Advice for being a Band Leader

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Garret Wheeler, Oct 1, 2019.

  1. Garret Wheeler

    Garret Wheeler

    Mar 1, 2016
    So I'm in two bands right now. One is my main gig, where we've got two albums recorded and we've toured and have gigs booked through the summer of next year. The other is my originals band, where we mainly just play at parties, but we've recorded a little bit and we are beginning to move forward to some degree.

    In my main gig I'm just the bassist. I do provide input when we're writing, but the songs are for the most part written by the band leader (the singer/rhythm guitar player). He basically writes and arranges the songs by himself and then brings them to the band. Then we add our parts and give any feedback we may have. Most of the time we don't talk much. He just plays his part and everything essentially falls into place.

    In my side band, since I'm the band leader/primary songwriter I've been having to lead rehearsals and I've worked myself into a little bit of a rut. I play bass, guitar, piano, and I sing, so a lot of times I'll demo songs out while I'm writing them. More often than not I have some pretty complex ideas forming between the instruments, so being close to the recording is pretty essential to achieve the same goal. The problem is the band is 3 piece, so there isn't a ton of room for error, and it's very noticeable to me when things aren't played the way I've written them. On top of that, I'm the only vocalist and singing while playing complex lines is very much a challenge.

    I don't want to be a tyrant, so what are some tips for finding a happy middle ground between getting my original ideas across while still letting my bandmates express themselves?

    It's worth mentioning that I'm studying music at a university, so I'm pretty well versed in theory, whereas my bandmates are not. There isn't any reading involved, but if I try to explain what I'm thinking/playing a lot of times it doesn't necessarily help the situation.
  2. Skybone


    Jun 20, 2016
    Are you sharing your demo's with the other guys in your band?

    Let them know you'd like to stay close to your ideas, but be willing to compromise, be willing to listen to their ideas. Communication is key, not just talking.

    You're in the situation with your other band, what's good about it? What's not so good about it? How does the Band Leader deal with things, does he explain what he wants, or does he roughly outline his ideas and see what comes out?

    Try not to be dictatorial.
  3. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    You can't have your cake and eat it to. If you have exact ideas about how the parts "need" to be, but they still have much discretion on their lines.

    A's stated above, share the demos. Explain that I he parts need to be close to the original. It's up to the other layers if they want to operate that way.
  4. Don't bring your material in half-baked. If you must have it played exactly as it is written, you will have to wait until it is fully written before you share it with anyone. There is nothing worse, to me, than spending time learning material only to have someone decide they want it another way. What a waste of my time.

    Second, you need to accept that the people you want in this band will need to be followers and non-creative types. You cannot put a group of creative people together and expect them to be happy as non-creative contributors. If your current band mates want to make creative contributions, you're going to either have to rethink the whole idea of maintaining total creative control or you're going to have to put together a different band.
    12BitSlab, Shalto and buldog5151bass like this.
  5. Dave Orban

    Dave Orban

    Jun 23, 2019
    Trenton, NJ

    I’ve led my own band for 21 years now. It can be a real pain in the ass, nine time out of ten. It’s that one time out of ten that makes it all worthwhile... usually...
  6. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    If it's important to you that parts are played 'as written' , respect their time and pay them.
    If it's not important enough for your money, respect their musicianship and trust them.
  7. Wissen

    Wissen Supporting Member

    Nov 11, 2007
    Central PA
    I had a big write-up about what I would want as a side man, but I deleted it because I think this question gets more to the heart of the issue:

    Why are you not hearing things played the way you wrote them?

    1) Are they still trying to learn the parts?
    2) Are they not capable of playing the parts?
    3) Did you give them adequate resources and opportunity to learn those parts?
    4) Have they decided not to play the parts as you have written them?

    Each of those answers leads you down a very different path, so I think step one is to decide which path you're headed down.
    LBS-bass likes this.
  8. sqlb3rn


    Apr 6, 2016
    Maybe they want some input in the writing process and don't want to learn your parts note for note. I would just give constructive feedback and ask for them for input on parts I write too. I joined a band with a band leader dictating everything, his writing was mediocre and he had no interest in stuff I write either, so I just said thanks for the hang and quit.
    Garret Wheeler likes this.
  9. Garret Wheeler

    Garret Wheeler

    Mar 1, 2016
    It changes from song to song, but basically 1-2. The guitarist is pretty good about learning parts 1:1 if I ask him to, but some of the parts are pretty complex. I'm a more technical musician so a lot of the stuff I write isn't easy to play so I understand if it takes a while to learn. The drummer on the other hand doesn't have any formal training, aside from a few drum lessons early on, so when I try to explain beats that aren't straight ahead 4/4 it might as well be rocket science. In fact, most of the songs we play are in 4/4, but several have pickups that take a long time to explain and it always turns into a, "no it's 'boom boom bap'" type conversation.

    He's actually a really good drummer, but not understanding music theory (and purposely avoiding it) makes it really hard to explain parts to him.

    Aside from that I always give them fully fleshed out demos that sound very complete. It's more about putting in the time to learn the songs than anything. I always try to explain that learning is done when you're practicing and rehearsals are for putting the pieces together.
  10. Garret Wheeler

    Garret Wheeler

    Mar 1, 2016
    The guitar player writes a little bit, but the drummer doesn't write at all. We actually do a couple of the guitarists songs that I helped him finish, but they always say that they want me to call the shots. I don't tell them exactly what to play unless it's interfering with the core of the song itself. For example sometimes the drummer will overplay with the kick and it will mess up the groove I'm establishing with the bass line. It's mainly stuff like that that I critique but it's the overall sound that isn't totally impressing me.
    sqlb3rn likes this.
  11. Garret Wheeler

    Garret Wheeler

    Mar 1, 2016
    In the other band the band leader's rule is "I won't tell you what to play, but I'll tell you if I don't like what you're playing." I like that a lot, but when he brings in new songs the chords and the arrangements are essentially done. We just add our supporting parts and the lead guitarist adds his solos.

    I like his way of running things, but he really only plays guitar and sings. Of course he can play believable sounding bass lines, but he leaves it up to me to write parts like a bassist. Since I play bass, guitar, piano, and I sing, I tend to develop entire ideas instead of just the skeletons of the songs. That means the chords, the melodies, the harmonies and everything. I don't expect it to sound exactly like what I hear, but I do want to sound more like my versions of the songs instead of a loose interpretation.
  12. nomaj


    Apr 2, 2012
    If you found a more suitable drummer then your side band would go a lot smoother, since it sounds like the guitarist is fairly nimble already.

    Having a one-dimensional "woodchopper" drummer can work great for straight-ahead stuff, if what is needed is simple drive, drive, drive - but if you are wanting finesse, you gotta find someone who has the dexterity and the brain to pull it off.

    In other words, while Stewart Copeland could sub just fine on an AC/DC gig, Phil Rudd would be a trainwreck on a Police gig.
    Garret Wheeler likes this.
  13. Garret Wheeler

    Garret Wheeler

    Mar 1, 2016
    I don't want everyone to get the impression that I'm being a "Wall" era Roger Waters in this situation. I don't lash out if the guitarists solos don't perfectly mirror mine. In fact, I usually let him have free reign to interpret the parts as he chooses unless there's something specific that I want him to do.

    My main issue is with the groove/swing of the songs. The drummer isn't the best at taking suggestions. He can play some really cool stuff but it often-times turns into overplaying or speeding up. I always try to get him to lay back but it's like he doesn't believe me when I say playing less usually sounds cooler than playing a ton. There's a little bit of a communication breakdown that happens when I explain parts using real musical terms.

    Sometimes I'll change the songs to match what he plays if I think it sounds better, but if he doesn't understand what I'm trying to explain and the guitarist isn't playing closely to what I've written it's like I'm dealing with an entirely different piece.
  14. Garret Wheeler

    Garret Wheeler

    Mar 1, 2016
    The thing is, the drummer is also my best friend and roommate. He's also the drummer in my main gig. He's not bad at all, but with the stuff I write his playing doesn't always fit. I value our friendship more than the music we play, so I don't want to hurt his feelings by hiring someone else. I just don't know what to do to make it work.

    Then again maybe I'm just being a self-important jerk when it comes to songwriting. :bag:
  15. Wissen

    Wissen Supporting Member

    Nov 11, 2007
    Central PA
    If they aren't capable of playing the parts, do you have faith that their skills will improve over time? If they aren't willing, will their attitude change?

    As for the "learning parts is done on your own, rehearsal is for putting them together with the band" is a VERY music school attitude (source: I also have a music degree) and I get where you come from, but...if these guys are doing this for fun, that expectation is going to turn them off REAL quick. I can sight read, but I learn best when I play with the band. Let me make mistakes, but let's run it twenty times. I'll get it.

    I got a call at the end of August for a gig playing bass in a pit orchestra. "We'll send you the book, rehearsals have been going on for two months, tech week is next week." I reviewed the book on my own, but for that whole week of rehearsals I was making mistakes left and right. But on opening night? Nailed it.

    We all learn differently. I understand how things are handled in a music school. But it's exactly that type of regiment and condescension that turns people off of music school.
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2019
  16. QORC


    Aug 22, 2003
    Elberon, New Jersey
    Be a benevolent dictator - don't make decisions without considering the needs/desires of the other members. Don't lie to your band mates - it takes a long time to establish credibility/integrity, but it can be lost in 2 seconds with a lie. Don't mess with the money. Be fair, transparent and honest. Always
    Amano likes this.