Ask Van Hammersmith. Part 41

author: Van Hammersmith date: 05/18/2011 category: junkyard
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Dear Van Hammersmith, my question is not like everyone else's...
I have some friends that want to get together and play, which is great because I'm very shy and would die to play with people I already know, rather than meet people to play with. And I'm completely fine with sacrificing the style I want to play to play with these guys. The problem is this: I like to play in the style of Bullet for My Valentine or August BurnsRed, whereas they want to play Alkaline Trio songs, which for the guitarist are way less interesting to play. They're definitely not as good as me (I'm a god, of course), which makes it hard to try to persuade them to play more complex songs. Should Iplay with my friends because I like them, or look for an online band or advertise at a local music store?Thanks. Also, shoot holes all through my question cuz I feel like you'reslipping inhumor in lieu of actually helping these guys. -That guy.
Well, I feel I need to shoot holes in your question because you contradict yourself so blatantly. You realize that you say you're fine with sacrificing your style, and then complain about them not playing your style, right? You do realize that, don't you? Yeah, you're totally "That guy." You're that guy that says he's definitely not a thing, and then totally proves himself to be that thing. You are what scientists in laboratory conditions refer to as a "hypocrite." So it's time to put your money where your mouth is. You say you're willing to sacrifice your style, right? So do it. Play what these guys are capable of playing. Practice with them for a few months, and if you guys keep adding more material to your repertoire, you'll be able to add more complicated stuff. After all, you're a god, right? If they play with you they should improve in no time. Smart-ass.
Dear Van, Okay, I'm getting pissed. Me and a few of my friends put a band together a few weeks ago, and so far this is how it played out. Me and my brother (guitar and drums respectively) formed it, my best friend is playing bass, and my other friend quit (he was lead). So we can't really do much. Plus, my friend refuses to play any, and I mean ANY songs that he dislikes at all. So should I just kick him out for being an annoying dick who won't play Metallica because he won't get his thumb outta his ass and realize he sucks and needs to practice songs?
Take a freakin' pill, Captain Angrypants. Has anyone ever told you that a) Metallica is not everybody's favorite band, and b) Metallica can be pretty difficult to play if you're not a solid player? Look at it from your buddy's point of view: you're in this band with your friends, but you're not a great player. You're afraid of looking like an idiot by playing stuff way above your level, but your hateful and arrogant guitarist is constantly railing on you to play Metallica, which is way above your level. Plus you hate Metallica. You're feeling stress, and the tension of the situation is driving you crazy. You'd really like your pals to play something closer to your own level while you develop your chops, but every day it's just Metallica, Metallica, Metallica. It makes you want to cry every time to you show up for rehearsal. And it's not getting any easier. The stress is slowly destroying you. You just want to play some simple shit like The Stooges or something, but he's relentless. You can't eat. You're losing hair. Will this never stop? Dude, just ease up on your buddy. Encourage him to compromise, but be sensitive to his feelings too. And be sensitive to his capabilities. Certainly, encourage him to improve, but hammering him for not being better is not really the same thing as encouragement. Frickin' Metallica.
Hey Van Hammersmith, I just want to know what makes a good lead singer, to you? What makes a bad singer? Dos and don'ts, maybe? Many thanks, Aspiring Vocalist, Cowless.
First of all, you've gotta have a cow. If you don't, yer out. Sorry, Cowless. You're out. I'll go into this more a little later on, but you should be able to sing well enough that people would listen to a recording of you without making fun of it, and you should be able to perform on stage well enough that people will stick around and watch. Shit, if you're really good, they might even pay to see it. Beyond that, style and technique don't really matter. Look around. You'll see singers of every type making it. Hell, some of them aren't even that great, but they have something that makes them compelling to watch of listen to (usually either long blonde hair and "tah-tahs," or mad song-writing skills, like Lou Reed, who is at best a charmingly out-of-tune vocalist). So in two words, be compelling. Be great, but if that's not working, at least be interesting.
I'm 17 years old, and live in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. I desperately want to make it as a musician. I also believe that I have the talent and work ethic to get there. Since I'm so close to being 18, and going off into the world, I wanted to ask you what I should do next. You have a lot of experience in bands, and playing gigs, so where is a good place to be? I feel like I would drown in Austin, Texas, with all the competitiveness in the music scene. I also feel like most of the artists in "music cities" like that are perfectly content there. I wouldn't be content staying in one place like that. I don't know what I want to go to college for, or even if I want to go. I just know that I have a real passion for music, and I want to be somebody. Can you help me? -Sam.
If you're scared of moving to a big city and just plunging into the local music scene, I would suggest going to college, even if you don't have a program in mind. Go in and take some general arts and science courses in whatever subject you find tolerable, and penetrate the school's music scene. Meet people. Talk. Broaden your mind. Make friends. Make enemies. Discover new passions. Reach for the skies. Seriously, I didn't go to the big learnin' schools, but I've met heaps of musicians that did, and even if they didn't get their degrees, they'll usually tell you that they had a hell of a good time, met a lot of great people, and usually, formed a band. I've met a lot of bands that started out as college bands. If you have no better ideas, I would give it a shot, even if it's just your local community college. It's no coincidence that local music scene are usually intertwined on some level with the local college scenes.
What is your view of instrumental bands? I am asking this because I am in an instrumental band myself. We are trying to play stuff like Pelican and ISIS and mixing it with sludge metal. So I wanted to get an opinion of someone who has worked in a shit ton of bands. Any tips you would like to offer as well? Like tips on how to keep your audience's attention because there is no singer... who usually gets the audience's attention by getting them to sing along. I am pretty new at this and I don't want to let my band-mates down. So any help you can give on this subject is appreciated. Thanks, Your alter ego.
My view of instrumental bands is the same as my band of vocalist bands: they need to have a compelling stage presence, and they need a focal point. That means the people in the audience need to know where they're supposed to look. The usual default focal point is the singer. Sometimes in those rare guitarist-fronted bands (Slash's Snakepit, that kind of thing) we know we're supposed to look at the guitarist. But usually it's the singer. One reason for this is that we're naturally programmed to look at someone if they're talking to us. It's a communication-connection thing. So if you take that away, the audience doesn't know where to look. They'll look around, and if they don't see anything that captures their attention, their attention will wander. Maybe they'll wander away. So you need something that grabs people. Maybe it's one of the players (hopefully an attractive, talented one) who is emphasized in the stage arrangement, and is engaging and charismatic when playing. Maybe some jumping, windmilling, or dancing would help. Or, if all of your players stand like stiffs and stare at their fret boards when they play, you could use a more blatant gimmick, like a projector with some trippy (or somehow interesting) film playing behind the band. Or maybe a dancing robot. Or someone doing some welding. The point is, people go to watch a band because they want to watch something. People never say "I'm going to hear a band." They say "I'm going to SEE a band." Show them something. As long as you're giving them something to look at the whole time, even if it's just snarling and head-banging, you're doing your job.
Dear Van Hammersmith, There are no musicians in my area with the same taste as me, what do i do? Nah, I'm just kidding. My real question is, why don't you filter your questions? I know you get a lot of questions that are the same, and I'm sure you've gotten a question exactly the same as this one, so filtering them would save you a lot of time, which you could spend drinking, or mastur-er... I mean... reading... yeah, let's go with "reading." Sincerely, Dethbychocolate.
Well Deth, I figure if someone writes to me, they deserve an answer. One purpose of this column is to allow the users of ultimate-guitar.com a space to tell their stories. And yeah, sometimes they seem a bit "samey," but that just pushes me to get more stupid with my answers, right? I'll say this though: just about every letter I get nowadays starts with a paragraph that says "your questions all sound the same but mine is way different." And then they ask the same crap as everybody else. (I cut those paragraphs because they are too repetitive). And I appreciate your concern, but I assure you that I spend plenty enough time "reading" as it is.
Hey V, I'm in a musical duo with one of my best friends. It's nothing too serious, just a bit of fun. We only do covers and play open mike nights in local pubs. I play the majority of the guitar stuff and he sings and plays a bit. He's got a great voice and when we practice we sound pretty good. The only problem is that he gets incredibly nervous before we play live and inevitably makes mistakes, or just doesn't perform anywhere near his ability. I'm concerned that he isn't getting any more confident with experience and slightly worried that it'll turn into full blown stage-fright. Obviously he's my friend and I've no desire to find another singer; I just want to coax him into being more confident. Any suggestions? (Drinking, isn't the answer btw. He gets worse with every pint!) Secondly, I have just treated myself to a PRS Custom 24 and now feel that I should similarly upgrade my amplifier (I currently have a small Roland Cube 30x). I play a whole range of different styles of music and I was wondering in an ideal world (where neither money nor space were an issue) what you would recommend? What amplifier do you use? Many Thanks, James.
The amp I have at home is a 75 watt Fender "Jam," which is basically a little rock box. But if neither money nor space were an issue, I would use an assembly of Marshall stacks so large that they would require two eighteen-wheel trucks to carry. I would follow along on a customized Triumph motorcycle while the rest of the band drinks Jack Daniels on a chartered jet. As for your stage-fright buddy, I wouldn't worry about it getting worse, unless he starts getting heckled. Nervousness usually doesn't go away completely, but it does usually get a little better. After all, check the Van Hammersmith trajectory: Van Hammersmith in performance Year One: Twisting guts and clenched bowels before performance time, constant fear of spontaneous diarrhea, inability to remember or form basic chords, hands taking on a rubbery, boiled-octopus-like consistency. Year Two: Profound sweating, spontaneous swearing, weakness of limbs, cracking voice, inability to differentiate men's and women's bathrooms. Year Three: Itchy balls, mild anxiety and gas pains, tempered by excitement that I might get to feel up some chicks later on, if they get drunk enough. Year Four: Desire to get on stage and rock the living shit out of this place. So you see, it can take time. If the guy can sing, I wouldn't give up on him. And yeah, don't bother too much with alcohol. It does take away inhibitions, but it doesn't exactly improve your actual skills, unless your skills are being reckless and rowdy. By the way, if I were twins, we would have become champion tag-team wrestlers using those very names: reckless and rowdy. Reckless Hammersmith and Rowdy Hammersmith. Reckless and Rowdy, the Fightin' Hammersmiths. Damn, that's cool.
More Van Hammersmith columns:
+ Ask Van Hammersmith: Legacy Songs Artists' Discussions 01/09/2014
+ Ask Van Hammersmith: How to Dump a Band Fiction 01/06/2014
+ Ask Van Hammersmith: Band of Equals Fiction 12/24/2013
+ Ask Van Hammersmith. Part 62 (Final) Junkyard 10/12/2011
+ Ask Van Hammersmith. Part 61 Junkyard 10/05/2011
+ Ask Van Hammersmith. Part 60 Junkyard 09/28/2011
+ view all
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