Tips wanted: Helping Bandmates to write songs

DeSolo

Member
Messages
412
Writing songs by committee doesn't work, especially when the committee members have a large differential in taste, motivation and songwriting skill.

Arranging completed or nearly-completed songs within a band by consensus, bringing out the best, most creative work from the musicians is more likely to work...sometimes.

I think the best solution you might be able to come up with in this band is to collaborate with the single most creative and motivated person in the band. If you can both bring something to the table having worked most of the problems out, the others may go along with it.

But this is important: If they don't like it, screw 'em. Just play covers until you can't stand it anymore.

I've played in bands in which I did not bring my songs to the table, because playing them wouldn't have been helpful to the band dynamics. One always brings a large measure of investment into the way one's original song gets presented, and it is natural that there is little tolerance for people who don't respect that

You should continue to write, and try to build relationships with other songwriters in your area so you can share ideas, respectful critiques and move your own craft along to a higher level. Eventually, you may just start a band and control what needs to be controlled. If this band didn't form with that idea in mind, you have to go along.
 

Mickey Shane

apolitical
Silver Supporting Member
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2,340
It's hard. From what I've seen, most hit songs are written by one person, or a duo. Many times, they're not performers, but sell their songs for royalties to make a living. Most people can't be vulnerable enough to pour it out. You need to write that one song that your band mates absolutely love and definitely want to play. That will get the ball rolling. Even then, they may not respond in kind, but you never know.

 

Teleking

Supporting Member
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2,871
To me, it sounds like you have a bunch of bandmates that either can't create, or they aren't being moved by what you write.

All the suggestions in this thread sound like good ideas, in theory, but they rarely work well unless you work very well as a creative unit. Some bands just have this magic that easily work and everyone is inspired and great ideas come quickly.

In my last project, I hardly ever said anything. I just gave them the chord structures for the song right before we played and then the magic happened. It was very organic, and those people seemed to find the perfect parts very, very quickly. My new project is somewhat similar, but it takes a few a bit longer, but they do find it eventually.

In my situation, I almost always come in with a mostly finished song, or a very solid idea. I will want to jam that idea, usually verse and chorus, and then see if it works and the band grabs onto the idea. Then I will try to finish the song if it has some magic to it. Or, many times, I come with a complete song and then the band members add their stuff to it. I very rarely come with parts that I wrote that I expect them to play other than maybe the main riff if I don't want to play it due to singing. Sometimes I will write with a bass, and so I will ask the bass player to stay with that line, but he's my best friend, trusts me, and just naturally starts to play the line I wrote it with, or something very similar but with a few more of his ideas thrown in.

I'm usually very open to what they play until I feel it isn't working. Often times, you can tell that they don't have a creative idea immediately and have to find it as we jam it more. With my old drummer, I think out of probably 70 songs we put together, maybe twice I said "try this." He just immediately knew exactly what the song needed. Same for the other guitar player, keys player, bass player and female background singer. Almost always they found it very quickly. To be honest, if I had players who didn't get what I was doing or were able to find stuff quickly to play, I'd move on to different players. But, I almost always know who would work. Our last guitar player in the old project, I just saw him playing in another band and I knew immediately he was the guy, and he definitely was.

In the last band, I think I may have changed one bridge I wrote that the bass player felt wasn't working out of those 70 or so songs. We ended up using his idea, although I liked mine better, but I just did it to appease him and it wasn't one of my better songs, anyway. Nobody really wanted to change anything once they heard the songs put together, although I was always willing to at least try something...and that's the key. Always be willing to try something so people feel they have a voice.

However, often times, their idea might not be a good one, and then you have the issue of telling them you don't think their idea works.

When I audition a new person, I don't ever let them hear the music beforehand. Maybe a song or two to get them interested, but then I play different songs when they get there. I want to see how their creative mind works, and do they get this, or do they struggle with trying to fit in and find a part to play?

I think the biggest problem you have, OP, is either you are playing with people who aren't overly creative, or they're just not being turned on by what you write.
 

Teleking

Supporting Member
Messages
2,871
Writing songs by committee doesn't work, especially when the committee members have a large differential in taste, motivation and songwriting skill.

Arranging completed or nearly-completed songs within a band by consensus, bringing out the best, most creative work from the musicians is more likely to work...sometimes.

I think the best solution you might be able to come up with in this band is to collaborate with the single most creative and motivated person in the band. If you can both bring something to the table having worked most of the problems out, the others may go along with it.

But this is important: If they don't like it, screw 'em. Just play covers until you can't stand it anymore.

I've played in bands in which I did not bring my songs to the table, because playing them wouldn't have been helpful to the band dynamics. One always brings a large measure of investment into the way one's original song gets presented, and it is natural that there is little tolerance for people who don't respect that

You should continue to write, and try to build relationships with other songwriters in your area so you can share ideas, respectful critiques and move your own craft along to a higher level. Eventually, you may just start a band and control what needs to be controlled. If this band didn't form with that idea in mind, you have to go along.
I tend to agree. In my first band, we all kind of came up with ideas and assembled them together. That worked great when you rehearsed 3 times a week like we did. You have plenty of time to hash stuff out and learn to be a band.

Eventually, I took over the songwriting because they just ran out of ideas, or they just kept liking all the things I kept bringing.

Eventually, the drummer started to get angry that I started to "take over the band." It wasn't my intention, but that's what happened and he was right. I did become the "leader" although I never wanted to be. I never even wanted to be the singer. We tried at least 20 and none could sing better than me, which was a VERY low bar at the time. Ha!

But, there was no way that band would've continued had I not taken over the songwriting as the others just didn't want to put that much effort into songwriting. They just wanted to play and get drunk and play live shows, which we did plenty of all of those things.

In the end, it's usually 1 or 2 people driving the songwriting. When you see everyone credited, it's usually just an agreement to keep everyone happy.

For a band like Rush, I think that was very much a collaborative, but for most bands, I think usually 1 or 2 people really drive the songwriting bus.
 

soundchaser59

Thank You Great Spirit!
Silver Supporting Member
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12,508
I want to encourage them to continue working towards writing songs and contributing positively to other people's ideas......

How in the world do I help them out of this trap without shattering their egos?
You can't have it both ways. Pick one. My opinion is they will never get out of the trap. Gotta have wings to fly, and they aint got wings.
 

Digitalman

Member
Messages
2,022
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.
Agreed. I’ve found the ratio of guitar ‘players’ vs actual musicians is like 10 to 1. I’ll meet new guy, get invited over to ‘jam’ and find I’m just there to do covers. And I’m instantly bored.
 

Vcaster

Member
Messages
1,328
OP @stevesherbert, great thread topic. Thanks for posting. I’m following along. Some interesting insights and suggestions.

My observation is you don’t have a songwriting problem. You have a communication problem, and, depending on if that can get ironed out, you may have too big of a disconnect between the band members’ ambitions, skills, tastes and work ethics. And by band members, I include you.

If y’all agree there’s an issue, cannot satisfactorily resolve it yourselves, but believe the band/group is worth saving, you may want to discuss bringing in a facilitator. Like an acquaintance or a colleague. Just an idea. In the business world I’ve see facilitation and mediation pros work miracles.
 

soundchaser59

Thank You Great Spirit!
Silver Supporting Member
Messages
12,508
Agreed. I’ve found the ratio of guitar ‘players’ vs actual musicians is like 10 to 1. I’ll meet new guy, get invited over to ‘jam’ and find I’m just there to do covers. And I’m instantly bored.
The times when a small group of us got together to actually "jam" with a desire to conjure up original tunes, the people gathered around listening would always ask, "What album is that from? What band is that? Who did that song? Where have I heard that before?" The thought never occurred to them that maybe we just made it up. If we said that it wasn't anyone, we just made it up, they would look at us blank and obtuse, like that couldn't possibly be true.

Other times I was invited to "just jam" with a local blues band it would quickly turn into "do you know xyz song by N.E. Bluesguy" and every "jam" after that was a cover tune. If I offered anything original I would end up playing solo for a minute or so then back to the covers.

It's akin to playing my home made cd for people and they ask "Who is this?" I tell them I did it myself in the basement with a guitar, a piano, some mics and a multi-track recorder. "But what band is it? I mean who played all the parts for you? Where did you get the sheet music for all these parts?"

Some of them have heard my original tunes many times, and they have known for years that I play guitar and piano. But when they come over and watch me record an 8 track one minute tune right before their own eyes, they will act shocked and exclaim, "I didnt' know you could do all that!" But they still ask where did I get the music, how did I know what to play.

I play solo gigs from memory and people always say how amazing it is that I can memorize all that sheet music. I tell them there is no sheet music for these tunes and they look at me like "what's the trick? what's the punch line?" I made these songs up. "Right....." They can't fathom it.
 

slave

Member
Messages
812
Do you have any tips for helping new songwriters overcome the curse of perfectionism?
......
I can't lead people who consider leadership 'domination' but will never do anything to help themselves.
I feel these two points above best show your original post as I understand it.

A great interview I saw with Dave Grohl, talking about his experience with Sir Paul McCartney.
Paul would write a very simple verse structure. Nothing fancy, just something easy. Then he would add a layer or melody etc. Then move on the next riff or whatever came into his head. All simple stuff, anyone might be able to play. Point is, the guy is an absolute master, and yet, he would start small and simple and the whole process was fast. You don't need a killer riff is something everyone needs to be mindful. But in creating something simple to start with, you may have a bandmate add something that makes it amazing.
I remember seeing an interview with Billy Cox, speaking of his time with Jimi Hendrix. He said the original riff that spawned a song often got cut or significantly changed. He effectively said a lot of the songs you hear on Band of Gypsy's were quite different in their original version.
This is where I would start - tell them, don't focus on the end sound of the song, that's an evolution, focus on a beginning,

And for your second point. It's a tough one. It's a question of maturity and what they want.
Ask them, "What do they want?"
Dictatorship in a band is never ideal, but an awful lot of professional muso's don't work in a democracy.
You need to impress on them, bring idea's with you. Whether it's an original idea, or one you came up with regarding a song you're already working on. Make sure you've tested it. I've found trying to write from nothing in a rehearsal room environment is tricky, especially if maturity is a problem.

In almost every original band I've ever played in, we've had a simple rule;
If you wrote the original riff's and/or concept for a song, it's your song.
You have the right to decide/veto any changes to it.

For the most part, recording EVERYTHING and testing out each permutation or change that gets suggested, has been the best way to do it. Simply listening back to everything later adds clarity. I've been surprised how many times a discarded idea in a rehearsal room ends up being used, when later listening to to a "mistake" and loving it.

All that said, if the band is full of tension and they're not writing, what are they adding?
 

supergenius365

Supporting Member
Messages
10,472
I’ve written songs for bands I’m in since 1985. I bring in chords, lyrics and melody. After that the song is open to the other band members to add/do what they feel. Sometimes it takes a tremendous amount of patience on my part to do the songs over and over again to find the final arrangement. For example: I hear it as a soft acoustic ballad. The drummer hears it as a power ballad. Bass player wants to classic rock out with his new fuzz pedal. Other guitarist has been listening to a lot of 80s punk and thinks the song should go through way. We try all ideas until we come up with a cohesive final entity that everyone feels “works”. I remain open to everything - even chord changes or lyric suggestions.

I have come to realize over the years that the thing that gives me the most satisfaction is not having it exactly my way, but coming up with something cool with everybody’s input.

As for the other member’s stuff, I recognize that song writing most likely is not their main focus and thus they aren’t open to the communal process. I have found that when they “get bored” with the song it means that it doesn’t sound exactly like they want it to, but they don’t want or don’t know how to communicate what they do want. In a way, it is like a kind of passive/aggressive thought of “Nevermind. You know what? I’ll just do it myself.” Except they can’t because they need the band to do it.

TL/DR: Patience. Lots of patience.
 

ChampReverb

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
11,373
I’ve been writing songs since I was four.

My occasional attempts to write songs collaboratively with bandmates have not worked.

Most of them haven’t really written songs before and IF they do produce any song idea it tends to be a dead simple cliche after which they fall about patting themselves wildly on their own backs and popping champagne corks.

They are just not invested in the songwriting process whereas I walk around all day, every day, thinking about song ideas even while I do other stuff.

You all need to have a discussion about expectations, aspirations, realities, etc. and how to handle the disparity in output without attitude.

-bEn r.
 
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Squarehammer

Member
Messages
158
I've guess I've been lucky. My all original bands were me doing the writing and most of the arranging. I was with musicians who came right out and said...if you want originals you write them. Now I'd say you're the drummer, you're the bassist so you write so parts but even then they'd ask me what I want.
Sometimes one would come to me and say I wrote some lyrics and it was a full page of words with no structure at all. Nothing you could call a verse/bridge/chorus etc . and I'd tell him, look I'm gonna have to re-write to make it fit and to prove it we'd jam on it and it was 3 people doing different things. At that point they'd tell me to re-write it. The other problem was others writing the same song over and over. Lyrics about cars, drinking and teenage girls. And I wouldn't want anything to do with it. We were in our 30's not ours teens.
But somehow it always worked out I did the writing, arranging and gave them the direction I wanted the rest to go and they didn't mind as long as they knew they could add some input and they did. Again I take their words and make them a song and on the copyright they got credit along with me.

I think it's difficult enough to find 3-4 musicians that can get along and mesh musically and attitude wise but can also mesh when it comes to writing.

As to you're situation, sounds to me like they don't know how to write, don't know where to begin but want to be these great song writers without putting in the time. Myself, I have never had a good song come from jamming. Yeah some ideas but that's all. I don't think your guys really know what they want. You're to "domineering" but they bring nothing to the table. When you jam and get something it becomes to boring.
How long have these guys been playing? Has it just been in their bedroom or have they ever actually been in bands before? And let's face you can't teach someone to write. They have to have that flow in them that writers have. Like you can't teach someone timing, or rhythm. You either have it or you don't.
The fact you said something about them wanting to write the most complicated stuff shows to me they have never written before and probably have no clue how to do it considering there is no set way to write. I'm written songs in 10 minutes cause it just seemed to flow and I have un-finished songs from years ago cause I lost the direction they were going.

I don't think you'll ever be happy with these guys unless you tell them, okay you write music with verses, chorus bridge etc all set to go. Or you write lyrics all set to go. Sounds to me like they just wanna gripe that you "do it all" but don't wanna life a finger themselves. I've been with musicians like that. Usually lasted a couple of weeks and I was packing my gear.

Whatever happens I wish you the best of luck in finding that perfect situation for you.:aok
 
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patshep

Supporting Member
Messages
1,347
IMO your post wasn't derogatory at all, you are struggling with people who are not very motivated, or accomplished... sounds like it's just not a fruitful relationship to me...
 

Tone_Terrific

Supporting Member
Messages
31,772
If you wrote the original riff's and/or concept for a song, it's your song.
You have the right to decide/veto any changes to it.
I think one needs to be able to let it go once one truly opens the door to band input.
See below.
I have come to realize over the years that the thing that gives me the most satisfaction is not having it exactly my way, but coming up with something cool with everybody’s input.
A rather saintly approach that probably pays off with helpful bandmates.

The singular focused vision vs the consensual group vision.

As a writer I like completion of a singular vision, as a player I like full participation. :nuts :banana

Finding a band to pursue either is a separate chore.
 

scook

Supporting Member
Messages
3,451
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!
Your only good solution is to find different people to play with. Musicians worth your time do not act like this, and nothing you can say/do is going to fix it. You might make some progress, but it will never be great. Sorry, but that's the truth.
 

Shelldigger

Member
Messages
87
My initial feeling is this, you are the one bringing material to the table. You are the one who has spent time and effort putting the arrangement together. You are the one coming up with the basic lyrics. These are your songs. Period.

It sounds to me like your associates want to have more input. But you can want all day long and not get a damn thing done. If they really want to invest in the project then they need to bring something to the project.

I can kind of relate to your situation, though I'm not having the issues you are. I have been collaborating with a great bass player, songwriter, and good friend for the last couple of years. We have between us over an hours worth of finished original material, and a lot more in the wings. We work well together.

On my songs he is free to play his bass any way he sees fit. On his songs I am free to play leads/rhythm any way I see fit. Even if these are your songs, your associates should have this certain freedom for themselves. That IS their playground to add their style/flair to the song. If they want more than that, then they need to bring more than that when they show up.

Sometimes during an arrangement process, we neither of us walk in with a certainty that it just has to be played they way we initially wrote it. My friend and I will go through chord changes, trying this and that, till we both settle on a path that sounds good to both of us. Or we have a good intro/verse/chorus thing worked out and need a bridge, we work till we find the thing that sounds like it should be there. Or he may walk in with a couple of different ways of playing his part and ask which one I like better? Like I said we work well together.

My bass playing buddy had a song he had done years ago, had the lyrics, had a very basic chord progression, and he was frustrated with it. One day he asked me to take a shot at it. I asked him "I have complete freedom to change it up then?" He said "yep, do it." So one day I sat down with it and completely revamped the chord progression. He had trouble initially, he loved they way I put it together, but his difficulty was learning how to lay the lyrics in what I had come up with, because he was used to a certain way it had been done previously. After a week of messing with it, he saw the light and it's one of our best collaborations. I would never have demanded, or even suggested, that I could mess with his song in that way. Nor should anyone IMO. But once I got the green light, off we went and it worked out well.

It is I think in your situation, incumbent on you, to be open minded about a chord change here and there. While these may be your songs, a little flexibility should be allowed for. At least try on a chord change for a few days to see how it fits. This kind of collaboration requires a certain amount of mutual input. That said, if all these people seem to want to do is change up everything you are doing, and not really bringing anything else to the table...

I'd recommend new friends.

Or a new understanding that if they aren't really bringing material to the process, then they should find happiness in putting what they can of themselves into what you are bringing in, and not just over complicating your input just so they can say they helped. That's more of an armchair quarterback thing and not a mutual, respectful, collaboration.
 
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