Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be publishing a series of blogs on what I believe to be the keys to success as an independent band in today’s music culture. I know Taylor’s Tips is just about the dumbest title for anything, but after a good half hour of brainstorming, that was the best I could come up with. Besides, I’m hoping the best part of these blogs will be the content, not the titles. Anyway, here’s my first tip:
Play what you can play. Don’t play what you can’t.
It sounds so simple, but I can’t tell you how many indie concerts I’ve gone to, how many MySpace pages I’ve visited, and how many demo CD’s I’ve heard where bands try to play songs they really aren’t capable of playing. Maybe a vocalist tries to hit a note outside of his range. Maybe a drummer tries to play a fill that’s just too fast for him. Or maybe a guitarist tries to play a lick that’s too complex. Whatever the case, you have a song where a musician tries to do something instead of actually doing it. I don’t care how cool your song will sound with the drums playing a complex linear groove in 9/8 time. If your drummer doesn’t have the chops for that, your cool idea is going to sound like garbage.
What you need to do is let your music highlight your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
On a broad level, this means choosing an appropriate sound for your band. If your singer can’t scream and your drummer has never touched a double bass pedal, you’ll want to steer clear of any brutal metal sound. Focus on your band’s strengths and then build your sound around this. I’m not a fan of Blink 182, but they provide a great example of this principle. Travis Barker is by far the best musician in the band, and they write their songs to showcase his talent. There are drum intros, drum solos, and flashy drum fills all over the place. Tom DeLonge, on the other hand, is an average singer at best, but that’s okay. Blink 182 isn’t a band with very difficult vocal parts.
On a more specific level, this principle means that you need to be acutely aware of the skill level of each member in your band when you write your songs. For example, when I write the vocal part for songs in my own music project, I know exactly which note is my lowest possible, and which note is my highest possible. I never write a melody outside of those notes, no matter how great a ridiculously high note will sound. Also, I know which notes my voice sounds best with and try to keep the melody within those notes whenever I can. What happens a lot of times when you’re writing a song is that you start hearing this song in your head, and it sounds great, but the problem is that the musicians playing the song in your head are way better than the musicians in your band. Just remember that a well-performed song that’s easier to play is exponentially better than a poorly-performed difficult song.
All that being said, don’t be afraid to push yourself and your band. Do you want a blazing guitar solo? Complex drum beats? Soaring melodies? Write songs with these things in them and practice them. But don’t perform them until they’re ready. You may be incredibly excited for your fans to hear this crazy song you’re working on, but if you wait until it’s ready and your band can play it well, both you and your fans will be more pleased with the end result.