game on. Thats the good news.

    The same points above from a different view: are you good enough to keep up with the musicians in a top3 city for latin music? If yes, will these musicians see you as a new competitor stealing their gigs? If no, will they slam you behind your back? Thats the bad news.

    Here is my suggestion: go to the gigs where live salsa bands play (SoCal based dancers should be able to tell you where they are and on what night). Watch the musicians. Compare yourself to them. Meet them. Offer to attend their practices. Try out as a sub. Get called. Be available and reliable. Get it done but don't kick a$$ so as not to make anyone jealous. Proceed to next steps.

    Next steps:
    This one is much tougher and I am not familiar with the business end of live bands in SoCal so the following may not be relevant.

    In Minneapolis there are currently 7 active (active means weekly, biweekly or other regular gigs) salsa bands and a couple of spinoffs. The spinoffs perform with reduced or increased ensembles depending on the gig. 7 live salsa bands in a 3 million metro is a large number. That would translate to 35 active salsa bands in SoCal based on population size and there are definitely not that many there. The reason there are so many here is specific to the metro public education system. Music education is integral to the curriculum and most high schools have multiple bands in classical, jazz, rock as well as marching band categories. So there are a lot of students, teachers and parents who want to play. Around here nobody want to be on a dance team but everyone wants to be in a band. So much for background.

    How does the business end work for local salsa bands here: There are bands that play for the cover (at the door) only. Others have a minimum guarantee and a % of the cover charge or the bar sales above a minimum attendance. Still others have a flat fee. And there are brand new bands who are just starting out that play for beer money (literally: they get a couple of pitchers and a meal). Band leaders/mgrs have to balance the quality of the music and the pay they can afford to front. One band mgr who is a friend had to invest a lot upfront to keep a venue going until it took off. Now its the only good venue for Saturday and its packed and the mgr is coasting along with his profits. I stood by his effort from the beginning and now I am on the permanent guestlist at the venue. Unfortunately the band has gotten a little stale, they haven't upgraded their playlist so I don't go as often anymore.

    As I mentioned above this may be totally irrelevant in the SoCal scene. What is relevant in all music scenes is that musicians are an extremely tight knit group. Everyone knows everyone else and has an opinion about them (which they don't share in public). As the new guy in town you have an opportunity to make only good impressions. Go for it!
  7. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    Awesome! Thanks everyone.

    Thanks for your input, Chris; I love the sound of the trumpets in my favorite jams so I agree w/you and Timbera there; hope I can find at least one. Quick question tho - can you give me the name of that song or the link on one line? I wasn't able to see/hear the vid and I'd sure like to hear what you're tlaking about. Thanks again.

    I've seen a salsa "band" that was just conga and piano too... great sound but not much of a band. I think even I could do better than that (especially since I have timbales, bongos etc). :) But anyway I like your septeto idea, and that's definitely a goal. But I think as a starting point it may have to be more like your point of "at least" 2 percussion, bass, piano, and trumpet (again, lol heck yeah it would be a trumpet if I can find someone). That's 5 and I'm sure I can find 4 others. If we grow from there, awesome :)

    It's more towards the San Diego area. I'm a long way from LA.

    And last but certainly not least, Bailar y Tocar (btw love the nickname) you have some really good points, and advice I'm going to move on.

    As far as am I good enough, I think it depends on what instruments. Congas are my strongest instrument, and piano is a close second. Timbales & bongos, I'm about average, and I can do hand percussion but I'm NOT a vocalist. :p I don't know how I compare with others, but that's where your suggestion about seeing what else is out there will be a huge help. I've been to Chicano Park (where Santana apparently first hit it big) so I'm sure It'll be fairly easy to find some awesome congueros.

    As to the business side / competition side, I don't think that will be an issue, at least not at first. As a Christian group my venues would vary considerably (more like church parties and family events than clubs); but when it comes time to create our first full-length CD that will definitely be something to consider. But I totally get what you're saying about musicians being a tight-knit group (I used to play congas in my church's band, which was definitely more rockin' than salsa) and they were definitely that way. So thanks for that advice that "As the new guy in town you have an opportunity to make only good impressions. Go for it!" That's what I'm going to do. :) Thanks also for your story about the band that got stale - that was a nice reminder as well, to "keep it fresh". Nobody likes stale salsa :p

    Thanks to everyone for the good advice, suggestions, and other ideas. :)
  8. Mambo T

    Mambo T Rhythm Deputy

    Let me know if you ever need some help. I do a weekly gig down in Dana Point.
  9. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    It's Pete Nater performing Fajardo's Charanga -- you should be able to find it. The point is you could have a very full sounding seven piece group with piano, bass, conga, timbale, two trumpets and a lead singer. The trumpets and timbale are helping out with coro. When Ray De La Paz does small clubs he also uses this same configuration ( example: www )
  10. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    Yes, IMO a band with 1 or fewer horns just doesn't cut it. Absoulte minimum I'd say would be

    Sax / Flute

    With one of the above singing and minimum of three others singing coro.

    I think the above really needs a separate lead vox who can also play maracas or guiro. It must not be underestimated how much the maracas / guiro can damage the groove though. It's not just a piece of texture, it really helps set how the song swings.

    For horns you could consider 2 trombones since it's a trouble-free instrument to arrange for. (As our arranger says: loud at the bottom, loud in the middle, loud at the top, then loud all the way up) and they're notated in concert pitch so really easy to make charts.

    My band has trombone, trumpet and 2 sax, which works nicely as we can attempt some of the big band stuff in miniature -- 2 saxes riffing away with the trumpet and trombone brass stabbing and parping percussively.

    Four part horns is great cos you can then have two harmonizing pairs playing counterpoints. On the downside it puts the price up but then it also means we have a big sound that gets people's hackles up (especially when we double up on the 'bones :) )
  11. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    Wow - thanks again! :D

    Mambo T - I may take u up on that; at least a place 2c what the salsa action is like around here

    Chris - that band is really awesome! I'm listening to it now and it really does have that full sound we love about salsa.

    Steve - You make some great points. I think which instrument will depend on who I can find; whether it's 2 trumpets 2 'bones or one of each, I think you and Chris have sold me on the "at least 2 horns" idea (though I've never heard sax in salsa; sounds cool). Also I get what you mean about the maracas/guiro damaging the song; in my recordings back home I'd often have a nice jam going until I added one of those lol. And I've heard some bands that don't use them and sound great.
  12. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    Don't get me wrong about maracas / guiro. I think they MAKE the groove when done right. My point is not to dismiss them then do them WRONG. Practice the cr@p out of the small percussion as playing in the pocket is so important. It can set whether the tune feels cumbia-ish, street, big-band mambo, son-y etc.

    Regarding sax, it usually shows up in bigger bands, e.g. tito puente, machito etc. Sax parts tend to riff like a piano montuno. (smooth before, 2:03 riffing after ) big fat baritone sax on this bags of sax along with eveything else
  13. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    Miguel, as for sax, I play with a band that only uses three horns: trumpet, trombone and tenor sax (sax also doubles on flute). Check out the first song (Cancion de Amor) on my homepage, and there are some good audio quality samples on www;;436

    sweavo provided an excellent Angel Canales example... Canales used a similar horn set up with trumpet, trombone and sax, except that he used bari sax. And he always employed lots of improvisation from the horns. Nice sound!

    The key (no pun intended) is in the arranging and harmonizing of the horns to maximize the sound of just two or three horns.
  14. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    Thanks guys. I'm on my way 2 work at the moment but I'll check out these links when I get home. I think I get the idea, and if not I'll get it after listening to these. :)
  15. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    Yeah the nice thing with sax players is that they often also play the flute and this gives you the option of having some arrangements with a charanguesque feel. And if the sax plays with the trombone it sounds like 2 trombones.

    NG La Banda had 2 trumpets and 2 sax. Granted this is timba but there is a reason they were called Los metales de terror. The video is worth watching for the horns.
  16. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    Good points, timberamayor.

    That NG Banda video is killin'! A great horn section. I like that setup: alto sax, tenor sax and two trumpets. Jose Bello used this same horn configuration when he started out, and he had some great arrangements from Jose Febles.
  17. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'El Diferente' Canales

    Some of what determines the composition of the band here is what musicians are available to play. In SoCA that shouldn't be as much of a limitation. But sometimes jazz musicians think that salsa must be easy but they can have a very hard time getting the phrasing right. We tried out a couple of jazz trumpet players and they came in to what had been a couple hours of a great rehearsal and within 30 minutes they completely destroyed the mood. Needless to say we decided to leave out the trumpets for now and just do trombone. But a sax/flute will probably be the next addition.
  18. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    You are absolutely right. Jazz musicians may think Salsa is "easy" because the chord changes are not normally very complex. Jazz musicians can be more geared toward harmony than rhythm (the great ones understand the importance of both). And it takes much more than just the ability to read music to play horns in a Salsa band. You have to get the feel, adhere to the clave when improvising or creating moña's on the fly, and get the phrasing concept (as you said). Also trumpet players need to get the right kind of sound appropriate for the music -- in general a brighter sound than they might be used to in Jazz.

    I was guilty many years ago when I was studying jazz in college and someone recommended me for a Salsa band (Conjunto Clasico, no less!). I had never really listened to Salsa before, or any latin music really. On the first gig I would confuse 4 with 1, since I wasn't used to the heavy emphasis on four in latin music -- 4 felt like 1 sometimes to me. Man, did I screw up. After some intensive "boot camp" on the bandstand five nights a week, some cold stares from one of the band leaders and a good whooping from the lead trumpet player, I started to get it and haven't looked back since. I still have so much to learn 30 years later.
    Marcos likes this.
  19. El Conguero

    El Conguero Tumbao

    U both got me thinking - lol

    I just realized too, if we ever branch out into merengue (and yes, like it or not there is a demand for merengue lol) the sax is a vital part of that genre. But getting back to salsa, thanks for explaining what the sax can do; my salsa is very much PR-influenced so I didn't get the flute thing at first. All I know about charanga is they use a flute and tres (and I hear u can play tres lines on the cuatro, which I play). So a "charanguesque" jam might be what we need to shake things up after playing a couple more "standard" salsas. Long story short, u got me thinking sax would be a great addition to the band, if I can find one. Thanks also for the vid - the sax does blend nicely with the 'bones and trumpets. :)

    This does bring me to a couple more questions tho - 1) would ppl even know what charanga is down here? (lol) and (2) what does the tres do in charanga? If it's montunos I can easily do that on cuatro. :)

    One thing I've learned as I've developed my musical abilities, is there's always something more to learn. I've heard ppl say I'm awesome on congas, as well as on piano and cuatro; but there are guys out there who make me look like a beginner (though most of them have years/decades of experience more, lol). I think it's all a matter of perspective. The main thing is to keep learning, keep growing and keep having fun. :)

    But getting back to your point about Jazz musicians, I hadn't even thought of looking there (lol). Jazz can be pretty but I hadn't thought of looking for brass players there. Jazz may or may not be big in SoCal but it sounds like they may be okay. Obviously it would be best to have ppl who are at least acquainted with salsa, but it's another avenue to explore.
  20. groovetpt

    groovetpt Capitán Del Estilo

    Don't get me wrong, Jazz and Salsa have a history of coexisting and influencing one another and for many jazz musicians Salsa is a natural fit. And vice versa. Papo Lucca is a great example of the Jazz influence in Salsa, as are bands like Mulenze, Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow. The Fort Apache Band can transition from one style to the other seamlessly.

    I think it's important that jazz horn players venturing into Salsa learn to play in the style and become sensitive to the clave in their phrasing -- not just run bebop scales over the montuno when improvising as if they were playing "Stella by Starlight" with the Miles Davis Quintet.

    Of course there are a lot of jazz musicians in SoCal! You'll see.

Share This Page