Depth Charts in Rock Bands

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by PauFerro, Jun 15, 2016.

  1. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I have a question -- has anyone had success using a jazz, "depth chart" approach in rock bands? A depth chart is a name someone here on Talkbass used to describe the first, second, and third call musicians for each position in a jazz band. Jazz musicians know standards, and can read off charts really well, so when you have a client who wants a gig, you can just book it without checking with any band members, and then run down the depth chart finding who is available.

    I have been on this model for a few years now and it is fabulous -- you rarely rehearse, your gigs are fun and have variety with new musicians, and you get better and better at the standard book of tunes. Your depth chart seems to get longer and longer as you attend jam nights, or meet different musicians.

    I would love to branch out into a rock band with this concept, but have never tried it. Rock is a bit harder in my view -- a lot of rock musicians can't read charts, won't read charts, and seem to be on the fixed musician model (one person occupies every seat in the band with few if any subs). You seem to have to rehearse harder because the song structure is not as free as in jazz...Vocalists tend to run the show and if the vocalist quits the band folds. Anyone have a depth chart for vocals and all the other musicians in a rock band?
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2016
  2. jive1

    jive1 Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    Not really that different from Jazz. Lots of bands do this, and I've put together bands in less than an hour. It's actually much easier for me to put a Rock band together than a Jazz band. The material is usually easier. I'd trust an unknown commodity to do Louie Louie more than I would to play Satin Doll. It's also easier to teach someone a tune, or call changes on the fly. I can call out changes for a Sweet Home Alabama on the fly, not so much for Cherokee. You can still use a free structure like Jazz, and often you will be extending the arrangement if the floor is filled with dancers. You can still use charts, although it'll more likely be chord charts. They also have sheet music for Rock, believe it or not. Players are also more plentiful. At least in my world, I can find tons of guys who play Rock. Not so much for Jazz, Country, or Reggae. There's also a common core of cover tunes that most working pros know, just like Jazz standards. Of course, it helps to be the singer as well as band leader since that is a role that is harder to flux. But, I've used plenty of fill-in singers as well.

    In short, it can be done and has been done.
  3. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    Montana Mountainside
    Any suitably-professional musician can read a chart and reliably reproduce it in the style you need. Case in point - I just did a recording session with a drummer whom I found out later is/was the touring drummer for punk-rock band MXPX. The session was 'sensitive singer/songwriter', and the dude NAILED it. Brushes, fantastic dynamics, beautiful time, the whole package. Folks who know me from 'country' sessions are shocked (SHOCKED!) to learn that I play with several funk bands in the area (busy 16th-note bass lines), and can easily pull off a wedding gig that has me swingin' jazz on an upright for cocktail hour, then busting out the 5-string to rock modern pop tunes for the reception.

    When I run bands, I do my damndest to stack the roster 3 deep - for every member of the band, including myself, there's at least two other cats who know the rep and I can call if a gig offer comes up and the 'main cat' can't make it. It's just smart business.
    PauFerro likes this.
  4. cronker


    Feb 13, 2007
    There is a "band" in my town (with a few people I used to gig with) and their entire concept is a roster of about eight to ten players in a duo.
    Each duo is a female singer and acoustic guitarist. It can be any mix of these 8-10 people, but the name remains the same.
    I've seen gig guides where this particular band has three gigs on the same day at opposite sides of town, often at the same time.
    chaosMK and Garret Graves like this.
  5. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member

    I've never done it or been in such an arrangement. I agree with @jive1 that it could easily be done, and more easily in musical terms. I think you don't see it as much for cultural reasons. Rock musicians (and audiences) tend to be much more preoccupied with "THE BAND" as a romantic, transcendent entity bridging heaven and earth... even when, in reality, it's just a weekend warrior cover band playing dive bars on Fridays. Change out a member, let alone have a depth chart, and you disturb the fragile magic that makes THE BAND able to RAWK!!!!!
  6. Lazylion

    Lazylion Goin ahead on wit my bad self!

    Jan 25, 2006
    Frederick MD USA
    I played tons of country sub gigs in LA in the 80s and early 90s. Loads of talented and knowledgeable players out there, just a phone call away! Rarely used any charts, sometimes I just met the other guys for the first time on arrival at the club. There was a common pool of cover tunes, and I relied on my knowledge of them. I counted them up for one year, I'd played at least one gig with 30 different bands that year.

    It was a fun challenge, and I miss it a lot. Not much opportunity for that around here that I know of.
  7. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I guess it means getting plugged into the local scene and finding the players for each position. In my town, we tried to form an 80's band. It took a year to find a guitarist who was interested and could play well enough. And then, the musicians refused to use charts, used 'negotiated' song structures that took forever to learn and became near impossible to sub in volume. I gave up on that and went back to jazz even though the pay is less and gigs less plentiful.

    I've wondered if I should be taking the jazz musicians who are interested and forming a rock band with them. Lots of syngergies like Sleepless mentioned above where you play cocktail jazz over dinner and then rock at the dance.
  8. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    Yes. At that point you're talking about fielding decent paying event-band gigs. With good gigs, you ought to be able to book dates w/ musicians who can read charts, learn structures quickly, play a range of genres convincingly, and are used to working with/as subs.
    sleeplessknight likes this.
  9. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    One other thing -- in jazz, we have well-established, one page fake charts. In rock, it's not so great, I've found. They span a couple pages, sometimes more, and there are hooks you HAVE to play or the song doesn't sound right. Why are these things NOT obstacles to the pickup band concept we are talking about here for rock?

    When I think of duplicating the jazz fakebook concept in rock, I envision having to put together my own binders of tunes for all the musicians to make it work. Do you guys do that? And where are you sourcing your charts from?

    I realize they are chord charts, by the way.

    Also, the singers -- often they are not able to read music, or even follow a charted structure. How does that work with subbing singers, who often can't do certain songs, need the band to transpose the music, etcetera? They seem really hard to sub for me.

    Also, they tend to want to make the whole experience about THEM -- how can you set it up so they realize they just like any other instrument in the band?
  10. Tell them. Tell them what to wear, what hairstyle, what songs, what version.

    If they can't do the record version do something else if it isn't easily transposed on the fly. Your jazz cats might have a handy advantage there.
  11. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    Montana Mountainside
    I just write my own charts. You can make it all formal with a program like Sibelius or Finale, or you can use Nashville notation and pass around text-files.

    Singers are just like any other musician (no, seriously). If you are making event-level money, the ones who are low-maintenance, can read a chart, etc, will come out of the woodwork. The rest of the band should be able to transpose on the fly up or down a step or so without too much issue to be able to accommodate a vocalist.
  12. Richland123


    Apr 17, 2009
    That is very common around here since bass players are in short supply and great demand. Several bands use rotating bass players. I have done it many times where the band books gigs without a bassist lined up already and then calls the usual fill in suspects. Since I have my own regularly working band, I am on several other bands depth charts either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd based on their band's situation and my own.

    I am filling in with a band next week for a major motorcycle festival and I am first on their "depth chart". The band does a mix of original tunes, eclectic folk rock, jam band, and other songs. I have worked with them before. They only play a handful of gigs a year locally and they will book the date and call to see if I am available. If I can't play the gig, they go to bassist 2 or 3. Since I have played with them off and on, I have most of their original and cover songs written in charts for me to reference. I will brush up on the songs before the gig; however, they have a tendency to free form and extend and jam on songs as well as change arrangements. I have learned when filling in with them to not overplay and stay within the groove and chord structure of the songs. The nice thing next week is that my band is playing after them on the same stage on the same day. So, I set up once, tear down once, and get paid twice. The bonus is that professional sound is provided and I only have to bring my amp rig and bass.
    PauFerro likes this.
  13. tbirdsp


    Sep 18, 2012
    Omaha, NE
    Wow - around here in the "rock" cover band world - the singer will make or break the whole band. In my band we have a female lead vocalist (she does play a little keyboard) - honestly it IS all about her. The band is pretty much 3 dudes backing her up. Standing still playing (or singing) jazz is a LOT different than putting on a high-energy pop/rock/dance show. She can sing, but really knows how to put on a show and work the crowd too. It would be nearly impossible to sub her out (she books the gigs too). We are "weekend warriors" but serious about it, play about 40 gigs per year. None of us can read standard notation (well I could use a chart to pick through and learn a song, but I haven't sight read since high school band). We learn everything by ear and play it from memory. Lead singer is the only one who uses any kind of chart, and it's just lyrics and a few keyboard notes on an iPad. We don't have set subs for any of us. We don't book gigs unless all of us are available. We did just use a fill-in drummer last week - and I think that was the first gig we ever used a sub in the over 3 years I've been in the band. He plays in Pacman's local cover band which also has a female lead vocalist - so he already knew 2/3 to 3/4 of our songs. Our drummer had a very important family event to attend that he didn't know about until a month out from the gig.
    I'm not saying it can't be done - the songs aren't that difficult. There usually aren't that many versions of a hit pop song - just learn it like the record. Depending on the gender of the lead vocalist - most bands are playing many of the same songs. Experienced players will know a lot of them. That said - it would be hard for your average guitarist to sub for our guy. He is covering a lot of parts, including keyboard parts. There are plenty of guys who could cover for me on bass - but I know only a few who could cover all the backing vocals I do (plus I sing lead on a about 8 songs).

    Honestly - you guys are operating at a higher level of musicianship than most (but not all) cats who play these kind of gigs (including me). I've played a few "jazz" fill-in gigs (crooner stuff and easy standards) and it was a struggle for me and took a HUGE amount of work. I pulled it off though, and it was a great learning experience.
  14. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    This above is what I experience with rock musicians and rock/pop singers.
  15. sean_on_bass


    Dec 29, 2005
    Just a thought about the jazz musicians in a rock band concept. Maybe a way to keep your depth chart as is.

    Rather than a rock project, could be more of a variety band that focuses on more popular funk/soul tunes. Stuff that would be more up a jazz player's alley and take advantage of their solo chops, but still garner the familiarity and dance factor of a good rock cover band.
  16. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    I'm currently 3rd string bassist for a Jack FM style band that gigs a lot. I rarely get the call, but once a year or so I dust off sweet home Alabama and all right now. My regular band has a similar set list, at least some of the same songs. They don't really have a depth chart for all positions, but we have a 2nd string drummer we've played two show with now.
  17. tbirdsp


    Sep 18, 2012
    Omaha, NE
    Well - that's the way it is. Doesn't make it bad or wrong - just different. The focus of this type of performance is much more on the vocalist(s) and the visual elements than the instrumentalists. The main point I wanted to make is considering a singer "just like any other instrument in the band" for these types of gigs is a mistake in my experience. Ones who can really do the job are a rare find. They are the main focus of the audience.
  18. markoc


    Jan 6, 2014
    North San Diego
    With the right people, I think it works great. One of the BL's I work with books about 15-20 shows per month, ranging from solo to a 5 piece lineup. There are 8 of us on the current band roster, BL sings and plays guitar, 3 guitarists, 2 bassists and 2 drummers. She uses us as needed based on size of band required for the gig and who is available since we all work regularly in other bands. It helps that they are all quality musicians, we are all long term friends and have been playing together many years. Music is a mix of folk, country, rock, pop and a large collection of original material.
    cronker, PauFerro and tbirdsp like this.
  19. cronker


    Feb 13, 2007
    I've been involved in this situation too. A popular singer or perhaps guitarist just picks up musicians depending on the need of the gig. Sometimes they just need a sideman for an intimate acoustic show, sometimes they need a full show band for the event corporate gigs.
    I think you might be surprised how many "weekend warriors" can actually read at least a head chart.