What’s the difference between a good band and a great band? I’m sure if I asked 10 people that question, I’d get 10, or nearly 10, different answers. I dunno the exact answer myself…I think it can vary from band to band, but one thing that can make or break a group is how they come together.
Great musicians realize that it’s not about them. Every player has an important part in the group. Everyone has to work together to contribute to a greater purpose: the music. Sometimes good musicians forget this and believe that their skill or their part is better than others.
I was a drummer for this small rock group for a short while. We were preparing for our second live, but my heart wasn’t in it because of how I was treated. All the other members looked down on me because I didn’t play the melody or sing. To them I was just a timekeeper (if that’s all you’re looking for in a drummer, get a metronome!) and I wasn’t included in any decisions.
The straw that broke the camel’s back happened the practice session before the performance. Our group had two good singers with great voices. We were practicing a number we had rehearsed several times before but the singers kept missing the entrance to the bridge. Part of the drummer’s job is to tell everyone musically where we are in the song through “fills” at the end of the phrase. So I started playing blatantly noticeable (and perhaps not so musical) fills leading into the bridge to cue the singers, but they still missed their entrance. Finally I spoke up and said to the singers, “Hey! I’m not just here to give you the time. It’s my job to shape the music and let people know the structure of the song. Listen to the drums and I’ll give you your cue. It’ll sound like this…” and I hammered out my ridiculously obvious fill. The singers looked at me with blank eyes, not paying attention because they thought it was stupid that a drummer was trying to help them sing.
We started the song again, I sounded out that fill as loud, as annoying and as deliberate as I could and the singers still missed their cue. They refused to listen to anyone else and acknowledge that another member of the band might be important or have something to contribute. So I got up, grabbed my ride cymbal (the rest of the set wasn’t mine) and left them behind before the live even started. If they don’t respect me, they don’t deserve to play with me.
Make sure you respect your fellow band members, especially if they’re there to work with you to make better music. Everyone has an important part to play, and by working together, as a band, great things can happen.
If you love music, comedy and a bit of slice-of-life drama, check out Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. It’s both a manga (graphic novel series) and anime (animated series) originally written by Harold Sakuishi. Beck brilliantly captures the emotions and several situations that musicians experience in a compelling storyline that you just can’t stop reading! I strongly suggest reading the manga (can be found here, among other places). My good friend Charlie B. wrote about the Beck Live Action film here on The Beat Project.