Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Grinding it out behind the drums

My band is preparing for a show up in Door County this weekend. We are under contract to play at least two hours. We have to bring the P.A. system, the lights, everything. Working bands do this every weekend, all over the United States. They work their day jobs all week, and then do what they really love on the weekends. This particular show requires that we play a few cover songs to fill the time slot. We certainly have over two hours of original material, but we made the decision to play some covers too. The writer in our band tires of the older original songs. She feels that her material evolves and changes. Playing a song she wrote ten years ago is painful to her. I understand that.

When you write, or paint, or compose, your creation can seem stale as time goes by. You tend to feel as if you are currently a better writer, or artist when looking back at what you did so long ago. Sometimes a song becomes a classic. It might be something that you must play at every show. When I was in this old punk band, we had a song that everybody wanted to hear on every occasion that we played out. We wrote the song in 1985. We were still playing it in 2006. When the opening chords to the song started up, I never got that loathsome feeling. I embraced the vibe of the crowd. They are the reason that we played the song, or any song for that matter. If they were whipped into a frenzy by a twenty-one year old song, then so be it. I am happy to oblige.With that being said, I must say that there is a difference between playing the old songs, and being an oldies band. That's something I hope I never have to resort to. If my band is playing twenty year old songs exclusively, we have a problem. If the fans don't want to hear anything you have written after 1990, it might be time for you to find an outlet that satisfies the writer in you.

Have you ever listened to an old hit on VH1 and thought to yourself “everybody was writing songs like that.” Listen to some songs from the old glam bands of the late 1980’s and they all sound the same. The drums are mixed the same way, the singers sing the same way, and the guitar solos all sound the same. The bands are forced by their management to have a sound and style that says “I’m wearing a lady’s wig and makeup, but I’m not into guys.” How do those musicians feel when they do oldies tours long after the wigs and makeup were stripped away? The songs have to stand on their own merit, and that can be a tall order.

Lastly, I have to touch upon the difference between being in a band that "plays all the hits from the 60's, 70's and beyond." That's a cover band, and they don't count. Playing your own songs from the 60's, 70's and beyond is different. You wrote them, you own them, and people want to hear you play your songs. I have no problem with that, as long as you don't have a problem with those pesky fans demanding to hear them decades later.

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