The Naysayers Are Wrong. Part 3: Proceeding With Your Sound With A Band

Addressing the single greatest misconception about us as musicians.

Ultimate Guitar

So, last time I talked about how, if you wanna get anywhere in this industry, you're gonna need to find a sound that belongs entirely to you, yet has just enough resemblance to your influences that it sounds...earthly. Familiar to your listeners.

Once again, I'm speaking to the bedroom musicians of the world. From the socially inept recluses to those frowned upon by fortune, who feel either like they will never find a band, or that they would not fit in and play nice with others. And at the same time, I'm also addressing those lucky few who have found a group of fellow music-makers with whom they are loved and accepted. Either way, this advice is applicable.

Bands are not necessary. Not really. Not anymore. For those of you who can't find fellow musicians, I'll get to that in the next article. But for now, some tips for those who want some buddies.

Take charge of the sound you've created. Accept no compromises. I realize that what I'm saying appears to only contribute to the epidemic of ego-centric musicians with their heads so far up their own rear ends that their spines have the consistency of a twizzler. But it is my FIRM belief that if your egos are clashing in a band situation, it's the WRONG situation.

A band is not a democracy. It is a dictatorship. No, worse still; a dictatorship is run by someone with some semblance of intelligence. A band is a conglomerate of idiocy in which every involved party reverts back to unevolved primates driven purely by their pride, grunting and fling feces at each other. At least, that's what it is for the first half hour.

And I mean LITERALLY half an hour. In the span of half an hour, the identity of the most skilled musician in the group should become evident. It happens this way EVERY TIME, though the results are not always the same. Let me go through a couple of scenarios, both of which I have witnessed for myself.

Scenario 1 (AKA the WRONG scenario): You and some buddies meet up at your drummer-friend's house and decide to jam together and see where it goes. Your bassist is kinda sitting in the background, root-noting a nice, simple chord progression, content to stay back. Your keyboardist's playing whole note triads on some pretty choir synth or something. Your drummer's grooving along, and you find your way into this arrangement. Maybe you play some power chords, maybe a bit of open-stringed palm mutes worked in. Whatever you like.

Suddenly, drummer boy jumps into some crazy fill, leading into 5/4 kicks against 7/8 hi hats with only the snare accents in 4/4. Everybody stops. Your timid bassist has that look on his face like he farted and is praying nobody notices. "What the hell was that?" your keyboardist asks. You smile, realizing that you're clearly ahead of the pack, given that YOU, at least, could have kept up with drummer boy.

Whoops! Buzzer noises. Red lights. That obnoxious synthesized voice in Resident Evil that always says, "Warning. Self destruct sequence initiated." You're screwed now. Okay, maybe you'll butt heads with drummer boy, jamming together until one of you throws the other one out of the ring and claims BAND DOMINANCE!!! But the fact of the matter is that whichever one of you loses this little contest will always think, "At least I'm better than those other guys who couldn't keep up."

And whether it takes years of touring together or just a week of practice, the clashing egos of you and drummer boy are gonna push the bassist and keyboardist so far out of the group, they'll never get back in. Compounding this little problem, your sound will be compromised. You'll cut corners in songwriting because your other members are so far underneath you, and each time you do, you'll resent them for it. It's not a healthy way to go.

Scenario 2 (AKA the RIGHT scenario): Whether your band forms its sound as a group (like Dragonforce, sans ZP), or you hold your sound so close to your heart that you smack your bandmates around until they fall in line (like Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish), the fact remains that a healthy sound is formed WITHOUT clashing egos. For an example of where problems set in, look up the infamous history of the band Helloween on Wikipedia.

The proper, healthy way for a band to exist is surprisingly simple. You've gotta be friends. There can be no resentment. No discontent. But that DOES NOT MEAN that you have to be a democracy.

MY band, for instance, is what I believe this perfect dynamic to be. It consists of me, my fiancee, my best friend, his brother, and another mutual friend. We're all extremely close, and we talk as such. When an issue arises, we discuss it maturely and deal with it. It's like a relationship: Communication is key.

See, when we formed, I was the best musician. I'd been playing guitar for three years prior, and everyone else was literally just picking up their instruments. But see, we were all friends, so the skill gap was accommodated. They pretty much unanimously named me leader, and left every single decision up to me, although at the time, I wanted nothing to do with leading a band.

I taught myself songwriting, producing, mixing, mastering, management...everything you can think of in running a band, I picked it up. Thank God for the internet, am I right?

Our sound formed from the collaboration of two or three of us, with the remaining members completely shut out, not because we were mean to them, but because they didn't feel they would contribute anything the rest of us wouldn't already cover. And that was fine.

While there is a CLEAR power structure in this band, there are no bruised egos, no feces-flinging primates, no discontent. We're all happy. I'm happy accepting the responsibilities, and they're happy giving them up to me. You see, then, that the key to a healthy band dynamic is not how it's run, but how the members feel. It is, after all, a group of humans. A band must be a family, not a company.

And this is the truth. This is what must happen in a happy, healthy band that expects to get somewhere in the industry. There's enough pressure from OUTSIDE the band. Cut out the infighting first.

And for those of you musicians who can't for the life of you find a band yourselves, don't fret. I'll get to you next. Stay tuned!

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