This week's #musicianmonday episode is about what you should- and shouldn't- be doing in your band's rehearsals. Big thanks to the band LEVEL UP out of NYC for providing the topic of this episode!
A while ago I made a blog post about why your band should consider using backing tracks and it was hugely popular and generally, well received.
Like, really well received.
That being said there were those who suggested that I should offer a counter-point to that post so that both sides of the coin get their say.
Well, I have been described as a master debater so I figure what the hell? Let’s do it.
Before I get into the list I will say a lot of the push back I received about using backing tracks were not great arguments.
If you as a player think that the freedom to EXTEND your solo break or that your drummer having bad internal meter disguised as “feel” brings anything to your audience you may be navel gazing.
Our ultimate goal as entertainers is to appeal to the general population and a lot of the backtalk I received was purely self-indulgent.
That being said here are the reasons why your band shouldn’t use backing tracks.
Reason Number One- New players or sub musicians:
Maybe you don’t have a solid lineup of players and need some fluidity of arrangements when a new musician is on a gig.
Sometimes you get a call from a group the day of or night before a gig and they need a guitarist in a bad way.
COVID has really amplified this as of recent.
Being able to recover when a player gets lost in the moment is a good reason to keep things on stage simple and streamlined.
Reason Number Two- The audience may not miss what isn’t there.
Small band lineups can provide great entertainment and if they are putting on a fun show and know how to get the crowd up and dancing it may not matter if there isn’t a keyboard player.
I’ve seen an acoustic duo whip an entire bar into a frenzy with nothing more than their enthusiasm and stage presence.
I have performed many trio gigs without tracks and had great success with them.
If you know how to put on a good show, you can rely on that to fill in the gaps.
Reason Number Three- Time
Depending on your workflow it can take a lot of prep work to add tracks to your live show.
When my 80’s project started I poured probably over a hundred hours into track prep.
Just to clarify I wasn’t sourcing those from the normal backing track sites and building them manually so don’t get too freaked out about that.
If the band is already playing out and doing well maybe now isn’t the time to consider tweaking your live show.
Reason Number Four- Resources
At minimum getting a band on backing tracks will require in ear monitors for your drummer, a device to play them back with and DI’s for your outputs.
For my band it includes a 16-space rack with an Ableton rig.
These kinds of setups can take a while to dial in and do cost money.
That money may be better spent on other things for your band.
Also you will have to dedicate rehearsal time to making sure the arrangements are locked in and that your players can keep solid time to a metronome.
If you’re just getting started with a project it can be a lot of upfront investment to get something set up for backing tracks.
Reason Number Five- Probability of Failure
This is a situation all bands who use tracks fear.
More production items added to your show introduce more potential points of failure
In most cases a track misfiring or crashing isn’t a huge deal as you can easily bail and go without them.
But train wrecks can happen and they’re not pretty.
There’s plenty of examples of backing tracks gone awry videos on YouTube
I think the Mariah Carey Today Show one may be the most infamous
Besides the infamous Ashlee Simpson/SNL debacle.
But again I’m not talking about lip syncing as that is most certainly a different problem altogether
Don’t come for me.
But if that tracks computer is also changing your amp patches via MIDI or sending DMX to your lights it can basically kill your gig full stop.
This is one of the more relatable reasons I get why bands don’t go down that road.
So, there you have it. Those are the top 5 reasons bands don’t need to use backing tracks!
But, if I could speak to those who agree with this approach for a minute, I’d like to say a couple things.
I think that all bands can benefit from playing to a metronome live.
I have played in countless bands over the years, and I don’t think the groups that played without a net sounded better than the bands that played to a click live.
It is an easy way to instantly tighten up your band and make sure someone having a good day or bad day affects how fast you start “Honky Tonk Woman”
Also, please get off your high horse about this to other musicians or bands.
The idea that a band doing something your band doesn’t do is “cheating” makes you seem elitist and frankly, music isn’t a competition.
Agree or disagree, there’s space in the market for all of us.
And the sooner you realize that, the better off you will be.
This week I wanna talk about the actual job of a working musician.
What it takes to “make it” as a full-time player or hired gun.
I have seen so many aspiring musicians talk about how they want nothing more than to make a living playing their instrument and to quit their dead-end jobs to pursue music full-time.
And to be honest, most of them are full of shit.
Most aren’t willing to put the work in to get to the level of proficiency it takes to do this kind of work.
Or, they consider themselves “artists” who shouldn’t have to stoop to playing gigs they consider “beneath them.”
I feel like there is a divide in lots of musician circles that we, the cover band guys, are sellouts and lame for not writing/performing our own music.
It is thought that we are somehow “less than”because we lack “artistic integrity” they somehow possess.
I know that sentiment because I definitely felt that way as a younger musician.
I played in an original group for roughly 10 years.
We played a lot of shows, we made a few records and got to do some cool gigs with national acts like Garbage and Panic at the Disco.
Playing original music and touring was hard work and I didn’t make much money off of it
But I still looked down my nose at guys who “gave up” their dream and played in cover bands.
Here’s the thing though:
I was not a primary songwriter for that group. When we went into the studio, I didn’t play every guitar part.
When the record was done, odds are I ended up playing something the other guitar player or producer put down or singing a harmony someone else came up with.
When that band split up I went the route of hired gun. My job then was to play for other artists and play their songs.
They were not interested in my “interpretation” of their material. They were interested in my ability to replicate it.
I was playing someone else’s parts on someone else’s songs.
And that’s when it hit me, I was in a cover band.
It didn’t matter the paycheck or the size of the stage or the budget of the video, odds are as a musician your job is going to be playing someone else’s song or someone else’s licks.
Once I realized that, I also realized I was really wasting a lot of energy trying to prove to others that I was a “legit” player who took the “industry” seriously.
When I started doing cover bands at a corporate level, I was subbing for a group in Atlanta called Yacht Rock Revue. These guys were not messing around. They had a marketing apparatus, they were touring and making more money in a weekend that I was making in a year playing original music.
Oh yeah, and they were using that money to record their own stuff.
Both for the band and their own solo projects.
And they could hire legit producers in awesome studios.
I was working at the Apple store.
I was humbled by their musicianship and their business acumen, but I also learned a lot from that experience.
It really set me on the path that I’m on today.
So that begs the question: if all bands are cover bands to some extent, are you in a good one?
What can you do to make your band better?
Do all rules apply to all bands if the reality is that there isn’t much of a difference?
This is what I would call the manifesto of this entire website.
If you really want to pursue music as a money making venture you have to change your mindset and put the work in to be able to do this as a trade.
If you don’t, you won’t make it.
And I also want to acknowledge that that’s ok too.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing music as a hobby.
If you write & record your own songs and have no interest in marketing and selling them, that’s awesome. If your band is what we call a “man-cave” band
Or “she shed” band.
And it’s just an excuse to get together with your friends and blow off steam that’s awesome too.
But if you’ve made it this far into the post, I’m assuming you’re not those people.
If you regularly consume our content, you’re not one of those people.
You want to figure out how to do this job and do it well.
So be willing to put the effort in to be great, and the rest will follow.
Adam and Dan play in bands. They're pretty good.