As a record producer, I end up writing with many of the bands I
produce. I do not by any means write their songs as much as make many little suggestions. Now when I say writing, usually I am simply making small
suggestions such as “maybe we should be playing that part for 8 bars instead
of 16.” I have probably done songwriting rehearsals with a couple
hundred bands in the past decade and there is one simple philosophy that
is one of the biggest catalysts to a band making the most of a song. Try Everything!
I have a saying that will probably not go over to well with the Catholics in the audience:
”Just as you do not marry the first girl you sleep with, the first idea you have isn’t always your best”
When I work on songwriting with bands, I have a very simple rule: no matter how stupid the idea, we give it a try. This opens up an environment where anyone is able to give an idea. The best part is if your first idea was really amazing, you have now tried out a few different ideas and have the perspective to be confident you made a wise decision in choosing the way you will play this part.We have all had that band member who complains “you never try any of my ideas.” This method of working enables that critique to become null. From my experiences, some band members tend to have some pretty bad ideas. However, when you open this environment up and they are able to try all of their ideas every once in a while they hit a home-run. It is worth the five minutes you took hearing him out on playing a bossa nova beat over your barn-burner for the reward of the time his crazy ideas actually work!The greatest part of this all is usually everyone is on the same page. When I work with bands in pre-production on their songs, we try many of my ideas. My ideas aren’t always good and usually we all agree the second we hear them back. We play the part till we get it right and everyone playing together and once it has been played correctly we figure out whether it is good or not. Shockingly enough, in the hundreds of times I have done this with a band I can think of maybe five bands where more than a few ideas needed to be debated for a long time.
The most poisonous part of this process however is when you try to rationalize in conversation whether the part works or not before even hearing it. The best thing to do is listen to it and then everyone can judge by how they felt actually hearing it. Do not become a lawyer and argue, be a musician: play something and react to it.
You would be surprised how quick this philosophy also makes band relations much more at ease. After I work with a band in this matter, it is amazing how fast two musicians who were ready to kill each other are all of a sudden not as mad at each other. There is no repression like having all of your ideas belittled and never fulfilled.
The most important reason this philosophy works is one of the ideas you never tried can be the difference between a good song becoming a great song. Anyone who has ever written a great song knows you need to accumulate many little pieces of sand to make a bunch of blocks in a giant amazing pyramid!
photo by Flickr user jurvetson