Friday, August 9, 2013

How to start the perfect band (part one)

Decide what instruments you are going to play and who is going to sing. Make these decisions simultaneously; I could have written, “Decide who is going to sing and what instruments you are going to play.” Instrumentation and vocals must be given equal priority if you really want to be the best.

The vocal component of your band is frighteningly crucial.

I can’t think of a better way to say this.

I find myself deleting everything I type even as I try to expound upon this, so I know I must tread tenderly on the subject.

First, there is the two-fold purpose of the human voice in the perfect band. (And again, these should both be numbered “1”, because they are of equal import.)

1. The human voice is an instrument, like the others, but distinctive, that must contribute to the overall artistic, musical, aural, atmospheric (sound-driven?) goals (don’t really like the word “goals” here, but can’t think of a better one, maybe “ambitions”) of the band.

1. The human voice is the vehicle for the lyrical content (message).

(Even as I read these two number ones, I’m not really satisfied with their juxtaposition because I don’t think the lyrical meaning and the lyrical quality of the vocal can really be divorced from one another.)

Here are my suggestions for instruments:

Drums – real, not synthesized; a bass drum, a snare drum and a couple other things to bang on strategically and rhythmically (note: the kit does not need to fly, hover or rotate);

1-2 electric guitars with several sound-changing capabilities; effects pedals are great, but don’t overdo it; and you will need some pretty loud (but not too loud) amplifiers;

bass guitar and amplifier.

That is enough.

If you want to integrate one more non-traditional instrument such as the violin, or a horn, that may be an appropriate option, provided your player does not have extensive classical training. If she/he has a vast theoretical musical knowledge, it may be more of a hindrance than a help if the rest of the band is just regular people.

If the horn player or violinist or cellist is really down to earth and humble and willing to keep it simple everything will probably be fine.

Just understand the risks.


  1. What the heck? Just tell me how your running is going. The perfect band was Led Zeppelin and as far as I know there was no violinist in the band.

  2. Just wanted to make sure you were still checking in, Joe.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly Pat. Like any form of art, when you give yourself boundaries you use your creativity to work within a specific framework which for many artists allows them to focus on their strengths. Generally the musicians who really push the boundaries are influential but often unlistenable. I think it is important for all instrumentalists to express themselves honestly, by trying to sound like themselves and not someone else. But it is probably easiest to pick up on the singer's lack of originality/confidence.

  4. Part II (maybe not real soon coming?) will address singing (and I guess now playing) "from the heart". Hopefully a few good examples to illustrate.
    Adam, I like your thought about "listenability" - sometimes if there is "too much heart" (???) and not enough regard for what it sounds like (???) there can be trouble.