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.
Last week I got invited to participate in a Chris Cornell tribute show in Atlanta and I was asked to play “The Day I Tried To Live” by Soundgarden
A song I have sang along to in the car a thousand times but never performed live before.
It is easy as a vocalist to assume you know a song but if you are in the cover or tribute industry it is very important you really do your homework and make sure the lyrics are correct and dialed in.
Your audience is usually expecting to hear them just like the record and any flubs on your end can pull your audience right out of the performance which we definitely don’t want to do.
So when my band onboards a new song here I what I do to memorize the lyrics....
Actually, strike that. The first thing I DON’T DO is read the lyrics from my iPad.
I can only speak for myself, but if I start using a cheat sheet when performing a song it becomes exponentially more difficult to remember the lyrics.
Knowing you have a crutch to fall back on will prevent your long-term memory from kicking in and storing that information so I tend to avoid using iPads for this kind of thing.
My go-to process is to download the best version of the lyrics I can find (the first thing to show up on google may not be the most accurate) and work either line by line or verse by verse.
I’ll read it a few times, say it out loud a few times, then play the song and sing along without looking at the words.
If I lose track or mess it up, I stop the song and start again.
I’m not sure if you’re the same way, but usually there’s one particular section that I’ve already got burned into my head and then some section that I can’t latch on to to save my life.
The repetition allows you to not only get a feel for the flow of the words and the melody, but to generate the muscle memory to execute it when the gig arrives.
This particular song has the added hurdle of a compound time signature so I not only have to remember the words and how they flow with the melody, but I also have to account for a bar of 7 every other measure.
This process can take some time but in the +20 years I have been performing it has been the most effective method of learning new songs.
So how did it go?
The show had a late start but I opted to show up early to sound check which ended up paying off in a big way.
Since I was the only vocalist at soundcheck I got to run my song all the way through and get the monitors dialed in the way I like them.
As far as the performance goes I managed to get through the song without flubbing any lines and the place was PACKED.
Getting a chance to sing a tune like that in front of a couple hundred people was awesome.
I don't have any footage unfortunately but I was grateful for the opportunity and hope my little adventure helps you learn new tunes for your project!
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.
This week I wanted to talk about something bands, musicians, and creatives in general face at some point or another, and that is negative comments about your work.
For some people, their band gets a level of notoriety that goes beyond their normal area of influence and gets exposed to a larger population.
Maybe that’s a TV feature, or one of their songs or videos goes viral, and all of a sudden a much larger group of people are exposed to their stuff.
For most of us that sounds like a good thing! More than anything as musicians we want to develop a fanbase and reach as many people as possible.
The issue is that with that additional exposure you also will possibly deal with people who feel the need to be negative or critical of your work.
This is especially the case with viral moments online. The allure of anonymity can provide a shield for some people to say hurtful things about you or what you’re doing.
Cover Band Confidential has been fairly well received and we rarely deal with trolling or bad comments but I am fully aware that as we continue to grow we’ll get our share here.
Now in my case my band played a municipal event a few weeks back. It was maybe the 2nd or 3rd show we’ve done this year since things started opening back up.
In prepping for these dates we have been working on some show enhancements and bringing in new personnel.
With those changes it also brings uncertainty due to getting used to new things.
As a creature of habit, it can be super stressful to onboard new systems and I am prone to anxiety, so this date was looming large in my head for the weeks running up to it.
The day of the show, we get set up and the show goes pretty well. There were a few hiccups but overall we did a good job and it seemed the client and the folks we talked to after the gig were happy with the performance.
After I got home though I received an email saying we had received a new review on our Gigsalad page.
Now this raised a few red flags.
First of all, we didn’t book this event through gigsalad, and second, we haven’t paid for or used that platform in a number of years.
That is a completely different conversation though. Maybe we’ll do a video about those sites at some point.
Upon clicking the link, I found a scathing one-star review of our show by someone who felt compelled to share his thoughts on our show.
Ill spare you the details but in general he took issue with the fact that we use backing tracks for keyboard parts on some of our songs.
He also insinuated that because the keys weren’t real, that we weren’t playing our instruments either.
Which would be AMAZING!
Can you imagine how much easier it would be if we didn’t have to practice these songs and just play along to a cd?
Definitely feel like I wasted a lot of time if that was ever an option.
At any rate after having a super stressful day that review was the last thing I needed to see.
And, honestly I let it get to me pretty hard.
If you are ever in this situation, there are 3 things you need to do, or rather not do.
1. The first one is DO NOT RESPOND IN THE MOMENT
There is rarely anything to gain from responding to comments or reviews like this.
In most cases, your emotional headspace will make your reaction worse and you will more than likely do more harm than good.
There is usually nothing to gain from responding to those whose main goal is to make you upset.
2. The second thing is to externalize whatever it is you’re feeling about those comments.
When I saw that review, the first thing I did was send it to a group chat I have with a few musician friends who I trust and who understand how these things happen.
It gave me a space to vent my frustration about the day and to process how I felt.
It also gave me the benefit of outside perspective from people who have been in the same situation who could get me out of whatever internal dialog I was having.
It’s important to not dwell on negative things. It’s not always easy to but in reality more things went right than wrong at that gig and that person’s opinion didn’t represent the hundreds of other people at that show who had a great night.
3. And lastly, let it go, or make it work for you.
Your band isn’t for everyone. Your music isn’t for everyone. At some point, you will run into people who simply don’t care for what you do, and that’s ok.
Humans tend to focus more on bad things than good things
In psychology that’s referred to as negativity bias
So as a musician we can have hundreds of people tell us how great our band is but we only focus on the one person who said something bad.
Literally less than an hour after I got that review someone dm’d us and said they really enjoyed the show and had a super fun night.
Try to make sure you are paying attention to those as well.
The other part, making it work for you, is a novel idea that isn’t for everyone.
In some cases you can take those negative comments and instead of hiding them, you share them as posts or other content.
The purpose of doing that is to show your audience that these things don’t really bother you and that you have enough self-awareness or confidence to post them.
In most cases this kind of thing will endear your audience to you even more. My new pop-punk band released a video on tiktok and someone left a mean comment so I put it in a follow up post and sang the comment over “I Miss You” By Blink-182
At the recording of this that reply has almost as many views as the original video has.
Look, the kind of people who post negative comments are usually unhappy, jealous, or get energy out of the reaction they get for their negativity.
Meeting those kinds of reactions with negativity is a fruitless endeavor that will not make you feel any better.
Your best strategy is to just let it go or laugh it off.
If you want a more in-depth look at this kind of thing check out episode 175 of our podcast. We have Mike Schulte of the Pork Tornadoes as a guest and we talk about how his band’s viral cover of Tennessee Whiskey netted them over 6 million views and A LOT of haters.
On episode #160 of the podcast we did an interview with Eric Hogan from the Nirvana tribute band Nevermind. Here are some highlights from that conversation!
Adam and Dan play in bands. They're pretty good.