The Most Poisonous Philosphy To Any Band’s Songwriting

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“Don’t Tell Me How To Play My Instrument And I Won’t Tell You How To Play Yours”
(AKA “The Saying Of Insecurity”)

The famous saying that made a million songs self-indulgent and unlistenable. The saying that has saved many fights but never helps a song become a better song. In all my years working with bands both big and small, this saying is inevitably the way a song/part goes right to hell. If there is any difference I have seen between bands that have fans and bands that can barely get their friends to come see them live it is one simple phrase. Click the jump and we will discuss further.

(note: article is best read after reading this article)


Bands are a constant minefield of ego wars and tip-toeing around pressing issues. To make matters worse, musicians tend to come from a place where social disposition and sociopathic tendencies run rampant. However, no matter how much you do not like your drummer, or hate his taste in music, once you join a band you are both on the same team and you should be working toward a common goal TOGETHER.

Infinitely wise mastering engineer/guru Alan Douches often describes his role in the process of making a record as being an objective perspective, meaning he gives an outside unbiased opinion on the recording and where it should go. While your fellow bandmates may not play your instrument, they have listened to music before. We all know the sound of when someone is overstepping their bounds musically. I am sure you have listened to a record before and thought someone who plays an instrument other then the one you play is doing it a bit wrong. This is the advice your fellow TEAMMATES are giving you.

When you are working toward a common goal it means you are all trying to get to the same place: a great song. As much as you may want to show off the awesome new technique you just learned, it may not be the time or place. The best judge of this isn’t always you. We all know that feeling of the time we went shopping with our girlfriend and walked out of the dressing room wearing leather pants we thought looked so awesome only to be laughed at it. All of a sudden you look in the mirror and realize you look like a total dufus! We all need a bouncing board for our ideas and ideally you should be in a band with people whose opinions who you place value on. If that is not the case, you may need to find a new band or reconsider your condescending attitude.

There is also a language to the way ideas are discussed that this saying is absolutely deadly to the proper function of songwriting. If you want to write a good song, new ideas need to be welcomed, not shunned. By shutting down everyone’s suggestions you will never know if you could have come up with a better idea.

When I mix a record I sometimes will put a crazy effect on the vocals. The band then walks in the room and says “WTF d00d, that sounds terrible!” Rather then being insulted, I take this as a challenge. Sure they just totally dissed me and something that I just took 30 minutes on, but I know I can come up with something else that is awesome. I then ask for suggestions and try something else untill we are all happy. I am confident in my talent that I can come up with TONS of ideas on a dime; if you don’t like my first idea, I got plenty more up my sleeve. When you bank on the one idea you came up with and spew “the saying of insecurity”, you actually show the opposite of being a great player, that you are lazy and that one idea is all you have to show for yourself. Right there, that one part defines you and shows you are not up to creative par with anyone else who can show you five other awesome ideas.

Many people think of genius in a simple idealistic way, where every idea you spit out is total genius. Anyone who thinks that ideal is the case has never been around a real genius. A genius crafts his idea and welcomes refinement to their ideas and when they have a good idea are confident it won’t be disproved of so will try any option you suggest hoping to find the right way to do things rather then just the first thing they thought of. Take for example Albert Einstein, the most common example of genius, who has a popular saying associated with him: “Einstein’s true genius was he knew to surround himself with people who challenged him.” Sounds like someone else everyone touts as a genius today.

I challenge you, those who spew the “saying of insecurity” to challenge yourself to hop back on your instrument and come up with a better part then the one being critiqued. Rather then being closed-minded, prove everyone wrong by taking their suggestions and showing what you are made of.

The final reason this saying should be put to rest is anyone of any mature mind looks at you and not only thinks you are an asshole, but that you also suck at your instrument. No one likes to be the fool, and by spewing this statement you immediately become just that. A fool who is not open to new ideas and thinks they know everything. To quote Mr. T “I pity the fool”.

photo by flickr user Recycled Alien

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.

  • Davey Wavey

    If you don’t let your bandmates speak out when your music can be made better or more effective then you are making a big mistake.
    It’s ok to disagree on changes to your parts in a song but opening your mind and coming up with something more effective is very satisfying too. Loose a little to gain a lot.
    Being in a band is a chance to work creatively as a team for a common goal. I think this is better than just doing your thing along side some people. That makes it more like selling washing machines. ;-P

  • Cowboy Ted

    What do you do when people stop criticizing you or never do it because they ‘believe in you’ too much?