Down and Dirty with G. Love: How to Be a Band Leader (Not a Band Tyrant)
Let's face it, friends: Being in a band is like being part of a very, very, very dysfunctional family. Like any marriages, businesses or things you love, it takes love, work, vision, direction and effort to keep it going.
There are always exceptions to the rule; however, I find that bands work best when they are lead by one. And before you start in on me and my ego, please think back to the time you were in the van with the fellas trying to decide if it was Micky D’s or Burger King en route to the gig in Topeka.
I am willing to bet that you rolled by both, missed the exit, didn’t get to eat until the next exit, which was 40 miles further down the highway and all while you were still arguing if the Whopper was better than the Big Mac. Get my drift?
Being a leader ain’t easy. If fact, it’s the hardest job in the band. Not because you are the one who gets blamed when shit goes wrong or you are doing all the work or you fronted the cash for the rehearsal studio. It's because you are the person everyone is depending on. People placed their trust in YOU.
Being a musician is hard enough. Being a musician and having part of your livelihood in someone else’s hands is a huge responsibility. Be aware, respect it and, if you do, I find that things always work out.
What?? You want nuts-and-bolts shit? The high-minded Zen ain’t enough for you? OK, fine, here’s some more:
Everyone has opinions about their music. Strong opinions. Everybody thinks his or her shit is the shit. No one likes being told what to play. No one wants to hear criticism. Everyone is full of fire and passion. The first key is tread lightly, ye of bandleader aspirations. If you're going to make the big time, you've got to keep the ship sailing forward. Fussing and fighting simply won't work.
On the creative side, being a leader often forces you to emotionally remove yourself from something very personal. If you are the principle songwriter, bringing a new tune to the band can be a challenging situation.
First off, remember that even though you may think your new song is your best composition ever, your band mates may not agree. Sometimes they're going to love your song, sometimes they are gonna dis them. Try to be mentally prepared for both reactions.
If someone is not feeling it, maybe it really isn't that worthwhile of a tune. If you do feel strongly about your new tune, try to get your band to dig a little deeper and find something in the song they can connect with. When showing the actual music, try to give your band some kind of imagery to connect with.
"This groove should feel like a big fat lady pushing a stroller down a street in New Orleans on a humid 90-degree day," or "This song should feel like the Meters jam looky py py." This way, your players have a feeling they should be going for. It makes everyone’s job easier.
Always try to make everyone's job easy. When the band falls in on the groove, hopefully it feels magical and you get those chills on your spine — when it does, let ’em know. Shit, everyone likes to hear his or her shit is great. If the band comes in and you're just not feeling someone's part, you've got to use your people skills here.
Try to not make someone feel like crap. Say something like, "Hey, I like what you're doing there, but can you try a pass with a different feel?" Give them a couple of chances to try out their ideas. Remember that trust. Also consider that when you give some one creative control over their own parts, you will usually get something very unique that you wouldn't have come up with on your own. When a musician makes their own parts, they will be more passionate about the song. In this way, the song that you started will become abandon song that everyone is creatively invested in. That works.
If you find yourself in a position where a you and a band mate are not seeing eye to eye on a creative or business problem, don’t berate your bro in front of the whole band. Pull them aside after sound check or the gig and reason together in private. This will keep everyone feeling good and delicate egos from getting bruised.
Earlier I mentioned decisiveness; well, I mentioned Burger King and McDonald’s but I was talking about decisiveness. If you can be decisive about any song or career decision, you will be able to act and perform with conviction. When you have conviction you automatically become a stronger leader. Nobody wants to follow someone's lead when they don't really know where they are going. Take time to make a strong plan, to really know your song or your mind before approaching your peeps. This will make the process smooth and easy. Avoid confusion at all costs. Know what you want ahead of time and you will find the people around you ready, willing and able to support your vision.
When you put together a band consider the following about your musicians. Can they play the shit out of their instruments? Do they have a look that compliments the music and your own style? Are they ready to put massive amounts of time, BS and energy into your project and be happy doing so? And most importantly, can they hang?
Surround yourself with positive, supportive people that are going to be happy -- happy on stage, happy on the bus, happy with traveling and living a life on the road. Happy people make music that will make people happy. Happy, happy, happy. How many times have fans come up to me after a show and said, “Y'all look like you're having so much fun up there, and it made my night." Have fun and your crowd will keep coming back.
If there is some in your unit who is always pissed off about something, you have a problem. Once someone is bitching and moaning all the time, you have a cancer in your unit. Having one guy incessantly complaining can bring down the morale of the whole band and crew. Give this person a choice. The choice is simple: Either show up positive and ready to have some killer jams and killer times, or stay the fuck at home.
Life is short. Careers are shorter. Don't let anyone bring you or your music down. Everyone should be lifting everyone up to a higher elevation of performance. Don’t bring me doooooooown.
Alcohol and drugs. Let's be honest, it's out there. Let’s also be honest a lot of gifted musicians have lost their way to it. Do like my father told me and exercise moderation. Exercise responsibility. Oh, and by the way, once again it starts with you, Monsieur Band Leader. Don’t bring your hangover to sound check. Don't bring a blown-out voice to the gig. Bring good energy every day. Expect the best from yourself and your band will give you the best of themselves.
I could ramble on with the do's and don’ts all day, but I think you get the point. Bring the positive vibrations, mon; be a focused leader, do your thing like you mean it and watch your band soar to the highest heights. Keep jamming!
G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, has been the front man and founder of the alternative hip-hop blues group G. Love & Special Sauce since their inception in 1993. Widely known for his upbeat hits "Cold Beverage," "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Hot Cookin'," G. Love returned to his blues and country roots on his latest release, Fixin' To Die (Amazon, iTunes), produced by Scott and Seth Avett. A road dog if one ever existed, G. Love performs roughly 125 shows a year all over the world including Australia, Japan, Brazil, UK, Canada and the U.S. G. Love teamed up with Gretsch to create his own signature model, the Gretsch G. Love Signature Electromatic Corvette, which features a pair of TV Jones® Power'Tron™ pickups, deluxe mini-precision tuners and a cool Phili-green color scheme with competition stripe that would make ANYONE from Philadelphia proud! Check it out here.
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