Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Developments and Setbacks in the Band

Skull, BFG, Frenchman and I had our bi-weekly music session. We got together to practice music, but right from the get-go, there was a black cloud in the air which prevented it from fully happening. As a result, the portion of time that we actually spent on music ended up only being less than half.

The other half was addressing problems with us as a group.

It was going rather well and sounding pleasant until at one point it fell apart a little, and we had to stop to rescue it. Part of it was the fact that I've only recently been introduced to the ensemble, and part of it was that the others had been practicing together for almost a year, and another part was simply poor timing, but at one point, we all came in off. This was a discombobulation of sorts, which worked as a trigger for frustration and other issues in the band to flare up.

Because we're still in the developmental stage of arranging and honing our songs it's tempting to try to perfect every little knit-pick along the way, but last week we found this a problem and agreed to sidestep it. We don't want to waste too much time on one issue -it's better to play straight through our set so that we get the overall flow of things. This strategy was meant for us to hopefully gradually improve one practice at a time, but obviously not being able to get through a whole song threw a wrench in our cogwheel, and the vibe between us was relatively injured.

When BFG changed the topic and told Skull he'd actually like the drums to be X way rather than Y, Skull obviously wasn't having it, and he left the room for a breather. We were all slowly drawn outside the room, like sharks that tasted blood. Something foul was a brewing.

Cautiously at first, but then hastily and passionately we got into a discussion and identified that something needed to be fixed in this little thing we call a "band." So we talked about it.

It was a grand airing of grievances. Accusations flew back and forth like ping pong balls about one person playing too hard while another person played too soft, and the freedom of expression that was limited in one way or another, or that we weren't contributing equally, or that someone was really using this band as an opportunity to try to raise up a past which is dead and gone. It was all very complicated business!

So for most of the time, I simply listened, but it generally sounded like the two main people that wanted the band to work the most, were the same two people that felt unfairly treated, and that they were controlled or manipulated in one way or another. (AKA Skull and BFG).

Each time that the two would start talking over each other's heads, Frenchman would step in and make an analogy to create a readable diagram from the things they were both saying of their disappointments, hostilities and grudges. In the meantime, he wrote out tablature for me so that I could better understand the songs (and partly work out the mutual problem of discoordination for myself)

Skull acknowledged the fun that was missing, and BFG was quick to agree that there was an unsettling tension in the air over how the band was managed. Or rather, how we had been mismanaging the band. He brought up some personal obstacles to working with us, such as his desire to have the ideal band situation, where the songs and parts sounded in alignment with his views. It was a concern that Skull tends to play heavier music while BFG has a penchant for art pop. Maybe he just needed to say all of this, or maybe he never even realized it until then, that utopia is nowhere.

The fact is with any band that when you get together and jam, it is a collaboration, and songs take on all the various personalities of those people in the band -conflicting or not. It's not all cut and dry. A band cannot be the vision of just one person manifested into song. It is a holy ritual that grows and mutates as it takes on life.

BFG made an analogy about the pain it causes to give birth to a song only to have it ripped apart by hungry musicians who want to make it their own. "But are you happy once your creation is put back together [when we try our best to add our parts]?" That was a question that took some time sorting out, but the answer was yes. It also seemed to sit in the air and wasn't easily dispelled because we needed some new plan. Sometimes talking just goes in circles, but slowly, it seemed our attitudes were all changing.

Is this what therapy is like?

In the end we confirmed and worked past many things, on to the acknowledged appreciation that what we were working on sounded pretty good and that it just needs persistence to get really "tight". Practice makes perfect.

We decided on a democracy rather than a dictatorship, regardless of who was originally writing the song. Yes, our styles are all VERY different, but we can live with that. Compromises can also be seen as opportunities. Then we all talked about what we did like. We set down new rules of openness, saying we would address issues immediately rather than letting hostilities fester. We decided we could all choose to add our own original accompaniment, with reasonable attention to feedback, without remorse. What would make this enforceable was that we resolved to implement a new veto system, whereby all four band members have one veto per band practice that they could use if they didn't like a decision, style, or song that had been proposed that evening. That way, if one were simply being negative, their opinion didn't have monstrous or interfering influence over the general functionality of the group. Things would be more balanced. At first, Skull seemed to be uneasy about this, but his face visibly lit up about the veto idea, and he warmed up to pursuing the project with refreshed vigor.

Everyone in the band would have this power to veto now, and it would be optional, but not expected. Execute two-way communication! It seems to give more weight to decisions, but also to considering others ideas, because we'll have to use our vetoes wisely.

See how important group dynamics are in a band?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude that's almost like some Metallica-esque kind of stuff.

I had no idea such group dynamics were so important behind the scenes. I thought most of the time it was more like one person calls the shots and the rest are just along for the ride. Great post.

5:41 p.m.  
Blogger Maddy said...

...or Pink Floyd. At least
they had Live 8. And WHAT
A PERFORMANCE!!! And Better than
being Robbie Williams - all
wrapped up in himself - work
it out - way to go!

3:16 p.m.  

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