#1
So my girlfriend and I just came out of a band and we've decided to start writing and recording as a two piece with her singing (and at some point hopefully playing guitar and synth as well) and me taking care of most of the instrumental parts. We play grungy, noisy, indie rock (Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Placebo)

A typical arrangement for one of our songs would have drums, bass, vocals, electric guitar, and then a combination of acoustic guitar, synth, and piano. So it often sounds kind of like a five or even six piece band. (It's not quite what we're doing now but you can find examples of music we've recorded here: https://soundcloud.com/whiteelephantemporium)

We're hoping to be able to gig again within a year or so but obviously we can't recreate our recorded sound with just two people so we'll be looking to find some extra musicians, at the very least a bass player and drummer. I can see four possible options:

1. Keep the complex, layered sound of our recordings and then build up to a five or six piece band so we can play all the parts live.
1. Keep the complex, layered sound of our recordings but just find a bass player and drummer and then rearrange the songs to be played by a quartet.
2. Strip back and simplify the arrangements now so we can play the songs as a quartet without having to cut out parts.
3. Use backing tracks.

- The first option would be ideal but I'm concerned that the more people there are in the band, the more creative and financial roadblocks we might run into later. Would it be too expensive or too risky to hire backing musicians for live shows while we're just starting out? Would too many cooks spoil the broth if we brought them in a full members?
- The second option is a good compromise but our live sound could be a bit underwhelming compared to our recorded sound unless we're really clever with our arrangements. What's the best way to do this? Can anyone suggest artists who do this successfully? Also, it would be necessary for my girlfriend to play fairly complicated parts on an instrument that she can't yet play AND sing at the same time. Is this too optimistic?
- The third option might be feasible but the songs are already mostly written and I'd be a bit reluctant to lose parts at this stage.
- We tried the fourth option in our last band but found it too limiting but we're willing to try it again if anyone can suggest a good way to do it.

So there's four options there and we're struggling to work out which would be best. What are the pros and cons of each? I'm interested to know what people think would be the most successful scenario or how they've approached problems like this before. Please share your own experiences!


TL;DR: I'm in a two piece band but our recorded sound is more akin to a five piece. How do we play live?
#2
Re-work the arrangements. Playing to backing tracks is do-able, but it really adds a lot of hassle and keeping everyone in line with a click track is really limiting live - and good luck finding musicians that will tolerate that.

I just listened to a few tracks ( sounds great!) and you should be fine with one electric guitar, a keyboard player, a bass player and a drummer. That's already pretty dense for a live show from a mixing standpoint.

If you're lucky you could find someone like the drummer in half Moon Run who plays drums and keys at the same time!
#3
The drummer in our last band HATED the click track actually and it did make everything feel a bit robotic so yeah I think that's out. But you'd rather strip the songs down than hire extra musicians? It's definitely cheaper I suppose but I'd be worried that we'd be leaving holes in the arrangements or watering down our sonic impact. If we had to lose some instruments so we could play the songs as a quartet, would you favour a keyboard over an acoustic guitar every time or is that just for those Soundcloud tracks?
#4
It's all about what's feasible. If you can find that many musicians to play your songs than go for it. It's definitely a logistical problem.

I would always favor a keyboard player over an acoustic guitar player since you already have an electric guitar in there and a keyboard is so flexible in terms of what can be played. If you have a song where the acoustic is very prominent than just drop the electric guitar for that particular song. In a full arrangement with electric guitars, keys and acoustic guitar - chances are you can take out the acoustic and it won't really change much.
#5
That makes sense. If it was up to you then, would you keep the layers in the recording and then pick out the most prominent parts to play live, or keep it simple from the start and only record what it would be possible for 4 people to play? There's always the temptation to add more and more when I'm recording and I do like a wall of sound in my music but is there any point if we won't sound like that on stage? I know bands like nine inch nails and smashing pumpkins often use more sounds in the studio than they do on stage but they're established bands with high end equipment that can probably help compensate for that lack of actual live musicians. I don't know if it's a good idea to try and use that approach when we're just starting out
#6
Forgetting the music for a second, how about the logistics? Where are you going to play? who is going to be paying you and how will you pay the other musicians?

This is bandleading and as a bandleader I can say with heartfelt experience that the problems multiply increasingly quickly as the number of musicians increases. You have to find people first, wait while they learn the set and then someone else leaves and you'll have to rearrange the songs to suit the different lineup or skill of the replacement. It's hard to keep a group of people all together and happy for any length of time and this, not the music is the usual reason for the failure of bands. Unless you are in the realm of readers and session musicians I'd say keep things as simple as you can.

Do you have to use the same solution for each song? Using just some backing track and possibly a looper might free you from the tyranny of a click track for much of the set.

Good Luck
#7
I think we'll want to find a bass player and a drummer no matter what but we're quite lucky in that depending on the song, I can play either guitar or keys live and although my singer is just starting to learn, I'm confident that by the time our EP is out and we're wanting to gig, she'll have learned enough to do the same. So on one of our songs, I'll probably be playing lead guitar and she'll play a mellotron part. On another, I'll play the piano and she'll do the guitar.

The problem is that both songs have extra synth or extra acoustic guitar parts on the demos that we'll have to cut out if we play as a quartet. That's a concern but as you say, a fifth member is going to be expensive and I also know how hard it can be to get that many people in the same place at the same time playing the same thing.

So I reckon that realistically, that option is out. And as reverb66 said, backing tracks can be too limiting and too unreliable. I hate playing to click tracks because I have done gigs where my bass player or my drummer has f'd up and played an extra bar and it's put us out of sync with the samples. That's hard to come back from. You mentioned a looper though? Are there ways to trigger samples or loops without having to play along to a backing track?

What are your experiences with rearranging songs? Is it a common practice? How drastically could or should you change things before you start to lose the audience? As a fan, I quite like hearing slightly different versions of songs but there's a difference between rearranging a song and just cutting out certain instruments and I don't know where to start!
#8
Most albums use overdubs that just can't be done live. For example Led Zeppelin's "Achilles Last Stand" has a lot of guitar tracks in it but they did it with one guitar, bass and drums live. They just changed it a bit. "Kashmir" had orchestras and everything and they did it with just guitar, synth and drums live. It doesn't sound exactly the same as on the album but who cares?

The only band that comes to my mind that didn't use a lot of overdubs in the studio is Van Halen.

Studio and live don't need to sound the same. Just rearrange your songs for live playing. Some synth parts can be played on guitar. But yeah, one guitar and keyboards sounds a lot better idea than an electric and an acoustic guitar.

I think you want your studio albums to sound as good as possible. If it needs a lot of overdubs, then use a lot of overdubs. You just need to find a way to play the songs live. This may mean you need to change them a lot. But I think that's kind of cool - people get to hear different versions of the same song. If live and recorded music sounded exactly the same, why would anybody want to see any gigs?
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