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Differing levels of talent among band members

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by mikegug, Jan 11, 2012.

  1. mikegug


    Oct 31, 2011
    I have to be careful in how I approach this because I certainly don't want to disrespect someone just learning their craft...

    But, have you ever played in (or seen) a band that has a member that is so far below the level of other players where it is blaringly obvious?

    I've got two friends that are very talented. Guitar and bass (and the bass player is incredibly gifted!) They know music. However, they are coupled with a lead singer who is OK on guitar and just is a TERRIBLE singer! And I mean BAD! And it's been almost a year of practicing and non-paid gigs. I cannot begin to understand why they haven't cut this person loose :confused: I can't put them on a bill. There's no way! Thank goodness they haven't asked.

    Why does this happen? I just can't begin to understand why a band would take the time to gig (paid or unpaid) or practice without improvement over a period of almost a year! I understand the whole, "you gotta walk before you run" thing, but...
  2. guroove


    Oct 13, 2009
    Buffalo, NY
    The only time I can remember playing with someone who was a "beginner" was when I had a 19 year old sax player in my band who had been playing since he was 10. It's just not a good idea to expect someone to get "better." Everyone has to be at the level where they are ready to play from day one, or you are just wasting everyone's time.
  3. echoSE7EN


    Jul 1, 2010
    Balto., MD
    The last band I was seriously attached to (co-founder) had this problem. We were an originals band. I was the primary songwriter (I've played guitar and piano for close to 20 years, as well as my time on the bass, and was a "band dork" all through JH and HS - brass).

    Our drummer decided that he wanted to beef up the sound of our music, and started teaching himself guitar...and started writing music...which led to some awkward conversations between he, the guitarist, and I. He does have an ear for rhythm (one would hope), and he is/was a great drummer, but his songs were terrible. The kicker...he basically went on strike until we agreed to work on his songs.

    I left the band after the third show in which we performed any of his songs. This is slightly different than the OP question, but along the same lines. His lack of true musical knowledge (theory, melody, harmony, riff writing, etc etc) hurt the band. The guitarist didn't mind as much, but I couldn't do it. His songs simply didn't match the vision we originally formed the band to convey.
  4. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    It's hard to reply (and sometimes, to even relate) to the questions posed in this forum ... it seems there are more very young players than old geezers like me. But I agree with the previous poster that band members ought to be somewhat competent from day one. I've been playing for more than 40 years, and have quit bands because it was clear that one or more players just didn't have it ... often these are family/friend relationships that supercede the music ... but not for me. I have friends I don't play with (gigs) because the quality of music isn't up to my standards (doesn't that sound elitist?) but we remain friends and jam off stage now and then. Life is too short for crappy music. If one's goals are to make better music, then one must practice diligently and associate oneself with better musicians. IF it's about "the hang" I pack my stuff and move on.

    Sounds like maybe these guys are in it for the hang.
  5. RickeyC


    Jan 17, 2011
    I filled in for a band last night and I was the only person who had their act together. I'm not being arrogant or boastful. Just telling you the truth. I hit the right notes, was on tempo, and didn't make a scene. The first song the guitarist was in the wrong key. The 2nd song was okay but on the third song, the drummer got off (came in on beat 4 instead of the downbeat of 1) and kept going until the lead singer turned around and gave him a quick look. In return, the drummer says "What are you doing?!" and leaves the stage accidentally knocking over his ride cymbal. The ride hit the guitarists drink, spilling it over his pedalboard.

    Needless to say when we were done, I got my $100.00 and got out of there. That won't happen again.. Haha
  6. Sixpack324


    Jan 10, 2012
    New Jersey
    Didn't Bon Jovi have the same problem with their bass player?

    I've been in this situation on more than one occasion and the answer to the question varies....

    If it's the type of band that's friends jamming and whatever comes out of it comes out of it....Then there's your explanation. I experienced this when I was younger. We were friends first and foremost.....The music was just a by-product of the friendship.

    Then there's the 'serious' band. I had an experience with this (also when I was younger) too. We started a band and needed a drummer. Very early in the process, we held auditions and selected the best available candidate. We started writing music and everything was fine.

    As time progressed, so did our music writing. At first our material was not necessarily simple, but not hard to play either. The more time we spent together as a band, though, the more complex our material became. The drummer, who was a good fit for some time, just didn't seem to have the chops to keep up with what the band's material evolved into.

    Eventually, the decision was made to replace him, but that was not a light decision. It was awkward to even talk about with the rest of the band because we had to do it behind the drummer's back, which has a funky vibe to it. Eventually, somebody broke the ice to start the conversation and we collectively decided to replace him. Then came the audition process, which isn't easy when you want to test the waters with another drummer without firing the original drummer first (still need to rehearse right? and.....it gives him an opportunity to come up with the chops).

    Given my experiences with the whole scenario, I tend to drag my feet when it comes casting my vote to replace someone who doesn't measure up to the rest of the band. I'd rather try to work through it than go through the audition process and start over with a new member.
  7. No it is Van Halen. Alec John Such wasn't bad at all.

    As to OP, been in that situation on both sides. Depends on what the band is for. From the inferior side, I was the guy playing with a bunch of music teachers for fun. They almost didn't need to tell me that I couldn't keep up. Made me practice more to improve. On the "superior" side, If it is a for fun 'n chicks thing, I don't mind too much. If it is for money or the promise of something like it, then either a) tell the player that s/he needs to step up and we're willing to help or b) leave or c) replace.
  8. viper4000


    Aug 17, 2010
    I guess I was the huckleberry in my first band. The other 3 members had serious gigging/writing/band experience. I got the call because two other "experienced" bassists flaked out and quit, and since I was a good friend, and essentially knew all of the tunes (originals), they called me as a sub. I was definitely the weak link.

    However, without that initial opportunity, I would probably not have ever considered gigging. I was just always in the mindset that I wasn't good enough to put everything out there to be judged. At the time, I was content with using music as a stress relief and casual hobby, rather than being a full fledged musician.

    As it is now, if I'm not gigging or at least collaborating with someone, I feel something is missing. So, to that I say everything is circumstantial. No, I probably would not join a group with a huge divergent talent pool, however, talent doesn't always make for the best band environment either. It could go either way.
  9. Ever since college I've been playing in volunteer worship bands at relatively small churches. In that environment, you're practically guaranteed to have a wide range of abilities between the musicians. (That's putting it nicely).

    In my current non-church band, I usually feel like I'm the least talented member. But I work hard at learning the songs, I write parts that I enjoy playing and that serve the song, I have great musical chemistry with the drummer and guitarist/singer, and people enjoy our live shows, so I try not to worry about it.
  10. The first step to building excellence is to realize all your weak points. If you don't have that, hope is lost.

    PS: Watch American Idol the early stages to see how people are self-delusional about their talent...
  11. Sixpack324


    Jan 10, 2012
    New Jersey
    Not that I'm a Bon Jovi fan..............('cause I'm not)

    But if you've ever watched their "Behind the Music", Richie Sambora does a decent job of explaining how bad Alec was and how he used to screw up on stage all the time so they had to replace him with the original studio musician that recorded the bass tracks for the "Runaway" demo back in 1980.
  12. It's really not uncommon. You see it with groups where the friendship and warm fuzzies are the priorities.

    And, who's to say that's such a bad thing?
  13. The guiding principal I have lived by for the entire time (40 years this year) I have been playing in bands is this: A band is only as good as its weakest member. In my experience, the band will stall at a level commensurate with the ability of the weakest member and progress no further.
  14. chaosMK


    May 26, 2005
    Albuquerque, NM
    Hi-fi into an old tube amp
    I think that as you get more experienced, you feel things out a little more before committing to something. Keep in mind it's a long road. 5-10 years of playing in bands is just getting started. I work my projects only with people who are around my level of experience/passion.
  15. You're right, he was terrible
  16. That's most likely why the singer is still "employed". I've been there. In my first band, I played guitar and was the most talented in the group (no brag, just fact). But I was good friends with all of them, so I really didn't let it get to me.

    I then got into a "serious" band where the other players were at or above my talent and I realized that in order to be a "serious" band, you can't have links that are too weak. I played bass in this band (my first bass gig). The guitarist and the drummer (3-piece) were among the best musicians in the region. The guitar player was about 10 years older than me and the drummer and played the "big brother" role (...to death). Anyway, that drummer moved on and we auditioned for a new drummer. We settled on a guy who was a good fit personality-wise, but lacked a little in the "chops" department. Big Brother guitarist let it slide for about 6 months, but when it was obvious that the drummer's lack of talent was holding us back, the guitarist really started to ride him hard. We played a few up-tempo bluegrass-type songs that the drummer just couldn't keep up with. The guitarist was all over him all the time in practice. Eventually, the drummer quit.

    I guess I'm glad the guitarist stepped up and rode the drummer like that. That's not an easy job to do...when personal feelings get involved. But he did it.
  17. Creepy...it's like you know me or something...

    Anyway, in my case the friendship thing is definitely something to consider. Also, we do originals and I see some real potential in the songs, but often I feel as though I must go out of my way to state the blatantly obvious.

    In the end, YOU can't make someone else a better musician. They have to WANT to improve. Same goes for friendships, marriages, addictions, habits, pretty much anything involving human nature.

    One thing that I have noticed is that being very blunt and saying it to their faces goes a long way in terms of motivation. My gui**** used to only play guitar once a week at our practices, which was honestly a waste of our time. Instead of throwing up middle fingers and taking off, I got visibly angry with him and said if he didn't want to use the gift he was given, he should just give up music and open the door to someone who actually WANTS to be a musician. Now he practices every day, has gotten noticeably better, and I still feel like a babysitter. Rock and roll, man.

  18. travhop42


    Dec 21, 2010
    Every band has a weakest musician. I have always improved when that was me (quick) The problem comes when the weakest guy does not know it.
  19. Sixpack324


    Jan 10, 2012
    New Jersey
    That reminds me of what someone said a loooong time ago.....

    "Every band has a weakest link. If you think your band doesn't, it's probably you."
  20. mikegug


    Oct 31, 2011
    In my experience, tough love works most of the time. It at least gets you down the road more quickly.

    I'm almost hoping the manager asks me to get on a bill. I can confront him with some tough love at that point, but right now, it'd appear as though he just doesn't care... Eh... we'll see.

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