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singer with baaaaaad sense of time

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Ewo, Dec 7, 2012.

  1. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    I'd appreciate any insight y'all can offer. I've been gigging for a long time, and this is a problem I've never run into before.

    We've got a month-long Friday gig coming in January, and our singer quit for medical reasons. The band is a quintet: drums, bass, keys, guitar, vocalist. So last night we auditioned a new singer.

    The guy's got a positive personality, seems motivated, and has a good sense of pitch. His intonation wasn't the problem; that's something I've run into often enough.

    The trouble is that he seems to have little to no sense of rhythm and phrasing. We were running through some tunes that were familiar to us all, and he'd start vocal phrases way out of time. Like, the one in the vocal phrase would fall on the three of a bar, or he'd be singing a phrase over the wrong chord change. Or when the vocal phrase had three eighth notes as a pickup to the one, he'd put the pickup square on the one.

    It wasn't just a single mistake; this was chronic, through the whole audition. The drummer and I talked to him when we stopped playing for the night, and politely said this was gonna be a problem. He took it very positively, and went home with a CD of a half dozen tunes to woodshed. We left it that we'll give him one more shot at an audition, on Sunday.

    What do you figure? Run into this before? (It's new to me, at this level of severity.) Suggestions how to handle it would be appreciated.
  2. I'd be curious whether he does it on purpose, thinking he's being creative and "pushing the melodic envelope", or if he just doesn't know the songs. I suspect the latter would be much easier to correct.

    Either way, I think you handled it very well. Let him try again, and if he doesn't sound better, tell him it isn't going to work. I think that band members can help each other improve as musicians, but it isn't your responsibility to bring someone way up the learning curve, especially if you're a working band. You need to find someone who is already pretty close to your level.
  3. mpayne86


    Aug 14, 2012
    I think him acting professionally buys him a 2nd audition. If he would have said something like "whatever, i did it right." or not recognized he made mistakes or is willing work to make it sound better then i would have never gave him a 2nd chance. Since hes capable of working on issues and correcting them go for it bro
  4. Biggbass


    Dec 14, 2011
    Planet Earth
    might need to teach him to count. I worked with a country singer for a while that had a challenge with timing and counting and it got so bad the entire band finally gave up on him and just quit. The guy never sang a song the same way twice and was always dropping a beat, half a measure, or adding beats and measures which would obviously throw the band off and cause us to have to get back in sync with him. I finally threw in the towel and the rest of the band did the same within a couple of weeks later.

    Teach him to count.
  5. We just let a lead singer go over this and replaced him with a singer of equal skill in all other respects but better timing. The drummer was ready to quit if we didn't do something.

    Your lead singer is the focal point. The rest of the band can be spot-on rhythmically, but the singer with bad timing can make the whole band sound like it has bad timing.

    I'd think long and hard before hiring this singer if he doesn't improve.
  6. ronaldpdbrandt

    ronaldpdbrandt Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2011
    Suffolk County, NY
    Sponsored by The Letter Z
    It could be one of two things:

    1. He didn't know the songs, but got nervous and tried to pretend that he did. If this is the case, he'll hopefully learn them before the next audition and be much better.

    2. He has bad timing and can't hear it. There is usually no remedy for this. I know a guy who can know a song backwards and forwards, and can sing along with the recording with no problem, but as soon as he tries to do it with a band, he loses the melody and timing completely.
  7. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    Your comments are much appreciated!

    The only other time I ran into something like this wasn't a band-related situation. My GF wanted to learn Jolene to do a karaoke parody of the tune at a friend's birthday party. Now, she's not a musician and doesn't pretend to be, so I just coached her for an hour or so in putting the vocal phrases where the chord changes were in the backing tracks. She struggled with it, yeah. Guess I internalized musical metrics so long ago I forgot it could be a problem for some folks...

    Well, maybe our singer-candidate had a case of nerves, maybe he didn't know the tunes well enough...

    And maybe he'll have the tunes together on Sunday.

    If not, I'll try schooling him on counting fours.

    Again, your insights are much appreciated; please keep 'em coming. :help:
  8. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    Yeah. That's what I'm afraid of...

    Well, if he can't cut it we can't hire him. :(
  9. HighPockets

    HighPockets Supporting Member

    Aug 26, 2008
    Wow!! Willie Nelson tried out for your band? :bag:
  10. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    :p! Yeah, Willie does warp time a bit, doesn't he?

    I remember reading a Bass Player interview with Nelson's bassist...uh...name escapes me at the moment. He said that when he joined the band he had to learn not to go with Willie on his tempo warps, to just keep time and wait for Willie to come back to it.
  11. Oneirogenic


    Nov 10, 2009
    I've only dealt with this on a minor level. Shedding is the most helpful thing but it also helps for the singer to look for cues in the music to make it easier to remember when to come in. Of course you haven't hired him yet. Good luck!
  12. ReiPsaeg


    Dec 1, 2012
    Rochester, NY
    Maybe try auditioning someone else while you're at it?
  13. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    +1 to Ronald, but I'd frame that a little differently. I agree entirely that the singer's lack of musical timing is serious problem that's hard to coach. But unless your audition process didn't give him time to prepare, he either...

    1. Worked on the audition songs and was still horrible, or

    2. Didn't account for his lack of any innate sense of rhythm, and came to audition so unprepared that he got nowhere near the phrasing on any of the songs (that's a scary level of unprepared).

    Neither of those scenarios says, "Just work with me; I'm your guy."
  14. drpepper

    drpepper Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2009
    Columbia, Maryland
    I think sending him off with the CD was the best you could do.

    I did have a similar experience, though it doesn't sound like it was as bad. We put it down to lack of familiarity initially.

    We went with the guy, and he did improve, but there was still a strange seeming "disconnectedness" from the music and rhythm.

    I've since quit the band, but over a year's time, there were some things that he never got fully straightened out...never came in just right at the beginning of Hot Blooded...The Joker was never right...both were passable, but I just couldn't get what the problem was.

    The strangest thing was we changed the song order on the fly and he actually sang part of the lyrics to the song that was on the set list...twice. We're playing Some Kind of Wonderful and he's singing Can't Get Enough. I don't remember what the other one was. If we didn't clue him in, he would have just kept going.

    It'll be interesting to see if working with the CD does the trick. Let's hope so.
  15. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    Again, many thanks for your insights and experiences. Very helpful to my thinking about this problem.

    Hmn. I'm wondering, since he's not had musical training AFAIK, if he's actually not hearing the chord changes. Like, he's spent time singing to records and learned melodies (and pitch) fairly well, but only paid serious attention to the lead vocals in the recordings.

    Ouch. That prolly can't be addressed by me doing the George Clinton "C'mon and march with me" thing for fifteen minutes.
  16. If he has: bad sense of timing, forgets lyrics and can't remember the melody lines - in case you didn't already know, his name is David Lee Roth.
    Love the guy, but buddy do your homework.
  17. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    I would assume a baaaaad singer sounds like Stevie Nicks... because she sounds like a sheep...
  18. Generally singers that I have worked with that have timing and phrasing issues, are usually those
    that are not musicians. It always seems to be the ones that only sing and play no instrument.
    Not having played an instrument and lacking natural rhythm, they flounder around.
    Not to say all non-musicians are rhythm-less
    The only thing worse would be a guitarist with timing issues. Makes the entire band sound bad.
  19. Has he ever played in a band before? I have known some pretty good bedroom quitarist but the first few times they played with an actual band they were totally lost
    with timing issues. What I am saying is it may take some time for the singer to aquire the timing ear when singing in a band. At least he took the constructive advice you gave him. Kudos for giving him a second chance.
  20. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV

    From what he said at the audition he's got a limited amount of stage time.

    Yeah, I know the thing you mean, about somebody being OK in the bedroom but disoriented in a band context. It's a reminder just how complex and subtle the interactions are among musicians in a live performance. That's the juice, for me; the challenge keeps me playing after all these years. Guess it's easy for a veteran player to feel at home in a situation that's intimidating for a noob, though.

    Again, many thanks to all for your insights. Keep 'em coming, if you would.