Band Primer 2009

-The following are articles written for the column ‘Band Primer’ for FOURTH COAST ENTERTAINMENT MAGAZINE.

-Feel free to leave your questions / comments-thanks!

    DECEMBER 2009-PICKING SONGS IN A COVER BAND-SONGS YOU WANT TO PLAY OR SONGS ON THE RADIO-PART 2

Hi there! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.Last month we started talking about what songs to play if you’re in a cover band-specifically playing popular songs off the radio to hopefully help in bringing in people, getting paid & keeping the club owner happy. However, with a number of musicians, the thought of playing popular songs makes them want to puke-and / or they’ll play popular songs-albeit one’s popular 20 to 30 years ago. Let’s take on the older popular songs 1st.

-When you are doing covers, you’re basically playing the role of a jukebox-albeit a living, breathing one. One thing to keep in mind. Just because you-as a musician- like a song does not mean everyone else does. There’s nothing wrong w/ that BTW. Generally-when playing covers, you’re not there to express yourself, show your ability or other “artistic” things. You’re there to provide a service to the people. Some musicians have a hard time understanding this. Some never do.It’s one reason why DJ’s replace bands. Being “artistic” w/ covers is another subject best left for a future article.

-With older popular songs. It really depends on the song. One good thing to do is go see the popular cover bands in your area & check out what they’re playing. More importantly, see how their crowds react to them. While there are a number of factors involved, chances are if you hear a certain song getting a great reaction a number of times, consider adding it to your set list (keeping in mind factors like style, ability, etc.). This is true with any type of cover song. When it comes to doing older covers, you have to take your audience into consideration. Do you generally draw an older crowd? They might not be into the newer stuff. Same goes with younger crowd w/ older stuff.

-I can hear it already from older musicians-“But what about Guitar Hero / Rock Band video games? There’s a whole new audience for the older stuff. We can play all the classic tunes and they’ll love it!” Maybe-maybe not. Here’s a catch to that-yes, those games introduced that music to the younger generation-but when you were their age, did you generally go see local bands where the age difference between you & them was 15-20+ years? Most people would say no. Young people might be getting into the older stuff, but generally if they want to see a local band play it live, they want a band that’s around their age group playing it.

-I know a lot of musicians / bands who don’t want nothing to do with covering modern music-they want to play like it’s the 80’s (for ex.)-and that’s fine per se. Just realize that every year more people that are into that scene leave for various reasons and the crowds for it get smaller & smaller. My friend Mike Merrifield said it best-“Every year someone who’s into the older scene leaves it-never to return. It happens when people get older. On the flip side, every year someone turns 21 and enters the scene-and, for the most part, they want to hear “their” music-not their “Dad’s.” It can be a very bitter pill for musicians to swallow. Of course, there are exceptions to this-as well as other variables to take into account…

-Out of space! Have a Merry X-mas & a Happy New Year! Cya in 2010!

    NOVEMBER 2009-PICKING SONGS IN A COVER BAND-SONGS YOU WANT TO PLAY OR SONGS ON THE RADIO-PART 1

-Hi everyone! Last month I talked about playing cover songs within your abilities-or just slightly higher than them to work on your skills. The next issue is often highly debated among musicians. When playing covers, do you pick songs that are part of your influences and that you-as a musician-want to play? Or…do you play what is on good to heavy rotation on the radio? It’s rare that the two meet. I’ve known people to quit the bands they’re in over this issue. How to avoid getting to that point? Read on…

-1st, as I’ve mentioned in past articles, you have to have a clear idea of what your band is about; what style it’s music is, and what it is that you wish to accomplish. It’s akin to writing a business plan. If everyone in the band is clear about all this, picking cover songs becomes less of a chore.

-When performing, does anyone ever say that you sound like another band / musician? If you’ve heard that a number of times, it would be good to grab some songs from that band / musician to cover-you already have a jump on other bands that cover the same material. For example, I’ve been told more times than I can count that when I sing I sound like Paul Stanley-especially on KISS songs. And since my band-CAROLINE BLUE-writes music in a similar style, it’s only natural that we’d pick KISS songs to cover.Don’t pick too many though-or, if you do, plan on rotating them so you might play maybe 2-3 songs from the same artist in any given night. Cover bands are basically viewed like jukeboxes-albeit breathing ones. This is especially true if all you do is play covers-which leads to my next point..

-If you’re a pure cover band that wants to play all night and make money-as well as get return gigs-your best bet is play popular cover songs-specifically ones on the radio. If you go w/ this approach, your goal is to get as many people to your shows as you can and get them on the floor moving-not because you want to see how well people do / butcher dance moves, but because doing that will get a person thirsty-leading them to go to the bar to buy drinks (which if you haven’t noticed, usually have a lot of sodium in them). The more money you can help generate for the bar / club, the happier the owner will be and the more you’ll get paid. Go to any scene and watch the top cover bands there. Are they playing obscure covers? For the most part, no. They’re playing the hits-what is familiar to people. That’s 1 of the reasons why original bands have a harder time building a crowd initially. More on this in another article.

-But what if you have musicians in your band who think all the stuff on the radio is puke-invoking and all the “good” stuff is what’s not played on the radio and / or the old stuff from 10-20 years ago? You’ll have to come back next month to read my thoughts on that πŸ™‚

    OCTOBER 2009-PICKING SONGS IN A COVER BAND-PART 1-PLAY WITHIN YOUR ABILITY

-So you’re in a band-now what? I’m going to start with being in a cover band 1st and then, in later articles, go into doing your own songs. A good way to do things is to start with covers and then gradually add in your own stuff. But for now, let’s focus on the beginning.

-The 1st thing you should do is look at the band and see what the strengths / weaknesses are-or more specifically, what the limitations are-especially with your singer. This is closely followed by what genres of music you want to cover as well as what songs to learn-all of which we’ll cover in future articles. Many bands will make a huge list of songs that, vocally, goes all over the place. If you happen to have a singer who has a wide range-count your blessings. Most bands don’t-yet will subject their singers to all sorts of ranges. For example, I was invited to jam w/ a band earlier this year. They were having trouble finding a singer. One look at their set list reveled why. They wanted a singer who could go as high as Shinedown (“Save Me”) to as low as Godsmack (“Bad Religion.”) If possible, the singer should be the one who chooses the songs-since he / she will know their range & limits. Bands can get around this by changing the key of the song and this works most of the time. Even a 1/2 step change will do wonders. Make sure everyone agrees to this-some bands have “purists” in them and will not accept playing a song unless it’s exactly like the recording-key and all. When I was in a Black Sabbath tribute band years ago, one of the members would not change the key of the song “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” to accommodate the singer-who was already pushing his voice in the normal parts. When it came to going higher later on in the song, he would sound like someone was ripping his vocal cords out of throat-not good-yet that other guy would not change the key of the song. Needless to say, that song didn’t last long.

-This can also applies to the other musicians in the band. While guitarists / bassists / keyboardists can change keys (and drummers can still hit the same beats), their concern is usually one of technique & feel. Pick songs within your limits or-if you think you can work up to it in a short time-songs that are a little above your playing. I like to do that cause it helps me to improve my playing. There’s no use picking a song by Dragonforce if your guitarist sounds like Ace Frehley (KISS)-it just wouldn’t work. This works the other way too-Sometimes musicians focus so much on their technique that they can’t play simpler stuff without it sounding like a chops fest. While that might be nice for other musicians, most people don’t like it and let you know by leaving-not good for the bar or your band. Stay tuned for more next month!

    SEPTEMBER 2009-SO YOU WANT TO JOIN A BAND -Part 2- More Tips & The Audition

-Last month we talked about things you can do to get ready to join a cover band. Let me add a few things and then we’ll get to audition day.

-1st, get a COMPLETE list of the songs that they want you to play. Simple right? Unfortunately, common sense is not always so common w/ bands. There’s nothing like showing up to an audition & finding out the band was really hoping that you knew a song that you were unaware of.

-After you get the complete list, you need to find out what key the band has their instruments tuned to and / or if certain songs are in certain tunings. Many bands tune to what is known as “standard tuning”, but they also use alternative tunings. My Band, CAROLINE BLUE, for ex. tunes down a 1/2 step to Eb. An audition will end real quick if the band is in standard tuning and you learned everything in Eb tuning (unless you’re able to transpose on the fly-always a “fun” thing to do). Singers are not exempt from this. a 1/2 step may not seem like much, but it’s enough to make you sound like crap when playing with others. A lot of modern music is in drop tunings so it’s very important to know about this. A band playing in tune is a happy band.

-Make sure to learn one song at a time. You can do a quick overview if you’d like initially, but it’s better to play 3 songs great than 8 songs mediocre. Having said that, if you can get most or all the songs down before the audition, go for it. Any band that has been around for awhile has gone thru it’s share of disappointing auditions. Coming in and exceeding what they expect will really make an impression.

-Also remember that while the band is auditioning you to join them, you are also auditioning them. You could play great only to find out the band isn’t great-or worse! Ideally you always want to be around players who are as good, if not better, than you are. Sometimes, though, you may have good reasons to join a group that isn’t ideal. Don’t join a band that’s horrible-but if they’re not bad and show a lot of potential-it’s OK to join up. Just make sure to keep checking to see how things are improving. If things are stagnant-or getting worse-get out of there.

-At the audition, be as pro as you can. After the gear is set up & warmed up (DON’T set your amp on 10 and blast everyone!) , let them pick the songs & go thru them. It’s their band, let them call the shots. Be courteous & easy going. DON’T be a braggart and start talking about how great you are, what you’ve done in the past, how great your gear is, name dropping, etc. You might as well be telling them “Kick me out now!” When it’s done, they might tell you right there & then how you did or offer to tell you later. Tell them thanks & let them make the 1st move. if they want you, they’ll tell you. A good sign is when, right there, they want to talk more about the band’s inner workings and stuff. A bad sign is when you’re done playing & everyone has to leave right away. You can do a follow up within a week, but if you haven’t heard a thing after that, move on-the band probably has.

-One final tip, if you can, bring a recording device to the audition. Recording yourself is a great way to spot your mistakes and help you improve your playing / performance. Recording yourself is a great habit to develop.


    AUGUST 2009-SO YOU WANT TO JOIN A BAND -Part 1-Getting Prepared

-Hi there! I haven’t been fired yet so I must be doing OK right? (HA!). So let’s see, last issue I talked about practicing on your own & some tips on what to do. So after that, now what? Well, most people start playing an instrument with the idea of eventually being in a band. This leads to an interesting choice-do you join a band or start your own? I’ll address starting your own band in a future article-mainly because I feel that when you’re just starting out, you need to get some experience & the best way to do that is to join a band-either established or one forming.

-There are a number of things one should do before searching for a band to join. As mentioned in a previous article, have the proper equipment. For example, if you’re going to jam with a metal band and you’re a guitarist, you need something louder than a 30 watt amp. In CAROLINE BLUE, we actually did go thru some auditions for a 2nd guitarist at one time and this guy I knew sounded like he would work well with us. However at the audition, he brought this small 30 watt practice amp. The drums by themselves, without having microphones on them, were drowning him out. Plus he was next to my stuff-a 100 W. half stack. Needless to say, things didn’t work out. Now, you could mic the guitar amp thru the PA, but you’re still competing with a bassist (who can be VERY loud right Doc-HA!), a singer, and possibly other instruments. Plus you’re totally at the mercy of the monitors and I don’t know of any musician who didn’t play at least one show with a bad monitor mix-or even no monitors at all!

-You have to choose what style of music you want to play and focus on that. Now, I know there are musicians out there who can play multiple styles and play them well. But when you’re just starting out, trying to play several different styles at the same time can quickly overwhelm you. Stick with one style and get good at it. Then if you want to branch off, it’ll be easier cause you already have a firm foundation with the earlier style. This also applies to wanting to play different instruments as well. For example, I started out as a lead guitarist. Then I had an opportunity to play bass in a band so I did. While my guitar training helped me get a good start playing bass, I soon realized that I wasn’t sounding like a bassist. I was sounding like a guitarist who played bass. I could fake my way thru stuff, but I was thinking like a guitarist, not a bassist. The approaches are very different, but at least I had a head start.

-Once you know the style you want to go towards, learn some songs from that genre to have in your “repertoire” so to speak. We’ll discuss covers vs. originals in another article. For now, most beginners join up in cover bands. What songs to learn? I’d suggest songs that are “standards”-songs that most people know. Why? When you’re getting together with a bunch of musicians, after the talking is done, you want to jam. Now, you can do an instrumental jam and that’s OK (if there’s a singer there though, he or she will quickly get bored), but if you’re playing songs, it’s good that everyone has some common ground. In addition, if you really know the song well enough, it’s not only a case of them liking how you play, but you liking what they play. Course, you might learn some songs, only to find out the band doesn’t know any of them. That’s been true with me for almost every band I’ve ever joined. So what do you do? Well, you’ll have to read next month’s article cause I’m out of space. We’ll get a little more detailed as well. Keep rockin!

    JULY 2009-PRACTICE AT HOME

-This month, as the title suggests, is about practicing at home. Now that you’ve got the desire & the gear, let’s get into it!

-So where do you start? I would say start w/ the basics. Yes, I know-they can be boring at times, but I believe that your playing ability (as well as many other things) is akin to building a skyscraper-you need to have a strong foundation or it will collapse. So many players learn to sprint before they can even walk. How many times have you seen a guitarist play all sorts of fast, technical licks yet couldn’t jam out of a 12 bar blues? Or a drummer who can play all sorts of double bass blast beats (“Unleash The Canons!”), yet can’t even keep steady time to a simple cover song? I had a drummer audition for my band CAROLINE BLUE a long time ago and he couldn’t properly play a AC/DC or KISS song-but wanted to know if we could jam on some Rush (??). Learn to be a solid player who excels at the basics and whatever you build on top of that will be a lot easier & more enjoyable for you-not to mention you’ll become more in demand from other players & situations.

-I’d start by picking up a book or DVD or CD lesson book and work your way-all the way-thru before grabbing another one. DON’T buy one product, work with it a week, then buy another one, work on that for a week,etc. I made that mistake. I have a large amount of lessons that I’m just now starting to get reacquainted with. Go thru the whole thing-it will give you a sense of accomplishment & will help establish the discipline & patience you need to get through more advanced stuff. Finding a good teacher is also recommended.

-One thing-If you’re learning a song, learn all your parts. Ever been jamming w/ someone and they say they know a song-but then just play the main riff? Weak. You don’t want to be like that.

-Always practice with a metronome. Good timing is essential-no matter what instrument you play. In fact, w/ the exception of drummers, you might want to do what I do (well, did till the battery for the memory ran out) and use a drum machine. Not only will this give you the metronome, but you can play to a beat and it will be more closer to playing with a drummer. You might even get some song ideas (BTW-this is how the CAROLINE BLUE song “Deny” was born).

-When I started, there were times when I’d practice up to 4 hours a day. While that’s great, it can also lead to burnout. Pace yourself and take breaks. You don’t want half your practice time to be doodling. Have a plan & know what you want to accomplish. Keep striving to make your playing better & better.

Oops-looks like I ran out of space. Cya next month!

    JUNE 2009-EQUIPMENT

-This month we’re going to take a look at equipment. This is aimed more towards those who plan on buying their own equipment than for those who plan on buying equipment for their kids / friends / etc. so lets get into it shall we?

-Every musician has a certain sound inside them-what I would call their “ideal sound.” This is the sound they have in their head-and it can sometimes be very tricky getting that sound out. A good place to start is with your inspirations. What are they playing? These days, it’s very easy to find out what gear your favorite musician uses. Make a list of what they’re playing and then go on sites like http://www.musiciansfriend.com/ or http://www.guitarcenter.com/ and get some more information about the gear. The 1st thing you’ll probably notice is how expensive most of that gear is. Get as much info as you can & make a list of several things you want. Then go to your local music store and try them out. While there are some sites that have sound demo’s on them (like Boss Effect Pedals http://www.bosscorp.co.jp/en/index.html ), it’s best to actually go to the store and try out the gear yourself.

-When you’re first starting out, you usually don’t have the money to buy the equipment the pros use. For ex-your favorite musician is a guitarist who plays a Gibson Les Paul thru a Marshall 100 watt stack. Those 2 things alone will set you back around $4,000 at least. You want that sound, but you still need something to play right now. In this case, get the best equipment you can afford. You don’t want to buy a crappy instrument-especially when you’re starting on your journey as a musician. If you’re spending more time fighting your instrument than learning to play, chances are you’ll quit in frustration. Buy the best equipment you can afford.

-In addition, make sure to check out used gear as well. At times you can find some excellent gear at much lower prices. Recently I bought a used Fender MH-500 Metalhead amp at Daddy’s Junkie Music in Syracuse,NY.. Brand new the amp is $999.99. I bought it used (in excellent condition I might add) for $594-a savings of almost $400! There are times when you can find some hidden gems with used gear. But always try it out first.

-However, sometimes you’ll have to settle with what you can afford. My first guitar was a Gilbert Les Paul going thru a Peavey Bandit amp. It was a very muddy sound so I bought a DOD Overdrive Pedal-which took away the mud & replaced it w/ feedback-a lot of feedback. Sometimes a cheaper instrument can be made to sound better by replacing stuff in it. For example, buying quality pickups / strings / instrument cords / effect pedals for guitars & basses. Quality heads / cymbals / sticks for drums. Quality microphones for singers. All this can help improve your sound w/out breaking your bank account (at least not too much).

-Please note that just because your buy the exact gear that the pros use, you’re not going to exactly sound like them. Much of your sound is in your hands & in the way you play. For example-Eddie Van Halen can pick up a cheap guitar and play it thru a crappy amp-and it will still sound like EVH. The main advantage with using quality gear is less mishaps / problems on stage. You don’t want to be playing a show and having to tune up every other song (believe me-it sucks) or having stuff break on you.

-Finally, make sure to take care of your gear. The better you take care of it, the longer it will last. I used to play bass for a band called Four Large Men and I played thru a Peavey bass combo amp. Right now there’s only one knob on it-the chorus knob (the most important one of course). All the other knobs, including the volume knob, have been broken off because I’d just throw the amp in the back of my truck and not secure it before / after a show. Needless to say, the amp has had better days…

-Best wishes & see you next month!

    MAY 2009-BELIEF

-Hi everyone! My name is Wayne W. Johnson (WWJ) & here’s my 1st column for F.C.E.M.! A quick thanks to Scruffy (Mike) for letting me do this.

-So what’s this going to be about? Basically, I’ll be writing about things that will hopefully help those who are looking to start bands and / or those who want to get their bands moving forward. I’ve been doing this for many years-going thru quite a lot of experiences and I hope that by sharing them with you, I can help you move forward in what you want to do-or at least avoid some of the pitfalls & sharks that are out there. Although geared more towards beginners, pros might get something out of this as well-even if it’s a laugh at my expense πŸ™‚

-So let’s get started. There are many things that I feel you have to have if you want to be a musician.There are some things that I feel one needs to have in their “foundation” so to speak. If you don’t have a good foundation, whatever you try to build upon will eventually collapse. One of the cornerstones of your foundation, IMHO, is to believe in yourself.

-If you go to the WWJ My Space page (link below), you’ll see next to my pic a quote that I created. It says “Believe in Yourself…Sometimes it’s all you’ll have…” It’s not as easy as it may sound. To believe in yourself means to sometimes go down paths that are not popular. It’s easy to believe in yourself when things are going good and friends & family are all behind you & supporting you. But when things aren’t going so well…when people close to you are suggesting that you quit music and/or change what you do, it’s not so easy…

-Believing in yourself means, 1st & foremost, that you believe that you can do the thing(s) that you want to do. And I don’t mean just saying it. You have to really feel it deep down to your core-because this is one of the main things that will help you during the tough times-and there will always be tough times. There will be times when no one believes in what you’re doing-when it seems that you’re only surrounded by naysayers. You can quickly get in an emotional rut from this, but believing in yourself can help you push through all that.

-However, believing in yourself is not a “be all, end all”. Just because you totally believe in yourself doesn’t mean that you will automatically get what you desire. It’s not that easy. You still need to come up with a plan, take action, and make adjustments along the way. You still need to do the work. It will, however, help fuel your desire/resolve and help you conquer through many obstacles in your path.

-My suggestion is to 1st be very clear about what you want to do, make a plan (at least guidelines), and then take action. Each success you achieve will build your belief in yourself. Surround yourself w/ people that support you and / or can take you further along your path. Constructive criticism is OK, but stay away from those who only offer destructive criticism. See what other people ahead of you are doing and model what they do. Constantly draw from the well of your inspirations. Let me say though, that even with all that, you may still fall short of what you wish to do-you may still fail. But without it, you will definitely fail.If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect anyone else to believe in you? Not having that deep belief in yourself & what you’re doing is just one of the many pitfalls that cause so many bands to break-up.

-I hope you enjoyed this little article and I wish you all the best. Keep rockin & I’ll see you next month!

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