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Tips wanted: Helping Bandmates to write songs

Captngeetch

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
635
Reading through it does seem you are set in your ways when it comes to YOUR songs. You are asking for input and ideas for changes, but ONLY if they make the song better. Whether you are willing to admit it or not, you think they are already the way they should be. And you don’t like their “changes”. I think you should call them YOUR songs and work on something entirely new with them. Give them a single riff idea you have. It doesn’t need a drum backing attached already. That is YOU having it basically worked out completely already. There is nothing wrong with being happy about your completed or as you say 90% completed songs..they are not 90% to you no matter how many times you want to say so. YOU have them all fleshed out and really aren’t willing to accept ANY changes, that’s the cold hard facts. Again, nothing wrong with that. I was in a band that did the cover and originals thing way back in the 80’s. We had a regular gig opening for a fairly famous local band (guitar player went on to change his name and join Ozzy). I was doing about 90% of the song writing, the singer did collaborate w/me on some lyrics and the bass & drummer wrote their own parts, but it was my riffs and structure and me teaching then at rehearsals. It got to the point where I would walk into rehearsal and they would all look at me and say, “whatcha got”. One day I just blew up and quit. Wish I would have handled it differently, but that’s another story. I think you are gonna eventually end up walking away. Flexibility needs to go both ways. So as I said, bring them something you HAVEN’T worked out at all and ask them to continue the story. That way you are less attached to it. Also, do not work on it further on your own, let THEM have it. If you do, safe to say you won’t be receptive to their ideas, you will always think yours are better.
 

drew365

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
969
bring them something you HAVEN’T worked out at all and ask them to continue the story. That way you are less attached to it. Also, do not work on it further on your own, let THEM have it. If you do, safe to say you won’t be receptive to their ideas, you will always think yours are better.
Yep. To extend my story a little further, the female vocalist and I started working on songs together. I sent her a completed chord arrangement, with a chord sheet and a demo of me playing it and asked her to work on lyrics. I was expecting to get some lyric ideas from her. What I got was a completed lyric sheet and a demo of her playing and singing the song. The lyrics were nothing like I would have written, and I didn't particularly like them. But I played her demo for several people and got all positive feedback. I realized that when I read the complete lyrics they weren't my style, but just listening to the demo, the right words came out at the right time to make it all work. I also realized that if I had a hand in the lyrics I would have probably changed them for the worse. So I didn't change a word. We plan on going into a studio and recording the song as is. Taught me a lesson.
 

Digitalman

Member
Messages
2,023
Man. You’re describing like 90% of the bands I’ve been in. Like 14-15 in all. It is not easy and most end badly. How many bands is this for you?
So yeah, I’ve got a lot of ideas, I’m a motivated song writer. More ideas than full compositions, coming from all over the place. There’s times where I am overwhelming bandmates with ideas. Nuggets...riffs. Eventually after not getting much feedback or counter ideas, I start sending them more fleshed out songs. Bass lines, drum beats, changes. Telling them, ‘you don’t have to play this, but here’s where I’m coming from.‘
So then resentment sets in. You’ve got lazy bandmates that just want to show up to practice and lazily play along with the tunes. Then there’s straight up opposite counter contributions, out of spite, that diss your original concept. Which you attempt to embrace with open arms for the sake of true collaboration. But deep down you know they’re just fighting your vision.
So eventually, you’re the band nazi, the dictator, because no one else is stepping up to the plate to help. Right?
I feel your pain. I really do man. I’ve been in a few bands, early on, where it was a true four way collaboration and everyone brought something to the table. But most of the time it ends up like this. And you’re eventually forced to step away...bitterly.
And you’re friends with these guys. Then you find when the music is gone, there’s no common ground. And it’s heart breaking.

Seriously, this is a common thread in making music that is seldom talked about. At least here on TGP. You are not alone and best of luck to you. I am a one man band again and am on hiatus due to this sort of ****...

edited to add - I’ve come up with a slogan for this...

‘If you want someone out of your life, form a band with them.’
 
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PBGas

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
5,959
Sometimes one has to take a slice of humble pie.

I know that I bring lots of ideas to the table, but if they don’t think it will work, then i’m Ok with that. We all hear things differently and what may sound great to me does not to someone else.

My bass player came up with a song. I’m ok on it but not so sure. My singer does not like it. The other 2 are 50-50 as well. That being said, I’ve talked to my bass player to see if he would be willing to work with the song a bit. For some reason he isn’t being very flexible on this one in particular but hopefully he will at least let us all try to make it a bit better.
 

Atmospheric

Member
Messages
3,565
If it ain’t working, it ain’t working.

Perhaps try saying yes to everyone else’s suggestions. Something I learned from a Daniel Lanois interview.
 

erikzen

Member
Messages
1,613
The only way to overcome the curse of perfectionism is to write a lot of songs. Write 10 songs to get one good one. How you get there is up to to you. Sounds like the other guys don't want to put the work in.
 

nickbruce

Member
Messages
137
you won't be able to squeeze songs out of people
they can only be given freely
...
there are a couple dynamics at work here which i'd like to touch on-
first, consider a social habit that most of us have:
as part of playful conversation, we launch little attacks at each other
this might be more or less vicious -
it is worth being very mindful of this little game because often it is more damaging than it appears
many people are so used to it they don't even notice they do it (or suffer from it)
these behaviours, however, are totally toxic to creative collaboration
only when people feel very safe and supported will they access the deep, private, honest places
it just takes a hint of negativity, of threat, before people slam the vault doors shut
so consider:
how welcoming are you, truly, to the ideas offered by your bandmates?
how have you reacted to the parts they brought forward?

second, does your band have an agreement on how you collaborate?
how much have you talked about your mutual goals?
i ask because i find that this kind of communication is often missing in musical circles
as with any relationship - you need to talk, honestly, and often
specifically, the question
how do we make creative decisions?
is of critical importance
i'm fond of a model where people direct their own content -
with multiple songwriters, everyone gets the final say on their songs
and contribute content at no risk (take it/leave it) to other's songs

if your bandmates do not see themselves (yet) as songwriters it may be a long haul to get there
they may never be comfortable publicly displaying so much of who they really are
(our society tends to punish that impulse ...)
if you want to grow them, you will need to make room -
work to incorporate their ideas into your music
even if it's different from what you would do (that's the point!)
i find that it helps to concentrate on respecting a player's technical background
they know their instrument, their voice, better than you do
so don't get in to telling them what to do and how
instead, feed them objectives - feelings, textures, colours that allow them to do it their way
and try not to ever just 'cut down' ideas
even if it doesn't seem right for the song, try it out, follow it a little, discover its potential
 

groundmeat

Member
Messages
101
Sometimes one has to take a slice of humble pie.
True. And other times, you gotta play enforcer and MAKE people see it your way. If you're the one bringing the material to the practices, and they aren't, then obviously you are more motivated to write than they are, and by default that makes you more of a leader than they are. If they want to collaborate and change something in it, they need to speak up and express what it is they have in mind. It sounds like they aren't very motivated, and if they aren't, the music you play together will probably reflect that attitude.

Everyone else seems to be saying you need to kinda soften up and allow them to naturally find their way to the front with you. But maybe that isn't what they need. Maybe they're kinda timid and aren't experienced and don't know how motivated and strong willied they need to be when approaching the writing and playing process. There's only two things that will fix that: time to find the groove on their own, or someone to lead them and give them discipline and structure.

Ronnie Van Zant used to punch band members in the face to get his point across sometimes. While I don't recommend assaulting your bandmates, there's plenty of evidence to show that his take-charge leadership made Lynyrd Skynyrd a great band.
 

RLP

Member
Messages
272
Quite a situation you have there, man...
My advice:
1- Bring less stuff to the table. Have them come up with ideas and tweak them together.
2- If that doesn't work and/or leads nowhere, bring a riff or lyric idea sporadically.
3- Start looking for another band immediately, because those guys seem unsure of what they want and you should have a plan B since you're keen on moving forward.

When I started my last band, I told the guys right from the start that I wanted to play blues and a bit of classic rock (covers and originals and we all brought ideas to the table). They were OK with that for a bit, but then they weren't. I put up with it for a while and tried to compromise, but it was clear that they wanted to change the whole thing (only do covers and step away from the blues/rock thing), so I left. There's 7 billion on the planet, dude... Don't be afraid to say goodbye if you don't get anything good out of it.

Cheers
 
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MikeMcK

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
4,789
This is a really tricky topic. When you're close to the person writing the song, it's way too easy to hear it with a bias one way or the other. If it's a friend I start thinking, "Jeez, how do I tell her it's just a hackneyed I - V - vi - V?" and then remember there's a reason we hear so many I - V - vi - Vs. If the song goes somewhere (i.e. has some kind of hook) try to think of it as if it were a stranger's demo. I know a lot of great songs I might have dismissed if I first heard it when a hopeful friend strummed it out on an acoustic.

Fair warning: you'll eventually run across "that guy" who's written half a dozen songs... all of which are I - IV - V's at the same tempo. And if you're in a jam band, someone will eventually "write a jazz tune" that consists of I Maj7 -> IV Maj7.
 

stevesherbert

Member
Messages
77
Reading through it does seem you are set in your ways when it comes to YOUR songs. You are asking for input and ideas for changes, but ONLY if they make the song better. Whether you are willing to admit it or not, you think they are already the way they should be. And you don’t like their “changes”. I think you should call them YOUR songs and work on something entirely new with them. Give them a single riff idea you have. It doesn’t need a drum backing attached already. That is YOU having it basically worked out completely already. There is nothing wrong with being happy about your completed or as you say 90% completed songs..they are not 90% to you no matter how many times you want to say so. YOU have them all fleshed out and really aren’t willing to accept ANY changes, that’s the cold hard facts. Again, nothing wrong with that. I was in a band that did the cover and originals thing way back in the 80’s. We had a regular gig opening for a fairly famous local band (guitar player went on to change his name and join Ozzy). I was doing about 90% of the song writing, the singer did collaborate w/me on some lyrics and the bass & drummer wrote their own parts, but it was my riffs and structure and me teaching then at rehearsals. It got to the point where I would walk into rehearsal and they would all look at me and say, “whatcha got”. One day I just blew up and quit. Wish I would have handled it differently, but that’s another story. I think you are gonna eventually end up walking away. Flexibility needs to go both ways. So as I said, bring them something you HAVEN’T worked out at all and ask them to continue the story. That way you are less attached to it. Also, do not work on it further on your own, let THEM have it. If you do, safe to say you won’t be receptive to their ideas, you will always think yours are better.
I understand that my initial idea isn't going to be perfect. But does that then mean that the first idea that another band member pulls out of his butt at practice is therefore gold? If my idea is subject to scrutiny, then surely the edited idea / second opinion should be subject to the same scrutiny, no? All I'm asking here is for consistency! All 'improvements' need to be A/Bed against the original idea, or else we're simply making changes for the sake of making changes, and I am 100% not on board with that. Call me inflexible, but that's better than being absolutely bonkers.

I also don't understand the point of constructing an idea if that idea isn't given any respect / weight / consideration. Obviously if I thought the idea was total garbage, I wouldn't have brought it to the table in the first place. How can I be any MORE flexible in this situation, without completely abandoning my vision for the song ideas I'm bringing to the table? I mean, if you brought an idea to the table (after I specifically asked you to do so), and I decided to unilaterally change the basic arrangement, how would you take it? I guess I'm wondering why anyone would bring an original idea to the table if that idea isn't worth anything.
 

stevesherbert

Member
Messages
77
For a collaboration to work, you need to soften your visions. No way around that.
I get it, 100%. But surely collaboration goes both ways, right? And having an idea for a song means believing that that idea is at least half-decent, right? And at what point does the idea get so softened that it's complete mush? If you've got all kinds of 'arrangement ideas', why not apply this energy to your own songs? I'm open to change, but not simply in order to stroke your ego. If your ego needs strengthening, you need a therapist or a hug. Leave my songs alone if that's your motivation!

I'm open to being flexible, but not to the point where I am totally spineless. Has anyone ever written a decent song using your method? Also, you didn't answer my question: If you brought an idea to the table (after I specifically asked you to do so), and I decided to unilaterally change the basic arrangement, how would you take it?
 
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stevesherbert

Member
Messages
77
So yeah, I’ve got a lot of ideas, I’m a motivated song writer. More ideas than full compositions, coming from all over the place. There’s times where I am overwhelming bandmates with ideas. Nuggets...riffs. Eventually after not getting much feedback or counter ideas, I start sending them more fleshed out songs. Bass lines, drum beats, changes. Telling them, ‘you don’t have to play this, but here’s where I’m coming from.‘
So then resentment sets in. You’ve got lazy bandmates that just want to show up to practice and lazily play along with the tunes. Then there’s straight up opposite counter contributions, out of spite, that diss your original concept. Which you attempt to embrace with open arms for the sake of true collaboration. But deep down you know they’re just fighting your vision.
So eventually, you’re the band nazi, the dictator, because no one else is stepping up to the plate to help. Right?
It's almost creepy how on the nose this is. Thanks for the empathy!
 
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soundchaser59

Thank You Great Spirit!
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
12,516
Background: I've been working with some musician buddies in a fairly casual setting. We decided our goal was to write a few songs, learn a few covers, and eventually play a few shows. Nothing serious, but not aimless wankery, either. I've brought a few song ideas to the band, some more fleshed out than others. Sometimes, the song is 90% finished, other times, it's just guitar riffs over a drum pattern, with a general song structure in place. Seems ok, right?

The issue: The other guys feel like I'm 'dominating' the rehearsals, as we've only been playing 'my' songs. However, neither of the other band members has come forward with any songs, sketches, or riffs that they've spent any time working on outside of rehearsal. They have a few odd riffs that I've tried to play along to (I've tried drumming along to the riffs to give them at least some sort of structure), but all of our attempts end up with them 'being bored with the song'.

This is where my frustration begins. They don't want to work with any of 'my' ideas, because they want more input into the song. Of course, I'm open to input about the songs, but I've already spent (my own!) time working them up to resemble a basic song, so I'm not going to just change everything just because. However, they don't seem to put any effort into creating their own songs, nor are they willing to continue working on the ideas that come out of jamming, because they find them 'too boring'. Last time we were together, we spent over an hour trying to 'write' a song, which basically ended up with a single guitar riff that the bass player could play along to. We achieved nothing that couldn't be done by simply playing the riff solo until it was mastered. Am I the a$$hole for thinking that practicing the guitar part you wrote during rehearsal is a massive waste of everyone else's time?

My question: How can I help my bandmates to write songs without 'dominating'? I'm reminded of the person who, when I was working at a public library, wanted me to help her 'self-publish'. I mean, if I'm the one doing the publishing / song writing, then aren't we back to square one, where I'm 'dominating' the songs again? If you want to be a song writer, YOU HAVE TO WRITE SONGS! I feel stupid for even having to explain this, but I realize this isn't obvious to everyone.

Do you have any tips for helping new songwriters overcome the curse of perfectionism? They are trying to put together the most complicated and perfect song ever written, but haven't actually written a song before! "You need to practice layups before fadeaway 3-pointers at the buzzer" is what I want to say, but how do I say this in a nice way? I have more experience and can easily lead this band, but of course I can't lead people who consider leadership 'domination' but will never do anything to help themselves. I want to help these guys, but I am not averse to simply walking away, as I know that this mindset will never produce anything. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and someone who has never written a song is statistically more likely to continue that trend than the opposite, no?

Help!
Sounds to me like you are trying to ascribe songwriting talents to people who are not songwriters. Sometimes it's difficult for people who have the "songwriting gene" to accept the fact that most people are not able to create songs. It's a serious minority of musicians who can roll their own. The vast majority are "cover artists" who read and follow.
 

bertlewis

Member
Messages
4
you won't be able to squeeze songs out of people
they can only be given freely
...
only when people feel very safe and supported will they access the deep, private, honest places
it just takes a hint of negativity, of threat, before people slam the vault doors shut
...
second, does your band have an agreement on how you collaborate?
how much have you talked about your mutual goals?
i ask because i find that this kind of communication is often missing in musical circles
as with any relationship - you need to talk, honestly, and often
specifically, the question
how do we make creative decisions?
is of critical importance
...
if your bandmates do not see themselves (yet) as songwriters it may be a long haul to get there
they may never be comfortable publicly displaying so much of who they really are
(our society tends to punish that impulse ...)
if you want to grow them, you will need to make room -
work to incorporate their ideas into your music
...
Wow, this is a phenomenal response — real wisdom!
 

drfrankencopter

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,159
If you've ever worked in a collaborative band setting like this, how did you procure song ideas?
A few different ways:
1) Someone comes up with an idea on their own, and records a sketch on their phone. It's usually just a guitar and a vocal. Then, that is shared with the rest of the band, and we discuss what we like, and more importantly why we like it. Then we try to build up an arrangement that supports the things that we like. Sometimes this requires writing new parts/sections.
2) A couple band members get together and jam out a few ideas. Then we follow the same approach as outlined above.
3) The band jams something out. Often we can end up with at least a couple sections this way...but landing on a complete arrangement takes some work. Usually someone has to take it away and come up with some ideas to put forward for the next jam. Sometimes these efforts are continually "in the can", and don't turn into a finished product.
 

stevesherbert

Member
Messages
77
Some great stuff here, I'll respond to the questions you put forth:

1. how welcoming are you, truly, to the ideas offered by your bandmates?
2. how have you reacted to the parts they brought forward?
3. second, does your band have an agreement on how you collaborate?
4. how much have you talked about your mutual goals?
1. When the guitarist brought a basic riff to the practice, we spent a decent chunk of time working up the idea so that it had a basic rhythm and meter. The riff wasn't going anywhere, so I suggested a simple change to the IV chord, which sounded pretty good. I started working up some vocal melodies, and we recorded the sketch. At the next practice, the guitarist said that actually he hated that riff and didn't want to play it anymore. I have no idea why someone would put forth an idea that they find repugnant.

2. I've tried my best to work with the ideas the other band members have brought forth. Usually, it means adding a drum beat so that there is a rhythmic foundation and established length to the riff. I've recorded the sketches and shared them with the band, in the same way as I share my ideas.

3. The agreement was we either 1) come up with ideas together, during 'jamming', or 2) someone records an idea, uploads it, the band listens to it and learns it, and we put the parts together / make changes where necessary during band practice.

4. When we first started the band, we discussed wanting to learn a few covers, write a few songs, and eventually play the odd show. Like I said in the OP, nothing serious, but not total wankery, either.

My mindset this whole time is to be the band member that I want others to be, aka leadership by example. I've had a great time in all sorts of different band arrangements, with me as leader, me as co-leader, and me as a player with little to no input on the songs, other than my parts. I know that I am a good teammate, and I'm not trying to bulldozer over other band members. Would I have bothered starting this thread if I didn't care about my bandmates?
 
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stevesherbert

Member
Messages
77
Sounds to me like you are trying to ascribe songwriting talents to people who are not songwriters. Sometimes it's difficult for people who have the "songwriting gene" to accept the fact that most people are not able to create songs. It's a serious minority of musicians who can roll their own. The vast majority are "cover artists" who read and follow.
Oh I have no illusions about their lack of songwriting abilities! The problem is: How do I make them realize this without being a total jerk? I want to encourage them to continue working towards writing songs and contributing positively to other people's ideas, but I see that the path they are taking (e.g. trying to write The Greatest Song in the World right off the bat, trying to glom every single idea ever onto songs that are already mostly worked out, not bothering to learn basic audio recording / editing, etc) isn't likely to produce results, let alone good results.

This is classic Dunning-Kruger: People who lack a particular skill generally lack the ability to gauge skill level in that area. Egos are fragile and ignorance is bliss, so under-performers tend to assume that they are much more skilled than they actually are (conversely, highly skilled people tend to rate their skill as much lower than it actually is, because they assume the rest of the world is as skilled as they are).

How in the world do I help them out of this trap without shattering their egos?
 
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