Disclaimer: this column contains references to real musicians experiencing real problems with their real bands. If you're looking for advice on how to find players in your shite-ass small town, you can go suck it.
|Hey there Hammersmith.
How are you doing? I've read your articles for some time but only now I have a useful question for you: I've been in a band for some time but it wasn't as serious as I liked it to be so I went after new buddies for a new, serious band. I've found them all. I sing and play guitar, I got another guitarist, I got a fucking-awesome drummer and a bassist. Now, we are having a hard time scheduling rehearsals as each one is available different days. So when we finally get a few days we scheduled a rehearsal. I called the studio to make the appointment and then I call everyone to confirm. The guitarist draws back and says he needs it to be later that day. I call the studio, fix the time. The guitarist says he can't do it, the studio is too far for him. Then when we have one other chance, something similar happens. I'm afraid he is the guy who only talks serious but is going to be trouble for us, giving up and not ever going real for it. I am not the owner or anything of the band, we are all together only. And we never got to play together yet. I already talked to another guitarist and he is up to it, so I have an option. How the hell will I know which of them are going to take it for real and how will I gain some authority to put the right one on the band?
Dante, somewhere on the world|
Tough spot, Dante. But fair's fair, right? If the first guy has said he'll do it, you've got to give him a chance. If he keeps on backing out or making trouble, then eventually you might have to try the other guy, but at least get everybody together once. And if he always has a reason not to come, then you don't even need to kick him out, do you? Just stop inviting him to practice. Sure, maybe he'll call you up at some point and ask when the next practice is, but then you can just tap dance around and say you're not sure, you'll call him to let him know...
Seriously, if a guy commits but then continually fails to follow through, you or the rest of the guys as a whole will have to give him the boot. And it might not even be his fault. Maybe he has other school or work obligations which give him a tough schedule, or maybe he does live far away and doesn't have reliable transportation, but even then you have to be able to say, sorry buddy, we want to rehearse, and if it just doesn't work for you, we understand. We'll have to look elsewhere.
There are a lot of reasons to get fired. Having an availability schedule that looks like a bad game of TETRIS is unfortunately one of them.
(You don't know what TETRIS is? Look it up, my friend. Look it up.)
|Yo Van Hammersmith!
There is this kid I often jam with, and we've gotten to the point where we've been writing our own songs, but we have a major problem. The other kid is extremely talented, but always seems to be overly critical of himself. Like he'll write a song or riff and tell me it's not any good and not want to play it. I basically have to beat it out him. And when I finally get him to play it, it's a great song/riff. And I make sure to tell him, and anyone who hears the kid play tells him he's really good. But he just doesn't seem to believe it.
How can I get him to come out of his musical shell?
Ahh, self-esteem. I hate it so much. You have so many guys who lack it, and they become complete wastes because they won't try anything, and you have an army of compete douchebags out there with way too much self esteem making the world miserable for the rest of us.
Here's the trick with a buddy like you've got, Matt. Maybe he's got low self esteem, or maybe he's full of false modesty because he wants people to kiss his ass and snugglingly reassure him and tell him how great he is. I don't know. Maybe mommy didn't hug him enough. Maybe she hugged him too much. I don't know. It's all a bunch of fine lines, and we're very complicated devices. Psychoanalyzing him is not going to get you anywhere. What you need to do is put your foot down.
You got to say "Look, Hadley. I'm not going to sit here and beg you to play your riff. Play it or don't. If you don't want to play it, don't play it, but don't sit there and say 'I've got a new riff,' and then refuse to play it. I'm tired of this. You know better than anyone what you're capable of. Don't sit there waiting for everyone to tell you you're good enough. Play if you want to play. You don't need to wait for anyone's approval, and you don't need to wait for anyone's permission. It's time to quit whining and grow a pair."
If he starts to cry, slap him.
|Dear Van Hammersmith,
How do you tell a singer how to sing your songs? I'm the guitarist for my band and I write most of our material, including lyrics. So how to I tell the the singer how the lyrics sound? If I could sing well enough to sing it to him, I would just be the singer. Am I going to have to write out all the notes, or is there an easier way?
Well, there is another way, but whether it's easier or harder is kind of up to you: You could play the song, give her the lyrics (I assume it's a chick... I'm picturing Pink but with like, ten facial piercings) and let her sing them they way she thinks they sound best. This requires you to believe in your singer's abilities and trust your singer. Are you up to it? Are you maaaaaan enough?
The other possibility would be to play the notes for her on the guitar that you want her to sing. That's about the same as writing them all down, but without, you know, actually writing anything. And I can appreciate you not wanting to do that. After all, writing is hard.
|Dear Van Hammersmith,
My name's Josh and I have been trying to teach myself guitar for the past two years to no avail. I know I need to stop being a hard-ass and get lessons. But the problem is I am really shy and I'm not digging the whole one-on-one with a stranger as he laughs at my pathetic skills. I get really nervous when playing in front of people so my question is:
1. How do I get rid of my stage fright/shyness problem?
2. How were guitar lessons for you or are you self taught?
3. I heard many bad things about lessons, so how do I find a teacher who's not a dumbass?
Thank You for answering my question.
First off, Josh, you need to be able to identify the difference between three questions and one question. Like, it's not really fair to say "Here's my one question," then ask three questions, and then say "Thanks for answering my one question. Do you know how many questions I get every week? Like, a dozen. And when I started writing this freaking column I was answering three. Now I'm up to six per column and they're still coming in faster than I can answer them. And I get bozos like you who say "I have one question," and then you tell your life story, ask ten questions, and complain that I never get around to answering your shit. Well, screw you Josh. It's because of jerks like you that I have to write short, unfunny, clipped little responses like this:
1.Stage fright and shyness are gradually reduced through practice and experience,
2.My lessons were fine, although they usually came from band-mates.
3.Hire a pro at a local music academy and request a free or no-obligation session before committing yourself.
See? That wasn't funny at all! Please, people! Try and limit yourselves! Van Hammersmith is human! Van Hammersmith gets tired. And Van Hammersmith has bills to pay and ladies to please. Please be gentle with Van Hammersmith.
|Dear Van Hammersmith,
I have been playing guitar for two years, and have gotten to be pretty good. I know quite a good sum of theory and have written a few songs. Although I am pretty satisfied with these songs, when it comes to writing new ones it seems like every time I write a new riff, I end up thinking it's not good enough regardless of the quality. So I toss it. And also, I have gotten to use a certain playing style that involves certain fingering patterns that has become habit, and I can't seem to break it so I can find new ways of playing. How can I get over these habits of playing and also be, I suppose, less critical of my own music to write new material?
Hey Cameron. That was kind of a two-question letter, but I'm not going to bust your cunt-balls over it. To be honest, I'm starting to feel a little guilty about giving Josh such a hard time. But Wild Turkey makes guilt go away, right?
I answered the fingering question about two weeks ago, but to give you the gist of it, I told that guy to learn a whole butt-load of old covers that required different fingering than he was used to.
As for your "This riff sucks," issue, it sounds like it's time for you to get some kind of songwriting partner, or at least someone you can occasionally jam with and try new material on. It doesn't have to be really serious, just get together once in a while with another guitarist you know, play a few covers together, and say, "Hey Larry, what do you think of this riff?" Reeee-reeee-waaaaaah-wah-wah-meedily-meedily-screeeee! "What do you think?"
Or something like that.
|What's up big van--
I'm going to do my best to keep this as succinct as possible, but I don't like my chances... I'm in a cover band which i joined because their lead guitarist at the time was moving. I've known the rhythm guitarist since grade school so when he said "wanna join?" I said sure. At the time I was working on forming a metal band, but we weren't complete so I didn't worry much about being in two bands.
Fast forward a couple of years and the metal band IS complete, we're writing originals, and I just love being in the band. The cover band, however, I don't love. My friends who see us frequently say the singer sucks, and truthfully he's not bad but when he does suck, it's because the drummer plays too damn loud and he can't hear himself. On top of that, the rhythm guitarist is, for lack of a better word, horrible. It sucks to say because he's a good friend of mine, but dude can't play a guitar... just can't. I have virtually no say in band matters because I'm kind of the "hired gun" type of guy. I dislike all the songs we cover outside of maybe five, and there are some that I flat-out hate. Honestly, the only reason I haven't quit is because we get paying gigs... but truthfully I don't want to be in the band anymore. Being in two bands hasn't caused any problems yet, but sooner or later odds are it will. So I guess the questions are 1) should I stay or should I go? and 2) if I leave, how do I quit without coming off as a dick? So much for being succinct...
Stay well brother, and keep up the good work,
I'm that dude they call Bad T. |
Oh, so YOU"RE that dude they call Bad T. Because I've really been wondering about that. Well, thanks for keeping it to only two questions. But here's a tip: the first step to keeping things succinct is to drop the opener about trying to keep it succinct. It uses up too many words.
Here's a succinct answer:
See? That was easy. You've got a bunch of built in excuses to quit. "Sorry guys, I'm just not into playing covers anymore," would be the easiest. Plus, if they treat you like a hired gun, then you should be free to move on at any time. Believe me, I've been there. I'm not a voting member? No say in the set list? Sorry fellas, I've got another gig. Best of luck and thanks.
You should be able to do this without ending your friendship and without telling them they suck. Remind them that you joined as a temporary member in the first place. And just about any musician out there will understand someone wanting to leave a cover act so they can focus on their originals group. There might be some really jaded pros on the local circuit who will snort at you for quitting a paying gig, but only because they've already given up on their dreams. They'll deride anyone who still has a soul. Screw them.
Follow your dreams, Bad T. Spread your wings and soar like a metal eagle.