I began playing music in a band when I was 13 years old with my friends in elementary school. We hooked up with our bass player as soon as we entered secondary school and from there we never looked back (cliché statement #1). The four of us for fifteen years. I think you can safely make some assumptions about the ups and downs of being in bed (figuratively speaking… well aside from band sleepovers in the early days) with the same dudes for that long. How it began and how it ended were significantly different.
When we came together, as new learners to both our instruments and the culture of music, it was exciting. It was only that. We had no real game plan or end goal. We enjoyed being with each other and rocking out tunes we had loved listening to when we were apart. The different musical tastes instantly brought different flavours as we began, almost instantly, writing our own songs. This, in my opinion, was what really made us stand out as songwriters from the rest of our peers. As a bunch of 13 year olds, our first ever jam as a band included originals. It was something that we inherently had the bone for and we were good at it. I can say that objectively.
Whether you were able to take your music to the world stage or just local clubs, when you do it long enough with the same group of people from the onset, as you are all learning, you eventually just get it. You get how to arrange a song properly so that it provides the right impact at the right time with the right lyric, the right mood, the right hook. The biggest element in honing our craft as a unit was how incredibly hard we were on ourselves and each other, and the time we spent on songs by ourselves before bringing them to the table. That in itself became an incredibly nerve-wracking task as we knew that no matter how much emotion and even objectivity we had invested into a song idea, it would receive some harsh criticism or fall on deaf ears altogether.
Thus began the subject of this rant. It was those instances when new ideas were presented that heavy-handed discussions would ensue, and that lead to yelling (and sometimes childish name calling, as all bands can attest to), which lead to storming out of band practice, hurt feelings, novel e-mails (that I don’t think any of us were proud of, nor felt did any good), and long car drives to resolve our feelings. This was all followed by a critical breakdown of the new ideas: what would work and what wouldn’t. Repeat. As we got older, this cycle became the norm, which wasn’t healthy, but at the end of the day, we knew that the music was turning into something special. We knew that every time we came together, finished and recorded a song that had seen so many shades of emotion, that it was all worth it.
Our individual opinions on what we think is great or shit is truly subjective; however, I came to understand that these clashing of minds and fusion of musical tastes always made for better music. That is not to say that there weren’t moments of jamming on an idea and it coming together blissfully, because there were many of those. But it was those (emotion-filled) songs that caused the greatest strain on our friendships and musical opinions that really gave us our identity.
We could certainly list off a number of musical duos that had a strong dislike for each other (which isn’t exactly the same in my case) but created magic together, like Lennon and McCartney or Noel and Liam. Each of them were/are hands down, great songwriters. But their difference of style, mood, content and the fusion of those elements, really created magic. All great music (in a band) comes down to one thing: compromise. At the end of the day you want your idea or a portion of it, heard. Playing in a band, you are at the mercy of someone simply saying, “Fine… I’m not playing the song.” This give and take always ended in something better than it was when it had started as a single person’s idea. No matter how hard I’d try to fight that notion, I knew in the end, the compromise always yielded stronger songs.
So I say this in closing: as an individual, you are talented. But you are only as good as those with whom you surround yourself. Those people will challenge you, offend you, hurt you, frustrate you, etc., but they will also be the ones who lift you up, love you, and ultimately give you that pat on the shoulder when it all clicks and everything feels right in the world. So, compromise. Listen to one another. Don’t get bogged down by arguments and childish fights. It happens. To every band. That, we can all agree. What matters most is how much you want it.
About the Author
Rich McPherson is a singer/songwriter who has spent over half his life in clubs, vans and studios trying to figure out how to crack ‘successful musician’ code, and realizing in the end that there isn’t one. “If only I had figured that out sooner!”